High School Mentors

Katie PicKatie Perry

2021-2022 Mentor: Human Geography (all live and self-paced)

Katie Perry earned a B.S. degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) from Brigham Young University in 2004. After graduating from BYU, she worked as a GIS Specialist for five years, first for a county government in Maryland and then for an environmental engineering firm in Utah and Massachusetts. Katie’s GIS work involved analyzing and processing geographic data and producing maps for a variety of reports and public and private projects.

Katie and her husband have six children, and they currently live in the Syracuse, New York area. For four years, Katie served on the board of a local homeschool cooperative with approximately 150 students, and during that time Katie taught a variety of courses at the co-op, including Math Art, Forensic Science, and more. Katie also teaches English as a second language online, and this year will be her eighth year homeschooling her own children.

Katie loves traveling, especially if the destination involves camping or hiking. She has a passion for cooking and gardening, and enjoys working on family history.

Laura HicksonLaura Hickson

2021-2022 Mentor: Family Science (all live and self-paced)

Laura Hickson graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Development in 2000.  After graduation, she worked for an agricultural consulting firm and had the opportunity to travel around the United States conducting research.  She also has experience in management, sales, marketing, entrepreneurship, and teaching several forms of dance. Her opportunity to teach Gospel Doctrine for almost 10 years has allowed her to feast upon the words of Christ, deepen her testimony of the gospel, and become comfortable leading group discussions.  

So far, Laura’s most exciting adventure in life has been her role as an eternal companion to her husband and mother to their 5 children.  She began homeschooling in 2008 when her oldest daughter was ready for kindergarten. Since then, she has attempted to implement personalized education plans for each of her five children based on learning style, ability and interest.  Trying to maintain a simple, yet effective method of integrating gospel instruction, character development, etiquette, work ethic, music skills, physical education/ nutrition, foreign language study, homesteading skills, language arts, math, history, financial literacy, and nature study while having clean clothes to wear and something relatively healthy to eat has proven to be her greatest joy!  

Laura and her family live on a small farm in Texas with their children, lots of Golden Retrievers, a Great Pyrenees, some goats, chickens, a miniature horse, honey bees and a garden.  She loves sunshine, digging in the dirt, and hearing her children laugh. Her dream day is one spent kayaking in a little pond surrounded by towering pine trees on the land where four generations of her family have been raised.  She is thrilled to have a chance to share her passion for family life with the students of Ensign Peak Academy!

Jennifer Shaw

2021-2022 Mentor: Chemistry (all live and self-paced), Financial Literacy (all live and self-paced)

Jennifer Shaw is a passionate person who loves people and experiencing life!

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and has had various amazing jobs from air quality monitoring (at an air force base where they exploded bombs and tested rocket engines), to making semiconductors and running multi-million dollar projects.

Jennifer “retired” from engineering and started her favorite job, which is being a mom!  Her passion and devotion are to her family and to the other kids in her life, whether they are known through 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts, Heroic Youth, mentoring, teaching, or educational travel.

In addition to homeschooling her own kids, Jennifer has taught math, science, chemistry, ballroom dance and sign language in various homeschool co-ops, Benjamin Franklin Academy, Liberty Hills, Paradigm Charter School, Overture Learning and now Ensign Peak Academy.  Jennifer loves to inspire scholars as they explore this awesome universe together.  She has discovered first hand that it is much more rewarding to watch a person’s face, heart and mind light up when they discover something new than it is to complete million dollar projects.

Jennifer likes all sorts of experiences and adventure.  Her favorite hobbies include: scuba diving, riding 4-wheelers, hiking, camping, traveling, cruising, audiobooks, creating things and being with people–especially her husband of 27 years, her three amazing kids, her new son-in-law and her extended family.

