The People of Meridian Stories
Founder & Executive Director
Brett is the founder and Executive Director of Meridian Stories, and author of the book from Heinemann Publishing, Expanding Literacy: Bringing Digital Storytelling into Your Classroom (Spring 2022). Brett has spent much of his professional life at Sesame Workshop in New York City, serving as a Co-Executive Producer on media projects about literacy, math, science, gender equity and conflict-resolution for youth around the world, including projects in China, Macedonia, Indonesia, Poland, Iraq, South Sudan and Ecuador. Brett has taught at the high school level and has a BA from Kenyon College, and Masters Degree from Middlebury College (English) and Columbia University (Education). He recently completed writing National Geographic’s award winning Storytelling for Impact courses (Gold Winner, Anthem Awards), and currently teaches an annual intensive at Colby College about Digital Storytelling and Media for Social Change. He lives in Freeport, Maine.
Web Support Team
Jennifer is a web developer and technical writer. Jennifer has been working in the field of web design and development since 1995, and writing about web design since 1997. She has worked as a web developer for small solo operations, through small and medium-sized businesses to enterprise websites. Jennifer’s books and videos can be found at HTMLJenn and she currently lives on a small farm with her family and many pets in Washington state.
David E.M. Wood
David has over 15 years of experience as a graphic designer and front-end web designer. He works with clients across the country, including Wine.com and Shutterfly. Recognized for entrepreneurial vision, he manages all aspects of branding and design, strengthened through teamwork and collaboration. You can view samples of his work at David E.M. Wood Design.
The Board of Advisors
Eliza Alexander has worked in independent schools for over twenty-five years, leading a wide array of educational initiatives. A common thread across her career is a commitment to collaboration among schools, teachers, and administrators to maximize educational outcomes for students. Raised in mid-coast Maine, Eliza began her career as a Spanish teacher, with a concentration in Central American and Mexican cultures. More recently, she has served as the Executive Director of ISANNE and Managing Director of Northern New England at AISNE. In these roles, she supports school leadership and fosters positive, ethical, and collaborative relationships in the independent school community. She also has a keen interest in using data-driven solutions to help school leaders make informed and thoughtful decisions. Outside of her association work, Eliza is a racial equity facilitator for leaders in higher education, government, and non-profit organizations.
Hussam Hadi is a recently naturalized citizen of the United States who originally hails from Iraq. A highly experienced educational and developmental media producer, with a geographic focus on Iraq and the Levantine Middle East, Hussam has created and produced numerous documentaries for United Nations agencies in Iraq. He was a co-executive producer of three seasons of the award-winning Salam Shabab, a series targeting Iraqi youth about civic participation that was shot in Erbil. Since living in the United States, Hussam has developed expertise in digital marketing, while still staying active on curriculum-driven projects in the Levantine Middle East, including two highly rated satires, The Albasheer Show and The Puppets Republic. Hussam live with his family in northern Virginia.
Alison Jennings is an English Language Arts teacher who has been working in Warren, Michigan for almost 20 years. She spent her youth being educated in both Canada and England, ultimately completing a degree in Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Kent at Canterbury before moving to Michigan, where she went back to school to be able to enter the teaching profession. With a Masters in the Art of Teaching in Reading and Language Arts from Oakland University, she firmly rooted herself in her passion and now teaches at middle school level. In this career, she has taught elementary grades, middle school grades, and college writing.
Dr. Sherri Braxton
Dr. Sherri Braxton currently serves as the inaugural Senior Director for Digital Innovation at Bowdoin College. Dr. Braxton is also one of the inaugural mentors of the Next Leaders Fellowship which focuses on building a supporting framework to identify, develop, and advocate for talented Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) information and technology professionals in higher education. With over 20 years of experience in traditional classroom instruction and adult education strategies grounded in instructional design models, she also possesses years of experience using learning technologies in higher education settings, including the design and facilitation of online and hybrid courses. Dr. Braxton earned a Doctor of Science in Computer Science with Minors in Educational Leadership and Management Science from the George Washington University. She also holds a Master of Science in Computer Science with a Math Minor from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Computer Science from Wake Forest University.
