2021 Simulations Week Mentors and Sim Team

Meet the terrific men, women and youth who will lead the 2021 event.

Diann Jeppson Portrait 2017Director: Diann Jeppson

Diann Jeppson is devoted to creating fulfilling learning experiences for students. Diann’s experience includes 20 years as producer of Simulations Week and 24 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. 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, four handsome sons-in-law and eight terrific little grandchildren.

Kim BinghamAssistant Producer: Kim Bingham

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!


President of Zion: Jeff Jensen

Mr. Jensen is a beloved mentor for youth and has taught online history, geography, government and economics course for over seven 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 church mission 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.

IMG_9626aPress Corp: Jennifer and John Wheeler

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!  Dynamic couple, the Wheelers, will mentor the press team for Simulations Week.  Jen brings her experience as an English teacher and writer. With years of time working as a youth mentor and teacher, she is excited to create a newsroom worthy of the City of Zion with the Sim attendees.  The skills she is learning in her Masters Program in Technology for Education are sure to prove useful for creating up-to-the minute reports and spots.  She is always moving; hopefully the newsroom staff is ready to keep up!  John brings his background as a software programmer and computer engineer.  If there is something about computers that needs done, he will figure out how to do it.  John also has an endless supply of eye-rolling dad jokes to keep the atmosphere light.  John and Jen can’t wait to help the news reporters of Zion create publications they can be proud of.

Zion Intelligence Force Mentor: Amy Cloud

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.

Elizabeth SmailesSenate Mentor for Tribe of Naphtali: Elizabeth Smailes

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.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Judah: Kursten Mason

Kursten Mason has served as a mentor for numerous Sim Week events. She has been an educator her entire life, from teaching ‘summer school’ to her siblings at a young age to teaching and mentoring in public, private, and homeschools. She attended the University of Utah, served a church mission in France, Paris and returned to finish her degree in French Teaching with a double minor in Psychology and Special Education from Brigham Young University. Years later, she was homeschooling her three children and helping to found Commonwealth Schools while teaching LEMI projects such as Key of Liberty and Sword of Freedom. She’s been a mentor at Paradigm Schools for the past eight years and is excited to join the staff of Ensign Peak Academy.

Her educational passions are languages and history with a special love for French culture and our Founding Fathers and mothers, especially George Washington, John and Abigail Adams. There is power and inspiration in learning about great men and women. She believes that the most rewarding experience is to share that passion with youth and to watch their eyes light up as they find something that excites and encourages them to learn and do hard things.

She lives in Herriman, Utah with her husband, their youngest son (leaving soon on a mission to Montreal Canada, French speaking), their cat and a flock of chickens. She enjoys time with family, babysitting their grand-puppy, walking, hiking, Yoga, reading, and playing games.

Profile Picture 2018Senate Mentor for Tribe of Dan: Austin Hepworth

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.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Gad: Jason Hawkins

Jason and his wife, Tina, have six children; roughly two more than they can handle.  Jason barely graduated high school, but eventually decided to play the game and earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas State University.  He served twelve years in the Air Force where he learned first-hand that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Afghanistan were not ideal places to raise his family.

After serving in various roles, Jason thought he wanted to work in military diplomacy, but instead left the Air Force to teach aviation.  This was after earning his M.A. in international relations. He’s still a tad bitter about wasting all that time on a degree he’ll never use and wishes he had studied social psychology instead as he loves learning about people and is borderline obsessed with the phenomenon of happiness.  He has taught on motivation and emotional intelligence and overthinks every social situation. Jason finally convinced himself that homeschooling was right for his family after infiltrating Idaho public schools as a substitute teacher.

Jason is a pilot for a major airline.  He enjoys his side gig as a flight instructor and spends the rest of his time hiking, biking and surfing with his family on the beautiful island of Oahu.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Benjamin: Ryan Ferree

Ryan Ferree was born in Galveston, Texas grew up in Havana, Illinois, and currently resides in the outskirts of Lexington, Virginia with his wife, six daughters, and many farm animals. He served in the U.S. Air Force, living in places like Minot, ND and Guam, and has a Masters in Math Education from Nova Southeastern University. Ryan served his mission in the Utah Salt Lake City South mission.

