This month, Verto students embark on an incredible freshman semester experience where they will spend the next 15 weeks exploring, creating, and learning about the world with our amazing Field Instructors and Program Leaders.

Who are these phenomenal world travelers and mentors our students will be spending the next few months with? Our team members have pretty awesome adventures and achievements under their belts. Get to know them through a Q&A!

Honor Stoner — Field Instructor, Environmental Science

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Honor Stoner and I’m a Field Instructor for Environmental Science.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to visiting new places and meeting students that enjoy traveling/new experiences. I have not been to Hawaii or Fiji before and cannot wait!

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Traveling to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic in high school on conservation trips has greatly impacted my life. In Costa Rica, I spent two weeks building a hatchery for sea turtle eggs and patrolling the beaches at night for sea turtle nests. One night we were able to see a sea turtle lay the eggs before we collected them for the hatchery to protect from poachers. This was amazing but not the first time I had seen this as my family has a condo on the beach in Florida. As a young child I would routinely beg my mom each night to walk the beach with me to look for nesting turtles. We would usually get to see at least a few turtles nest each summer and would go out in the morning to talk to the “turtle patrol” (they would set up a barrier around the nest) about what we had seen. While in the Dominican Republic, I assisted in rebuilding the coral reefs that had locally been bleached. Both of these trips led me to pursue the career I did.

Along with these trips, in college over one spring break I went to Nicaragua with Global Medical Brigades (almost all my friends were pre-med). We travelled each day to a remote village (usually a bumpy 2-4 hour bus ride) and provided medical care and medicine to the families living there. For some families this is the only opportunity for them to see a healthcare professional. It was an eye-opening experience and one I will be forever grateful for.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I do not think I have single most adventurous moment but each summer that I have lived in Colorado has proven to be super adventurous! I am obsessed with backpacking and summiting 14ers (mountains above 14,000ft). I plan to summit all of the 14ers in Colorado eventually (there’s 58) and the highest peak in each U.S. state (besides Alaska as of now).

One funny story from backpacking is when my friend and I went to Utah for a short one night trip. We drove 7 hours, hiked 10 miles, and found the best campsite all in time for a beautiful sunset dinner! I had already put my PJ pants on and was boiling my water for dinner. When I went to the pour the boiling hot water into my meal pouch, the lid came off and the boiling water spilled all over my legs. I let out the loudest scream I have probably ever screamed and flailed around taking my pants off!! My friend had no idea what was happening but eventually put it all together. My ONLY pants were now soaking wet, my legs had nice red hot burns on them, and I had spilled my dinner all over the ground too. The sun was already setting and the temperatures were suppose to reach freezing, if not colder that night. There was no hope that my pants would dry and my friend did not have any extra either. Luckily, I had my big snuggly pitbull mix dog with me on this adventure. She would be personal heater for the night. I shared my sleeping bag with her and that is likely the only reason we did not end up hiking out the 10 miles that night. It was still a chilly night and that morning we woke up to frost covering the ground and our tents. I would do it all again because that sunset and sunrise was magical!

 Jacqueline Leshan — Field Instructor, Sociology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Jacqueline Leshan and I’m a Sociology Instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

The shared experience of being in unfamiliar places to explore together how people create cultures in response to environment, and the self awareness and transformation that often emerges when engagement with new ways of living and understanding encourages reflection upon on our own cultures of origin.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love teaching. I want to inspire people to think critically and self-reflexively, rather than to just accept their lives and the contexts in which they craft their lives, as if it just a given. I believe that everything is political, in the sociological sense of this word, political, which means the struggle over the right to determine the distributions of resources, life chances and power. For me, ideology, or the shared ways of understanding the world, is political. I see that the consequences of how we understand our world are very real, or material, in their consequences. I want to illuminates alternatives to hegemonic ideology, and to amplify realities from the perspective of the those who are silenced, especially those voices that encourage us to act consciously to create a more egalitarian and peaceful world. To this end, I attempt to teach to provide analytical tools for understanding that evoke counter-hegemonic ideas and action, or praxis.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I bring over fifteen years of teaching experience in diverse settings, including both physical and remote classrooms, at College of the Marshall Islands, United World College Costa Rica, University of Santa Clara, National University, and Philadelphia University. I am bilingual in Spanish and English. I am a translator for immigrant children seeking asylum in the US, and their lawyers.

Because of my personal history, research, and teaching experience, I am strategically placed to understand the specific historio-geographic system of advantages and disadvantages that distribute of resources, power and life chances along the fractures of migration status, race, ethnicity, gender and more. I am dedicated to sharing this perspective with my students.

My first career was as a midwife who provided peri-natal healthcare for the under-served community in San Diego. I am also the first generation daughter of immigrant parents from Europe and the Philippines. Inspired by my mother’s survival of World War II concentration camp, I became a midwife and community activist. In this capacity I cared for women who journeyed far from their homes in search of a better life. These included women from Central America, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, who fled the violence of poverty, armed and sectarian conflicts in their home countries often to find themselves in a harsh and hostile land.

In an effort to better understand the histories of the families I cared for, I became a labor rights activist beside maquiladora workers struggling for better labor conditions in Tijuana.

I first came to university to begin preparing for medical school, in my desire to find meaningful tools to contribute to the collective struggle for a better world. Instead, I found sociology as a method for understanding the world in order to change it.

I  earned an undergraduate degree in Critical Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies from UCSD, and Masters  in sociology at UC Santa Cruz. My research focused on community-based projects with midwives and women in indigenous communities in Southern Mexico. This work provided me with a unique perspective that enhances my understanding.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have lived in Chiapas, Mexico, where I traveled with indigenous healers and physicians to provide health care in rural communities. As a community-based researcher, I have lived in Comítan and San Cristobal, Chiapas. I went to Philippines to find my mother’s family who we lost contact with during World War II. I have had many glorious adventures in Spain, Peru, and Thailand.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Riding my mountain bike through the rain forest to avoid the military road blocks, carrying medical supplies and books to autonomous communities during the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

You will need to identify this yourself.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want to assure students that their perception and experience of the world is meaningful, and to help them find words to express what they know. At the same time, I want to help them widen and deepen their understanding through sharing the creative process of thinking and imagining with others.

 Lauri Travis — Field Instructor, Cultural Anthropology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Lauri Travis and I’m a Cultural Anthropology Field Instructor.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have worked in academia for over 20 years, including teaching and research. My favorite aspect is taking students into the field to conduct archaeological research.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I taught English in Taiwan and anthropology in Germany for Chicago City Colleges. I worked on archaeological excavations in England, Belgium, Germany and Italy while living in Germany for three years. Our sons have (and one currently) attended school and worked in Germany and Spain for several years, so we enjoyed extended stays in both countries.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I milk sheep and make the best cheese and yogurt.

