Meet the College for Kids Instructors

Meet the College for Kids Instructors

College for Kids is proud of its roster of instructors which include Penn State Behrend faculty and staff, experienced community teachers, and local business professionals. Instructors offer a diverse class selection in a safe learning environment, which is sure to enhance a child’s education by challenging their imagination, creativity, and desire to learn.

Instructors are generally available at the drop-off location prior to class. If you would like to meet your child's instructor, please notify one of the College for Kids staff members to arrange this.

Join Our Team

If you are an educator or have extensive experience in a particular field and would like to be considered, or would like to recommend someone with these qualifications, please email College for Kids or call 814-898-6871 for more information. All instructors are required to have Pennsylvania Criminal and Child Abuse Clearances.


College for Kids 2018 Instructors

Ed Beck

  • Education: M.A., Edinboro University
  • Experience: Teaching for over 30 years and teaching rocketry for over 30 years
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy working with children in this age group and interest level. I taught high school in the Erie School District.”

Maureen Beck

  • Education: A.A.S., Applied Science/Horticulture
  • Experience: I have made and sold beach glass jewelry and chimes for many years.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy working with students.”

Nathan Benzel

  • Education: Edinboro University, Penn State University; Major: Middle Level Education Math and Science Minor: Environmental Studies
  • Experience: Summer Internship at NASA’s Stennis Space Center
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “It allows me the opportunity to do what I love over the summer.”

Staci Blakeslee

  • Education: Elementary and Special Education, Gannon University. Autism Spectrum Disorders and Intellectual Disabilities, University of South Florida.
  • Experience: Teaching general and special education for the past fifteen years and an after school STEM club for the past three years.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “Watching students work through the engineering process and awaken an interest in STEM careers is a passion of mine. I enjoy teaching about specific careers that may be unknown to children.” 

Dr. Patrick Byrnes

  • Education: Ph.D., Electrical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Experience: SAT tutoring, high school math prep course instructor, T.A. for undergraduate engineering courses, currently teaching undergraduate courses at Penn State Behrend in the CSSE department.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy teaching math and science, particularly as they relate to engineering.”

Lisa Ciecierski

  • Education: Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on literacy from Kent State University
  • Experience: Over fifteen years of teaching with Erie Public Schools as a language arts teacher, reading specialist and reading coach. Over ten years teaching literacy in higher education.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “As the director of the PennLake National Writing Project, we are seeking to expand our outreach to youth in the Erie Area. Teaching for College for Kids will give us the opportunity to do so. 

Gabrielle Dietrich

  • Education: D.M.A., Choral Conducting Literature, CU Boulder; M.M., Choral Conducting, CU Boulder; B.M., Music Education, University of the Pacific
  • Experience: Director of Choral Ensembles at Penn State Behrend, and conductor of the Young People’s Chorus of Erie, an outreach of Penn State Behrend. Gabrielle is a singer, conductor, and educator with a passion for cultivating artistry in singers of all ages and building community through music.

Brian DeVore

  • Education: B.S., Penn State Behrend; M.S., Special Education, Mercyhurst University
  • Experience: Technology Education Teacher and LEGO Robotics Coach at J.S. Wilson Middle School.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I like the focus of a hands-on learning experience.”

Catherine DeVore

  • Education: B.A., Elementary Education, Minor in Spanish, Mercyhurst University and M.S., Special Education, Mercyhurst University
  • Experience: Fifteen years teaching third through sixth grade in the Erie area with twelve of those at Harborcreek School District.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy working with students and planting the seed for learning.”

Jerald Fenner

  • Education: B.S., Elementary Education, Edinboro University
  • Experience: Twenty-seven years of teaching experience, currently as a fifth grade teacher at Iroquois Elementary School.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy teaching children. It is exciting to see children learn new concepts and information they might not have understood or experienced before."

Sean Fleming

  • Education: B.S., Secondary Education Social Studies, Slippery Rock University
  • Experience: Ninth- and eleventh-grade social studies teacher at Central Career and Technical high School; Summer Camp Counselor for 8- and 9-year-old boys at Pennbriar Child Care Services
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child/student “get it” or show a passion for learning.”