Laura WaiteLaura Waite

K-12 Language Arts Specialist

2021-2022 Mentor: High School World Literature (live and self-paced), English: Writing Adventures (live and self-paced), Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature (self-paced), American Literature (self-paced), British Literature (self-paced), English: Writing Essentials (self-paced), English: Writing Dynamics (self-paced), English: Writing Skills (self-paced)

Laura Waite grew up in California, earned an Associate Degree from Ricks College (Brigham Young University-Idaho), married a very handsome and talented man, and raised six children (all girls except five!) After 20 years, she went back to college at Grand Canyon University online and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education. She has also earned endorsements in business and marketing and gifted and talented education.

Laura lives in Fredonia, Arizona where she is adjusting to an empty nest. She loves being a new grandma and watching her children as they continue to grow and learn. She loves walking on the beach, hiking to waterfalls, and paddling her kayak. Her favorite activities include writing, traveling, reading, watching movies, and playing games with her family. She also loves to learn and teach and is excited to do it every day!

Elizabeth Smailes

Elizabeth Smailes

2021-2022 Mentor: High School Honors Seminar, Senior Capstone Project

Dr. Elizabeth Smailes is a mentor for serious readers. She believes that edification and education can, in the right setting, support and build on one another. As a seminary teacher for over 15 years she has a broad gospel base. She believes that when this gospel base is used to judge all other literature, the result is electrifying. Dr. Smailes is a graduate and former mentor from George Wythe University. This educational background enables her understand how students can see themselves and the world through the lens of great leaders and thinkers of the past and present. She studied Logotherapy and received a certificate of completion from the School of Logotherapy, located in Dallas, Texas. Logotherapy was developed by neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frank. It is founded upon the belief that it is the striving to find a meaning in one’s life that is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans. She believes that we are here to inspire one another and receives her most tender inspiration from her grandchildren, as she sees hope and joy in their eyes.

Nellie Johnston

2021-2022 Mentor: Health (all live and self-paced)

Nellie Johnston has a strong foundation in health sciences. She graduated with both her BS and MS in Athletic Training from Brigham Young University. Her degrees helped her develop a strong testimony of the creation and the sacredness of the human body.  Upon graduation, she taught health and PE at a private middle school for several years before she had her oldest child. About five years ago, she started Little Sprouts Cooking, now Growing Thyme Cooking. She has spent the last five years teaching over two thousand kids how to cook and how the nutrients in our food affect our bodies. She is a certified Kids Nutrition Specialist and is passionate about educating families about the benefits of healthy eating and the importance of taking care of our bodies.

Nellie lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and four kids. When she isn’t in the kitchen with her students, she is outside in nature. She loves gardening, hiking and camping with her family.

Heather Putnam

2021-2022 Mentor: Life Skills (all live and self-paced), Career and College Prep (all live and self-paced), Principles of Leadership (all live and self-paced)

Heather Putnam earned a B.S. degree in Economics and an M.B.A with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior/Human Resources from Brigham Young University. She worked for 12 years for the Walt Disney Company in the corporate headquarters for Disneyland, The Disney Store and Consumer Products.  Her main focus was in training & development, finance and international consumer relations.  A highlight to her career was in 1996 when she was selected to be the Disneyland Ambassador, allowing her the privilege of speaking on radio/TV programs, riding on parade floats with Mickey Mouse and travelling the world to promote the theme park.

Once Heather and her husband started having their four great kids, she transitioned to work part-time as a Financial Management and Human Resources Consultant.  She has consulted for large companies such as LA Times, Golden State Foods, and Southern California Power & Gas. However, she prefers smaller companies where she can make a significant impact sharing her life, career and business management skills.

Heather and her family live in El Segundo, Southern California where she enjoys yoga, rollerblading on the beach, and creative cooking.  She loves travelling, teaching and finding fun foodie adventures.