Ed Greene is an experienced senior level professional in the field of child development, early learning, educational outreach, corporate social responsibility, and children’s media environments. Ed has served as faculty at Pacific Oaks College, City University of New York—Lehman College, and Montclair State University. He has successfully directed numerous organizations, including the Educational Outreach and Partnerships at HISPANIC Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN); the Early Learning Collaborative; and Sesame Workshop’s Global Outreach group. Ed has a PhD in Early Childhood Education and Teaching from Indiana State University.
Omar Adam is a UAE-based Media Professional that specializes in Writing, Producing, and Directing content. In his relatively young career, Omar was selected from over one hundred regional filmmakers to write, produce, and direct a short film for Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation. His short film, FIVE, won several awards – including Best Film at the prestigious Arab Film Studio awards – and continues to tour Film Festivals around the world. Since then, Omar’s been honing his teeth working on productions both big and small – the most recent of which is Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic version of Sesame Street. Omar hopes to continue to build a foundation for a successful writing and directing career.
Josef Biberstein is an alumnus of Freeport high school and an undergrad alumnus of and current grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studies aerospace engineering with a focus on controls and autonomous systems. He is a long time member of the MIT Rocket Team on which he served as the avionics lead for the team’s launch to their current altitude record of approximately 32,000ft. In his spare time, Josef enjoys pursuing his various passion projects. These include home built rockets and drones, submersible robots, and various bits and pieces of useful software. Although he is currently resident in Cambridge, MA, Josef returns home frequently to spend time with his family in Freeport and to see his wonderful dog Bruno.
Janice Burgess is a veteran Nick Jr creative and production executive. In 2015 – 2016, Burgess served as Executive Consultant for DreamWorks Animation Television, focusing on development of original preschool properties. She was Creative Consultant for The Winx Club on Nickelodeon from 2010 to 2013. In 2011, as Consulting Creative Director for the Nick Jr Channel, she consulted on the channel redesign until it’s launch in March 2012. She created and served as executive producer of the Emmy Award winning preschool series The Backyardigans also for Nickelodeon.
Before creating The Backyardigans, Burgess joined Nickelodeon in 1995 as an executive-in-charge of production at Nick Jr. and later became Vice President, Nick Jr. In this capacity, she oversaw the production of Peabody and Emmy Award-winning Nick Jr. shows including Gullah Gullah Island, Blue’s Clues, Little Bill and Whoopi’s Littleburg. She also served as co-executive producer of Little Bill. Prior to joining Nickelodeon, Burgess served as project manager for Ghostwriter at Children’s Television Workshop.
Burgess is a happy resident of New York City, where she loves to shop, eat out and do Pilates.
Born in Augusta. Maine poet and short story writer, published in the New Criterion, Esquire, and the New Yorker. One volume of poetry: 45 (degrees) North Latitude. Currently a first-year candidate for an MFA in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College.
Gregory J. Gettas
Gregory J. Gettas has been a feature film, television and internet producer/writer for 35 years, working for, among others, Warner Brothers, Jim Henson Productions, CBS, Disney Interactive, LeapFrog Toys, the CTV Television Network, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Previously the head of global ‘Sesame Street’ production for the Children’s Television Workshop – overseeing 12 indigenous, local-language versions of series worldwide – most recently he was the Global Lead of Employee Development Solutions/Talent Development at Morgan Stanley, New York. Mr. Gettas holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Radio & Television Production) from Ryerson University, Toronto, and a Masters (Social-Organizational Psychology) from Columbia University/Teachers College, New York.