Jim Gavio

  • Education: Electrical Engineering Technology, Penn State Behrend; B.S. Secondary Education in Earth & Space Sciences with Geology minor, Edinboro University
  • Experience: Over twenty-two years planetarium experience with the most recent being the Erie Planetarium and now the Yahn Planetarium at Penn State Behrend
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I like teaching College for Kids because it’s a way for kids to have fun while learning something that they are interested in.”

Matt Greene

  • Education: B.S.Ed., Business Education, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 2013; M.Ed. in progress, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
  • Experience: IUP Eberly College of Business Technology Manager, Erie Insurance Technology Division; Fairview High School, Business Education Teacher
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I believe that all students should have the opportunity to learn about coding and technology. These skills are in demand for today’s job market."

Kitty Harrington

  • Education: B.A. English, Villa Maria College; Master's in Library Science, University of Pittsburgh
  • Experience: Thirty-five years as Children’s Librarian-Erie County Library; long career as local storyteller using children’s picture books, fairy tales, and legends; love baking!
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I am passionate about children’s books and their illustrations. “Create a Story” is an engaging and inclusive way to develop modern learning skills using this amazing art. Every session proves that there really are as many stories as there are readers for every single book.”

Tami Hritzay

  • Education: B.S., Art Education, Edinboro University.
  • Experience: Chautauqua Institution teacher in Young Artists and Special Studies programs; Erie Art Museum; Edinboro University (Kids camp program, high school art program, and adult-noncredit classes); Allegheny College (high school art program), returning teacher at CFK, and artist demonstrating and showing at Campbell Pottery; author of “The Hole in the Wall” series; 30+ years of teaching art.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “Art is my passion. I will never tire of encouraging and inspiring younger artists to be all that they can be! In a world of black and white… let’s color our world!”

Ann Joslin

  • Education: B.A. History/Secondary Education, Westminster College; Master's in Elementary Education, Edinboro University; Master's in Library Science, Clarion University
  • Experience: Management positions at the Erie County Public Library; Elementary Remedial Math/Gifted and Enrichment Teacher at Fort LeBoeuf School District; adjunct Instructor at Gannon and Clarion Universities
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I have been amazed by the ability of young children to share ideas and demonstrate their creativity through hands on projects. I hope the kids enjoy the opportunities to build, draw, mix and stir, and apply scientific principles."

Lenora Hazen

  • Education: Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, Project Management Professional, Six Sigma Black Belt
  • Experience: Many years as engineering project manager and corporate liaison to various colleges, ran the engineer’s week challenge at IPFW for Girl Scouts, homeschool tutor and teacher for 10+ years, taught private classes in public speaking and science for middle school and high school. Developed a program of half-size science for the homeschool students in Fort Wayne area (classes up to 30 students) making science touchable, and often messy or edible
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “Sharing science and exploration with students is fun.”

TJ Laffan

  • Education: B.S. in Theater and Communication Arts, Gannon University
  • Experience: Presenter, Talent Search, Penn State Behrend, “Ancient Games”, 2009-2011; Coordinator Teen Program, Brushwood Folklore Center, Sherman, NY, 2011-Present; Presenter/Story Teller, Children's program, Brushwood Folklore Center, Sherman, NY, 2007-Present; Technical director/instructor, Thea189, Penn State Behrend, 1997-2011. Enjoys acting, writing, reading, and parlor games.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “What it comes down to is this: The world around us is not only stranger than you imagine, it is stranger than you CAN imagine. This is why it is important to expand our children’s horizons with new experiences and ideas, to open up new ways to look at old things. Plus what better way to spend a summer day than laughing and playing. (We’ll sneak the learning in … but don’t let them know….)”

Tim Lucas

  • Education: Over thirty years martial arts experience.
  • Experience: Over thirty years teaching martial arts and wilderness survival skills.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I love helping children learn new self-discipline techniques they can use throughout their lives.”

Steven O’Donnell

  • Education: B.A., History, Penn State Behrend; Teaching Certificate from Edinboro University.
  • Experience: High School Teacher, musical director, stage manager, and a decade of teaching at College for Kids.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “It is a joy to teach the skills of theater to youth."

