Our Team

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Dr. Gina Cherkowski
Founder and CEO
Contact: gina@stemlearninglab.com

Dr. Cherkowski is an educational game changer on a mission to ensure all students have access to high quality STEM learning experiences so they are aptly prepared for our technology-driven, dynamic world.

Dr. Cherkowski holds a PhD in Mathematics Education as well as in Culture Studies in Education. She has extensive experience in teaching and learning as a remediation specialist, a classroom teacher, and as a university professor for both undergraduate and graduate courses in education both in Canada and internationally.

Gina believes that play, exploration and meaning are critical factors for learning for all students. Gina strongly advocates that all students require and deserve opportunities to participate in high-level, hands-on, engaging and meaningful learning experiences so they are able to meet the demands of the 21st Century. Gina and her team believe that STEM Education combined with Arts and Entrepreneurialism provide pivotal learning opportunities that equip children with the skills, tools and mindsets they need for the 21st Century.

Dr. Cherkowski understands that math is a gatekeeper for many students. As a social justice math educator and learning activist, Gina believes that all kids can and should be proficient in math as well as the other STEM fields and fights to make this a reality. Her current research explores teaching math conceptually using spatial temporal reasoning to facilitate a deep understanding of mathematics for diverse learners. Another area of interest is the development of visual spatial skills through interaction in highly engaging, hands-on STEM and STEAM projects like coding, robotics and Maker Education.

Gina brings her passion for learning, her belief that all students deserve success, and her expertise as a learning scientists and a STEM specialist to the STEM Learning Lab team. Gina is available for Mathematics and STEM related speaking engagements and professional development sessions.

See Gina’s Math as Social Justice TEDx Talk here and Igniting a Generation by Disrupting Education TEDx Kelowna here

Gregory A. Duffell
International Advisor
Contact: greg@stemlearninglab.com

Greg Duffell is an innovative and highly accomplished travel and technology entrepreneur with 30 years of global experience including CEO/President of Pacific Asia Travel Association’s (PATA); Manager Strategy and Business Development Emirates Airline Group for their travel arm – dnata Travel; CEO of Bangkok-based Indochina Services Travel Group; General Manager-Worldwide Network for the Thomas Cook Group; and Regional Director – Asia Pacific for Budget Rent A Car.

In technology, he created his own ancillary mobile app TripXtra; and co-founded a Silicon Valley software company, Migo Software taking it public in 2005 with Jay Elliot one of the original Apple senior team and in the mid-90’s was part of a pioneering team that introduced electric vehicles to Asia. He has also re-engineered tech companies, such as Illusions Online in Dubai and Creative Advances Technology in Malaysia.

He mentors and advises several start-up companies in travel and retail and does business and strategic consulting for a number of mature companies around the globe.

Financial Team

D’Arcy McGrath (CFO)
Chris Henry (CFA)

STEM Education Team

Stacey Benson
Director of Curriculum and Instruction
Contact: stacey@stemlearninglab.com

Stacey joins our organization from the United States as a high school science teacher specializing in STEM practices and science inquiry. She loves opportunities that foster life-long learning, and thoroughly enjoys the mutual development of meaningful curricular experiences. Stacey is passionate about STEM Learning Lab’s mission to empower ALL students to pursue their dreams by being equipped with the problem-solving, creative, and collaborative skills necessary for success in our exciting and rapidly-changing society. Outside of work, Stacey is pursuing a degree in engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and loves spending time with her family through hiking, camping, traveling, and marathoning adventures.

Kendle Butterworth (on maternity leave)
Director of Professional Development
Specializing in Dramatic Arts and Creativity

Kendle is an education specialist in the area of Transformative Pedagogies and STEAM Education. Kendle earned a Masters Degree in Science in Secondary Education from the State University of New York at Albany and her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Government and Plan II Honors from the University of Texas in Austin. Kendle also holds a Masters in Arts Degree in Geography from the University of Colorado at Boulder. As a classroom teacher, Kendle’s teaching areas included social studies, writing, and theatre. As a educational leader, Kendle aims to empower teachers to unleash their creative potential while increasing their capacities with technologies and the Arts through the incorporation of Inquiry, Design Thinking and 21st Century Pedagogies.

