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The key to every successful semester of Verto Education is the team behind the scenes! Our Course Directors will serve as adjunct faculty at Portland State University and be responsible for designing the curriculum, training the teaching staff, and supervising the delivery and grading of the course. They’ve all travelled far and wide and think that every student should have that opportunity. 

Without further ado, our Course Directors for the 2019 – 2020 cohort.

Verto Staff Member

Karen Straight, Ph.D.

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, Global Public Health in Culture, Context, Introduction to Sociology: Identity, Politics & Equity

Dr. Karen Straight earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Karen first fell in love with international education and sociology while an undergraduate at the University of Oregon. As an undergraduate, she studied in Spain and Scotland. These experiences led to a life-long commitment to the value of international and experiential education. Karen has taken students abroad to study health, culture, and development in India, China, South Africa, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. She encourages students to use social science perspectives to understand the world around them and the role they want to play in it while immersed in new and unfamiliar cultural environments. With an emphasis on the importance of applying knowledge and connecting theory to experience, Karen takes an interdisciplinary approach to instruction. She has enjoyed teaching in sociology, anthropology, and women’s studies departments for liberal arts colleges and universities. She is currently a Professional Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wyoming. Karen is thrilled to serve as Course Director for Identity, Politics and Equity, Cultural Anthropology, and Global Health.

Delia Steverson, Ph.D.

Rhetoric and Composition

Delia Steverson is an Assistant Professor of African American Literature at the University of Florida, where she frequently offers courses at the intersections of race, gender, class, and (dis)ability, as well as rhetoric and composition. She has taught middle school Language Arts in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. She has also worked as a program leader for Rustic Pathways in both the Dominican Republic, where she led service learning through the Public Health and Summer Camp Leadership programs, and Thailand and Laos, where she worked in sustainable development and on the Island Hopping and Diving program. A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Delia completed both her MA and PhD in English Literature at the University.

Verto Staff Member

Ashley LaBoda, Ph.D.


After studying abroad in Costa Rica as an undergraduate student, Ashley knew she was hooked on travel. She has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and has spent time living in Costa Rica, where she conducted linguistic research in Limón and San José Provinces. Ashley has over ten years of experience designing and teaching Spanish language and Linguistics courses at the university level. She takes a communicative, content-based approach to curriculum design and is committed to teaching Spanish language and fostering intercultural competency through experiential learning. Ashley earned her Ph.D. in Spanish Linguistics from the University at Albany, SUNY.

Verto Staff Member

Kaycie Lawson, Ph.D.

Introduction to Environmental Science: Sustaining Food Systems & the Environment

Kaycie is an instructor and researcher with diverse experience in interdisciplinary environmental science. Kaycie has a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in Environmental Engineering from Northwestern University. Her nearly 20 year career working in environmental science has taken her to places around the globe. Included in her field research expeditions, Kaycie has traveled throughout southern Africa and to the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica to study interactions between biogeochemical nutrient cycling and climate.

sitting on stairs

Steven Sacks, Ph.D.

Comparative Philosophy: Key Philosophical Concepts Across Different Cultural Tradition

Steven is Professor of Religion at Cornell College, and has an A.M. and Ph.D. from The University of Chicago. As a lifelong exponent and practitioner of experiential education abroad, Steven has designed and led courses that teach students about the intersection of philosophy and culture in Mongolia, Ethiopia, Italy and South Korea and, corresponding to his role as course director for Verto Education, in Thailand and Laos.


Becky Goncharoff, M.A. International Relations

International Development: Justice, Equity, & Sustainability in Development Theory

Based in Northeast Thailand, Becky has spent over 7 years creating experiential learning opportunities for students studying abroad in Southeast Asia with CIEE, Rustic Pathways, and Thrival World Academies. Becky loves finding ways for local community members in Thailand and students from the United States to learn from each other and work together. She holds a BA in Political Science from Transylvania University and an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago. When she’s not working on study abroad programs, Becky is often supporting a group of women weavers fundraising environmental activism to protect their home through the Radical Grandma Collective.

Lean Sweeney, MA History, Doctoral Candidate in Latin American History

Modern Latin America

Lean Sweeney defended her doctoral dissertation, "Stateless Space and Nationless Citizens: Tools of State-Making on the Chiapas-Guatemala Border, 1821-1899" in April of 2019 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and received a Master's in Mexican History from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico in 2004, publishing the Spanish language version of her Master's thesis, "Survival of the Bandits: the Icaiché Maya and Frontier Politics in Southeastern Yucatán, 1847-1904" with the UNAM press in 2006. Ms. Sweeney has extensive experience teaching graduate and undergraduate level courses in Modern Latin American History, Latin American Popular Culture, Central America and the World, Latin American Film and Latin American Borderlands, in Mexico City, Boston, and Albuquerque. Lean has applied her bilingual and pedagogical training to numerous collaborative learning programs for teachers, graduate students and undergraduates. She is an experienced instructor of on-line and face-to-face courses.


Elizabeth A. Tuleja, Ph.D.

International Business and Corporate Ethics

Dr. Tuleja earned an MS.Edu and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. A native of Philadelphia, she now resides in Chengdu, China where she is an executive coach and consultant for global leadership in education and business. She believes that the key to developing cultural competence is the ability to become self-aware and open to learning about our blind spots, and is an expert regarding cross-cultural assessment. For over 20 years, Elizabeth has been designing curriculum and teaching in the field of intercultural communication and cross-cultural management for business students in the US and in Asia, as well as leading study abroad programs in China and Hong Kong. Her most recent book is: Intercultural Communication for Global Business: How Leaders Communicate for Success. She is delighted to bring her past and present experiences to the Verto program! Elizabeth credits her passion for “all things intercultural” to a childhood memory of Mrs. Murray’s first grade class where she participated in a play called, “Children and Cultures of the World.” She has lived in Mexico, Peru, Hong Kong, and China and traveled to nearly 40 countries. She continues to study Mandarin Chinese in the hopes of someday gaining fluency.