He has many experiences ranging from engineering in the Air Force to finances as an accountant and, of course, teaching. Not only has he homeschooled his own children but has taught both in the physical classroom and in online environments. In teaching, he strives to help students match their passions with what they are learning in the class.

Speaking of passions, Ryan loves working with his small, but growing homestead. From taking care of his many chickens and honey bees to growing vegetables in his garden, he enjoys it all. Ryan also enjoys reading, studying history, spending time with his family, and playing disc golf.

Tresta's Favorite PhotoSenate Mentor for Tribe of Manasseh: Tresta neil

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.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Reuben: Mike Cluff

In high school, a nutty New Yorker told Mike he might actually be good at writing. That crazy idea led Mike to college, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English: Creative Writing. It was in college where a crusty ol’ Chicagoan taught Mike the power of editing and revision. In tearing apart stories, Mike began learning what actually makes a great story. Teaching about writing isn’t just something Mike enjoys, it is a passion and a debt he owes to to his past mentors. Mike is a self-proclaimed geek–he loves fantasy and science fiction, board games, Minecraft, woodworking, and cooking. He loves playing games and watching movies with his wife and four kids. He lives in Caldwell, Idaho.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Zebulon: Jennifer Shaw

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.

IMG_4278Senate Mentor for Tribe of Issachar: Von Hansen

Hearing Elder Neal A. Maxwell speak during the bicentennial celebrations of the Constitution in 1987 kindled a fire in Von’s heart for learning and sharing about the hand of God in history. That led to a bachelor’s degree in History from Brigham Young University in 1999, where some of Von’s favorite classes included History and Philosophy of Science, Constitutional History, and Religion and Thought in East Asia (although his all-time favorite was probably a Shakespeare class!). In 2007, Von was inspired to quit his job as he dove into the master’s program in Political Economy at George Wythe University, where he relished the most intense year-long learning experience of his life.

Von finally crossed the “T”s and dotted the “I”s on that experience and and graduated in 2016 — a long journey from hearing Elder Maxwell speak, but well worth the trip.
In 2007, Von also began designing and teaching a series of four courses on Providential
History. Since then, he has held classes for homeschool students ages 11-17 and adults all across the Wasatch Front from Huntsville to Santaquin. His favorite comment from that experience came from a new student who said that a friend had told her about “this wicked-awesome history class” that she just had to come and try out. She ended up staying for three semesters.

Von has been a serious student of constitutional forms for more than twenty years — not just THE Constitution, but all societal forms (as in, “What form does our government, economy, education, media, family, religion, etc. take?”). He worked for four years as a team lead at US Synthetic, a world-renowned leader in “lean manufacturing,” where he gained an in-depth understanding of that important and growing business form. Von also has recently written an essay on the nuclear family form and its amazingly important influence on the other societal forms over the last 500 years.

Von is married to the talented and beautiful Amy Hansen, and together they have seven children and five grandchildren, for whom they both beam with pride and joy. One of Von’s most cherished activities is to discuss the topics of the day, movies, books, etc. with his family and to learn from his children and sons-in-law as they become men and women of sound understanding themselves. Von served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Republic of Korea, and he thinks that Korean food must be what the Greek myths talk about when they describe ambrosia, the food of the gods.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Ephraim: Meredith Beard

Meredith is the mother of three homeschooled children. She has a great love of learning and enjoys studying a wide variety of subjects, including the gospel of Jesus Christ. She is currently living in Utah, after a recent move from Hawaii. She has loved living in many places, including Michigan, California, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho, Hawaii, and Utah. Each place increased her love for the geography of the United States.

