Q&A with Senior Educational Directors

Our Senior Educational Directors provide guidance for our instructors within their respective fields, develop and refine Summa's unique curriculum and teaching methods, and, of course, teach.

Interested in finding out what makes them tick? In these interviews, you will learn about who they are and about their experiences at Summa. 


Melissa Schulz

Senior Educational Director, Writing and Language Arts


1. What is your most memorable teaching story you would like to share at Eleanor Roosevelt College?  

Actually, the most memorable experience I had was more about learning than teaching. As a writing instructor in the Making of the Modern World program, I got to sit in on lectures that covered everything from early man to twentieth-century Europe. I always knew I loved studying 19th and 20th century Western culture, so those lectures were, expectedly, very cool for me. I was less excited about the earlier periods of our program -- I'm a literary scholar, I thought, not an anthropologist! Then I saw a lecture on the Silk Road given by Professor Matthew Herbst. I was spellbound. Professor Herbst is a great storyteller, and, even from the back of the lecture hall, I could feel his excitement about the material. After that lecture, the Silk Road era came alive for me. It was also great lesson in teaching. Passion, and the ability to turn a lesson into a story, are two of what I think are the most important qualities in a good teacher. Since then, I've tried to cultivate these qualities in my own teaching.

2. What's your favorite class to teach at Summa and why?  

My 9/10 Writing & Literature Intensive classes! I love that I get to teach two of my favorite subjects: grammar and writing, AND I get to read novels with my students. The fact that these are extra-curricular classes means that we can read books that aren't usually taught in school. Funny books like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and new books like Caleb's Crossing. It's rewarding to introduce students to novels and ideas that they may not have heard of before, and I love that part of my job is seeking out new books for the Junior program. Recently, a student told me that she was surprised at how much she liked one of the books we read -- that it wasn't one she would have chosen for herself, but she really enjoyed it. That's the best. And, since I've been reading with my students in mind, I've even found myself trying and liking books that I wouldn't have expected. 

3. What's your favorite part about working at Summa?

As a teacher, I've come to value two things: motivated students, and the ability to have creative control over what I teach. Summa offers both of these in spades. Especially since I've become an Educational Director, I've had a lot of freedom in deciding which books to teach and how to teach them. And I can't say enough about how awesome it is to work with and get to know our students. Now that I've been around for a few years and I'm working in our CAW program, I'm seeing students that I first met as 9th graders applying to college. It's exciting to work with students as they move on to the next big step in their lives. And I feel like that's what I'm doing in every part of my job, from my 9/10 classes to my summer SAT Writing classes to my CAW appointments. 

4. You've had some cool animal experiences.  What's your favorite?

My husband Cameron volunteers for an organization called The Fund for Animals, which rescues and rehabilitates injured wildlife. My favorite animal experiences have probably been tagging along with him on releases. We once released a bobcat into the hills near the Elfin Forest in Escondido. I expected the cat to bolt out of the crate as soon as we opened it. But, very much like my house cats, she needed to surveil the situation thoroughly before she would make a move. We probably waited for the better part of an hour, hiding around a bend in the trail so she'd think we had left. Finally, she ran off into the hills. I hope she's still out there, doing her bobcat thing.

Oh, and there's the time I got to feed hibiscus flowers to an Okapi. Look up pictures of Okapis and you'll understand why this is the most adorable experience a person can have.

5. We hear you're a vegan, tell us more.

I became vegan about four years ago, during my last year of grad school. I was taking a literature seminar that explored how humans have perceived and written about animals. I was already a pescatarian (meaning the only meat I would eat was fish), and, after thinking and learning more about the way animals are treated in the American food industry, I decided to make the switch. Since then, Cameron and I have become what we call "conoscavores". This is a word I made up. It's borrowed from the Spanish word "concocer", which means "to know or be familiar with". Basically, I want to know or see any animal whose products I'm going to eat. I still won't eat meat or dairy, but, if I can see a chicken or duck personally and know that it's living a good life, I'll eat its eggs. Now, I buy eggs from a woman I know in Vista. Her chickens have a nice big yard and a view of the ocean!

