Meet the team

ACADEMIA MANAGEMENT

Kaycee Militante

Director of Children’s Curriculum Development and Educational Standards

Kaycee Militante is the Director of Children’s Curriculum Development and Educational Standards at Academia. She is also a clinical assistant professor at Illinois State University. Before moving to higher education, Kaycee taught for Chicago Public Schools in several roles and settings, primarily as a special education teacher, but also in general education, ESL, and bilingual education. She holds master’s degrees in both curriculum and instruction from the American College of Education, and educational leadership with a focus on linguistics from the University of Illinois. Kaycee emphasizes the importance of teaching lessons that promote discourse and social interaction, are highly relevant to the learner, and applicable beyond the classroom. She lives in Oak Park with her two children and enjoys biking.

Maria José O’Neal

Center Manager

Maria Jose was born and raised in Chile. She obtained a Technical Diploma in Tourism and a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 2010. She worked as an English teacher at a public high school in her home country and gained management experience as a Hospitality Logistics Supervisor at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory. Since moving to the United States in 2015, Maria Jose has been teaching Spanish to preschool, elementary, and middle school students as part of extracurricular programs in several districts in Ohio, and also in a private center. Her passion for helping others inspired her to volunteer as an ESL instructor, teaching the English language to new immigrants in the United States. Maria Jose loves travel, discovering new cultures, fusion cuisine, and being surrounded by nature.

Corinne Moran

Director of Adult Curriculum and Seminars
With specialization in the Greco-Roman world, Corinne Moran also co-develops Academia’s children’s Greek and Roman curriculum. Corinne began her career in museum education at The Art Institute of Chicago followed by a faculty position at Harper College. She holds a master’s degree in art history from Columbia University in New York. With over ten years’ experience teaching and developing post-secondary curriculum, she relishes Academia’s progressive philosophy as it encourages innovative studies. Corinne works to develop courses and seminars that encourage the learner to think both broadly and independently, concomitantly mentoring them to engage in the subjects both civically and globally.

ACADEMIA SUPPORT TEAM

Jackie Lazaro

Operations Manager
Jackie Lazaro is Academia’s Operations Manager, supporting human resources, class facilities management, and marketing campaign execution. Her varied work history includes roles in nuclear security to being a navy firefighter. She is also a certified roller derby instructor! Jackie graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in psychology. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, who she teaches Spanish to in her spare time.

Andria Billman

Andria is a native of Belize, Central America, but grew up in Oak Park, IL. She now resides in Champaign, IL with her husband and son. She supports the Academia staff with billing, HR, and customer service.  Andria graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in Greek Studies. When not working with the Academia Team and families, she is busy with her very active one-year-old. In her spare time, she enjoys paper crafts, knitting, reading, trying new foods, and cooking new recipes.

 

Christian Castillo

HUMAN RESOURCES & TRAINING

Christian is a native of Belize, Central America, and now resides in River Forest. For the past six years, he has been a stay-at-home dad to his young daughter and son. He also transports children to and from local schools to Academia, and can often be found playing board games and reading to the children during the afterschool program. Christian is an excellent cook and in his spare time loves to prepare food from his native Belize, and enjoys taking his children for nature walks at Thatcher Woods. Christian speaks Belizean Creole, a pidgin language of Belize.

 

ADULT INSTRUCTORS

Jenna Leving Jacobson

Spanish and Cuban Studies
Jenna Leving Jacobson received her PhD. in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of Chicago where her research focused on 19th, 20th, and 21st century Cuba and its diaspora. Jenna has taught Spanish literature and language courses at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan, where she also worked as an academic advisor for undergraduate students. She earned a certificate in University Teaching and Second Language Pedagogy from the University of Chicago’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

Jenna volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at CommunityHealth, a free clinic on Chicago’s West side, and has eight years of experience in medical, as well as legal translation and interpretation.

Jennifer Solheim

Creative Writing
Jennifer Solheim is a freelance writer and editor. At Academia she teaches Creative Writing. She holds a PhD in French from the University of Michigan and is an MFA candidate in the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has taught at the University of Illinois—Chicago, Université de Paris VII, and at StoryStudio Chicago.

Jennifer is a Contributing Editor at Fiction Writers Review, and her short stories and essays have appeared in Akashic Books’ Mondays are Murder series, Conclave: A Journal of Character, Confrontation, Inside Higher Ed, and Poets & Writers. Her novel-in-progress about a Chicago indie rock band in family therapy was a semi-finalist for the 2015 James Jones Fellowship.

