High School Faculty

Ronnie Bryan

Mathematics & Science

Since his early years in Knoxville, Tennessee, Ronnie Bryan has pursued studying and teaching math and science. His interest in understanding the mind led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from MIT and a PhD in Computation and Neural Systems from Caltech. Ronnie believes that math is a natural language that anyone is capable of developing into a powerful tool for pursuing their passions. He is excited about encouraging others to see how math interrelates with all aspects of thought and action, from science and engineering to art and philosophy. He has taught throughout his research career, and in recent years, has been dedicated to teaching full-time, from the middle-school level through college.

Melinda Wilder

Mathematics

Melinda is delighted to be joining the Sequoyah community, where the themes of connection, diversity and inclusion, creative and critical thinking, and stewardship are all practiced and celebrated. A global nomad for most of her life, Melinda grew up in South Korea and completed her undergraduate studies in Missouri. She began teaching in the Pacific Northwest where she earned her Master’s in Mathematics Education from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and has more than 20 years’ experience teaching high school math, including many years in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Following the call to explore this amazing world, her teaching experiences in International Schools have carried her and her family to Bolivia, the United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Korea. In her spare time, Melinda takes every opportunity to get out into the great outdoors.

Laura Haney

Science

Laura received her bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics and Math from Barnard College of Columbia University, and her PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics from UCLA. In the course of her training, she has always had a strong passion for outreach and civic engagement in science and math. Laura is a co-founder of SciComm Hub, an online community for grad students and post-docs to create content that engages the general public with science topics. In addition to her work in public outreach and undergraduate teaching, she is also interested in improving science communication skills in students and scientists alike. She believes strongly that any science program should promote self-confidence, creative problem-solving, and a spirit of collaboration among students. When she’s not teaching, Laura can usually be found blogging, hiking, or cooking Greek food.

Chelsea Confalone

Biology

Chelsea received her Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her interdisciplinary training began at the College of the Atlantic, a small liberal arts college on an island off the coast of Maine. The college offers one degree – Human Ecology – which teaches students to understand not just the subject at hand, but how that subject relates to the larger world. The island is also home to the Jackson Laboratory, a world-renowned genetics research center, where she studied how genes impact brain development. She wrote up her final research results in a scientific paper and as a children’s book, demonstrating that complex scientific concepts do not have to be relegated to academic language. She brought her holistic approach to education to her graduate studies and undergraduate teaching at UCLA. While researching the genetic underpinnings of breast cancer, she mentored students in the laboratory and taught biology to undergraduates from a wide range of academic backgrounds. Her ability to teach a variety of scientific concepts to academically diverse students led to her being awarded a Graduate Student Instructor Award for “extraordinary contributions to interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching.”

Justin Thompson

Chemistry

Justin Thompson is excited to become a part of the Sequoyah community as a chemistry instructor. He believes Sequoyah’s emphasis on authentic, process-driven learning is the key to creating lifelong learners. He has spent the last five years teaching chemistry at a boarding school in Asheville, NC, where he took a position soon after earning his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of North Carolina, Asheville. During his time at UNC, Justin was a member of the Mossbauer Spectroscopy Research Group investigating copper/arsenic-based superconductors responding to nickel-doping in the superconductive phase. His curriculum largely focuses on inquiry and critical thinking, two components that have been inspired through his graduate studies at Montana State University. Aside from teaching chemistry, Justin has experience in outdoor education as a backpacking trip leader, a kayak instructor, and a mountain bike instructor. He is excited to bring all facets of his experience to Sequoyah.

RJ Sakai

Social Innovation

RJ Sakai, a Sequoyah alum, is a design researcher who crafts tools and activities to facilitate insightful conversations for governments, nonprofits, startups, and classrooms. RJ’s work has led to immersions in Uganda, Cuba, small-town Massachusetts, East Harlem, and Los Angeles. After graduating from Hampshire College, where he studied cultural anthropology and graphic design, RJ pursued a variety of interests: helping independent bookstores survive in the face of online book buying; mapping the politics of souvenir supply chains; interviewing international students about their relationship to credit cards; and fostering collaboration, creativity, and innovation amongst professors and students. While earning his MFA in Media Design Practices at ArtCenter College of Design, RJ used workshop facilitation, systems thinking, and pinball to create new forms of communication between city governments and residents. He has a goal to visit all the U.S. state capitals (35 down).