Cam Silver — Course Director, International Development

What’s your name and position with Verto? I’m Cam Silver and I’m a Course Director for International Development.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I have been employed by educational programs that offer “experimental programs” such as Upward Bound for over a decade, so I genuinely believe that experimental education such as study abroad is essential to anyone’s educational journey.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have spent a good chunk of my professional career living in a “backpack” because of my extensive work traveling with students to various colleges. My interdisciplinary background stemming from my MA in Africana Studies/Cultural Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science helps me view issues from multiple viewpoints. As a Political Scientist, I may look at traditional issues such as armed interventions. Still, I may use an interdisciplinary theory such as queer theory to explain social and political phenomenon.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I am proud to say I am from Upstate New York, I use to spend my summers in Niagara Falls, Canada, and I have been to Toronto, Canada.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Do not be afraid of trying something new. Traveling abroad may change your life; you may want to change majors or career paths after your study abroad term. That is normal, and that is the purpose of the program is to give you “broader experiences” that will help you decide what you want to do. Do not be afraid to get your feet wet.

Hashi Jayasinghe — Course Director and Instructor, World Literature

Hashintha JayasingheWhat’s your name and position with Verto?  I’m Hashi Jayasinghe and I’ll be the World Literature Course Director.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m really eager to learn new names and meet new faces virtually this Fall semester. I do understand the complexities and the tensions of the year and hope that my classroom is a welcome respite from it all.  I enjoy having engaging conversations with students and learn so much for the connections.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I am enthusiastic about transformation and progress in the higher education field and believe that the change must happen now. My views are aligned with Verto’s mission of wanting to re-imagine higher education institutions and structures by enhancing diversity and inclusion and exposure to the world outside of the United States. I am a strong advocate for international education because it has made me grow as a person and find the best version of myself and many of those who are a part of the Verto team feel the same way.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

What laid the foundation for this role are the opportunities I have received for teaching both in Sri Lanka and the US. I have also taught in diverse settings which range from teaching English as a Second Language in rural schools in Sri Lanka, Speech and Drama instruction at an elite international school in Colombo, being an instructor for the Rhetoric and Composition Department at the University of Arkansas, and teaching online with the Summer Upward Bound Program at the University of Wyoming. I am also thankful that I received numerous scholarships to complete my graduate education in the United States. The funding from the scholarships gave me the freedom to travel abroad and attend important conferences that promoted educational exchange.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes I have traveled to several Asian countries including India, Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore and I’ve stayed for extended vacations in Canada and Australia with family. I’ve lived in Sri Lanka for 26 years of my life and moved to the United States when I was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship to complete my graduate education.

What is your most adventurous moment?

My most adventurous moment was a solo trip I made to Singapore before the start of my study abroad program in Kandy, Sri Lanka. I toured across Singapore with my childhood best friend who I met after 24 years. She migrated to Singapore during the civil unrest in Sri Lanka and reuniting with her was an absolute treat. Explore Singapore for the third time and in a more intimate way was memorable.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

My ethnicity in Sri Lanka is EuroAsian because my grandmother was from Scotland.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Keep an open mind. It is not easy to navigate the world outside during a pandemic but there is hope and change will happen. We must all be a tad bit more patient.

Erin Johnston — Course Director, Sociology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Erin Johnston and I’m a Course Director.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Verto brings together two things that have significantly changed my life: higher education and travel. As a first-gen college student, I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have had the chance to attend university. The courses I took in college expanded my understanding of my self and the world around me in ways I never could have anticipated. The extracurriculars I became involved in – including political activism – helped form me into the person I am today. I really didn’t love school during K-12 (despite being a ‘good student’) but my college courses reignited my love of learning. And travel? Coming from a working class background, international travel was not something that felt natural or possible to me for a long time. Having to work my way through college, even study abroad felt out of reach  — though I desperately wanted to go! As a sociology major, I learned about other cultures in college and was fascinated by all the different ways in which people think and do. I finally took my first international trips soon after graduating and haven’t stopped exploring since. I travel whenever I can and am always eager to go places that will challenge me. I truly believe in the transformative power of both college and travel. The fact that Verto brings them together is what makes me the most excited!

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I was a competitive gymnastic from 6-16 years of age. I won a national competition for my age group when I was 10 and eventually reached Level 9 (of 10) before “retiring” to pursue other interests. At the age of 31, I went back to the gym recreationally to re-connect with the playful part of myself that gymnastics has always brought out in me. Nothing makes me quite as happy as flipping around on a trampoline! While I can’t be at the gym during COVID, I continue to work on my ‘moves’ at home and hope to return to a gym and maybe even compete in a few adult gymnastics competitions post-COVID.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Traveling and immersing yourself in a new culture can be hard. [It is amazing, too, but it is also hard] It means leaving your comfort zone – all of your routines and habits, the people you know that define and ground you. Being in a new culture can shake you to your very core. Allow yourself time to rest and to reflect. Be gentle with yourself when you feel exhausted, frustrated, or sad, but don’t run away from those feelings. The transformative impacts of travel require us to put in effort – to actively seek the lessons and the wisdom in our experiences. This transformation is also a process that unfolds over time. Take your time. Give grace to yourself, your travel partners, and everyone you meet.

Austin Wheeler — Field Instructor, Latin American History

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Austin Wheeler and I’m a History Instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Teaching a course in which the lessons and materials of the past are not anecdotal.  This is often the case in most history courses for American students.  If you can make the materials relevant and tangible, which is one of the great advantages of study abroad programs, then information presented in the course will resonate more with the students and have a greater impact on their educational experience.   

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

For me, studying abroad was one of the most transformational moments in my life.  Through studying abroad, I made a lot of great friends who I would not have come across at home. I have had a lot a strange and awesome adventures in which I got to see the world.  Ultimately, it helped me to become more independent, understanding, and aware of the greater community of man, and it pointed me into my profession as a historian.   

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have taught at the university level in Spain, Mexico, and the US, so I am familiar with the different approaches to higher education in other countries.  I also studied abroad in Spain and Mexico in my undergrad and graduate studies, so I also understand the perspectives of students who participate in study abroad programs.  I believe I can balance the academic rigors of higher education, while also taking advantage of the unique opportunities that the host country can provide to the course’s materials and lessons.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes, I have lived in Spain, Colombia, Mexico, and China as a student and as a teacher. I lived in Spain for almost 10 years in which I worked on my Master’s and Doctoral research and also worked as an English Instructor.  Later, I went to Colombia for a year and a half and volunteered in Medellin as a Teacher.  After which, I returned to Texas to finished my doctorate, and then moved to Queretaro, Mexico and taught history at a university there.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Do not hesitate to ask questions, do not feel embarrassed to make mistakes, and try new things.