Robin Gregory is Senior Research Scientist with Decision Research and Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. He works on problems of policy and risk analysis, stakeholder consultation, improving the decision making skills of K-12 students. Robin loves hiking, kayaking, and digging into intellectual challenges for the purposes of making the world a better place.
Anne Haywood is a Miami-based educator and head of Mountain to Sea Education, which develops interdisciplinary education programs for students and families focused on Earth’s people and natural environments. Anne’s career has bridged K-12 teaching in classroom and outdoor settings with communications, publishing, digital tools, citizen science, and teacher training. Programs include field-based environmental learning, spatial awareness and mapping, and geo-literacy public awareness with organizations including National Geographic, National Park Service, iNaturalist’s City Nature Challenge, Encyclopedia of Life, Lindblad Expeditions, Smithsonian’s eMammal project, Skytruth for Students, and schools across the United States.
Zoe Karp graduated from Bowdoin College in 2014, where she studied mathematics and neuroscience. She started working with Meridian Stories in 2012 creating science challenges, and she has since expanded her role to include math challenge creation and mentoring. After a brief stint creating digital math problems for advanced mathematics college textbooks, she switched to data analysis and now works in Colorado for a tech company. In her spare time, Zoe enjoys backpacking, running a Fantasy Iditarod league, and making homemade fruit leathers.
Bob Moore’s career has woven together the strands of natural scientist, writer, storyteller, and media producer, now fully manifested on his website, www.BobMooreFieldNotes.com. He was Senior Partner at Meridian Stories, and before that was publications editor for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Bob has a Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, and a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University. He received his BA in History from Kenyon College.
Jennifer C. Niles
Jennifer C. Niles founded and led the acclaimed E.L. Haynes Public Charter School before serving as D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education under Mayor Muriel Bowser, from January 2015 until February 2018. During her 12-year tenure at Haynes, Niles built myriad programs focused on improving urban education beyond the school’s own walls. These included citywide, district-charter initiatives to build a teacher pipeline, promote race and equity seminars, and create ongoing professional development for teachers. Niles began her career teaching science and directing service learning programs at schools in California and Massachusetts. She holds two master’s degrees and is a graduate of New Leaders for New Schools and a Pahara Institute Fellow. Jennie is currently a Senior Fellow at CityBridge Education.
Dr. Renée Cherow-O'Leary
Renée is a teacher, writer and researcher with a particular emphasis on the impact of media on culture and on learning. She has a B.A. in English and
Philosophy from Barnard College, a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Media Ecology/Communication and Culture from New
York University. She has taught literature and media studies on the faculties of Ramapo College of NJ, City College of New York, the Rutgers University Arts,
Culture and Media Program, the Teachers College, Columbia University English Education Program and, currently, she is a Senior Scholar at the UCLA Center for
Scholars and Storytellers. Simultaneously, she has worked in the media as a Research Director at Sesame Street and educational consultant developing
curriculum for Disney, Sprout, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations on youth media, the U.S. Institute for Peace, and the National Academy of Television
Arts and Sciences, among others. She recently was awarded the International Council for Media Literacy’s Jesse McCanse Award for her contributions to the
field. Renée is writing a book on transforming education through a curriculum for the emerging future so that today’s children will gain the skills and habits of mind
they need to thrive in the rapidly changing world they will inherit.
Dr. Cairo Arafat
Dr. Cairo Arafat is the Managing Director of Bidaya Media an Abu Dhabi-based organization that develops media based educational and learning programs for children. She is currently working on the Iftah Ya Simsim/Sesame Street program and preparation of a variety of digital and print learning materials for young children in the Arab world. She is a leading educational advisor specializing in the area of child rights and early childhood education, and acts as the Special Advisor to the Palestinian Ministry of Education on education policy. Previous and ongoing work with Save The Children International as the Senior Child Rights Advisor in the Occupied Palestinian Territory includes supporting inclusive education opportunities for children in addition to developing programs to eliminate violence against children.
Cairo received her Masters Degree in Developmental Neuroscience and Ph.D in Psychology from Ohio State University.