RitaEgiziiRita Egizii
Education Consultant
Design-Thinking, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Rita has an eclectic background which includes neuroscience, business, arts and education. Throughout Rita’s life, she received amazing opportunities to empower others, grow businesses and create opportunities for under-serviced group. As a result, she has received many awards and recognitions including Canadian Women Entrepreneur of the Year (Western Regional Finalist), Global Television/YWCA Woman of Vision, the Western Legacy Award for Innovation, the UCalgary WRC Distinguished Alumna Award, and one of the University of Calgary’s highest honours, the Order of the University of Calgary. She is a founding Director of the Quickdraw Animation Society, the Chickwagon! Foundation for Women, Wellspring Calgary, Legacy of Tao (US-based).
Currently, Rita is a sessional instructor for the Werklund School of Education (University of Calgary) and Royal Roads University (Victoria, BC). She teaches creativity & innovation, entrepreneurship and assessment. She is completing her Doctorate (Leadership). Her thesis work is investigating the use of business models and frameworks to innovate pedagogy and curriculum. She also serves on various Boards, Advisory Groups and committees in both the for-profit (education, small business, entrepreneurship, investment, international business) and not-for-profit sectors (arts, education, health care, community development, women’s issues, fund-raising).

Sunney Engstrom
Director of Programs (STEM Learning Lab B.C.)

Sunney is a passionate planner who is striving to enrich the Okanagan with STEM & STEAM based events such as Bring a Girl to STEM Day! With a back ground in administration from Thompson Rivers University Sunney is organized and eager to provide STEM Learning Lab programs to the community. One of her favourite parts of being involved with the STEM team is the opportunity to teach people of all ages in an innovative way such as the adult event “The STEM of Wine!” In her free time Sunney enjoys running as well as exploring the beautiful Okanagan on her bike. You can also catch her on the soccer field a few nights a week playing for fun and fitness. A firm believer in life long learning, Sunney currently is expanding on her knowledge by taking classes in event planning at the Centre for Arts and Technology in Kelowna.

Nina Heidari
Academic Program Coordinator

As a biology enthusiast, Nina has a passion for sparking student interest in STEM subjects and providing the success strategy toolkit for enhanced academic performance. Nina has completed her B.Sc. in Cellular Biology at University of Calgary where she took part in multiple research projects including the characterization of physiological response pathways to low oxygen levels and a thesis project on mammary gland development. Nina has extensive experience designing and delivering seminars on academic success strategies such as study skills, goal setting, and time management to university students. Furthermore, Nina teaches Biology for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and for Continuing Education students at Mount Royal University.

Mikayla Kardynal
Public Relations & Marketing Strategist

Mikayla’s success as a PR & Marketing Coordinator, Creative Director, and Academic Coach goes beyond passion – it’s strategic story-telling with purpose, value, and dedication. She is driven to make meaningful relationships through PR, to direct new ideas for creativity in the workplace, and to work alongside youth to ignite academic success and a new appreciation for English and communications.

She is finishing her Bachelor of Communication: Public Relations degree at Mount Royal University, with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship. With the vision of elevating STEM Learning Lab’s brand recognition and presence through strategic public relations, she is eager to help ignite innovation in society, education, stakeholder management, and workplace creativity.

In her spare time, you will find her practicing or teaching yoga, writing poetry, exploring the wicked woods, and dreaming of the next way to make an impactful influence in YYC.

Fariha Khaliq
Connected Campus Coordinator

As a Kashmiri immigrant, Fariha has always held her education in high regard and has made it her mission to instill the same love for learning in all students. Fariha is an avid biologist (BSc in Biological Sciences) who first waded into the world of research by studying early reproduction in horses and continued her scientific exploration journey through an honours research project in the field of breast cancer biology. Fariha has been involved in the educational sphere as a tutor with Calgary Family Services and as the Coordinator of the Chinar Kashmir Community Foundation Math Tutoring Program — a volunteer-run program providing free weekly math support to over 30 students. In her role at STEM Learning Lab, Fariha aims to create innovative and engaging learning experiences to encourage students to develop an insatiable passion for learning!