Kelley Reardon — Course Director, Environmental Science

Kelley Reardon

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Kelley Reardon and I’m an Environmental Science course director.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m most looking forward to building personal connections with students this semester and fostering a positive, supportive online community. I love to teach yoga and meditation and I’m excited to share my passion for mindfulness with students. Since I normally teach environmental science on the field semesters, I’d also love to organize some outdoor activities remotely to encourage students to build a deeper relationship with nature and spend some time away from Zoom for a bit.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

If I was a student right now, I would totally want to be on one of Verto’s semesters, in both non-COVID times and in our current situation. As an undergrad, I studied abroad in Scotland and China, and went on to live in China for more than a year as a graduate student. So, I have a deep appreciation for intentional travel and cultural immersion. Globalization and technology have led to a world that is more connected than ever before. In order to foster a deep understanding of each other’s cultures and values, and in order to celebrate differences between people, I think it’s so incredibly important to experience other cultures first-hand. Students gain these experiences early on in their college years with Verto, which is invaluable for shaping the rest of their college career.

During COVID-19, Verto’s remote classes are a win-win. Students can still earn credits for likely a lower price than their typical institution, and if all goes well, still study abroad in the spring. Unusual times call for innovative action, and the team at Verto are pros at academic innovation!

What is your most adventurous moment?

One of my most adventurous moments in Verto specifically was when I was teaching as an Field Instructor on the South Pacific semester last fall. I joined the cohort for a day of whitewater rafting in New Zealand, and we had the chance to raft on the world’s highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world! It was a thrilling experience for sure. After surviving the waterfall, we rafted through the pristine waters of the Kaituna River, surrounded by lush jungle. It’s so valuable for students to have the chance to connect with nature outside of a traditional classroom as it makes the lessons more relatable and interesting to learn about. After experiencing an adventure like rafting on the Kaituna, it would be challenging to not care about protecting clean water or forests. Students see what environmental protection can accomplish first-hand through extracurricular activities on Verto programs. That’s why these types of leisurely experiences are equally as valuable as a traditional lecture in shaping the world’s next generation of leaders.

Leslie Matheu –Academic Success Coordinator

Leslie Matheu

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Leslie Matheu and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in London.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am really looking forward to making great connections with the students as well as with the other faculty. I am really excited to share my love for Global Health, and for traveling and I am also excited to learn more from my colleagues. Can I take the critical thinking class!?

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My life significantly improved when I studied abroad during college. During this time I really discovered myself, and I learned what I wanted to do in life. I think Verto’s mission is a really important one in order to bring these amazing experiences to as many people as possible.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

An academic experience that prepared me for Verto was teaching and learning in Problem Based Learning universities. This system focuses on active learning and on allowing students to be in control of their own learning. I think this is something that will be very beneficial for teaching with verto.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I studied abroad twice, and I also did my master’s abroad. I normally also travel really often! I have friends all around the world, and I love visiting them and spending time with them.

What is your most adventurous moment?

My most adventurous moment was going paragliding in Rio de Janeiro! I got jump off the tallest mountain in the city, and fly above the ocean! IT was so much fun, and I even got to control the para-glides and fly by myself for a little bit! (under the guidance of my instructor). A close second was walking from France to Spain because I missed my train and had no other options.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

Something that always surprises people is that I have been to many countries around the world, but I have never been to New York!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want them to know that traveling is an amazing thing because it lets you understand the human experience. It gives you time to discover yourself, to understand people around you, and to really appreciate how unique and wonderful each person, place and thing is. I hope that they know that spending time abroad can be extremely difficult and challenging but it is always an amazing growth opportunity.

Stephanie McCreary — Academic Success Coordinator

Stephanie McCrearyWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Stephanie McCreary and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Fiji.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

Experiential learning in the form of education abroad has been a part of my graduate, undergraduate, and secondary levels of education. My time studying Buddhism in India while in college taught me compassion for human suffering, opened my mind to one of the great eastern religions, and taught me to find stillness within during chaotic times. It was an experience that transformed me and my outlook on the world. This kind of life changing experience shouldn’t be an afterthought to a college education, but integral to one, which is at the core of Verto’s mission.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have made a career as an ESL educator for learners all around the world in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Oman, Turkey, South Korea, Thailand, and India. As a graduate student, I participated in a short-term study abroad program to Senegal, West Africa, where I studied the complexities of language in the Senegalese education system. As an undergraduate, I participated in a semester-long Buddhist Studies program in India. As a high school student, I was a participant in a year-long exchange program to Belgium with Rotary International which took me on a five country tour around Europe and whet my appetite for future travel. I have traveled to 36 countries in total, with Thailand, Turkey, India, Morocco, and Mexico being my favorites.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I absolutely love food, and on a six-week trip to Mexico I spent time in Oaxaca, a state widely known for its wonderful cuisine. It was here that I took a step into the culinary unknown and munched on grasshoppers dusted with dried chili and lime juice.

Ashley LaBoda –Course Director, Spanish

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Ashley LaBoda and I’m a Spanish Course Director.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I love traveling and have visited 28 countries so far (excited to see where my next adventure will take me!). I love being the Course Director for the Latin American program because I studied abroad in Costa Rica and did my graduate fieldwork there as well. Aside from living there to complete my studies, I’ve also visited several times for vacation – it’s a place I love dearly! In “normal” times, I also spend a few months out of the year in Italy, which I consider a second home of sorts (both my husband and I have extended family there).

What is your most adventurous moment?

I’ve had so many great, adventurous experiences traveling. Motorbiking through southern Vietnam, tracking Gibbons in Cambodia, and completing a 4-day trek to Ciudad Perdida in Colombia are all adventures that pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to grow and see new things.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Embrace the weird, different, and challenging things you’ll encounter. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to new things, and also realize it’s ok if there are some things you just don’t like! Above all, open your mind to learn, have fun, and become a better version of yourself!

JaKyah Beatty — Program Leader

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m JaKyah Beatty and I’m a program leader in Fiji.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am looking forward to getting to know all of the students coming to Fiji this semester and having an opportunity to share and experience the  rich culture that resides on the island. I’ve lived in Fiji before so I am also excited to share some of my favorite local meals (fish with miti and anything in a lovo) and my knowledge of the island. I am also really excited to speak iTaukei (Fijian language) again and help students practice their itaukei as it is a very fun language to learn. Most importantly I am excited to help create a space for students to develop academically, creatively, and personally.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

For me studying abroad in college was the first time I had the opportunity to leave the country and it opened my eyes to how connected we all are. I believe every student should have an opportunity to learn abroad and see how their classroom topics come to life. I believe that visiting other countries and learning about different cultures is exactly what is needed as globalization in our society continues.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

In college I studied abroad in Italy and India where I studied fashion merchandising and supply chain sustainability. After graduating in 2018 I began working for a women’s empowerment organization in Northern Uganda where I worked with a wonderful group of women who manufactured and sold handmade goods. Most recently from 2019-2020 I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji as a Community Youth Empowerment Volunteer in a rural village in Central Fiji. I love traveling and learning about different cultures and I am very excited to share my passion with Verto students!