6. What inspires you?  

Great books, daily walks through the park, and the amazing view from my patio.

7. What do you like to do to when you're not changing lives, one student at a time?  

Right now I'm working on Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite for the piano, which is something I do every December. I'm also contemplating planting some carrots in my garden. I know a great recipe for lentil shepherd's pie, and some home-grown carrots would go very nicely. 



Stephen with Chess

Stephen Park

Senior Educational Director, Mathematics

As interviewed by Christina Cheng

1. What brought you to Summa? 

I had worked with our founding team for quite a while, and I came on board with them to help with the math classes. I love teaching and working with students especially in the high school age. It was originally going to be a part time thing, but I just enjoyed it so much and really found a career in it, so here I am.

2. Why do you like working with high school students? 

I like working with high school students because they’re mature and transitioning into a period where they really have to start thinking about what they want to do in the future. It’s great to have a chance to inspire them a little bit, and hopefully I can open their eyes to what’s out there.

3. How has your experience been so far as a Senior Educational Director? And what do you do as a Senior Educational Director? 

It’s been amazing and I’m really thankful to have had this opportunity. I really do love it. It’s great because I never actually pictured myself as being able to do something that I loved as a career, and what we’re trying to do at Summa is open up more opportunities for students to do things they love and enjoy rather than things that they’re capable of mindlessly doing. My job has been tough and hard and busy, but busy is good. I do a lot of different things as a Senior Educational Director. I have to find and then train new math and science teachers. I also develop a lot of the curriculum and meet with students and their parents at counseling sessions to give them advice on what they should do in the future.

4. What is your favorite part about being a teacher at Summa? 

Being able to tell horrible jokes to the students.

5. What is your favorite joke? 

“How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Ten tickles!” That one usually gets the best response. I also like, “How does Batman order his drinks? With just ice.”

6. What did you study in school and why did you pursue that area of study? 

I studied biology in school, and then went to UCSD for medical school for about a year and a half. It turned out that that wasn’t the right thing for me. It was interesting, but I wasn’t really passionate about it, and I didn’t see a future in it, so I explored a lot of different options. I took the LSAT for law school, the GMAT for business school. I found out through taking a lot of tests to figure out what I wanted to do, I really liked to take standardized tests, especially since I was pretty good at doing so. And that’s kind of how I fell into Summa. I really do like the test-taking process and being able to help others with it.

7. I hear your diet consists mainly of meat and candy. Please elaborate. 

I don’t eat the candy—I provide the candy. I do eat a lot of meat, but I’m a lot better now. I might have a carrot stick every other day.

9. Do you have meat every single meal? 

Oh yeah, it has to have meat to be considered a meal.

10. What has been your favorite moment/lesson at Summa? 

Anytime students come back after taking their test and are proud of the fact that they got good results because they put in the time and worked hard. It’s just great to see their excitement when they realize that their work really paid off.

11. Your favorite restaurant or meal? 

That’s tough. Even though a lot of people hate it, Arby’s is one of my favorite things because it’s just meat and bread.

12. Do you work out? How do you sustain this kind of lifestyle? 

I play a lot of sports like volleyball, soccer, and football. In high school, I was in track, tennis, soccer, and football. I was captain of football and soccer.

13. When did you discover you could do the pregnant belly thing?  

I don’t know… it just naturally happened. I probably discovered it in high school at some point. It’s a special hidden talent. I did it once because one time I had to share a special hidden talent for my class, and then after that, it keeps coming up because people hear about it, and now I have to do it in every class at some point…they’re shocked and awed and amazed, and it’s the best moment in their lives.

14. When did you find that teaching was really your calling? 

I liked teaching for a while. I would tutor in high school and at church. From that point on and up to college, teaching was just kind of a hobby.  I found that teaching was my calling after I had quit med school.  I was looking for something that I wanted to do, and I just naturally fell into it. It started as a part time job and after taking all those standardized tests and working with all those students, I figured out that teaching was what I was passionate about, and teaching was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to work in that kind of a field with bright and motivated students who are really receptive to the teaching we provide.

