Assistant Director, Skybridge Academy, Austin, TX
Nishi spent her adolescent years growing up in Brookline, MA after moving from India at the age of 11. She enjoyed all the differences between Hyderabad, where she was born, and Brookline: the snowy weather, wearing layers of clothes, the leaves changing colors and the tulips budding in the spring. However, after moving to Austin last year she has come to appreciate the benefits of warmer temperatures and lack of snow storms.
While attending the Brookline High School she found her passion for chemistry and pursued Chemical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. After graduation from college she looked forward to working in a company to understand the business aspect of the profession. She worked as a Senior Customer and Product Support Engineer for a division of Henkel Corporation, that manufactures adhesives for electronics. She received a great deal of exposure while working at Henkel: from submitting technical papers and analyzing sales strategies for the customer base to providing technical support and managing inside sales accounts. She was well respected throughout the organization and chosen for special projects, as well as to train her co-workers, due to her high level of professionalism, integrity, and commitment.
Though the work experience was very engaging and informative, she decided to simultaneously pursue her interest in K-12 education . She took on volunteering opportunities in education and has tutored at the elementary as well as high schools levels in Math, Physics and Chemistry. While she was working, she took the initiative to understand the education community by taking courses at the Harvard Extension School in Web Pedagogies and International Education Comparative Studies and pursuing work with a local non-profit as a educational technologist.
Nishi is driven to work in the education field because of her steadfast belief in the constructive influence of education in an individual’s life. In fact, her work in the education field has been very rewarding and compelling because it addresses her genuine interest in improving education systems through innovative teaching STEAM disciplines. After moving to Austin in 2011, she decided to follow her interest seriously and changed her career to work full time towards improving STEAM education, student success, and integrating innovative technology solutions for building a 21st century classroom.
As an Assistant Director at Skybdrige Academy, she has been working to create, implement and manage an innovative program that promotes individualized education, project based learning, and interdisciplinary classes for enabling life long learners. Along side her work at Skybridge Academy, she is a graduate student at University of Texas, Austin, enrolled in the Masters program for Learning Technologies, part of the nationally ranked education school. Her graduate study informs the development of a compelling program that also leverages educational technologies to provide a relevant and authentic learning environment.
Director, Math Program, Skybridge Academy, Austin, TX
Growing up in Dallas, Zach used the incentive of a full-ride academic scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas to stick around in the city. He took a wide variety of electives and cores to try and get a grasp on that ever-eluding question “what am I going to do with my life?” At 18 years old with no true direction, Zach sampled various options: playing cello, art studio classes, sports writing, and extra math classes, among others.
After deciding on a BS in Business Administration and graduating in 2008, something seemed to be missing: a true passion. That first and only semester out of school, he began, for the first time, to meet and interact with other graduates, all of which had one similar opinion: mathematics was a horrible experience. Zach decided then he wanted to start teaching people that math was undeserving of the poor label it receives day in and day out, and this opened up the idea to pursue a masters degree in that very field.
He went to school for three years to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching in Mathematics Education at the end of 2011. He graduated on December 17th, proposed to his girlfriend Rachel that night, and moved to Austin to escape Dallas with a few friends a month later.
Seeing the world through a post-grad’s eyes is an underrated feature of a masters program. Exploring a new city with a new sense of purpose is even better. He has been experiencing programs throughout Austin, Round Rock, Pflugerville, and Cedar Park, always trying to make that next student appreciate mathematics a little more.
Zach has entered the graduate college at Texas State to pursue a PhD in Math Education. He is integrating college with his Skybridge position as head of the math department to influence and create a program in which students understand the role math plays in their lives and develop a positive relationship with it. He will graduate in the summer of 2017.
Ariel Dochstader Miller
Co-founder, Skybridge Academy, Austin, TX
Frustrated and bored with her traditional experience, Ariel’s education adventure began when she left high school to homeschool herself. Attending Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and the Seminary of Spiritual Peacemaking, Ariel’s studies focused on creating child centered learning environments and exploring different religious cultures and their attitudes towards children and education.
Ariel has studied, worked, created and innovated in the education arena for the past 20 years. Her most recent endeavor was starting Skybridge Academy in Austin, Texas, with Michael Strong, CEO of Radical Social Entrepreneurs. Skybridge Academy is a liberal arts college environment for junior high and high school students that focuses on creating an intellectually vital learning culture developing entrepreneurial skills, personal integrity, intrinsic motivation, self awareness and reverence for being a life long learner.
At the helm of WonderLab stands Temp Keller, with his passion for building quality, affordable K-12 education models for 21st century learners. His vision for WonderLab’s transformative educational model was largely solidified by his work in 2012 as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Acton Academy, a private elementary and middle school in Austin, TX that aims to move learners (teachers and students) from receivers of knowledge to self-seekers of knowledge.