Fabricio Arguedas — Program Leader

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Fabricio Arguedas and I’m a program leader.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Im looking forward to having a good time!

I want us together to create a life changing experience based on respect, kindness, responsibility and fun.

I want to grow as an individual and collaborate to others (students and peers) to reach the best version of themselves.

I want to laugh until it hurts but I also want to be present and united during the challenging moments.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

“There is no perspective without distance”

Traveling and getting involved with other cultures gives us a good sense of who we are and a better understanding of what our role is in this world. It prepares us to become better leaders and to feel more connected to the world as one.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been working with different companies and NGOs; delivering youth development programs in Asia, North America, Europe, and Central America over the past 10 years.

Majoring and working in the tourist industry in Costa Rica also provided me with a good understanding of how tourism can be properly managed to create a positive impact in the countries we travel to.

I also LOVE cycling and traveling in general so I have made a couple of long-term cycling and backpacking trips around the world which provided me not only with lots of stories but also very rich life lessons to share.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Probably the time I got lost and had to spend a night on my own deep in the forest in northern China with no camping equipment! The plan was to go camping on the Great Wall……. but I found it the day after!!

*My camping gear got lost too! 😀  If you would like to hear more about this story, I can share them with you in Costa Rica!

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I used to eat ketchup with papaya as a child! haha

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

A safe space for us all to feel comfortable being who we are, respecting each other, and creating an atmosphere based on trust and responsibility.

Leslie Jernegan — Field Instructor, Rhetoric & Composition and World Literature

Leslie Jernegan

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Leslie Jernegan and I am an Instructor of Rhetoric and Composition in Hawaii.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m looking forward to learning as a community and leveraging 2020’s challenges and lessons-practicing difficult conversations and guiding my students to use writing as a tool for deeper reflection, processing, and exploration of this year’s events. With hopes, students will leave the class with a deeper sense of empathy and empowerment to be active agents with the ability to shape the world in which they live.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I’m thrilled to be part of a team that values accessibility of international education. Through undergrad and grad school, my most memorable learning experiences were those that were hands-on and, more often than not, in spaces that felt wildly unfamiliar from the traditional classroom to which I was before accustomed. Because I had to fund my way through all the expenses of college, I didn’t see traditional study-abroad programs as an option for me; they simply weren’t accessible for all students. Instead, I identified alternative ways to be abroad (e.g., grants, internships). Verto’s mission to provide an affordable and innovative way for students to incorporate travel into their college experience-intentionally blending field experiences and classroom experiences-feels remarkably inclusive and novel.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

My family didn’t have the funds to travel when I was growing up, so, when I hit fourteen, I snatched up my first job in order to help satiate my desire to move my way around the world. With who-knows-how-many hours spent working at a Wisconsin farm and at a local sandwich shop, I was able to fund a high-school trip to Costa Rica, as well as a high-school exchange program to Japan. Since then, I’ve traveled to numerous countries around the globe, including my time working in the UK and Peru, as well as studying in Singapore and Malaysia. My 2020 plans were to spend the year in Argentina as a Fulbright grantee, but I was sent back to the United States early due to the global pandemic (I’ll return one day!).

What is your most adventurous moment?

When I was eighteen, I spent four months sleeping outside in Alaska as a wilderness counselor-a position that put me, along with one other counselor, in charge of keeping children happy, safe, and challenged while hiking our ways through overnight backpacking and canoeing/portaging trips throughout a state I had never before visited. At the time, I rolled with (and adored) it, and now I look back and think ‘Dang! You were young!’ It was truly a transformational time in my life-a wonderful transition into adulthood.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m not sure this would be so surprising to my childhood community, but my first tooth was pulled out by one of my “neighbor moms” (and lost on the floor) at my hometown bar. When I first moved away from Wisconsin, I was shocked to learn that the culture of other places wasn’t to spend Friday nights at fish fries, eating cheese curds, and searching for missing teeth under restaurant tables.

Andrés Zúñiga — Regional Manager

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Andrés Zúñiga and I’m a Regional Manager in Costa Rica. 

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I can’t wait to welcome the students to my beautiful country, and I’m really looking forward to creating a transformational experiences for them in Costa Rica.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I love to travel internationally and getting to know new cultures and try new foods. I’m very passionate about travel, and through travel I’ve been able to discover my true self. Exploring new cultures has opened my eyes and mind to new ideas and perspectives.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have 7.5 years of experience working in the experiential education field.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes! I have visited 21 countries in 4 different continents. I have traveled for work and for pleasure, but even when I travel for work I find fun ways to spend my free time connecting with the local culture.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Reaching the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 ft) back in 2017 during a 6-day trekking adventure.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I learned English by watching TV shows with subtitles in Spanish

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your background is, if you work hard for your dreams and hopes, they will become your reality sooner or later.

Malia Wakinekona — Program Leader

Malia Wakinekona

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Malia Wakinekona and I’m a Program Leader.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Just like all of you, I’ve been bit by the travel bug. During my undergraduate time at Stanford I participated in three off-campus learning  opportunities 1) a summer seminar based in Dubrovnik, Croatia after my freshman year 2) a winter quarter study abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and 3) a post graduation summer internship based in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. That first summer in Croatia goes down not only as of of my favorite summers of all time, but also as one of the most enriching and thought provoking academic moments of my college career. The program was so meaningful because both of the faculty leaders were from the Balkans region. Not only did they provide deeply personal anecdotes to our conversations on identity, the 90s war, and art as a form of activism but they also introduced us to amazing local and profound scholars, students, and artists who spoke on their own lives growing up in Yugoslavia or coming of age during the war or post-war period.

Besides my academic based travel opportunities, I try and see as much of the world as I can. Here are a few fast facts about me:

Favorite city ever visited: Sydney, Australia

Most memorable view: Standing up top of the Xunantunich (Stone Lady) temples in Belize

Solo adventure: Volunteering at hostel in Hvar, Croatia

First big trip away from home: High school exchange to Tokyo, Japan for 1 month

What is your most adventurous moment?

Last summer I took a leap of faith and decided to volunteer at a youth hostel in Hvar, Croatia. I’ve been eyeing volunteer requests on the help exchange platform WorkAway for YEARS, so I decided to take the plunge and fly out to Croatia. I wanted to feel slightly in my comfort zone, so I chose a country I’d visited a few times before and had  a foundational grasp on the culture and a bit of the language. There were moments that I felt lonely-I wished that all my friends could teleport to the island so we could enjoy endless days swimming and soaking up the sun but that’s not how life works.

