Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Participants - 2018

Main content start

Nicole Ack
Nicole Ack currently lives in Olympia, Washington and teaches 5th grade in a high-needs school. Born to a French-Canadian mother and German-American father, she appreciates the promise, opportunity and challenges of this country. Her westward journey started in NYC, where she was born. Raised in Greenbelt, MD ( known as one of three public cooperative communities founded in the New Deal era, Greenbelt was one of three "green" towns planned in 1935 under the United States Resettlement Administration and supported by F.D.R.'s revitalization program), she went on to receive her undergraduate degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland. From there, she moved to and spent her young adult years in Washington, DC., working in a variety of positions related to government and commerce. She then moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she was the founding director of an alternative dispute resolution program in Coconino County Superior Court in Flagstaff, Arizona. After a decade there, she moved further west, to Olympia, where she served as founding executive director of the Washington State Parks Foundation, and then as civil rights officer at The Evergreen State College, prior to a mid-career switch to teaching. She is delighted for the opportunity to spend time with such esteemed professionals studying John Steinbeck in beautiful California.

 Jane Barrer
Originally from New Zealand Jane has been living in New York City’s Little Italy and Chinatown since the 1980’s. Jane originally came to the States as a dancer, studying with Nikolais-Louis, and performing with Trina Moore Than Dancers. Jane then went on to work as a location manager in film production, working on television series and independent films shot on location in New York City and on the East Coast.

Motivated to leave the film industry by the birth of her two children, and the tragic events of 9/11, Jane decided to go to graduate school to become a children’s librarian. She graduated from Pratt Institute in 2005 with a Master’s in Library and Information Science, and a Specialization in School Library Media.

Following graduation Jane and her family returned to New Zealand for a couple of years to spend time with her aging parents. There Jane worked as a Team Leader in Children’s and Young Adult services, in the award-winning Christchurch City Libraries Network. On her return to NYC, Jane became a librarian in the NYCDOE, teaching in the South Bronx and Hell’s Kitchen before moving to the United Nations International School.

Jane is a reviewer for School Library Journal, choreographs UNIS musicals, is the co-chair of the M’Finda Kalunga Community Garden, is a court-appointed Special Advocate for CASA, and is the secretary of the UNIS Staff Association. Jane’s daughter Lucy is a dance major at Purchase who will be studying in Beijing next semester, and her son Leo recently returned from working backstage on the play “1984” at the Auckland Arts Festival. Jane loves to swim and garden, though not at the same time.

 William Blackwood
I teach English, social studies, and ESOL at a high school on what used to be considered the northern fringe of metro Atlanta. I am also certified in German. My wife, daughter, and I live in what’s called intown – actually, symptomatic of the Atlanta area’s Balkanization, in a separate, small municipality much closer to the city center. Fortunately, I use the anemic public rail system in conjunction with biking and running to get to school to avoid the ever-burgeoning nightmare otherwise known as Atlanta traffic. Reacquainting myself with Steinbeck’s writings now, I realize it would have conjured Star Trek, had somebody told me 30 years ago that, one day, I again would be reading The Grapes of Wrath and trying to keep all the connections in East of Eden straight – but this time on a small handheld device that doubles as a phone and a t.v.-like apparatus, inter alia. I spend a lot of time outdoors, in the West as much as possible, and Steinbeck’s grasp of living “tight” speaks to me differently now than when I was in high school.

 Michelle Cipriano
I am a quadruple certified teacher in Earth Science, Biology, Mathematics, and General Science at Cohoes City High School in Cohoes, New York. That's just a few minutes north of Albany for geographic reference. I have a BS in Earth Science and a MS for Literacy Specialist. I teach Earth Science and Living Environment for mostly Ninth and Tenth grade, but I have taught Environmental Science, Green Energy, Natural Disasters, Forensics, and Consumer Math. Last year I had the opportunity to attend the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Connecting With Marine Science Teacher Institute. I learned a bit about Steinbeck last year as I spent some time on Cannery Row and near Ricketts lab.

I grew up an Army Brat and was actually born in Frankfurt, Germany but can only speak enough German to politely ask if someone speaks English. I spent my formative years traveling Europe with my family so I love to travel, in fact, I'm planning to take the train across country to get to the Institute so I'm going to mark a whole bunch of states off of my Been To checklist. My parents made sure that reading was an important bonding activity so I have always had a deep love of the written word. I make sure to travel as much as I can when I have the opportunity. I especially enjoy going to either the old and ancient sites like the Roman Baths in Bath or the Acropolis in Athens or I enjoy going to areas of beautiful nature like the Finger Lakes region of New York or the Scottish Highlands. My major hobbies start with reading and then fall into crafts.