Jeff Jensen

2021-2022 Mentor: US Government and Citizenship (live, LC 1, LC 3, LC 6, LC 8 and self-paced), Korean

Mentor: Modern World History (self-paced) Ancient World History (self-paced), American History (self-paced)

Co-Developer: Modern World History, Ancient World History, American History

Mr. Jensen is a beloved mentor for youth and has taught online history, geography, and government and economics courses for over eight years. He was recognized by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library as a noteworthy Reagan historian and invited to address them in September 2018. He has published articles in peer reviewed history and academic journals on the RMS Titanic and served as an assistant editor and historical consultant on three BYU publications in the “Saints at War” program.  He hopes to one day launch his dream project, “Highways of Heroes,” honoring our nation’s veterans. He enjoyed serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Korea and has participated in humanitarian endeavors in Hong Kong and as a service volunteer in two orphanages in Thailand.

For 20 years, he has been active in the Sunday School organization, serving as a teacher multiple times and as Sunday School president on both the Ward and Stake level on multiple occasions. Harmonizing his faith with his teaching talents is one of his greatest joys, and one he feels blessed to share with your children.

Jeff’s greatest passion is for his faith and family. He and his wife have welcomed three enthusiastic and passionate boys into their family who always keep them entertained and on their toes. Hiking by day and stargazing by night, being outdoors surrounded by nature is Jeff’s happy place. He also loves relaxing to movie scores, occasionally escaping to Middle-earth, chatting with complete strangers, and finding beauty and meaning in cultures across the world.

Amy Cloud

2021-2022 Mentor: Computer Technology (all live and self-paced), US Government and Citizenship (live, LC 2 and LC 4), Algebra 2 (all live and self-paced), Pre-Calculus (all live and self-paced), Earth Science (all live and self-paced)

Co-Developer: Computer Science, Earth Science

Amy Cloud earned a B.A. degree in Political Science and Economics from Brigham Young University in 2016. During her time as a student, Amy traveled to the Middle East to work and study on two separate occasions. Additionally, she was blessed with the opportunity to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Cambodia. After graduation, she enlisted in the US Army as an Arabic linguist in order to serve her country. She served honorably for 5 years and during that time had the privilege to go on a combat deployment to Iraq. Through college and the military, Amy has a wide variety of teaching experience including; foreign languages, math, science, political science, and computer technology.

Amy currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and loves spending time with her nieces and nephews. She loves outdoor adventures, traveling to other countries, and learning about other cultures. Amy enjoys debating, working with her hands and spending time with her dog.

Marie at Heirloom Gallery smMarie Withers

2021-2022 Mentor: Studio Art (live and self-paced), High School Art Appreciation (live and self-paced), Yearbook

Developer: Studio Art, High School Art Appreciation

Marie Withers is an artist and instructor. Her Education includes a Master of Arts (MA, 2019) in Art Education at Brigham Young University (BYU), a BFA Degree in Art Education from Utah State University (USU, 1988), and a BS Degree in Home Economics Education from the University of Idaho (UI, 1982). She teaches painting and drawing; and is also fluent in graphic design and photography.  From 1997 to 2017, she was a graphic designer and eventually a multi-media designer at BYU. Currently, she makes and sells fine art (mostly oil paintings) and prints, in galleries, shows and online. Her work is primarily with the landscape, but she has also created figure and portrait work. She taught high school art and home economics at South Fremont High School in Idaho for two years, prior to becoming a graphic designer.  During three different summers, she taught drawing and painting at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, Michigan. In 1996 she had the opportunity of being an artist-in-residence for Fox Hollow Elementary School in Idaho Falls. Born in upstate New York, she spent most of her formative years in Moscow, Idaho, eventually making her way to Southeast Idaho and Utah. She now resides in Rexburg, Idaho.

Having had the opportunity of teaching early-morning Seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one year,  she appreciates how art and Gospel beliefs are so intertwined. Some of her artwork depicts events in Church history. She is passionate about both art and teaching and finds great pleasure in helping students discover things about our world through art.