One lesson I took away from my time in Hvar is that you can’t always wait for others to chase your dreams. Sometimes you just got to go and keep your loved ones up to date along the way.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

For some of you Verto might have been your plan A for the fall. For others, Verto might be your plan B, C, D or even E and that’s okay! We all probably thought our September 2020 would have played out differently, but we’re all here together for the semester so let’s make the most of it. I can confidently say that if I were to teleport myself back to 2014 and my fall quarter of college, I had one singular vision of what my next four years looked like. There were so many unexpected turns along the way that actually lead me to groundbreaking moments like picking my psychology major or speaking in front of the incoming class of 2021 at New Student Orientation. Let’s embrace the unknown together and see what happens!

Rebecca Liebeskind — Academic Success Coordinator and Course Director, Special Topics in Cultural Immersion

Rebecca LiebeskindWhat’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Rebecca Liebeskind and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator and Special Topics Course Director in Hawaii.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m excited to connect to students during this novel and challenging time while we work together to make the most of the opportunities at hand and build a strong foundation from which to explore and engage when the physical world opens again.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My experience with international travel and study abroad in particular during my time at University was formative in helping me find my passions and ultimately my path.  I believe in Verto’s mission because I believe that through travel, students can loose static notions of themselves and their societies, and instead discover a nuanced and dynamic understanding of the world while finding themselves in the process.  I love that Verto is working hard to make these opportunities accessible to more students.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have spent the last 7 years working with Gap and College students on programs abroad.  I got my start as Teaching Assistant on a University Study abroad program that went through Europe.  (Fun note: I had previously been a student on the same program and had discovered my passion for both history and educational travel during the semester). Following that I have spent the better part of the previous 6 years running Gap programs in India during the semesters and spending my summers in other regions with high school students engaged in summer travel.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I caught the travel bug young spending some summers with my family in Germany, but starting in college I took every opportunity I could find to go abroad. In college, I was part of a summer program that went to Spain, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Turkey.  I took part in a volunteer program in Minsk, Belarus.  I also did a summer of Russian language studies in St. Petersburg, Russia and a summer of Hebrew language in Haifa, Israel.  I spent a year and half completing my Masters program in Israel.  Since finishing my studies I have sought work that would allow me to continue traveling and living abroad and have enjoying working with Gap Programs and student travel in many different regions of the world.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I guess trying to run and jump on a moving train in India.  It didn’t happen.  The train was too fast and I was too slow.  But the commotion of me chasing after the train caused enough of a scene that word passed through the cabins and up to the conductor who ultimately stopped the train so I could board.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I love to travel but hate to fly.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

To not look for answers, but to try to love the questions and the process of discovery.

Christian González Jaworski –Field Instructor, Sociology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Christian González Jaworski and I’m a Field Instructor for Sociology. 

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I look forward to meeting interesting new people, I look forward to traveling again and having a great semester!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I truly believe that all students can learn and grow through travel.  By seeing and experiencing the world, Verto provides students a unique opportunity to learn!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I love to teach!  As a professional sociologist, I have over ten years of teaching experience all over the world.  It is important to look at all societies and cultures in order to grow and learn.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Oh, I have been all over the world and have lived and traveled pretty much everywhere.   Travel opens the world and I love it!

Ali Swank — Rhetoric & Composition and World Literature Coordinator

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Ali Swank and I’m a Rhetoric & Composition and World Literature Instructor in Fiji.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I received my Masters in Teaching Secondary English from Kennesaw University and spent six years teaching high school English in Atlanta, Ga. During the summers I worked for an international travel company in the South Pacific, leading & managing travel and community service projects. I left the traditional classroom to join the company full time in Fiji. That move eventually led me to Verto. I joined Verto as the Rhetoric & Composition instructor for the South Pacific in Fall 2019. This will be my second semester with Verto.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve worked and lived in the South Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia) since 2015 leading travel and community service programs. In 2019 I traveled with Verto in the South Pacific and taught the Rhetoric & Composition course.

In grad school, I lived in Costa Rica for a semester and taught at an international school.

Thanks to these experiences, I’ve been able to explore different parts of the globe visiting friends I’ve met during my travels.

What is your most adventurous moment?

I’ve done the Nevis swing, the world’s largest swing, in New Zealand…and I’d do it again!

Edgardo Arevalo — Field Instructor, Environmental Science

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Edgardo Arevalo and I’m an Environmental Science field instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am most looking forward to initiating a new process as educator and interact with groups of enthusiastic students seeking for experiential learning in Costa Rica. Also, to be part of Verto Education team for a successful Spring 2021!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My personal connection to Verto’s mission is my deep interest to facilitate learning opportunities to everyone. I totally identify myself with Verto’s view to provide opportunities to those who have no financial means to achieve educational goals. In addition, I believe that the abroad programs such as Verto’s would open and reward many young minds toward the construction of better sustainable lifestyles.    

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

My previous work as a tropical ecology and sustainable development teacher with the School for Field Studies program here in Costa Rica, prepared me for this role. Over 14 years, I designed academic materials to develop the course syllabus, lectures, field exercises and laboratories. In addition, the academic program was implemented through experiential activities, hands on learning and community interactions between the students and community members.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I traveled abroad as student to undertake my master’s degree in England as well as for my doctoral studies in Switzerland. Also, to conduct research in other countries. These opportunities allowed me to learn from other cultures and educational systems.

What is your most adventurous moment?

As a tropical ecologist, the most adventurous moment I experienced was during my field work at Whytam woods, Oxford. I conducted my research on mixed-species flocks of birds during long winter hours. The low temperatures, snow and wildlife in the woods contrasted with my previous tropical wildlife perception.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

The one thing is to experience and interpret sounds whenever I am in the field. I feel so reworded when I tell apart subtle differences between bird song species!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

I want to share my local experience about nature, culture and enthusiastic with the new coming students!