Kathy Biberstein is currently Executive Partner and General Counsel of Flagship Pioneering, Inc., a company that creates and develops first-in-category companies with the ability to transform human health and sustainability. Kathy began her career in the automotive industry as an engineer at General Motors, where she worked on an early prototype of Chevrolet’s all electric vehicle. After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, she practiced law in Boston before moving to Switzerland to work as legal counsel and a member of the executive committee of the World Economic Forum, an international policy think tank that brings together leaders in business, government and academia to address current global issues. Kathy then spent 30 years working as an executive in the biotechnology industry in Switzerland, Ireland and Boston. She was an observer on the investment committee of two oncology social impact funds and a director of a company working to cure genetic diseases. Kathy lives in
Freeport, Maine where she raised her two sons and is on the life science advisory board of FocusMaine.
Dr. Sarah Childress
Dr. Sarah Childress is an Adjunct Lecturer of Motion Pictures at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and Chief Creative Officer of Headstrong Media Group. After ten years as an advertising executive, working with clients that included ESPN, the Discovery Channel, Delta Air Lines, and The Coca-Cola Company, Sarah earned her Ph.D. in Cinema Studies at Vanderbilt University. She has taught Introduction to Film Studies as well as courses in film history, avant-garde cinema, Latin American cinema, and a host of genre cinemas: documentary, horror, science fiction, and comedy at Vanderbilt University, Bowdoin College, and Belmont University.
Theo Dolan is a Technical Advisor for peacebuilding at FHI 360. He specializes in using media and technology to prevent and resolve violent conflict in countries such as Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia and Myanmar. Prior to FHI 360, he led the regional office for PeaceTech Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. He previously worked for the Lab’s parent organization, the United States Institute of Peace for five years.
Caleb is a programs manager at Build Up. He specializes in researching and applying various technologies to address election violence, good governance, extremism and conflict mitigation mainly in Africa. He has worked with peace building actors in countries such as Nigeria, South Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Cameroon, training them to respond to violent conflict by applying digital tools. Caleb has also collaborated with UN agencies, technology companies such as Facebook and Youtube, and government institutions such as electoral bodies in various countries to address hate speech and polarization. Caleb was previously working as a Senior Specialist at the PeaceTech Lab for 5 years and has a background in computer science.
Katie Heintz, Ph.D., teaches Media Studies at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Her main area of interest is examining the role of media technologies in the lives of youth.
Michelle Linford is the Executive Director of EPIK Deliberate Digital, a nonprofit focused on facilitating connection and collaboration around issues related to youth and technology. EPIK’s key goal to encourage mindful, positive uses of technology in homes, schools, and communities (#UseTech4Good; see also UseTech4Good.com). EPIK was instrumental in helping draft the first digital citizenship bill in the United States in 2015 (HB213, Utah). This bill was a springboard for other states creating legislation to support digital citizenship and medial literacy education in schools. EPIK created DigCitUtah.com to help with implementation of HB213, and this website has been shared by the Utah State Office of Education with school community councils around the state. In 2017, EPIK hosted the 3rd annual Digital Citizenship Summit (see DigCitSummit2017.com and video archives at https://bit.ly/2HlT65J). The highlight of the Summit was a free community event, the #UseTech4Good Youth Extravaganza. EPIK has been invited to participate in various local, national, and international efforts addressing technology, education, and community change. In addition, EPIK was recently featured in Dr. Lynne Schrum’s book, Learning Supercharged (2018), and Michelle was a co-author on a chapter for an upcoming edition of the International Encyclopedia of Media Literacy. Michelle is excited to help students in this year’s Meridian Stories competition.