You can read more about her work and writing life at www.jennifersolheim.com.

Stefanie Faye Frank

Neuroscience
Stefanie Faye Frank’s research and graduate degree from New York University focused on the cross-section of neuroplasticity and social-emotional intelligence. At Academia Stefanie teaches The Neuroscience of Social Justice. Her counseling and teaching work in countries all over the world combine science research with insights from mindfulness, transformative education and social justice. She is currently a consultant and guest speaker for K-12 teacher development programs and various organizations across the US, Europe and Canada, including Google, Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design Thinking in Berlin, Northwestern and Northeastern University, Illinois State University and the University of California San Diego, School of Medicine. Before her graduate work, she enjoyed an award-winning career as a French teacher for diplomats, before becoming a linguist and intelligence analyst for the Department of Defense.

Katie Bodendorfer Garner

Gender Studies
After graduating from an all-girls high school and then Illinois Wesleyan, Katie B. Garner worked at a magazine and later in sales at a web development firm. With neither being a good fit, Katie went back for her MA in English Ed and found work in which she could contribute her creativity, passion for knowledge, and optimism for a more egalitarian world for young people and adults alike. Katie left high school teaching to start a family, while also completing a PhD in English. Her dissertation examines how class and race affect the development of empathy in the mother/nanny relationship. Katie now adjuncts at North Central College in addition to working on a book tentatively titled The Catch-22 of Childcare: How Culture, Ambivalence, and Neoliberalism Prevent Mothers from Being Greater than They Already Are.

Isaiah Clark

Spoken Word Courses
At Academia, Isaiah Clark teaches spoken word courses to middle school and high school aged students, including the ‘Atelophobia’ course where students use music and poetry to overcome self-doubt and anxiety about public speaking.

Isaiah has a B.A. in communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago where his project won the Outstanding Oral Presentation Award at the Illinois Summer Research Symposium.

He successfully piloted his innovative curriculum at Roosevelt University and UIC and recently completed his teaching artist residency at Percy Julian Middle School in partnership with the Oak Park Education Foundation. Here, Isaiah co-designed curriculum, taught spoken-word poetry, emceed the seventh-grade Poetry Slam, and co-facilitated the Spoken Word Club.

GUEST SPEAKER APPEARANCES INCLUDE:
16th and 17th Percy Julian Symposium Guest Performance (2015, 2016)
Kennedy King College Workshop Presenter (2016)
UIC Trio Urban Academy Guest Speaker (2016)
Roosevelt University Education Guest Lecturer (2016)

Maria José O’Neal

Children’s Spanish Instructor

Maria Jose was born and raised in Chile. She obtained a Technical Diploma in Tourism and a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 2010. She worked as an English teacher at a public high school in her home country and gained management experience as a Hospitality Logistics Supervisor at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory. Since moving to the United States in 2015, Maria Jose has been teaching Spanish to preschool, elementary, and middle school students as part of extracurricular programs in several districts in Ohio, and also in a private center. Her passion for helping others inspired her to volunteer as an ESL instructor, teaching the English language to new immigrants in the United States. Maria Jose loves travel, discovering new cultures, fusion cuisine, and being surrounded by nature.

Qi Guo

Mandarin Instructor
Qi was born and raised in China. She obtained her Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education from Columbia University. She also trained to teach an immersion program in the New York City public school system. Before moving to the Chicago area, Qi lived and worked in Kobe, Japan, for three years where she learned to speak and write Japanese. Qi has experience teaching both adults and children in a small group environment. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with family, reading, and learning different languages. She believes that “A different language is a different vision of life.”

Chryssa Papacosta

Chryssa Papacosta was born and raised in Greece, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in History, Archeology, and Greek Language teaching. Her graduate studies were focused on Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education. Three years ago, her family moved to Chicago.

As a teacher of Greek (Modern and Ancient), she had the opportunity to instruct a wide variety of students in secondary educational settings in Greece. For ten years, she was also an adjunct lecturer and field supervisor of teacher training programs at the University of Athens, Greece. She currently teaches Greek Language and Culture with an emphasis on the “Ellinomatheia” test (Certificate of Attainment in Modern Greek), of which she is a certified examiner.

Apart from teaching, Chryssa loves Greek cooking and dancing.

