High School Mentors

Katie PicKatie Perry

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: Human Geography (High School Learning Communities 1, 2, 3 and 4)

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

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: Career and College Prep, Life Skills (High School Learning Communities 1 and 4)

Self-Paced Mentor: Family Science

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!

profile pic 2Elizabeth Simmons

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: Career and College Prep, Life Skills (High School Learning Communities 2 and 3)

Liz Simmons is a personalized, passion-driven education enthusiast.  She has successfully mentored her two oldest children through young adulthood and they are joyfully working and studying in their chosen pursuits.  She has been the keynote speaker for SE Idaho Home School Conference and is the founder of thelightmom.com where she mentors and life coaches women of faith to a life of greater peace and joy.  She is the mother of six, wife to the best guy, Adam, and resides on a two acre piece of heaven in Rigby, Idaho. Liz has taught ACT Prep, Debate, and American History, to name a few.  She loves all things musical, teaching, laughing, discussing grand ideas, and digging in the dirt. She has 10 years experience creating curriculum and mentoring youth and has found such joy in guiding the rising generation home to themselves and to the God who is wild and crazy about them.  She has a B.A. in Business Marketing and is thrilled to be part of the Ensign Peak Academy team.

Brian Mott

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: Physics (High School Learning Communities 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Brian Mott earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University in 2001.  After graduating, he worked in several engineering positions in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Utah, Tennessee and now Texas.  He has worked as a Process Engineer, a Quality Engineer, a Production Engineer and a Quality Assurance Manager.  In these positions, Brian led many improvement projects in different chemical and physical processes.  He also worked in Six Sigma, which is a statistically based stepwise, improvement process.

Brian and his wife have six children, four of them at home in Southeast Texas. He had been a long time Boy Scout leader.  He has helped start a high school Rugby team, and a middle/high school robotics team in Tennessee.  He also has been a member of Toastmasters (a public speaking club) where he current is serving as his club president and the area director.

Elizabeth Smailes

Elizabeth Smailes

2020-2021 Live Program 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.

IMG_0079Jennifer Erickson

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: British Literature, English: Writing Skills (High School Learning Communities 1 and 2), Senior Capstone Project

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, English: Writing Essentials

Jennifer Erickson has had a passion for the literary arts since she was young. She studied English Literature and Communications at the University of Utah.  Jennifer began her career at the Salt Lake Tribune as a reporter’s assistant and went on to work for McGraw-Hill Higher Education Publishing as both a copy and development editor. After leaving McGraw-Hill, she worked freelance as a project director for several prominent higher-education publishing companies, including Wiley, Pearson, Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins-Wolters Kluwer Health.

After working in publishing for many years, Jennifer left to focus on mentoring her own children at home.  As a homeschool mentor, she researched, gathered resources, and developed custom writing and literature curriculums. What began as a way to meet her family’s specific needs, became something she loved and was able to share with others.  She began teaching these curriculums at homeschool co-ops and in private tutoring.  Her mentoring opportunities have continued to increase over the years.

Jennifer has been an early morning seminary teacher for the last four years. She loves the opportunity to spend so much time in personal scripture study and interacting with youth who are learning to trust and love the Lord.

Jennifer has spent the last 20 years just outside of Dallas, Texas with her husband and four children. They have been in Texas long enough to master the art of incorporating “y’all”, “all y’all” and phrases like “bless your heart” into most conversations. Jennifer is happiest when she is spending time with her family, but also enjoys reading, recommending books, cooking, learning about history and discovering new study topics.

2016 JaNanJaNan Neilson

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: British Literature, English: Writing Skills (High School Learning Communities 3 and 4)

JaNan Neilson is the oldest of six siblings, born and raised on a farm southeast of Burley Idaho where she learned to irrigate, hoe beets, care for livestock, and tend children.  Following high school, she attended Rick’s College and went on to graduate from BYU. She was mentored by Rose Eyring Calder in her student teaching at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City.  In 2010 she attended the BSWP where she learned inquiry instruction from Jeff Wilhelm.  This course totally revamped her teaching.  In 2015 she completed her Masters in Teaching of English Language Arts at Boise State.

She has homeschooled her own children, taught English in all secondary grades at public school, English and history at American Heritage Academy, GED and ESL at the College of Southern Idaho, GED at the Mini-Cassia Correctional Center, and spent thirteen years at Oakley Junior Senior High School. She has missed young people and is looking forward to mentoring students at Ensign Peak Academy.

Work with youth has also included service in Young Women’s, 4-H clubs, and cub scouting.  She completed Wood Badge advanced leadership training and sat on the board of reviews for a number Eagle Scouts.

At the end of 2018, JaNan and her husband moved to Idaho Falls. Today, she and her husband enjoy growing a few flowers, painting, and their fourteen grandchildren.