Ian Chang

Humanities

Ian Chang began his teaching career at Sequoyah as a language arts specialist before migrating to the high school where he developed the Humanities curriculum. He has worked as a private tutor and college counselor, a journalist at ABC News, a venture capitalist at Millennium Technology Ventures, and a professional cook at Lucques. He has an MFA in Fiction Writing from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a BA in English Literature from Swarthmore College. He is working on a novel, and has written art criticism for frieze, Modern Painters, and X-TRA.

Sean Hamidi

Humanities

Sean Hamidi believes that a solid foundation in the humanities prepares us to more compassionately understand ourselves and our environment, more clearly communicate our emotional needs, and more powerfully express our vision for a better world. When he’s not geeking out over a beautiful piece of art, Sean can be found practicing yoga, playing improv comedy, or consuming questionable amounts of Korean barbecue. A former Ford Foundation Public Interest Fellow, McKinsey consultant, and national Mock Trial Champion, he has been teaching high school students for several years in the LA area. Sean holds a BA from the University of Virginia in poetry writing and a JD from Harvard Law School.

Julian Petri

Humanities

A native of Germany, Julian Petri first came to California as a student at Deep Springs College in the high desert of the Eastern Sierra. Since then, he’s followed his interests in philosophy, history, and literature. He obtained a BA in Social Studies at Harvard and is presently completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton where he was a language instructor and a teaching assistant in philosophy. In his spare time, he’s a runner and a musician, and has worked in theater as a dramaturge.

Marisol Perez

Spanish

Marisol Pérez joins Sequoyah’s high school faculty as a founding Spanish teacher. Marisol holds a master’s degree from UCLA, and her doctoral studies focused on the intersection of Latin American Literature, Chicano Studies, and Women’s Studies. She brings more than 20 years experience teaching high school students, and creating curriculum and successful programs, including teaching UC students in Mexico City and underserved students in Inglewood. Marisol has led trips to Barcelona, Costa Rica, Chiapas, and Oaxaca. In the last 6 years she has found great joy in crafting experiential learning courses for students to explore the histories and cuisines of Los Angeles’ ethnic neighborhoods. Marisol feels strongly that an interdisciplinary approach to language learning opens a portal to other worlds as much as it provides us opportunities to cultivate empathy, gather new perspectives, and deepen understanding. When she is not teaching, Marisol enjoys taking long rides on a beach cruiser, hiking, and exploring the culinary arts.

Ilan Vaisman

Spanish

Ilan Vaisman has been traveling the world since he was young. He was born and raised in Colombia, lived in Israel for nine years, had a four-year layover in New York City where he completed his BA in romance languages and economics at NYU. He also lived for four years in Madrid, Spain, where he earned his MA in teaching Spanish as a second language from Universidad de Alcalá and taught ESL. He refined his cooking skills during his time there. Ilan moved back stateside to picturesque Cape Cod, where he taught IB Spanish for three years, and he is thrilled to be making Sequoyah his new home. Ilan is passionate about languages, literature, and world cultures, and looks forward to sharing this excitement with the students and faculty at Sequoyah. He is also thrilled about living in Pasadena, as he has been told that winters here are mild.

Peter Wallis

Visual Arts

Peter Wallis will be present on both campuses – supporting design and technology in the K-8’s Thinkering Tank and teaching visual arts at the high school. Peter is an interdisciplinary artist and native son of the Green Mountains of Vermont. He has worked with students throughout the country teaching visual arts at independent schools and nonprofit arts organizations. Integrating his interests in illustration and printmaking, his approach to teaching trends in new media is grounded in an appreciation of traditional art techniques and practices. His BFA study was in illustration with a double minor in art history and drawing from the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. Working at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, he cultivated a strong connection to graphic novels and the strengths they have as teaching tools. Peter earned his MFA from Goddard College with a focus in printmaking, graphic novels, and peace studies. While an artist in residence in the Montserrat Mountains of Catalonia, Spain, he developed a graphic novel. Peter enjoys being in the mountains snowboarding and hiking. He spends a lot of his time playing music and developing creative work of his own. Peter sees visual arts and arts education as catalysts for meaningful change in the world.