Alba Mendiola-Dillon

Alba Mendiola-Dillon is a 7-time regional Emmy® Award winner. She is a former Spanish television investigative reporter and a native of Mexico. She is a fully bilingual and bicultural professional. In 2016, Alba switched gears in her career and decided to follow her passion for education. Alba teaches high school Spanish and is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Education.
Alba earned her Bachelor’s degree in the Science of Communications at Tecnológico de Monterrey, México. She also studied abroad in England and Spain.
Alba worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a Spanish lecturer. She is an alumna of Amate House, a full-time volunteer program with the Archdiocese of Chicago. Her volunteer site was the Office of Applied innovations at Depaul University where she served as a bilingual instructor, developing and implementing curricula for a work training program for minority groups.

CHILDREN’S INSTRUCTORS

Vipanchi Raghu

Indian Mythology
Vipanchi Raghu is a freelance learning designer and consultant with over 12 years of experience in designing learning solutions. She holds a Master’s degree in English literature with a focus on Indian writing from Bangalore University, India. She also teaches Hindu philosophy to children in an Indian spiritual organization. At Academia, Vipanchi designs and teaches open-minded, theme-based explorations of classical Indian mythology and culture through interactive stories, activities, and fun engagements. As a parent, she believes passionately in raising global citizens and enjoys contributing to the interconnected cultural learning of Academia.

Nancy Fret

Spanish Teacher
Nancy Fret is a Chicago native who grew up in Little Village. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Secondary Teaching of Spanish at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and obtained a Master’s in Spanish Linguistics with a personal focus on Heritage Spanish. After her degree, she wanted to impact the heritage Spanish field through direct interaction with Latino high-school students. She worked at Bolingbrook High School (BHS)for three years where she restructured their Heritage Spanish program. While at BHS, she also taught a dual-credit Heritage Spanish course as an adjunct professor for the College of Dupage. Nancy has also presented on Heritage Spanish language issues at the Illinois Council of Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) and the Network of Illinois Educators of Spanish for Heritage Languages (NIESHL). She is currently a board member of NIESHL and in 2015 she also received the ICTFL Award for New Teachers of Foreign Languages. Currently, Nancy is also working on her second master’s degree in Language, Literacy and Learning at UIC. In the future, she aspires to enroll in a PhD program to conduct further research in the heritage Spanish field. When she has free time, Nancy loves to run and travel.

Arisa Shibagaki Peters

Arisa Peters was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan. After working as a secretary to the CEO and interpreter at a technical college in Yokohama, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Folklore at Indiana University Bloomington, focusing on material culture, in particular, food studies. She graduated in December 2017 with her dissertation on the Japanese bread baking tradition among Japanese women living in San Diego, California.

While working on her Ph.D. coursework, she worked as an associate instructor of Japanese at the university, and as a visiting instructor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She is experienced in teaching the Japanese language and culture in both small and large group settings at the collegiate level. She also studied Japanese pedagogy as a minor in her Ph.D. coursework.

In her spare time, she likes to cook different cuisines from all over the world and bake Japanese bread.

Qi Guo

Mandarin Instructor
Qi was born and raised in China. She obtained her Master’s degree in Bilingual/Bicultural Education from Columbia University. She also trained to teach an immersion program in the New York City public school system. Before moving to the Chicago area, Qi lived and worked in Kobe, Japan, for three years where she learned to speak and write Japanese. Qi has experience teaching both adults and children in a small group environment. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling with family, reading, and learning different languages. She believes that “A different language is a different vision of life.”

Isaiah Clark

Spoken Word Courses
At Academia, Isaiah Clark teaches spoken word courses to middle school and high school aged students, including the ‘Atelophobia’ course where students use music and poetry to overcome self-doubt and anxiety about public speaking.

Isaiah has a B.A. in communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago where his project won the Outstanding Oral Presentation Award at the Illinois Summer Research Symposium.

He successfully piloted his innovative curriculum at Roosevelt University and UIC and recently completed his teaching artist residency at Percy Julian Middle School in partnership with the Oak Park Education Foundation. Here, Isaiah co-designed curriculum, taught spoken-word poetry, emceed the seventh-grade Poetry Slam, and co-facilitated the Spoken Word Club.