Benjamin Muhlestein

2021-2022 US Government and Citizenship (Live LC 5, LC 7)

Benjamin S. Muhlestein resides in Overton, Nevada and is a husband and father of a beautiful wife and six wonderful children. He served a Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission. He received his Bachelor’s of Paralegal Studies from Utah Valley University in 2002, and earned his Master’s Degree in Classical Liberal Arts from George Wythe University in 2016. He has mentored youth and adults nationally and internationally for many years. He taught Seminary for an entire school year as a student teacher.  He is the Founder of Illuminating the Light Within, Restoringthefounders.com, The Quintilian School of Oratory, and The George Washington Character Curricula. Benjamin has a deep passion for learning and teaching principles of liberty and freedom, and has great faith in the rising generation of youth to rise to the full potential of who God needs them to become.

Megan Anderson

2021-2022 Mentor: Running

Mother, Wife, Nutrition Coach, Ultrarunner, Triathlete, & CrossFitter

Growing up I was an avid basketball player. I dabbled in other sports, nothing too serious.

10 years ago I started running and haven’t stopped since.  I have run everything from a 5k to a 100 mile ultramarathon (yes all on my own 2 feet and yes without stopping). In the last few years I became a Nutrition Coach, began CrossFit and completed my first 70.3 Ironman.  Fitness has given me not only physical health but mental health and strength as well.

Jenny Hochstein

2021-2022 Mentor: Yoga

Jenny Hochstein certified to teach yoga in 2009. She has been teaching community groups and private yoga courses for the last 12 years. She is mom to five kids and wife to a husband she loves dearly. She loves her family and enjoys doing yoga with her husband, her kids and her baby. Jenny enjoys gardening, hosting a book club, and growing tulips. She loves sushi, art, being outside, music, and homeschooling. Jenny started practicing yoga when she was fifteen years old,  during one of the most stressful times of her life. She knows from first-hand experience how yoga can help heal emotional and physical wounds. Jenny is especially eager to teach youth and is looking forward to sharing her knowledge about how yoga can boost energy, strength, happiness, confidence and a positive outlook on life. She specializes in a unique form of yoga that combines yoga meditations centered on Christ, Father in Heaven and nature. She is passionate about teaching beginners and experienced youth. Jenny feels grateful for the opportunity to share her gift with others – a gift she for which she feels thankful and with which she strives to glorify Heavenly Father.

Additional Developers

Austin Hepworth

Developer: US Government and Citizenship

Co-Developer: American History

Austin Hepworth is an attorney licensed to practice in Utah and California. Austin views American History as an important subject that helps us better understand the decisions we should make today to improve the course of our country. Austin has had the opportunity to review American History through the lens of the law, court precedent, and other legal or political forces that have helped shape America into what it is today. Austin graduated first in his law school class, has participated in cases and legal issues around the country, and enjoys helping students connect their past to their future through the study of American History.

Austin was homeschooled from grades 3 – 9, and is currently a homeschool father of seven children. He served a mission in Taipei, Taiwan and speaks Mandarin Chinese. Austin enjoys rollerblading, camping, reading, and writing. He also believes strongly in the potential that the youth of today have in shaping a better tomorrow for America.

Diann Jeppson Portrait 2017Diann Jeppson

Developer: Health

Co-Developer: Modern World History, American Literature, English: Writing Dynamics, Ancient World History, Family Science, Entrepreneurship, Earth Science, Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, English: Writing Essentials

Diann Jeppson is devoted to creating fulfilling learning experiences for students. Diann’s experience includes 18 years as producer of Simulations Week and 23 years as producer of the Liberty Girls program (history-based experiential learning for children) and 5 years experience teaching and directing American Youth Leadership Institute, a youth civics education organization.

Health: Diann operated a natural food co-op for seven years, published a health newsletter and taught monthly nutrition classes at a local fitness center for 18 months. In the subject of health, she is self-educated through extensive reading and has healed herself from a lengthy chronic illness.