Jeff Jensen

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: American History (High School Learning Communities 1 and 4), Senior Capstone Project 

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Modern World History, Ancient World History

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

Mr. Jensen is a beloved mentor for youth and has taught online history, geography, government and economics course for over six years. He is a popular speaker and has logged over 3000 public speaking hours, most in classroom settings across the state as a guest lecturer on the Titanic and U.S. history. He was recognized by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library as a noteworthy Reagan historian and invited to address them in September 2018. He is currently working towards publication of his first book, a history book called “The President’s Pages.” He has published articles in peer reviewed history and academic journals on the RMS Titanic and serves as assistant editor and historical consultant on three BYU publications in the “Saints at War” program.  He enjoyed serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint in Korea and Hong Kong, and as a service volunteer in two orphanages in Thailand. He stays politically active and has taken leadership roles in local politics.

Austin Hepworth

2020-2021 Live Program Mentor: American History (High School Learning Communities 2 and 3)

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.

Heather Burton

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Health

Heather Burton is thrilled to be mentoring the self-paced Health course at Ensign Peak Academy. In her teens, she began a serious quest to find a safe and wise balance between exercise, nutrition, physical appearance/confidence, and fun. She recognized traditions and social trends that pressured young people toward extremes, and wanted to learn the truth about the body in Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness.

As a young mother, the importance of making choices in the light of true principles became an even higher priority. While studying many approaches to eating, movement, and rest, Heather found the Word of Wisdom an indispensable foundation. A recognized mentor and practitioner of healthy living, Heather has participated in classes, online forums, and community courses on whole-foods nutrition, healthy mindset, personal growth, conflict transformation, nourishing family, and finding “peace with food.”

At the alternative school where she teaches, Heather is active in wilderness outings, community gardening, and personal development. She is also certified in first aid, spends as much time as possible in the outdoors, practices yoga, cheers on her children in their active lives and healthy choices, and takes every opportunity to learn more. Her current movement adventure? Shuffle-dance and hip hop to music with positive, gospel-friendly, upbeat lyrics.

Rusty Visher

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Financial Literacy

Rusty grew up in Woods Cross, UT and is the youngest of five. She played many sports, has a passion for music, and loves to read. As a Freshman at Snow College she obtained her lifeguarding certificate as well as becoming a swim instructor. She remembers many of the kiddos she taught with a smile on her face. To this day Rusty can be found puddle jumping with her two kids when there is a good rain storm.

Rusty has always been gifted in math. It has always presented itself as a puzzle with many potential tunnels to go through, but has only one correct answer. Just like putting in that last puzzle piece, it is extremely satisfying to find that one correct answer.

Rusty obtained a BA in Business Management from WGU and part of that degree were many classes in finance, which included budgeting and account reconciliation. She also took a personal finance course during her associates degree program. Knowing the ins and outs of what can and cannot be done is fascinating.  It is also important to understand the different types of debt and which ones to avoid at all costs and which ones might be helpful when used and paid back properly.

After many moves to and from several states, Rusty and her family have landed and put roots down in Lander, Wyoming. Rusty’s spouse is a Paramedic which means she thinks he is just an adrenaline junkie who loves to help people in their worst moments of life. She has the cutest dog named Arrow and hopes to have another pup to love on soon.

Tresta's Favorite PhotoTresta Neil

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Chemistry, Earth Science

Tresta Neil is a mother of eight darling children and many borrowed children. When her husband Thom introduced her to the idea of homeschooling, she thought he was crazy. Twenty years later she is a strong advocate for homeschooling. She has been teaching online classes in math, science, symbology, constellations, and addiction prevention for the past five years. She is a mentor for homeschool mothers and their parenting/schooling/faith needs. She graduated from BYU Idaho and Weber State University before her mission to the Netherlands. Her mission president used her nursing skills in the field and she continues to use them within the hospital and at home. The area of science can lead to doubting God’s word or it can strengthen our love and awe for God. Tresta is passionate about showing how all sciences testify of Christ.

She is the author of God Saw That It Was Good and other homeschooling books. She directs homeschool and other faith promoting events. She is the co-founder of Called to Learn, restoring and preserving Gospel culture of learning patterned after the temple, with her husband. She and her son, Izaak, have a podcast called, Gospel Theory. Her passion is teaching, writing, and telling God’s Story. If you ask her about her most embarrassing moment she will tell you a story about sitting on a cactus.

Amy Cloud

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Computer Technology

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.

Diann Jeppson Portrait 2017Diann Jeppson

Self-Paced Program Mentor: Family Science

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 Course

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

Developer and Self-Paced Program Mentor: 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.

Marie at Heirloom Gallery smMarie Withers

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.

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 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.

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!