Shannon Horgan — Program Leader

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Shannon Horgan and I’m a Program Leader.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am excited to be a part of the students’ journey to new friendships, new connections with the world around them, new culture and new language. I am excited to use my past experience to help them navigate their semester as best as I can and also learn from them as much as I can in the process.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My personal connection to Verto’s mission is that I studied abroad in college and it was a life changing experience for me. I met some of my life long friends and to this day I still keep in touch with my professor and my host mom. Verto offers a lot more support than what I experienced as a student as well as more opportunities for engaging service learning projects.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I worked as a therapist and coordinator during my career as a social worker and I think this prepares me well for the emotional needs of the students and gives me more tools for managing group dynamics. I have studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica so it is an experience that to some extent makes me more relatable to the students and also puts me in a good place to be more empathetic to some of the things they might be experiencing. I served abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer so I have extensive experience navigating a culture that is not my own for an extended period of time as well as navigating a new language.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have traveled a lot since the age of 19. On my own I have traveled to Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Mozambique, Mexico, France, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Haiti, Canada, and Puerto Rico. For school (study abroad or travel seminars for class credit) I have traveled to Costa Rica, Barbados and Cuba. For Peace Corps I was sent to the Dominican Republic, where I lived two years after finishing my service. I worked a summer in Peru with Rustic Pathways.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Visiting my friend who was serving in the Peace Corps in Mozambique by myself. I had to fly to Johannesburg, South Africa with a full day layover in Paris and then take an overnight bus to cross the border into Mozambique with no way to contact my friend during this. I was given the name of the bus stop I had to get off on and cross my fingers my friend was there. It was a bold travel move but it paid off with a unique experience I would never have otherwise had.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I don’t love vegetables. I am fairly health conscious and pay attention to nutrition. I don’t like vegetables but people are always surprised by this because they assume I love them.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

It’s okay if day one you don’t have your future best friends locked in. Everyone is in the same boat as you and that’s something you will all have in common. You are all experiencing this semester together and you WILL make lifelong friendships and connections.

Chris Morales — Academic Success Coordinator

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Chris Morales and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

When I was three years out of college, I quit my job in biotechnology and moved to Guatemala, where I volunteered in an orphanage for the next six months.  This time, in which I spent immersing myself in Guatemalan culture and history, was one of the most profound eras of my life.  It opened me up to new ways of being in the world, helped me to see some of the blatant injustices that abound on our planet, and set the stage for a journey of service and self-discovery that continues to this day. Since then, I have committed to serving as a guide to facilitate the tremendous opportunity for learning that can happen on those same journeys of self-discovery and discovery of the world.  Verto’s mission to make these transformative opportunities more accessible speaks to my heart, and I’m excited to be working with an organization committed to this work.

What is your most adventurous moment?

A series of adventurous moments is when I rode my bicycle from my hometown of Fairfax, California to the coast of Oaxaca in Mexico.  The trip was about 3500 miles and took me about 4.5 months.  It was an amazing way to get to see a country, and get to know the people living there.  I loved being able to experience the subtle shifts in geography, from desert to farmland, from industrial zones to urban areas, from temperate mountains to tropical forests, and to see the corresponding subtle shifts of culture and people as the geography changed.  I’ll never forget the winds, the heat, the smells, the ups and downs (on the road and in my mind), and the lessons that kept presenting themselves to me.  I remember one moment in particular, stuck with a flat tire and broken pump in the middle of the desert and 25 miles from the nearest town.  After some brief expressions of frustration and anger, I had one of the more important realizations of my life: to expect anything out of life is to set ourselves up for disaster.  Life is life – it just happens. The flat tire didn’t happen to me.  It just happened. It’s how we respond to those things that really show who we are.  And, the things that happen that make us feel uncomfortable, well those are often times to take a breath, pause, and see what might be there for us to learn.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Stay open. This is an opportunity to learn, and to grow, and you will get the most out of your semester by staying open.  Stay open, even in times of discomfort.  Though it will feel uncomfortable at times – physically, mentally, emotionally – those are the times to lean in, and to stay open.  Discomfort is just a sign that we’re in the right place, and that there is something important for us to see in that moment.  Leaning into discomfort will increase your tolerance, and ultimately, your resilience as a human.  Just like by staying outside in the cold more and more each day will increase your tolerance to cold, and therefore allow you to experience more of the full spectrum of temperature, seasons, and what the Earth is, staying in the discomfort of any particular moment will increase your tolerance to Life, and will ultimately liberate you, allowing you to experience just about anything, and experience it with more ease, grace, and freedom.

Tess Bird — Field Instructor, Cultural Anthropology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Tess Bird and I’m a Course Instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m really looking forward to teaching my favorite subject (cultural anthropology) in a new place. I think cultural anthropology is an eye-opening and diverse subject that really expands our ability to comprehend and connect to new people, places, and experiences.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My own study abroad experience gave me a well-rounded education and helped me become an adaptable, resilient person. It also inspired me to live and work between the US and the UK for over ten years. I truly believe such experiences should be a part of as many students’ educations as possible, which I why I stand behind Verto’s mission!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I completed my PhD in anthropology at the University of Oxford in 2018 and then became a Mellon Fellow at Wesleyan University from 2018-2020, where I taught first year writing courses informed by anthropology.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I lived in the UK for nearly five years. I first studied abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, and then went back for my Masters and PhD. I still miss the beautiful countryside and the tea breaks! I’ve also travelled to South Africa, Brazil, Nepal, Guatemala, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, and France. My two biggest travel dreams are to see the midnight sun in the far north and hike in Patagonia.

What is your most adventurous moment?

After college, I packed up my car in Connecticut with a friend (that I had actually met during study-abroad) and drove to Chicago (where I had never been) without any real plan. It was during the economic crash of 2008, so we had no problem finding a cheap apartment, but we had a hard time finding jobs! By the time I found a job (at a cafe), I had $200 to my name. That whole year was one big adventure.

Matthew Paffhouse — Field Instructor, International Development

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Matthew Paffhouse and I’m a Field Instructor for International Development in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Connecting with a group of inspired students who are eager to peel back the seal on life. There are few things I enjoy more than a good journey, and sharing these experiences has always been a highlight of my life.

What is your most adventurous moment?

So many to choose from them, but the one that is rising to the top at the moment is a a two week solo hike through the Himalayan mountains after having studied in a Buddhist monastery for the previous five weeks. My mind was so greased up on mindfulness, it was like I was seeing the world for the very first time.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Time without phones while walking around the city. We are writing a story when traveling, and the details of life explode the more one is able to disconnect. So too the internal discoveries, which is hopefully some of what we’re talking about when going on these walking journeys.

Madison Prior — Program Leader

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Madison Prior and I’m Program Leader in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Getting to know the students and staff! Building lasting relationships, learning from them, and having fun socializing after a year of relative isolation!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I could be the poster child for a successful and transformative study abroad experience, and it’s a dream to get the opportunity to help students make their experiences as life-changing and rewarding as mine was. As someone who worked all four years to put herself through college, I can deeply relate to the importance of making these experiences affordable/accessible to all, and it means so much to me to see that in Verto’s mission statement.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve been fluent in Spanish since I was a kid, I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Spanish with a focus in Latin American studies. I’ve lived in Latin America for about 5 years cumulatively (Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Colombia.) I studied abroad at the same age as these students. I’ve worked for an international non-profit, been a translator, camp counselor and high school teacher.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Mexico: My first experience living abroad was in high school when I went with my best friend Kratna to her home village of Libres, Mexico. Her family had started an art-camp for low-income kids in their community, and I volunteered for 2 months that summer (2011) helping out with the camp, teaching art to kids, and exploring Mexico with her family.