Alexander Morris is a 2014 graduate of Colby College. Originally from Mill Valley, CA, he became involved with Meridian Stories as a Mentor after taking Brett’s Media for Social Change course in 2013, and began writing math challenges for the 2014/2015 season. Alexander now lives in Berkeley, CA, where he enjoys the distinct lack of snowstorms. When not evaluating Meridian Stories challenges, Alexander is likely managing projects, training his mischievous dog, coaching ultimate frisbee, or brewing disconcertingly-unique flavors of kombucha.
Tina Peel is a veteran Program Developer, Content Specialist, Researcher and Producer with over 30 years experience working in kids’ educational programming with organizations such as Disney, Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, Discovery Kids and PBS. With a Masters Degree in Education from Harvard, Tina has served in executive positions on such series as Max and Ruby, WordWorld, UMIGO and Ghostwriter. She is currently in development on a new pre-school series, The Cloud Forest Friends.
N. Kate Werner
N. Kate Werner has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of Southern Maine and a Juris Doctorate from University of Maine School of Law. Her focus on employee rights litigation allowed her to support people who suffered unfair work practices and discrimination. She then eventually moved to a practice in mass tort class-action litigation at the national level. Together with her family, she owned and operated a local restaurant for 18 years, winning multiple national, regional and local culinary and community service awards. As part of that community service, she has been a strong educational proponent, co-founding an advocacy group supporting transparency and excellence in public education with a focus on quality arts and gifted programming.
Dr. Lewis Bernstein
Dr. Lewis Bernstein is the President of Lewis J. Bernstein and Associates, a company he founded, after retiring as Executive Vice President of Education Research and Outreach at Sesame Workshop. His forty plus year career at Sesame Workshop was defined by his passion to improve the intellectual, social, emotional, and moral lives of children, through media, both as an educator and as a producer, including three years as Executive Producer of Sesame Street and Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Simsim (an Israeli-Palestinian co-production of Sesame Street). Dr. Bernstein is currently using his expertise and experience advising major foundations, corporations and platforms, on the creation of youth-oriented programs to educate, inspire, and empower youth to work on improving themselves and the world they are inheriting.
David Britt retired from Sesame Workshop, a world leader in educational media for young children, after 8 years as CEO, and 10 years as COO. His public service includes the US Agency for International Development, US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Britt serves on the Board of the Education Trust in an emeritus status, which works for fairness in educational opportunities for poor and minority youth, pre K-through college, and the Public Good Projects, which uses social media to engage specific audiences with public health information and assistance. He is Chair of the Board on Children, Youth and Families, an operating unit of the National Academy of Medicine.
He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He has an AB from Wesleyan University, where he later served as Trustee, and an MPA from Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Britt and his wife, Sue Cushman, live in Pittsboro, N.C.
Dr. Charlotte Cole
Dr. Charlotte Cole is co-founder and executive director of Blue Butterfly Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that uses children’s media to advance international development aims. Prior to founding the collaborative, Dr. Cole was SVP, Global Education at Sesame Workshop in New York where she oversaw the education and research activities associated with international co-productions of Sesame Street. Dr. Cole received her doctorate in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research appears in publications such as the International Journal of Behavioral Development and Communication Research Trends.
Ed Durkee is currently Executive Director of Arts on the Lake, a multidisciplinary art center located in Putnam County NY. He has been involved in the arts and technology for most of his career having studied painting, philosophy and technology. He holds an M.A.R from Yale Divinity School and an MBA in Technology and Innovation from the Theseus Institute. He lives with his family in Lake Carmel, NY.
Ed’s passion is focused on building culturally relevant partnerships, policies and program practices that benefit children and families in the digital age. He formerly served as VP, Children, Youth and Digital Media Literacy Initiatives at the Hispanic Information and Telecommunications Network (HITN), and is currently a senior consultant with HITN Learning. His diverse experience includes roles as a senior adviser and consultant to Cito, the Netherlands, and its Piramide Approach to Early Learning; and director of global outreach for Sesame Workshop. Ed is a former elected board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, the American Camp Association, and currently serves as a trustee of the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media.
