Paola Alva is a child psychologist and Spanish teacher, who has taught Spanish in a variety of academic and extra-curricular programs. Paola has developed and facilitated unique curricula for middle school and high school Spanish students, aligning with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and the rigorous International Baccalaureate standards. Her classes include all aspects of communication, including listening and reading comprehension, and oral and written proficiency. Paola follows the Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) method, which allows students to accelerate their language learning and to develop fluency. Paola’s passion is teaching Spanish, and she loves to make learning a fun experience!
Karen Damwijk is a graphic and web designer who has worked across the country for advertising agencies and large corporations. Her work has included projects for diverse clients like Yamaha Motorsports and Johnny Rockets Restaurant Group. She brings her industry expertise and creative knowledge to engaging classroom experiences for students. Karen also teaches for the SMU Continuing and Professional Education (CAPE) Graphic Design certificate program. Karen holds a B.A.A. in graphic design and received her master’s degree in educational technology. Learn more about Karen and her work here.
Deidra Fisher is an experienced educator, writer, and consultant, and is the founder of OneUp College Consulting. In that capacity, she works with students across the Metroplex to assess and augment their knowledge and skills to prepare successfully for college, and to navigate the complex college application process. With a keen focus on her clients’ goals, Deidra helps students to identify their “best fit” schools and to leverage their unique talents and experiences in the application process. She formerly worked as a recruiter for SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, and taught high school English in an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Deidra received a B.A. in English literature from Baylor University and an M.Ed. from Houston Baptist University.
Shirley Kaczka is an experienced educator who works with both college and pre-college students. In addition to her work with SMU College Prep, she has held faculty positions at several Dallas College campuses. Kaczka also served as Associate Dean of Professional Development at Eastfield College. She received an M.L.A. from SMU and a B.B.A. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, plus several certifications from the North American Council for Staff, Program and Organizational Development.
Jamita Machen is a recognized leader in information technology who has worked in a variety of industries – defense, mobile, e-commerce and travel, among others. Her experience includes work for multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Motorola, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Jamita is the founder and owner of The Software Vault, and she launched The STEM-ulation Foundation to introduce pre-college students to S.T.E.M. disciplines through experiential education activities. Jamita holds degrees from Texas A&M University, DePaul University, and the University of Dallas, and she has been recognized by the Dallas Business Journal and TeXchange DFW as one of the Top 25 North Texas Women in Technology.
Libby Magliolo, M.B.A.is a training and development professional at Southwest Airlines who is passionate about personal finance education for pre-college students. She leads a sales training team at Southwest Airlines as well as leadership development and StrengthsFinders coaching. Libby regularly speaks with student groups, focusing on core personal finance skills including budgeting, credit card usage, student loan planning and financial goal setting with the goal of educating students on the life-changing financial decisions they'll be making during college and beyond. Libby received an M.B.A. with a focus in Finance at SMU's Cox School of Business.
Lilly is the founder of the blog Open Hearted Home with her husband, Markus, where they share their daily commitments to a more authentic, creative life. To provide more tangible ways for Dallasites to foster creativity, Lilly founded Camp Crafty Parties, bringing connection through creating with personalized craft activations and workshops for private parties. Camp Crafty Parties merges Lilly’s professional background in art education, brand development and experiential marketing and artistic talent representation. Lilly is the voice of a new generation of people hungry for authentic living and creative pathways for success in their lives and families. She has performed in Oral Fixation and at Dallas Comedy House and has been a featured writer by The Today Show, Dallas Morning News, Preston Hollow Advocate, Apartment Therapy, Young House Love, Becoming Minimalist and Simple Families. (B.A. Public Relations, Art History 2008, Texas Tech University).
Tiffini Pruitt-Britton is a third year Ph.D. student in Education and Policy Leadership at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Her background includes teaching College Algebra, AP Calculus, and Pre-AP Precalculus for Dallas/Fort Worth area high schools, Tarrant County College, North Central Texas College, and Texas Wesleyan University as well as being a Teaching Assistant for SMU. Her doctoral research focuses on the development and validation of instruments to assess student funds of knowledge in mathematics through a culturally responsive lens. Tiffini is a graduate research assistant for the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education funded projects. She is a member of AERA, NCTM, CEC and the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa. She is the Graduate Student Representative for the AERA Research in Mathematics Special Interest Group. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s in mathematics, a minor in statistics, and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis in Mathematics Education.
Michelle Schusterman is the critically acclaimed author of over a dozen novels, including Spell & Spindle and The Pros of Cons, as well as the Kudo Kids mystery series co-authored with Olympic medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani. Michelle’s books have received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly and have received honors including multiple Junior Library Guild selections, the CBCC Best of 2019 List, ALA’s Rainbow List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers List, and the NC State College of Education Comic Relief Reading List.
In the last seven years, Michelle has led hundreds of creative writing workshops with organizations including Writing Workshops Dallas, Writopia Lab, and Lawson Writers Academy.
Diana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire and Skinny and of the New York Times Opinion series Going Off. Her work has appeared in GQ, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Harper's, Esquire, Playboy, National Geographic Traveler, BBC Travel, Washington Post, Ploughshares, and many other publications. She is the recipient of a number of awards and fellowships, including a Hawthornden Castle Residency, a Yaddo Residency, the Steinbeck Fellowship, and the Orlando Creative Nonfiction Prize from A Room of Her Own Foundation. She is also a seven-time Moth Story Slam winner who has been featured on NPR.
Valerie Strickland brings experience from the classroom and the corporate world to her work with SMU College Prep. As an entrepreneur herself, Valerie teaches students business and marketing skills that she uses and develops in her own work. Valerie is “dedicated to help each student develop his/her strengths and to assist all students in realizing and reaching their full potential.”