Previously, Temp served as the Managing Director of Innovations for Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization formed in 1993 to develop innovative technology to improve early elementary education. At IFL, Temp was responsible for initiating and managing strategic partnerships, as well as managing product development, sourcing, logistics and distribution.
Temp is the Founder, former President and Chairman of Resources for Indispensable Schools and Educators, a national nonprofit organization working to connect second-stage teachers with schools in low-income communities where they will be more likely to succeed and remain in teaching. Established in 2000 with one pilot school site, RISE grew to serve more than 140 Network Schools in six metropolitan areas, and worked to improve student learning for more than 50,000 students.
Temp was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004, becoming one of 125 social entrepreneurs in the United States selected to join a community of over 2,000 Fellows worldwide “recognized for innovative, entrepreneurial solutions to some of the world's most pressing social problems.” In addition, Tempreceived the Manhattan Institute’s Social Entrepreneurship Award in 2005.
Prior to RISE, he taught fifth grade at the East Palo Alto Charter School in East Palo Alto, CA.
Temp serves on several for-profit and non-profit boards, including Kids Science Labs, a for-profit providing hands-on science classes and camps to kids ages 2-12. He is a Trustee of the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, CT, Austin Achieve Public Schools, and also serves on the U.S.-based Foundation Board of the African Leadership Academy, a pan-African secondary institution that aims to educate and develop outstanding students into principled, ethical leaders for the African continent.
He received his B.A. in Politics from Princeton University and his Masters in Business Administration from The University of Chicago.
Temp, his wife Kerry, and their two children live in Austin.
Founder, Editor, Alt Ed Austin
Teri Sperry runs Alt Ed Austin, a website, blog, and consulting service dedicated to helping parents find the right educational fit for their kids. Raised in a family of teachers and educated in public schools in Tennessee and Nebraska, Teri earned a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has spent most of her professional life as a freelance book editor, which has allowed her the flexibility to pursue other rewarding roles: urban homesteader, occasional political organizer, and, most importantly, mom. As a passionate advocate for education transformation, Teri currently spends much of her time researching and writing about education, consulting with parents about schooling options for their children, and working with educators to support and strengthen the local alt ed community.
Director, Science Program, Skybridge Academy, Austin, TX
Wes was born and raised in Florida. Second oldest, and the only boy of five children, he learned to be resourceful. He liked to tie knots, enjoyed finding patterns, and loved to draw. He played soccer, took karate, and one time he electrocuted a lizard, on purpose, but inadvertently utilizing science.
He earned a Masters of Secondary Science Education from the University of Washington in 2010 and a B.S. in Biochemistry from the Evergreen State College in 2008.
Wes has been teaching science for the last 5 years to elementary, middle, and high school students in Texas and Washington. He worked in high-poverty schools in Tacoma, WA teaching elementary students how to build gardens, grow food, and cook nutritious meals. He taught Physics and Chemistry at a small rural school in central Washington where he started an after school maker’s lab. Upon moving to Austin, he worked for Sapling Learning, creating online science content for high school students across Texas. He has worked for the last few years at a behavior school in Pflugerville with at-risk students teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth science.
Prior to teaching Wes worked as a farmer in western Washington where he managed the irrigation for a 400 acre vegetable farm. During this time he would spend the winters processing fish aboard a commercial fishing vessel in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. Upon returning to land one spring, he met his future wife who would later agree to participate in a genetics experiment with him. The experiment was a success and yielded a beautiful little girl named Pela and a bouncing baby boy named Huck.
Outside of teaching, he loves to cook, weld, make things, brew beer, grow food, and hang out with his awesome family.
Founder, Austin Tinkering School
Kami Wilt is the founder of Austin Tinkering School, a place where kids use real tools and real materials to design, build, and create. A devotee of the Maker movement, she not only loves to put power tools into the hands of children, she is also passionate about inspiring people of any age to discover their inner Maker through meaningful hands-on learning experiences that are eye-opening, enlivening, and empowering. With kids, she has used sewing machines and saws, power drills and glue guns, to make pop-up books, tree houses, bristlebots, board games, go-carts, and many things in between.
In 2012 she worked with Maker Media to bring Maker Faire back to Austin, and this past May produced the second annual Austin Mini Maker Faire at the Palmer Events Center, which featured over 100 Makers and 4000 attendees. She is currently cooking up Austin Mini Maker Faire 2014, which will feature Gon KiRin, the giant fire-breathing dragon from Detroit, as well as over 200 other Makers involved in Art/Craft, Robotics, Technology, Sustainability, Education, and much more, and will take place at the Travis County Expo Center on Saturday, May 3.
She was born and raised in the Northwest but has lived in Austin for the last 15 years, and her three kids are native Texans.