Her hobbies are spending time with her family, knitting, and traveling. After nearly finishing a bachelor’s degree as a young woman, she returned to her college studies a few years ago, and completed a BS degree from BYU-Hawaii in Elementary Education with minors in Science and History.

Meredith loves serving in the gospel of Jesus Christ especially among the youth of the
church. She served a mission in California. Her favorite teaching opportunities have included teaching early morning seminary and serving in the Primary.

Senate Mentor for Tribe of Ashur: Joe Smailes

Joe Smailes is a retired U.S. Forest Service District Ranger and Registered Professional Forester (CA) who has dedicated his career to sustainable forest management. His current focus is to continue to create a more fire resilient landscape in Northern California. As a non-industrial timberland owner he and his wife Elizabeth are keenly aware of the challenges that come with the many unique problems that come with responsible land ownership. Most importantly he has come to rely upon God and his tender mercies in life. 

Laura HicksonSenate Mentor of Tribe of Simeon: Laura Hickson

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!

Sim Team

IMG_8139Hannah Hickson

Howdy! My name is Hannah Hickson and I am from a small town in Texas. I love to go hunting, play piano, hang out with friends, play cello, practice MMA and boxing, swim, sing and snuggle puppies. I am excited to be on the Sim Team because I enjoy being around people and making new friends.

outputMallory Wells

Mallory Wells is a high school junior from Texas. This will be her third year at Simulations Week and she is eager and excited to be a part of the Sim Team. Mallory attends a scholarship program at an art school in Houston and is very passionate about creating works of art, usually centered around people. She loves to laugh and is often singing, dancing, or speaking in silly accents with her family. She also enjoys picking up instruments and has impressively mastered several Christmas carols on her baby sister’s toy accordion. Mallory loves movies and is hoping to study film in the future. She believes in looking for the beauty and wonder in the world (preferably barefoot), and loves the opportunity Sim Week offers her to utilize her viewpoints and ideas. She loves the new thoughts and perspectives she gains from the other students from around the country at Sim and looks forward to the friendship and fellowship this coming summer!

Colden PattersonColden Patterson

Hi, my name is Colden Patterson. I am 16 years old and I’m from Prescott Valley, Arizona. I am a junior at Ensign Peak Academy. I love the outdoors, fixing cars, reading, and playing board games. I love learning about the gospel and reading the scriptures. I love Sim Week because you get to meet new people and reconnecting with old friends. Sim week also sets up a scenario which makes you work with other kids to complete different challenges.

IMG-2474Gavin Millsap

This is Gavin Millsap! First and foremost I am a child of God, and you are too! That is what I believe. I am 16 years old (Or I will be by sim week), I love music, deep thinking, learning, helping others, adventuring, and accomplishing great things! This will be my 3rd year at Simulations Week, and my first on the Sim Team! I am super excited for this upcoming sim week, and I hope you are too! It’s gonna be a blast!

I love simulations week because it provides me with the opportunity to learn unique lessons from a simulated environment and to connect with all the amazing people that attend the event annually! And I am pumped to be on the Sim Team because it will allow me to share even more joy and love with the people around me!

Jonathan Hunzeker

Hi my name is John Hunzeker. I am 17 years old and I live in Grantsville Utah. I enjoy working with wood, doing celestial navigation, and playing in the outdoors. I am a technician class amateur radio operator.  My favorite instrument is the ocarina. I have a vibrant personality and love good jokes.  I love simulations week because of the learning and growth that you can receive from this wonderful experience. I can’t wait to see you there.

Virginia Beyer

Hello, I am Virginia Beyer. I am an INTJ (Meyer Briggs personality) from Indiana who loves the Gospel, my family, quiet time, reading, writing, debate, films, parties and sushi! I love Sim Week and am so honored to be asked to participate as a Sim Team member! This will be my second year attending. I love being a part of Simulations Week because it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and experience real life scenarios. I’m incredibly excited to see old friends and make new ones. It’s a great occasion for all different types of people.