Ben Ede

Music

Ben Ede, originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, earned bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Music from Cal State Los Angeles, and a Master of Arts in teaching from the Longy School of Music.

Ben teaches classes in improvisation, music technology, and composition with the LA Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Program, and is a member of the Jazz faculty at Heart of Los Angeles Music Studios. He is a founder and former music coordinator of Kid City Hope Place, a nonprofit after-school program dedicated to fostering youth leadership and college aspirations in low-income communities.

Ben and his guitar “Jessie” have performed with and opened for hundreds of artists, including Grammy winners John Legend, Poncho Sanchez, Lady Gaga, and Oscar Hernandez. He performs regularly with The Wiseguys, an 18-piece big band led by the mayor of Montebello, as well as with the Pay It Forward Band, an organization dedicated to using music to effect changes in the nursing home system. Ben’s students have performed at many prestigious venues including LA’s Latin Jazz Festival, the Hollywood Bowl, the House of Blues, Walt Disney Concert Hall, and alongside artists like Damian Marley, Journey, jazz legend Bob Mintzer, and hip-hop artist Big Sean.

Arden Thomas

Performing Arts

Arden Thomas has been an educator for more than 20 years, teaching English for ten years at Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia, and English, humanities, and theater at colleges and universities over another ten years. Arden has a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from Stanford, where she also directed plays and taught dance history, theater history, and acting. Arden has been a theater director, member of a women’s theater company, and Director of Education of the Lantern Theatre Company in Philadelphia. Arden is currently Associate Artistic Director of The Festival of New Science-Driven Plays at Caltech, where she works with playwrights and scientists to develop new plays about science. Arden is passionate about theater, literature, history, and progressive education; and she’s thrilled to have joined the Sequoyah community. When she’s not teaching or making theater, Arden loves hiking, camping, traveling and, most of all, spending time with her two little boys, Orion and Leo.

Dornel Cerro

Head Librarian

Dornel has a Master’s of Library and Information Science and 35 years experience in a variety of library settings. For the past 20 years she has worked with children and teens in school and public library settings.

Lee Michael Krieger

Field Studies

Lee Michael started out pursuing environmental engineering and quickly discovered his interest in outdoor education, earning a BA in Park and Recreation Management from Northern Arizona University. Since then, he has combined his love for the environment with the inspiration he gets from leading youth on trips and has led trips and outdoor programs with diverse groups in a variety of settings. With Outward Bound, Lee worked with students from Boston’s inner city, focusing on developing students’ integrity and self-reliance. With SoulStainable Adventure group, Lee led adventure and service learning trips to Ecuador.

Anais Plasketes

Social Emotional Learning

Anais Plasketes received her BA in Theatre Arts from Birmingham-Southern College and a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles. She received unique, extensive training in LGBTQ affirmative psychotherapy during her study at Antioch. Currently, Anais is a Marriage and Family Therapist intern in private practice. In addition to her private practice work, Anais facilitates a support group for adolescents in recovery at Destinations to Recovery. Anais has an affinity towards working with youth through a holistic lens around big questions and issues that may arise around identity and identity intersection. Anais believes deeply in contributing to a community in which our youth are empowered and can thrive. With a background in arts and entertainment, she is passionate about utilizing creativity and artistic expression as a vessel for exploration, both inside and outside the classroom. Anais is honored to be a part of the Sequoyah School community and is excited to get to know all the students.

Liza Khachatryan

Technology Support

After moving to the USA from Armenia, Liza received her degree in interior design and practiced commercial design for several years. She worked with architectural firms and companies such as Starbucks to design restaurants, bars, apartment buildings, and coffee shops. She has always been technically inclined and, seeking to satisfy her curiosity, she joined a coding club where she learned how to build her own web apps. She discovered her passion for solving technical problems and is excited to be the person the Sequoyah community trusts with their technology. She has a degree in Psychology from back home and is looking forward to seeing all her learning and knowledge come together in a school environment.