 Spencer Cody
Spencer Cody currently teaches 9-12 Science at Edmunds Central High School in Roscoe, South Dakota, and lives with his wife, Jill, and two daughters Teagan and Temperance in Mina, South Dakota. He grew up in Veblen, South Dakota, and graduated from Veblen High School in 2001. In 2005 he graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, with a BA in Biology Middle School and Secondary Education. He went on to teach 7-12 Science in Hoven, South Dakota, for the next 11 years. During this time he earned an MS in Chemistry from South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, in 2010. When he is not teaching science, he is always learning and researching science because he is fortunate enough to teach something that he is very passionate about. In his free time, he enjoys fishing and other activities with his family. His years in learning, researching, and teaching science have taken him through many varied research experiences in the lab, in the field, at sea, even a mile below Earth’s surface, and across many subfields in science from preserving dinosaurs in paleontology to analyzing muons in subatomic physics and everything in between. He looks forward toward ways to incorporate Steinbeck’s insights into science curriculum and the remarkable learning opportunity that the Steinbeck Institute presents.

 Anne Coviello
Ann Marie Coviello is a school librarian and English teacher at Riverdale High School in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. She has lived and taught in and around New Orleans for over 26 years. She has two wonderful sons. Her passions include reading everything all the time, spending all her money on fixing up her historic home, and making parades for Mardi Gras and pretty much every other time of the year.

 Shelby Denhof
Shelby Denhof resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is wrapping up her third year teaching English in the Rockford Public Schools district. She graduated summa cum laude from Aquinas College with honors such as the Outstanding German Senior Award and the Heart & Soul Award for her dedication to community service. Embedded in her teaching is her passion for writing, service learning, and travel. She has reflected on her career in articles published through Cult of Pedagogy, Edutopia, and McGraw-Hill Education and is continuing to pursue her love of writing creative nonfiction. When she's not in the classroom or off traveling in another country, she spends her time cooking, petting every dog she sees, listening to history podcasts, and exploring the outdoors.

 Wendy Hankin
I am an English teacher (senior English and AP English classes) and next year will be the AP English teacher and librarian at Globe High School in Globe, Arizona. A native of the Southwest, I was born and lived my first six years in the LA area, then grew up in Tucson, Arizona; College Station, Texas; and Los Alamos, New Mexico. My husband and I met in Globe and have both lived there for 25 years. We live about a two minute drive away from my school with our nine cats and two dogs. Prior to my 13 years teaching at Globe High, I taught high school English for 12 years on the nearby San Carlos Apache Reservation. The reason I’ve managed to live in the high Arizona Sonoran desert for 25 years is because my second home for 35 years was Flagstaff (which is at a much higher elevation and is cool in the summer). My parents moved to Flagstaff from Los Alamos at the end of my freshman year of college, so I have spent many summers there, and lived there fulltime for two years while I earned my Masters in English from Northern Arizona University. Until this year, I escaped the unbearable summer heat of Globe by housesitting in Flagstaff for my parents while they went off to places like Yellowstone. However, last August, they moved to the central California coast, so now I spend my vacation time near Morro Bay, California, beachcombing for shells and sea glass, wading in tidal pools, and watching sea otters nap in kelp beds. (I come by my love of coastal life from spending four years in Santa Cruz, California, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Literature from the University of California). My other hobbies include voracious reading (obviously -- I was a literature major), singing choral music and Broadway show tunes, making bead jewelry, knitting, crocheting, and sewing historical costumes and other apparel.

 Kevin Kearney
I teach English at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia, PA, where I've lived for the past 8 years. I earned a M.A. in Literary and Cultural Studies from La Salle University, a M.S.Ed. in Secondary Education from St. Joseph's University, and a B.A. in English from Wagner College. In my free-time I enjoy running (though it's grown decidedly more difficult in the past few years) and writing fiction and music criticism. I'm excited to spend July working alongside all of you in the place I've read about for so many years.

 Kristen Lawler
Kristen Lawler was born and raised in an old mill town north of Boston. She attended the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and received her BA in both English and Psychology. She then went on to receive her M.Ed in Secondary English Education from Boston College. For the past six years, she has been teaching seventh and eighth grade language arts at Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell, MA where she is currently the Curriculum Coordinator. Within the classroom, she works to create innovative lessons and infuse cross-curricular materials as a means of increasing engagement and tapping into the diverse learning needs of her students. Kristen spends her spare time doting over her corgi-pomeranian mix, Ollie, as well as reading, hiking, and traveling whenever possible. She is extremely excited to be attending this seminar and is looking forward to immersing herself in the Steinbeck experience this July.