Dominican Republic: In 2014 I studied abroad at Universidad Iberoamericana. I traveled the country with my study-abroad group and fell in love with it’s people and culture. I formed a community of locals and expats that I’m still a part of to this day.

Tijuana, Mexico: In exchange for translating for Seattle U on a service trip, I was given a scholarship to join the program and learn hands-on about the issues facing the US-Mexico border.

Dominican Republic: After my study abroad experience, I was eager to return in 2015. I applied to an ISA program where I could earn college credit as a social work intern at a local organization.

Cali, Colombia: 2016-2017. I applied for a workaway program in which I taught English in exchange for my living-expenses and a small stipend. I lived in a house with teachers from France, England, Canada and Colombia and explored the entire country

Dominican Republic: 2018-Present. Once again, the pull of the island brought me back! I’ve been a full-time history teacher for the past 2.5 years at Colegio Bilingue New Horizons. At this point I have traveled every corner of the island with my Dominican friends and could be a tour guide!

I’ve also traveled to Haiti, Ecuador, and Canada.

What is your most adventurous moment?

After my time teaching English in Cali, Colombia, I traveled solo (aside from when I made friends along the way) by bus around the entire country for 2 months staying in hostels and camping. In retrospect it may not have been my safest decision, but it was surely my most adventurous! From hiking Parque Nacional Tayrona and sleeping under the stars, dancing in Medellin, exploring the less trafficked Pacific Coast and Buenaventura, experiencing Bogota, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Barranquilla, Pereira, Bucaramanga and more- each day I learned something new.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’m not sure… Maybe my extensive love/knowledge of reggaeton?

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Keep an open mind! About your peers, the staff, the program, the country, the culture, the food, etc! Don’t judge too quickly.

Courtney Pickett — Environmental Science Coordinator

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Courtney Pickett and I’m an Environmental Science field instructor.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I took a gap year in 1999, when gap years weren’t really en vogue. My grandparents weren’t stoked on the idea, saying everyone they knew who took a year off never went back to school (although that was during WWII!). But I just wasn’t ready to go straight from high school classrooms to college classrooms…I wanted to get out and see the world! I ended up working as a ski/snowboard instructor, kayak guide, waitress, and a number of other odd jobs. I also took two work trips to Honduras, which was my first time out of the country. The experience really opened my eyes to how different the world is. I was able to be embedded in a different cultural experience for a short period of time, but that experience was life-changing.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I lived in the Turks and Caicos for a year and a half, teaching college students environmental policy and socioeconomic values. I’ve studied abroad in Australia and British Columbia. I’ve traveled abroad to Fiji, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I’ve lived on six islands in three different countries (and hope to continue island-hopping in the future).

Alejandra Salas — Spanish Instructor

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Alejandra Salas and I’m  a Spanish Instructor.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Getting to know the Verto staff and students and teaching Spanish. I enjoy the teaching and sharing my language and culture. I’m looking forward to great semester and a wonderful new experience for me.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I believe sharing our languages and cultures helps us understand the each other better. It widens our vision of the world and, therefore can provide a better future for everyone.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve study aboard in the US and Europe and I’ve been a Spanish Instructor for 15 years.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

Yes, I’ve traveled in Latin America (Mexico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Panama and Cuba) and I lived/ studied in France for 18 months.

What is your most adventurous moment?

It’s hard to decide bur I would say backpacking with friends in Europe and going to the zip lines in Costa Rica.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

My passion for Latin Music, I usually share music with my students doing the semester to help them learn the language.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

My passion for Spanish, I like to encourge them to learn what is provided during classes, but also to continue learning Spanish after the semester is over. I view learning a second language, not only as a short term goal, but as I lifetime goal.that can help us make wonderful connections worldwide.

Jay Fancher — Course Director, Cultural Anthropology

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Jay Fancher and I’m a Cultural Anthropology Course Director.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Vicariously visiting Hawaii and Fiji (and seeing it through the eyes of students) – this is the way anthropology should be learned, in the field!

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

My own journey in anthropology began with a study-travel trip to Egypt, Kenya, and Tanzania in 1994. It changed everything for me and I’m excited to facilitate similar eye-opening experiences for today’s college students.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have been teaching cultural anthropology for nearly 20 years. In that time, I have yearned to have more of a field component to my classroom-based courses, but, for various reasons, this is logistically impossible. Verto’s programs make it possible and I’m happy to contribute.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I have seen pyramids on two continents (in Egypt and Mexico), visited the cradle of humankind (Kenya and Tanzania), and lived among “Pygmy” hunter-gatherers in the Congo Basin (Central African Republic). There is so much more that I would like to see in the (post-Covid) years ahead!

What is your most adventurous moment?

So many rainforest stories! Nothing can prepare you for every possible joy and hardship you may experience during ethnographic fieldwork in a place like the Central African Republic. My experience began with post-9/11 anxiety, rampant corruption in the nation’s capital of Bangui, acclimating to the environment, making plenty of awkward cultural mistakes, learning to adapt and laugh it off, deadly snakes, annoying bugs, Ebola virus way closer than I was comfortable with and just… learning how to be a better scholar and human being. That’s not really a “moment,” I guess 🙂

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I became an archaeologist only because superhero, Jedi knight, and starship captain weren’t real jobs. The combination of Indiana Jones and that previously mentioned study-travel trip really set my course. I fell in love with real anthropology and am grateful to have made a career of it!

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Breathe. Mindfully enjoy the experience you’re privileged to be having right now. Embrace who you are. Be kind. Learn and share what you have learned with others (especially your teachers!). Make memories. There’s a big, beautiful post-Covid future out there and we need your help making it as bright as possible!

Aimee Gunn — Regional Manager

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Aimee Gunn and I’m a Regional Manager in Hawaii.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I’m most looking forward to fostering an inclusive community within our group and sharing experiences in the outdoors hiking, surfing, and swimming. I’m excited to explore the unique Hawaiian ecosystems and explore everywhere from deep in the rainforest, to the lava fields, to deep on the ocean floor. Catching a sunrise surf, joining in on an Anthropology course with the Hawaiian locals, and scuba diving with the manta rays of Kona are just a few of the many Hawaiian adventures I look forward to having this semester!

