Aaron Stern

Founder and President

Aaron Stern, president and founder of the Academy for the Love of Learning, is a musician, teacher, and internationally recognized consultant on learning.

As the Academy’s creative and educational leader, Stern designs and directs the Academy’s core curriculum and faculty, guides program development, and offers select trainings in depth facilitation and diverse aspects of the Academy’s pedagogy.

During the early 1980s, Stern ...

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Acushla Bastible

Director and Co-Founder, Lifesongs

Acushla Bastible is the director and co-founder of Lifesongs, a cornerstone program of the Academy’s arts and community engagement work. As an Academy faculty member, she also creates and facilitates programs and workshops on aging, death and dying, creativity, and collective storymaking.

Acushla is a multidisciplinary performance artist – actor, stage director, educator, writer, facilitator, and animateur. Her work in the ...

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Barbara Deswood

Manager, El Otro Lado

Barbara is the manager of the El Otro Lado program, incorporating her passion for the integration of arts with self-discovery; offering support, guidance and imagination to participants in the program, including facilitating experiential workshops for educators and artists centered in the Academy pedagogical practices.

Barbara’s educational pursuits offered her opportunities to live and study in several countries in South America and ...

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Catherine Messier

Operations Manager

Catherine Messier provides management for daily operations supporting all Academy programs and events, including event logistics, office administration, and facility maintenance.

Catherine has worked extensively with nonprofit organizations, national park and government projects, as well as international hospitality corporations. Prior to the Academy, Catherine served as the general manager for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and The Presidio ...

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Chrissie Orr

Director, El Otro Lado; Faculty

Chrissie Orr is the co-founder of El Otro Lado in the Schools, and the co-founder of the Living Story Collaborative. Both programs engage story and its transformative powers to cultivate connection and belonging, strengthen community capacity, and renew our guiding narratives in this time of radical transitions. As a member of the faculty, she facilitates various programs and workshops that ...

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Dan Brannen

General Counsel and Director of Finance

Dan is a lawyer with a private practice in Santa Fe. For the Academy, he handles matters of finance and law throughout all program, development, and administration departments. His work for other clients includes fostering the right of local self-government and the rights of nature.

Dan studied accounting at Penn State University (B.A. 1990) and law at George Washington University ...

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David Gordon

Director of Academy Center Development

David Gordon is a fine artist, who explores, among other themes, how the built environment plays a key role in productivity, learning and wellbeing.

As the director of Academy Center Development, David oversees the facilities and grounds, attending to the constant dialogue between people and the buildings we inhabit. He collaborated with Aaron Stern on the original design of the Academy ...

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David L. Witt

Curator, Seton Legacy Project

David L. Witt, curator of the Seton Legacy Project, oversees research, collections, exhibitions, and educational programming related to the art, writings, and philosophy of Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), the artist/naturalist who once owned the estate where the Academy now stands. David presents lectures, storytelling and art shows onsite at the Seton Gallery and Seton Castle.

David is the founder of the ...

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Elena Keys

Executive Assistant to the Founder and President

Elena Keys is executive assistant to Aaron Stern, Academy founder and president. Elena provides primary support for Stern and his work in visioning and planning programs. She also works with the outcomes of organizational developments and events to assist Stern in shaping future directions and initiatives, and helps maintain key relationships with the Academy’s wider community.

For more than ...

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Hanna Negusie

Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Hanna Negusie is multi-faceted social marketer with experience in public health promotion, social justice media campaign building, and youth advocacy. She aims to highlight narratives of transformational learning, mind-body health, and community and youth empowerment through marketing and communications. Hanna sees media as a tool for initiating social and community transformation while also highlighting unheard narratives and voices.

Hanna works with ...

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Jessica Smyser

Director, Relationships and Reciprocity

Jessica Smyser works closely with staff and faculty to envision, plan, and implement the Academy’s marketing, development and communications strategies across all program areas. Jessica’s experience spans marketing and communications, events planning, and program management in both the music industry and in higher education.

Prior to joining the Academy in 2012, she served as communications and events manager at World ...