 Anna Marquardt
Anna Marquardt has taught a range of English and social studies classes at Carencro High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. This year she will teach senior English, Dual Enrollment and Art History. Anna is a seasoned traveler and has enjoyed midnight golfing, ice swimming, desert glamping, pilgrim hiking, and elephant riding over the years. Yoga, reading, writing, printmaking and theater fill her time between teaching and globe-hopping. Anna feels that Steinbeck is an honorary author for her locale - capturing the heart and spirit of her school and community. His thinking regarding equality resonates in Acadiana, and Anna looks forward to reflecting on Steinbeck as an ecologist- where her appreciation for the writer promises to deepen.

 John McAlpin
John McAlpin grew up in Elyria, Ohio and attended Oberlin College in the 1970s. After seven years working as an exploration geologist in the oil patch in the Michigan, Illinois, and Appalachian Basins, punctuated with a year travelling around the world, he discovered teaching and has been at Belmont Hill School for the past 32 years. During this time, he also managed to spend two summers in New Mexico teaching Native American children, spent a sabbatical “walking in the footsteps” of James Hutton (as a visiting scholar at the University of Edinburgh), spent a second sabbatical studying climate change, the spread of infectious disease and the art of science writing for the layperson (as an associate at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment), helped write a Climate Action Plan for his community, raised and college-educated three children, kept his marriage happy, and largely paid off a mortgage in greater Boston. Perhaps the one constant over this time frame, his North Star among the vast universe of life choices, has been his annual rereading of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Why Steinbeck? Why Cannery Row? He looks forward to exploring that question and many others at this summer’s institute. He is stoked to attend.

 Jane McCormack
Anne Nolting
Sunisa Nuonsy
I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand to Laotian parents and grew up in upstate New York.  When I was 18, I moved to Sacramento, CA, and graduated from Sacramento State with a Bachelors in English Literature/Language.  I worked in the obituaries department at The Sacramento Bee for several years before the industry tanked and I made my move back east.  Here, I received my Masters from Long Island University-Brooklyn in TESOL and currently teach high school English in Brooklyn, NY, to immigrant students who are also English Language Learners.  In my free time, I like to enjoy fitness, nature, food, the arts, and spending time with my pug, Hamlet.  I'm excited to be a part of this institute and hopefully bring back rich materials to use for my students' graduation portfolios in the fall.  

 Agnes Poloquin
Paula Priour
Born to educators in Washington D.C, I had little chance of escaping the fate, though I tried several careers before I gave up and accepted the inevitable. I have taught at four schools, but most of my years I have been at the same college preparatory private high school in Austin, Texas – 28 years actually. In this time, I have also raised 3 children, and all are highly functioning and well-educated adults, despite having suffered the indignity of having had their mom as an English teacher in high school. At St. Michael’s, I have developed the curriculum for and taught many courses in those years, using too many books to count, but my favorite course has been an American Literature survey and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

My kids and I have owned ranchland property west of Austin for over 30 years, which we manage in Wildlife Conservation (and it’s painful to be a conservationist these days). This life choice is just one manifestation of my lifelong passion for all of the natural world, which also led me to develop and co-teach a Marine Conservation course on Galveston Island, and a Scientific Inquiry course in The Big Bend and the Davis Mountains of west Texas.

So, my summers are the intercalary chapters, where the lessons from immersion in the natural world clarify the narrative of my life. This summer, I expect that the Steinbeck Institute will be an exceptional intercalary chapter.

 Peter Sasso
I am a Middle School U.S. History teacher in the Rochester City School District. I live in Rochester, New York, with my wife and our 4 year old hound dog. I grew up in Connecticut and Ohio, then moved to Ontario, Canada, where I earned both my BA and MA in history. My master’s thesis examined the wartime campaign to ratify the 18th Amendment. While in college, I participated in two separate internships in Washington D.C. and remain extremely interested in politics, history, journalism and current events.

After finishing my MA I decided to transition into teaching, earning my MS in Adolescent Education at Canisius College in Buffalo. Since finishing my degree, I have been teaching in the Binghamton and Rochester areas. I am passionate about history and social studies education. I have also participated in several summer professional development opportunities, most notably through the Buck Institute for Project Based Learning and a three week seminar on case-based learning at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I also have experience teaching an interdisciplinary humanities course, which combined social studies and ELA into one double-block class. I am excited to learn new ways to integrate both ELA and science into my social studies curriculum. John Steinbeck has been one of my favorite writers since I first read Of Mice and Men in grade 9. I am very excited to be part of the Steinbeck Institute and look forward to meeting everyone in July.