Achol Mach Jok
Achol works with the PeaceTech Lab on countering hate speech programs in Kenya. She has contributed to the development of the lexicons of hate speech terms for South Sudan, Sudan and South Africa. She also works on the implementation of the Sawa Shabab peacebuilding radio drama in South Sudan and in Kakuma refugee camp. Previously, she was the project manager for Radio La Benevolencija, which uses training, community engagement, and radio production to counter and raise awareness of the offline impact of hate speech.
Kerry Michaels is a photographer, writer, and multimedia producer. She has photographed five books including the award-winning titles, A Gateless Garden: Quotes by Maine Women Writers, and The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables. Her photographs have been seen in Country Gardens, Fine Gardening, ChopChop and Coastal Home. For 8 years she was the photographer/writer for the internationally popular website, The Spruce: Container Gardening, with over 39 million page views. Kerry was the co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film, River of Steel. Her script television writing credits include the 20th Century with Mike Wallace, Sesame Workshop, Disney, and Hearst New Media. Kerry runs Flying Point Photography.
Tim J. Myers
Tim J. Myers, a Senior Lecturer at Santa Clara University, is a widely-published writer for children and adults. He has 16 children’s books out (one of which was a New York Times best-seller and was read aloud on NPR) and more on the way. He’s published three books of adult poetry and His Glad to Be Dad: A Call to Fatherhood was featured on the Parents Magazine website, won the inaugural Ben Franklin Digital Award, and came in at #5 on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases in Fatherhood.” Tim is a professional storyteller and a songwriter who has been nominated for two Pushcarts and won a prize in the Writers of the Future Contest for science fiction/fantasy. He is the oldest of 11 children and can whistle and hum at the same time.
Robin Nelson began her career as a production assistant on the Sesame Workshop-funded science series, 3-2-1 Contact. After serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, Robin returned to the States and joined National Geographic Television and Film, and then Discovery Communications. Needing more of a “mission”, Robin returned to the development field and has been working as a program manager at FHI 360, a non-profit organization, with projects on youth, peacebuilding and countering violent extremism.
Kevin O’Connor has experience in virtually every aspect of kids’ media. He started his career at Sesame Workshop: first in television and then in the toy group working on Sing & Snore Ernie, Rock & Roll Elmo and more award-winning toys. For six years he was in charge of business development and brands at KIDZ BOP earning 9 GOLD records. He cut his teeth in publishing while overseeing publisher relations for NOOK Kids — Barnes & Noble’s foray into digital picture books. Kevin left B&N to become Vice President of Consumer Brands & Products at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, overseeing development and marketing for Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, and their new venture Go Math! Academy. In December 2014, he became a full-time literary agent under the tutelage of the legendary Charlotte Sheedy.
Cooper Wright is the former VP, International Creative at Sesame Workshop. She was the supervising producer of the first co-productions of Sesame Street in China and South Africa and has recently completed a Masters in Digital Media Design Learning at New York University.
The People of Meridian Stories:
Alfonso Ambriz is a freshman at Colby College majoring in Government and minoring in Education. He works at his Student Financial Services and takes part in Colby’s Academic Honesty Committee and the Mutual Aid Fund. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking gourmet food for his friends and loves fencing at the athletic center.
Miz Insigne is a student at Colby College studying the intersection of science and the humanities through art and writing. They are particularly interested in science communication and hope to one day make a successful science YouTube channel.
Haley is an economics and psychology double major at Colby College with a specific focus on how these two disciplines intersect in the world of education. She also competes for Colby’s Track & Field team and volunteers with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation to support patients with IBD. As a creator and a consumer of digital stories, Haley is excited to take on this role as a mentor and can’t wait to see what the students come up with!
Candy Zhang is a second year student at Colby College, majoring in biology and education. She took a course on digital storytelling, taught by professor Brett Pierce, and gained insight on the importance of possessing digital literacy and human skills in today’s age of omnipresent change.