15. We hear you have a gorgeous lady friend…Cool.

That’s so awkward. Yes… yes, I do.

16. When and where did you meet? 

About two years ago at a bowling alley through mutual friends. We met together and were bowling together. 


6mu4W copy

Adam Lowenstein, Ph.D.

Senior Educational Director, Critical Reading


1. What was your Ph.D. dissertation on at UCLA? 

I wrote a book-length work on 19th-c. American author Henry James, who was one of the first writers to argue that a novel can be a work of art. His literary techniques were largely conditioned by the constraints of publishing his novel's serially, meaning that both the time it took for his novels to be published in full and the limitations placed on his novels as a result of being published in this way had real and prolonged effects on the development of James's famous style. My larger claim was that the Modernist techniques we recognize most easily in writers like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Joyce were shaped by popular media forms like magazines and newspapers, kind of like how Twitter forces professional writers and comedians who use it in an artistic way to really make those 140 characters count.

2. What was your favorite class to teach at UCLA? 

I taught a freshman seminar for non-English majors called The Magazines of Modernism. There were only about 14 of us in the class, everybody was really glad to be there, and we got to look at some of the best and weirdest literature in the context of the periodicals where they were originally published. We looked at Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as it was serialized in the high brow "little magazine" The Egoist, and we read Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim in the American magazine McClures, complete with all the advertisements, illustrations, and other works that ran alongside the texts. We also read issues of magazines like Weird Tales where sci-fi and other genre writers like HP Lovecraft got their start around the same time that the Modernists were doing their thing in their own magazines. I learned a lot from those students.

3. What brought you to Summa? 

I came to Summa for a lot of reasons, but a big one was my feeling that I could make more of an impact on students in an environment where teaching is as highly valued as it is here. Many changes have taken place in higher education in recent years, and one trend I noticed and came to be critical of is academia's de-emphasis on teaching in the name of both cost-cutting (via adjunct labor) and, somewhat ironically, academic prestige (via research). When I learned about Summa's philosophy, its emphasis not only on the value of great teachers but also on the need to address the whole student, I knew I found my niche.

4. What's your favorite band?

(You asked for it...) Pop/Rock = The Beatles or Elvis Costello; Indie = Okkervil River or Pinback; Jazz = Thelonious Monk or Charles Mingus; Country = Willie Nelson or Conway Twitty; Classical = Claude Debussy or Franz Schubert 

5. What inspires you? 

My students; a great novel; simple but counter-intuitive ideas; Jimi Hendrix (had to sneak in another one)

6. I hear you are a vegan, tell us more. 

I had been a vegetarian for several years before going whole hog (pun intended). As with most life-defining decisions, my reasons were many and complex, but I remember deciding to eliminate animal products from my diet completely after reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, which outlines in non-polemical, lucid terms the economic, ethical, environmental, political, and nutritional stakes of modern American agribusiness. It got me to cook more, and I fell in love with cooking, so it really stuck. I was also a student of Eastern philosophy in my teens and twenties, and I remember one idea in particular striking a chord with me, from Taoism, which relates to all my choices, not just food: that you if you want the world to be a certain way, make the choices that would logically lead to that kind of world. So you have to think carefully and critically about every decision because it does not only affect you. (For what it's worth, however, I'm not a preachy vegan, and I love when people really care about food, no matter what the food is.)

7. I hear you were in a band, tell us more. 

I've been in several bands, starting in high school and then steadily until my mid-twenties, when I decided to put music aside and focus instead on getting my degrees. All of my bands were deeply rooted in blues music. Think Hendrix meets the White Stripes meets the Black Crowes. I played bass guitar in each band, but I also write and record my own songs and play all the instruments.

8. Favorite moments/lessons/times at Summa? 

Any time a joke hits home. But really, I don't have a favorite moment because, cheesy as it sounds, I love every moment in the classroom, even the ones that drag a little because everyone is tired or frustrated. These are the challenges that make me dig deep to find moves that get students excited or at least thinking--these are the moments that make me a better teacher.