Doug Osborn

  • Education: B.F.A. from Edinboro University; M.A. from EUP; PA teaching certificate in Art K-12
  • Experience: Sixteen years teaching at high school level, seven years teaching at middle school level, drawing and sculpture major
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy working with young minds and helping foster their creativity. I also enjoy making art, and watching an idea turn into an interesting and tangible object.”

Lisa Pearson

  • Education: B.S., Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Edinboro University; Master's Equivalency +48 credits, Gannon University
  • Experience: More than nineteen years as a classroom teacher; currently teaching sixth grade in the Harbor Creek School District; formerly taught first and second grade for twelve years.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I enjoy the opportunity to teach children who are eager to expand their knowledge in the relaxed fun-filled setting of summer.”

Alexa Phelps

  • Education: Children’s Yoga Certification, Phase I Yoga Certification
  • Experience: Four years of classroom teaching experience, fourteen years of dance teaching experience, eight years of cheerleading coaching experience, and twelve years’ experience working with children and adolescents ages 3-18.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I would like to teach for College for Kids to ignite the passion for new, kinesthetic, hands-on learning through the summer months. I love to work with children, through mentoring and being a positive role model.”

Dan Quiggle

  • Education: B.A., History, Penn State Behrend; Social Studies Certification
  • Experience: I have been teaching seventh and eighth grade at the Harbor Creek Junior High for over twelve years now!
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “Because it is so much fun and I can continue to be a kid at heart!”

Patti Rial

  • Education: B.S., Education, Edinboro University; M.Ed., Edinboro University; certified Elementary and Reading specialist.
  • Experience: Thirty-three years teaching experience K-7, currently teaching seventh grade reading. Hobbies include camping, crafts, travel, and history.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I want to share my experiences and my love of history with young people. I hope in this sharing that they will acquire a curiosity and appreciation for our heritage.”

Vicki Saska

  • Education: B.S. in Elementary/Special Education, Edinboro University; Master's in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
  • Experience: Special Education teacher for the Fort LeBoeuf School District from 2003-current. I have experience in teaching gifted classes, enrichment classes, math re-teaching classes, beginning Spanish classes, and students in need of Learning Support in grades K-5. Americorps member assigned to the Millcreek Township School District working with the elementary age students in need of academic and/or behavioral support.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “The College for Kids program allows experiential learning to happen. The hands-on approach is designed to meet the needs of all learners and the families have the opportunity to self-select the classes based on individual interests. These factors allow for a higher level of engagement from the students.

Paul Semrau

  • Education: B.A., Humanities; M.S., Special Education; certified to teach Elementary and Special Education and High School English.
  • Experience: Son, husband, father and grandfather; 17 years as a Technical Training Instructor at Verizon/GTE; 3 years as the Emotional Support Teacher at Seneca High School.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “What a fun way to spend the summer! CFK is a blast!”

Dale Shatto

  • Education: B.S., Elementary Education, University of Pittsburgh; M.A., School Administration, Grace College
  • Experience: Principal, Girard Alliance Christian Academy, Girard, PA; Principal, Houghton Academy, Houghton, NY; Education Program Manager, Junior Achievement, Erie, PA
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “To help educate and inspire young people to value free enterprise, business, and economics enabling them to own their own economic success.”

Lindsay Sherman

  • Education: Received undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford in Elementary Education K-6, received Master's degree from St. Bonaventure University in Differentiated Instruction.
  • Experience: Hired in 2012 with Bradford Area School District as a sixth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher; worked for four years at Harbor Creek School District as a sixth grade ELA teacher at Rolling Ridge Elementary School
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I would like to teach College for Kids because I would like the opportunity to show kids that learning is fun. With this opportunity, the kids can enjoy learning in a laid-back setting and show their individual creativity and artistic ability.”