GUEST SPEAKER APPEARANCES INCLUDE:
16th and 17th Percy Julian Symposium Guest Performance (2015, 2016)
Kennedy King College Workshop Presenter (2016)
UIC Trio Urban Academy Guest Speaker (2016)
Roosevelt University Education Guest Lecturer (2016)

Maria José O’Neal

Children’s Spanish Instructor

Maria Jose was born and raised in Chile. She obtained a Technical Diploma in Tourism and a Bachelor of Arts in Education in 2010. She worked as an English teacher at a public high school in her home country and gained management experience as a Hospitality Logistics Supervisor at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory. Since moving to the United States in 2015, Maria Jose has been teaching Spanish to preschool, elementary, and middle school students as part of extracurricular programs in several districts in Ohio, and also in a private center. Her passion for helping others inspired her to volunteer as an ESL instructor, teaching the English language to new immigrants in the United States. Maria Jose loves travel, discovering new cultures, fusion cuisine, and being surrounded by nature.

Alba Mendiola-Dillon

Alba Mendiola-Dillon is a 7-time regional Emmy® Award winner. She is a former Spanish television investigative reporter and a native of Mexico. She is a fully bilingual and bicultural professional. In 2016, Alba switched gears in her career and decided to follow her passion for education. Alba teaches high school Spanish and is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Education.
Alba earned her Bachelor’s degree in the Science of Communications at Tecnológico de Monterrey, México. She also studied abroad in England and Spain.
Alba worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a Spanish lecturer. She is an alumna of Amate House, a full-time volunteer program with the Archdiocese of Chicago. Her volunteer site was the Office of Applied innovations at Depaul University where she served as a bilingual instructor, developing and implementing curricula for a work training program for minority groups.

Paola Diaz

Children’s Spanish Instructor

Paola received her Bachelor of Arts in Childhood Education from Tomila University in Bogota, Columbia in 2014. She has 15 years of experience in child development and education helping children learn through rhythmic and musical stimulation. She holds a Certificate in Education from Norten University in Barranquilla, Columbia as well as a Certificate in Daycare. Paola has participated in educational projects within public and private institutions as a Preschool Teacher, Kindergarten Director and an Educator for Family Welfare.

Andreina Guerra

Andreina got her law degree from USM, Caracas. She was enrolled in International Studies at UCV, Caracas; has a Master in Banking and International Finance from UCAB, Caracas; and also a Master in International Law and International Relations from UCM, Madrid. Andreina worked for over ten years in Venezuelan banks where she developed her negotiating skills. She lived for two years in Spain and then came to live in Miami. She currently resides in Chicago, teaching Spanish to grades K-8 in both public and private schools. Her goal is to make people happy, especially children. When not working, Andreina loves spending time with her family and daughters, travel, coffee, and ice cream. Her dream is a modern world with the values of the past.

Erin Marie Higgins

Dr. Erin Marie Higgins is an educator with 12 years of classroom teaching experience in all levels of French. She received her BA in French from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where she also spent a year living and studying abroad in Montpellier, France at the Université de Montpellier. She is fully credentialed in K-12 French in both IL and CA. She has a MA in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate of Education from UCLA. She spent the past year working on a project for the University of California creating online courses in French. She currently teaches high school French for Chicago International Charter School. In her free time she enjoys reading, traveling, and playing with her two dogs.

ACADEMIA PRESCHOOL INSTRUCTORS

Andreina Guerra

Andreina got her law degree from USM, Caracas. She was enrolled in International Studies at UCV, Caracas; has a Master in Banking and International Finance from UCAB, Caracas; and also a Master in International Law and International Relations from UCM, Madrid. Andreina worked for over ten years in Venezuelan banks where she developed her negotiating skills. She lived for two years in Spain and then came to live in Miami. She currently resides in Chicago, teaching Spanish to grades K-8 in both public and private schools. Her goal is to make people happy, especially children. When not working, Andreina loves spending time with her family and daughters, travel, coffee, and ice cream. Her dream is a modern world with the values of the past.

Julieta Falla

ACADEMIA COORDINATORS

Laura Arbetman

Laura was born and raised in Oak Park. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the New College of Florida in 2016. After completing her undergraduate degree, Laura volunteered with a local social services agency through AmeriCorps. She hopes to become a therapist after completing her Master of Social Work. Laura loves to travel and has been to Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Iceland, and Israel. She uses her experiences from her trips in her lessons at Academia, showing photos, and telling stories from her trips. Laura also works as a Hebrew teacher educating the kids about the language as well as the Jewish traditions. Laura also loves baking, singing, and crafting.

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