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

My professional background is in experiential education and running operations for outdoor/wilderness expedition leadership groups and multinational student travel companies. I am grateful to have collected experiences traveling and working in 35 different countries around the world. Having spent the last 8+ years facilitating student travel to rural communities throughout the Fiji Islands and New Zealand, the Hawaiian islands represent a unique crossover of culture and way of living that so many of the island countries of the Pacific share.

My personal study abroad experiences in college involved course work while traveling around different countries which forced me outside of my comfort zone and pushed the boundaries of my perspectives. I’m grateful to be able to now help curate an experience for students that connects the academic + travel worlds and contributes to students personal growth and global perspective.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I was once asked to be on the tv show “Naked and Afraid.”

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Pro Tip: Use packing cubes.

Courtney Carlson — Field Instructor, Rhetoric & Composition and World Literature

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Courtney Carlson and I’m a Composition & Rhetoric and World Literature Instructor.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I’ve study aboard in the US and Europe and I’ve been a Spanish Instructor for 15 years.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I love being a teacher. Aside from a couple of odd jobs as a teenager–as a gym attendant, an ice cream scooper, and an industrial safety compliance consultant!–I’ve spent my entire professional life trying to transform how and what we learn. I think the best learning experiences lead us into unlikely relationships–connecting subjects and ideas, cultures and communities, and each of us to one another. I was a college professor for ten years and more recently I have been teaching and tutoring middle and high school students. I’ve discovered it’s a joy to help people explore their curiosities and talents at any age. A number of especially powerful international teaching experiences–in places like the French Alps, Canary Islands, southern India, Kenya, and Australia–led me to Verto. I am so excited to join our students in Costa Rica this spring.

What is your most adventurous moment?

A lot of my greatest adventures have been shared with students, from diving along the Great Barrier Reef to climbing via ferrata into the high alpine near Chamonix, France, to collect climate data. One experience really stands out. Once I accompanied a group of undergraduate and graduate natural resources students to the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, Kenya. The 48,000-acre conservation reserve is teeming with wildlife such as elephants, Grevy’s zebras, impala, and buffalo, many of which are the subject of study by Kenyan and international researchers. We slept by the riverside in canvas tents, cooked outdoors, and held class under an open air shelter at the center of camp. We witnessed a lion take down a plains zebra, observed elephants from breathtakingly close, live-trapped elephant shrews and mongoose, camera-trapped dik-dik, banded birds, fell asleep to hyena calls, and woke to the babble of guinea fowl. We took Swahili lessons and joined Turkana elders in their village for food and dancing. I’ve been lucky to travel extensively in my teaching career, and this time in Kenya provided some of the greatest adventures yet.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

Thank you for trusting me and the rest of our Verto team with this important semester in your college experience. Together we are going to get the chance to see things that would otherwise remain invisible–about ourselves, about others, and about the vivid and complex world. Sometimes it will feel uncomfortable or jolting, most of the time I think it will really energize you. Almost without trying, you will grow. For me, this is the crazy alchemy of learning in the field, in communities, and in places that are new or unfamiliar. I’m honored to get to join you during such a dynamic time!

Maggie Musty — Academic Success Coordinator

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Maggie Musty and I’m an Academic Success Coordinator in Costa Rica.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I love how Verto’s learning environment creates a space for self-discovery and collaboration. My favorite part of each semester has been the opportunity for staff and students to learn and grow together. For this reason, I can’t wait to support students in the process of cultural exploration, navigating the nuances of communicating in a second language, and gaining a better understanding of self. At the same time, I’m really excited to learn from my students and for us to process this unique experience together.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

As a junior in high school, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone by studying abroad for a year in Italy. I was drawn in by the idea of a different type of education and immersing myself in another culture. From having the opportunity to live and breathe my daily coursework and stumble through awkward language and cultural mishaps, I really believe in the power of experiential education to transform perspectives and discover one’s self. For this reason, I really connect with Verto’s commitment to creating an accessible alternative to the traditional college experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’m an enthusiastic traveler and have studied and worked in four countries! I studied abroad for over a year and a half in Italy, as a junior in high school and an exchange student in college. My passion for language and culture also inspired me to study for a semester in Oaxaca, Mexico, which sparked an interest in Latin America that remains true today. As part of my Master’s Degree in International Education, I chose to complete the practicum phase of my degree working for a year on education projects in Nicaragua. A year later I found myself back in Central America, leading groups of high school students volunteering on ecological coffee farms in Costa Rica and then as a Field Instructor for Verto Education. I’m incredibly excited to share my love for Central American culture and the Spanish language with students this Spring!

Shastri Akella– Course Director and Instructor, Rhetoric & Composition

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Shastri Akella and I’m a Course Director.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

Working with instructors across multiple locations and seeing how the rhetoric course comes uniquely to life in each instance.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

I traveled through work in the past, working across three different countries as former Google employee, and I learned from the experience immensely. I’m excited for students to experience something similar through education, and I look forward to finding an intersection between my itinerant work experience and pedagogical experience to help students traveling with Verto make the most of the unique vantage point that they have.

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

8 years of teaching writing, film, and literature and serving as a composition and rhetoric course director and instructor with Verto.

Have you traveled or lived abroad before? In what capacity?

I’ve traveled and lived abroad as a Google employ in India, Ireland, and San Francisco Sales conferences leader in Spain and Greece; as a teacher in Edinburgh and Lisbon; and as a storyteller in New Zealand.

What is your most adventurous moment?

Attending 40 theater shows in two weeks at the Fringe festival in Edinburgh.

What’s the most surprising thing about you?

I shifted from programming for Google to teaching film and English.

What is one thing you want to share with Verto students traveling this semester?

You can be adventurous and safe!

Robin Garcia– Course Director, Latin American History

What’s your name and position with Verto?

I’m Robin Garcia I’m a Course Director for Latin American History.

What are you most looking forward to this semester?

I am looking forward to supporting the field instructor and students in Costa Rica this semester. Im excited to see what clicks for students when they learn about regional history from inside the region itself. Im also excited to learn about how students experience Latin American history through exciting field experiences, in community coupled with a space of learning and reflection.

What is your personal connection to Verto’s mission?

As an educator I am committed to a socially relevant education as well as one thats links reflection to applicable experience. Im especially excited about Verto’s mission of a relevant global education. In m own experience, doing field work in Latin America and studying abroad was the most valuable part of both my undergraduate and graduate experience. In those spaces, learning from the classroom came to life and made lasting impacts based on my on the ground experience. Im happy to be part of making those experiences real for other students.

 

What are some of your previous work or academic experiences that have prepared you for this role?

I have a PhD in Cultural Studies with field exams in Latin American Studies and Globalization and Culture and Ive taught in Chicana/o Studies and Latin American Studies programs for a number of years. My own teaching pedagogy revolves around the connection between theory and practice and the importance of a socially relevant education.

Verto Education