Finance: Diann is fluent and experienced with QuickBooks, reading financial statements, personal finance, business finance and non-profit finance. She chaired the monthly finance and budget committee meetings for a large non-profit for six years. She has created and managed numerous budgets and accounts over many years.

Family Science: Diann produced 12 large conferences titled “The Family Forum,” featuring speakers and workshops on a wide variety of topics related to strengthening the family as the core unit of society. She has studied the topic widely and is excited to share her enthusiasm about the family with students.

Diann has fulfilled numerous speaking engagements at home education conferences and seminars in the US and Canada. She has chaired four non-profit educational organizations and has 10+ years experience as a parliamentary procedure consultant and trainer. Diann enjoyed performing for 8 years in a family bluegrass ensemble called “The Wildflowers” (guitar and vocals).

She and her husband Adam live on a 2.5 acre homestead in Mount Pleasant, a small Central-Utah town in a secluded high-mountain desert valley. Adam is the town gunsmith. Adam and Diann have four delightful daughters, handsome sons-in-law and eight terrific little grandchildren.

Samara StarchmanSamara Starchman

Developer: Financial Literacy

Samara earned her Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in 1994.  Since then, she has had many adventures in education and business.  From managing car dealerships to teaching High School Algebra to managing commercial high rises, she lives by the motto “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”  [Helen Keller]  Currently, she is homeschooling her children, teaching English to children in China online, and taking on creative projects in graphic design and video editing.  She lives in Avondale, Arizona with her sweetheart Ray and her two favorite children.  If you ask her why they are her favorite children in the whole wide world, she’ll tell you it is because she made them.

Leah_JeppsonLeah Ellis

Developer and Self-Paced Program Mentor: High School Music Appreciation

Leah Ellis was born and raised in West Valley City, Utah. She currently resides in Kaysville, Ut where she runs Ellis Music Studio. She graduated from BYU Idaho, with a BA in music, string emphasis, and a minor in Marriage and Family Studies. Leah enjoyed 19 years of private violin lessons, including 8 years under the instruction of Emily Day-Shumway, former member of the Utah Symphony and Concert Mistress of the Utah Chamber Orchestra. Leah performed in the Utah Youth Philharmonic for 6 years, and in the BYU-Idaho Symphony Orchestra and ensembles for 4 years, along with multiple community orchestral and choral events. Leah also performed with her family bluegrass band “The Wildflowers” as a fiddler and vocalist for 8 years. While violin is Leah’s main instrument, she also enjoys playing the piano, viola, cello, guitar, and singing in home activities and numerous events. Leah has 2 years’ experience as a private tutor in elementary level reading, literature, art and music theory, and has 10+ years’ experience teaching private violin lessons to students of all ages. She has taught two previous online Music Appreciation courses. Leah served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, Portuguese speaking. Along with music, Leah also enjoys drawing, painting with watercolors, reading, and being with her friends, family and husband Spencer Ellis.

Kaleb AlbeeKaleb Albee

Co-Developer: Computer Technology

Kaleb graduated from Eastern Washington State University with a Master of Science in Computer Science and two minors in Math and Physics. During his studies, he concentrated on AI, hacking, and Databases.  His main professional career has focused on computers, but his first love had been physics and math.  He loves to look at new technologies, read about what is going on in the world, loves to play RPG video games, action games, reading to his kids, and hang with the family.  He lives in Farr West, UT with his wife Sheri, children, and a bunch of dogs and cats.

Elise StolleElise Stolle

Co-Developer: Family Science

Elise graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Studies and a Master of Science degree in Family Studies from Texas Woman’s University. She has worked with non-profit organizations teaching parent education classes and leading groups for young mothers. She has also worked with LDS Family Services to enhance some of the resources they provide for families.