 Paula Simonson
Paula Simonson grew up in Ogden, Utah and attended Utah State University and Weber State University where she earned an M.S.Ed. in Curriculum Development and later continued on to complete a M.A. in Literature. She has spent several years teaching mild-moderate junior high students. Currently, she teaches ELA to 7th and 9th grade students. She discovered a passion for the work of Steinbeck while reading The Grapes of Wrath as a sophomore in high school. Paula has remained in her hometown of Ogden, where she enjoys exploring new restaurants, riding bicycles, paddle boarding and skiing in the beautiful mountains of the Wasatch Front. Reading and writing are some of her favorite pastime activities and she often has elaborate fantasies about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature. Had she not discovered a passion for teaching, she would love to have been a chef or a background singer for Aretha Franklin. In the absence of a photo, it is important to note that she has been told she resembles an improbable fusion between Carol Burnett and Jamie Lee Curtis.

 Tracy Sprague
Tracy Sprague just finished her 24th year of teaching English in Torrance, California - most recently, she taught AP Language and 9th Grade Sheltered English at West High School. She also works for her district as a literacy resource teacher, collaborating with teachers to create student-centered and writing-filled classrooms. She is a National Board-Certified Teacher, South Basin Writing Project Fellow, and Southern California Teachers of English Vice President. In her spare time, she loves to read, travel, watch movies, listen to podcasts, and, most of all, barbecue in her backyard with husband Brian and lovable Labrador Lucy, named after her favorite comedian, Lucille Ball.

Currently, Tracy is collaborating with high school teachers throughout the Torrance Unified School District to create an alternative ELA textbook, an online resource that includes teacher-created units of study using a newly updated core literature list, on which Steinbeck’s works appear at each grade level. Through her work at this institute, she hopes to inspire teachers to create innovative and interdisciplinary units using Steinbeck’s novels.

 Sabina Sully
Sabina is a middle school humanities teacher at a public charter school in Baltimore, Maryland. She completed her B.A. in Women’s Studies at Allegheny College (PA) and went on to complete her M.A. in teaching at Towson University (MD). Though she has called Baltimore home for more than a decade, her heart (and sports allegiances) will always belong to her hometown of Pittsburgh.

Sabina has taught 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, and loves getting to see students she taught as little people return to her as much bigger people. In her spare time she enjoys hiking with her family, running, and reading.

 Keeley Tatum
Keeley Tatum currently teaches 10th grade English Language Arts at Richland High School in Richland, Mississippi. She studied Secondary English Education at Mississippi State University and graduated in 2011. She enjoys reading, journaling, traveling, competing in pool tournaments, and spending time with her family and friends. Keeley has been a fan of John Steinbeck’s work ever since she read The Grapes of Wrath with her students during her second year of teaching. She has integrated his work into her lessons every year since! She is very excited to study him in depth and discover new and meaningful ways to teach Steinbeck to her students. 

 Cori White
Cori White is a high school English teacher in Chicago's northwest suburbs where she has taught a wide range of courses these past 24 years including, most recently, AP Language, American Literature and senior composition courses.  Throughout her teaching career, a growing interest in the relationship between humans and the land, specifically in the American West, has extensively influenced her reading, travel, and classroom instruction.  Recently revisiting Steinbeck's classics has taken her back to her own high school summers lounging in her family's Minnesota backyard while escaping into Steinbeck's western fields and mountains.  She is excited to join this group at the Pacific's edge for a great adventure.

 Julie Woodruff
Julie Woodruff lives in Piketon, Ohio, and just finished her first year of teaching 7th grade Science at North Adams High School in Seaman, Ohio. She graduated summa cum laude from Shawnee State University, with a degree in natural science with a concentration in biology and a certification in 7th-12th life sciences. Her passion for teaching rests with her students; she loves seeing the moment a student understands a concept, and her goal for this institute is to discover new ways to connect classroom teaching with real-life examples. She has a deep love for animals of all types, likes kayaking and snorkeling, and has a passion for travel. She is very excited to meet everyone and to learn as much as possible from this institute.

 Anastasia Wright
Ana Wright was born and raised just south of Seattle.  She then left the west coast to attend college at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a BA in History with a concentration in the History of Science, played trombone in the marching band, and continued to feed her love for college football.  After graduating from Notre Dame, she entered the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE) which places teachers in positions for two year contracts while they take summer classes at the University of Portland.  Overjoyed to return to the west coast, Ana lived in Sacramento and taught middle school at Holy Rosary School in Woodland, CA.  She earned her MAT in the summer of 2017 and returned to Holy Rosary for a third year.
At Holy Rosary she has become a kind of ‘jack of all trades,’ having taught every subject except science in 5th-8th grades.  She enjoys teaching classic books and history most of all, and is therefore very excited to have the opportunity to participate in the Steinbeck Institute this summer.  In her spare time she enjoys gardening, playing board games, exploring the outdoors, and watching Survivor.