Scott Strasser

  • Education: B.A., Geography and Teaching Certification, Edinboro University; Ph.D. in Cryptozoological Sciences, American Institute of Metaphysics
  • Experience: Local writer, librarian, and teacher; interested in cryptozoology entire life; and earned a Ph.D. in the field in 2015. Taught locally for twenty years, including several sessions with College for Kids. Now runs the St. George Lancer Library.

Todd Talbot

  • Education: B.S., Secondary Education, Edinboro University; M.S., 21st Century Teaching and Learning, Wilkes University
  • Experience: Twenty years operating Naval Nuclear Power Plants, Chemistry, and Physics teacher at Seneca High School.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: "College for Kids students have a desire to learn that should not be interrupted by summer vacation."

Theresa Tonelli

  • Education: B.A., Elementary Education, minor in History, Mercyhurst College; Master's in Special Education, Mercyhurst College
  • Experience: Taught with the Erie School District for more than eight years; taught for the expERIE Children’s museum for ten years
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I love the program and the people. It allows us to teach more freely.”

Kristin Tregaskis

  • Education: Master's in Special and Elementary Education, Slippery Rock University
  • Experience: I have been a substitute teacher for the Erie School District for the last two years. I also have worked at Chick-Fil-A for five years.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I have been a student coordinator for the past two summers and always have a great time. This year will be my third year teaching!!”

Jake Trojak

  • Education: M.S., Instructional Media, Wilkes University; B.S., Physics, General Science, Secondary Education, Grove City College
  • Experience: Physics and Math teacher for the past seven years at Iroquois High School
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I love being a teacher and I love kids. Teaching College for Kids gives me an opportunity to teach an age group some subject matter that I don’t get to teach during the school year.”

Julie Vavreck

  • Education: B.S., Family and Consumer Sciences Education, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Master's in Early Childhood Education from Edinboro University; ServSafe Certification.
  • Experience: Family and Consumer Sciences Teacher, Penn State Cooperative Extension; Family Living Summer Assistant; hobbies include cooking, baking, sewing, outdoor recreation, and aerobics
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I would like to provide an atmosphere where kids can learn lifelong skills while having fun.” 

Hayden Weaver

  • Education: Penn State Behrend dual major in Business and Business Economics
  • Experience: Participated in USA Ultimate Beach Nationals in 2016; tournament director of International Youth Club Regional Championship event held in Erie 2017
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: "Ultimate is a great non-contact, coed sport that is growing in popularity at all age levels. I would like the opportunity to teach at College for Kids to give them a change to get started at a young age, because I did not find the sport until college. Ultimate is a great character- and community-builder and the sport will be great for the Erie area.”

Melissa Weismiller

  • Education: United States Air Force, Pennsylvania Paraprofessional Certificate
  • Experience: Paraprofessional for eleven years; College for Kids instructor for eight years
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: "I love College for Kids!!!! I think this is a great way for kids to learn more about fun and interesting things and discover what kind of hobbies/interests they like.”

Calvin Wheeler

  • Education: B.S., Chemistry, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
  • Experience: Teaching High School since 2012
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “It is fun!”

Amber Wildfire

  • Education: B.S., Computer Engineering, Penn State Behrend
  • Experience: Computer Instructor, St. James Elementary School
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I love seeing how kids’ minds work. If I can convince at least one student to try engineering, I’ve done a good job.”

Chris Williams

  • Education: Undergraduate degree in music education from Slippery Rock University. Graduate degree in music performance from Youngstown State University.
  • Experience: Seven years of experience as a public school music teacher for grades K-12. Currently teaching band, orchestra, and general music at James S. Wilson middle school in Erie.
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “I want to give students and parents a chance to pursue very specific interests that will hopefully spark a new lifelong hobby, passion, or career. Being an instructor for College for Kids will allow me to teach topics I am passionate about while giving students an opportunity to learn during summers.”

Mrs. Vicki Zellefrow

  • Education: Master’s Equivalency, Elementary & Special Education, Mercyhurst University.
  • Experience: More than seventeen years experience with the Erie School District; Erie School District Early Intervention program; and three years at St. James School
  • Why I teach at College for Kids: “College for Kids is an exciting opportunity to teach and allow kids to explore enrichment concepts within a relaxed, fun environment.”