She has worked with youth in many capacities over the years including teaching seminary, young women’s and organizing community service projects. She has helped to manage and oversee concerts and tours for hundreds of youth, with Millennial Choirs and Orchestras. In addition, she has taught and developed classes for middle and high school students at her local homeschool group, for many years.

Elise lives in Texas with her amazing husband and is the mother of six incredible children, three boys, and three girls. She has been homeschooling for five years and has three children still at home. She enjoys family history, a good book, reading to her kids, and doing adventurous things with her family! She loves to travel and explore the world, so is always planning her next trip.

Joseph Ramirez

Co-Developer: American Literature, English: Writing Dynamics, Ancient World History, American Literature, English: Writing Skills, British Literature, American History

Joseph Ramirez was born in the right century, because this century has access to all of the other centuries. A self-taught historian, a driven novelist, and enthusiastic teacher, Joseph is excited to serve as a mentor for Ensign Peak Academy.

Joseph served a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Atlanta, GA. For a small-town Idaho boy, used to potato fields, mountains and rural roads, metropolitan Georgia was about as foreign as it gets. He quickly connected with the South, and the many cultures from all over the world, and he still gets caught saying, “yes, Ma’am,” “yes, sir,” and “y’all.”

Joseph worked at a charter school for three years before teaching history, English and literature for Ensign Peak Academy’s 2019-2020 school year. When he’s not teaching, you’ll often find him at the local library, researching and writing his next book. In his off time, he enjoys vintage swing dancing, learning historical skills, shooting firearms, playing his guitar and making things with his hands.

Joseph and his wife Charis and little princess Rosie reside in Springville, Utah. He enjoys shelves full of books, art and a workbench with creative projects in various stages of completion, and his faithful guitar, Petunia.

Tara C. Allred-Niekamp

Developer: Faith and Reason, Principles of Leadership

Tara Allred-Niekamp is an author, educator, and instructional designer with a passion for learning. She has designed online courses for K12, Inc. eCornell, Junior Achievement, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and IBM, as well as other education-based companies.

Prior to her instructional design days, Tara was involved with outreach education and program development for several Utah museums and informal educational organizations.

She has a particular love for the sciences, literature, and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ. In her free time, Tara enjoys writing fictional stories, spending time with her game-board loving husband, or playing with her two active terriers.

Jill Simonson

Developer: Career and College Prep

Co-Developer: Life Skills

Mrs. Simonson has been teaching junior high, high school and college for many years. She has always been passionate about distance education and how accessible it makes education to all people, no matter where they are or what their circumstance. This passion led her to pursue a Distance Education emphasis when earning her MEd from Utah State University.

She has a rather large family, which includes seven children, three bonus children, two dogs, and a fish. The children are spread out from Montana to Utah to Maryland, with three still living at home.

In addition to her position at Ensign Peak Academy Mrs. Simonson also teaches for an online charter school, BYU Idaho, and homeschools two of her children. At church, she enjoys a calling as one of the Activity Days leaders. Mrs. Simonson has a firm testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She loves that together, she has the opportunity to teach and learn in a Christ-centered environment. She is looking forward to a wonderful year mentoring Entrepreneurship!

Kimberly Bingham

Developer: Human Geography

Kimberly Bingham is an online educator and homeschooling mother of four.  She currently teaches English as a Second Language through an online platform, and has worked as an international relations consultant.  Prior to educating her children at home, Kimberly served as a Logistics Officer in the United States Marine Corps, successfully completing deployment missions to Afghanistan and Iraq.  She received commendation for providing seamless logistics support to 5 forward-deployed operating bases simultaneously in support of global operations.  She enjoys volunteering with the Red Cross, and Kimberly is the Illinois State Ambassador for Home School Legal Defense Association Compassion, which allows her to serve homeschooling families in need.  Kimberly believes deeply in integrity, diligence, and service to others.   She is a life-long learner with a passion for foreign languages, music, and Brazilian martial arts.  Kimberly is excited to be part of the Ensign Peak Academy team!