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Kevin Brown

Graphic Designer

Kevin Brown collaborates closely with staff, program leaders and faculty to create Academy brochures, annual updates, newsletters and other communications. An award-winning graphic designer, Kevin has extensive experience in design, art direction, illustration and architecture.

Born in Southern California, Kevin has enjoyed a lifetime of travel, having called New York, London, San Francisco, Seville and the Azores home. His travels ...

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Kira Jones


Kira Jones is a writer, an educator, an education reformer, an activist, and a mother. She holds Master’s degrees in Education and Journalism, and is always ready to challenge convention in pursuit of transformational pedagogy. A native New Mexican, Kira has lived in England, France, New York City, Chicago, Rhode Island, Guatemala, Hawaii and, most recently, Barcelona. She is a ...

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Laura Pancoast

Development Coordinator

Laura Pancoast provides support to the staff and faculty by connecting with individuals, businesses, and foundations to support the Academy’s mission and programs. Laura is passionate about finding sources to help sustain organizations that have the power to be positive agents of change in the world.

Trained as a classical vocalist, Laura was immediately drawn to the Academy’s history with Leonard ...

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Lisa Faithorn


Lisa Faithorn is a research anthropologist, organizational consultant and educator. Her work with groups in the US and abroad focuses on individual and organizational transformation, collaborative problem solving and effective team dynamics.

As a member of the Academy faculty, she co-facilitates programs for teachers in the Institute for Teaching and community workshops.

Lisa co-founded and taught in the anthropology graduate program at ...

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Marianne Murray


For more than a decade, Marianne Murray has been a member of the core faculty and Academy Board. She has been intimately involved with the development of the core curriculum, helping to establish the Academy’s pedagogy. She has a Ph.D in Transformative Learning and Change in Human Systems from the California Institute of Integral Studies, an MA in Transpersonal Psychology, ...

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Marita Prandoni

Program Support

Marita Prandoni provides a welcoming reception for Academy program participants and facilitators. She creates fresh, organic meals for events and workshops, sourcing local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Through her attention to the quality of food offered to Academy guests, she works to promote social and environmental justice and to foster a local living economy.

Outside of the Academy, Marita is a ...

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Randle Charles


Randle Charles, Oneida from Six Nations and Oneida of the Thames, is an artist and a facilitator. Randle facilitates workshops and public programs at the Academy and oversees the City That Learns project.

Randle’s work in and with many Indigenous communities throughout North America inspires his persistent quest towards decolonization and cultural vitality. He holds the belief that colonization transmuted into ...

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Randy Grillo


Randy Grillo has been a teacher of young adults for two decades. Through his experiences teaching in Washington State, Mexico, Costa Rica and New Mexico, he has developed a style of education dedicated to creating experiences for students where they slowly gain control of their own learning and the teacher becomes more the facilitator than the expert in the room.

Randy ...

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Reta Lawler

Adjunct Faculty

Roshi Sanchi Reta Lawler is a core member of the Academy faculty and was an integral part of the Academy’s early development. She has deeply informed the Academy’s approach to transformative facilitation and pedagogy and continues to facilitate the Coming Full Circle Training, a program she created.

Reta is the Founder and Director of the Morningstar Zen Center. Fully ...

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Sarah Spearman

Event Production Manager

Working collaboratively with staff and contractors to facilitate consistently effective programming, Sarah Spearman manages the production of events and programs at the Academy for the Love of Learning.

Sarah has spent over 25 years as a director within non-profit marketing, development and educational programming. A Midwest native, Sarah has worked all over the country and has been a passionate advocate within ...

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Thomas Jaggers

Academy Steward; Faculty

Thomas Jaggers is a teacher, facilitator, and community leader and activist. He has been a key staff member at the Academy since 2004, and has been involved in every aspect of the Academy’s programs and management. He is now a member of the Academy’s Stewardship Team, sits on the Academy faculty, and is an organizational consultant for the Academy’s Ventana ...

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Tina Olson

Finance and Administration

Tina Olson oversees the Academy’s finances and plays a key role in supporting administrative decisions.

She holds degrees in art, music, and industrial design. Her background and experience are in graphic art, book and product design, production, project management, bookkeeping and finance.

Tina is the mother of two young men, an avid telemark skier and a certified yoga teacher.

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