Zibusiso Mafaiti
Creative Director of Transformative Learning

Zibusiso identifies as both a Scientist and an Educator – one who is keenly interested in the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of STEM education. He is driven to empower students with STEM tools that will assist them in addressing many of society’s current and future challenges. He holds a BSc (Hons) Physics degree and a post graduate certificate in Pharmacokinetics and Bioanalytical Chemistry. In addition he has extensive experience in Clinical Research and Industrial Instrumentation. In his spare time he enjoys acting,exploring the great outdoors and travelling around the world with his adventurer wife. He combines these eclectic experiences to deliver an exciting classroom STEMperience.

Morgan Ostrander
Coding & Data Specialist

Morgan is a STEAM expert who specializes in GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and in Visual Data Representations. She uses Python scripting for mapping and data analysis, and is also certified in front-end web development (HTML, CSS and JavaScript). Morgan is also a talented musician (viola) who enjoys exploring the intersection between art and technology.  As a curious and creative life-long learner, Morgan loves doing calligraphy and enjoys tinkering with Little Bits, the Google Visualization API, and Adobe Illustrator. Click here to see Morgan’s video that visualizes musical complexity with calligraphy strokes. To see Morgan’s professional portfolio, click here.

Kat Phelan
Director of Professional Learning

Kat is one part teacher, one part traveller, two parts improviser, three parts artist and a big part bird watcher. Too many parts? Kat joined STEM Learning Lab with the belief that hands-on, experiential, and inquiry-based learning is a MUST for all students and STEM, STEAM, and design thinking provides the perfect opportunity for all learners to take the plunge. Her experience as a teacher, with degrees in International Relations and Education, has lead her two most strongly believed convictions: Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset philosophy is genius and failure is the greatest teacher of all. Whether working on a coding project with students, presenting at workshops, or performing improv—challenges are there to teach us, not defeat us.

Suzanne Presinal
Master Maker
Contact: suzanne@stemlearninglab.com

Suzanne Presinal is an award-winning Canadian Master Maker, Artist and Designer who has been making since before the concept became mainstream. Being a Master Maker is a lifelong responsibility for Suzanne, who thrives on innovation that shifts us from our castaway global attitude. By creating sculptures from mostly found materials, both natural and man-made, she references our complex relationship to our environment, ideas and ideals.  A longtime career as a graphic designer, corporate branding and an intuitive computer learning style, has created a symbiotic relationship between tech and art. STEM/STEAM has married these passions together.

Cody Sogge
Director of Programs

Cody grew up in rural Saskatchewan where the night sky is always teeming with stars. Spending his life always looking up naturally instilled in him a curiosity about the cosmos, so naturally he followed his passion and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics. Professionally, he got his start in the world of education with the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory in Calgary, Alberta, where he was put in charge of both curriculum and program development. Here at STEM Learning Lab, Cody is an educator who strives to instill in all of us a sense of ‘awe’ in the physical world around us. He believes there exists a scientist hidden within everyone, and he aims to help students of all ages realize their full potential.

Tyson Weir
Managing Director (STEM Learning Lab B.C.)

Tyson has always been interested in chemistry ever since he was a little kid mixing potions in his bubble bath. The love of chemistry and the wonders of the outside world have guided him to obtain his environmental chemistry degree from Thompson Rivers University. Tyson got his start in STEM by wanting to share his passion and knowledge of environmental chemistry to others in a fun, unique way that is different from traditional schooling. Fueled with a passion of encouraging others to be more creative and innovative, Tyson is excited and ready to bring STEM Learning Lab to the Okanagan. In his spare time he enjoys staying active by playing various sports such as hockey, soccer, tennis and going to the gym.

STEM Childcare Team

Prabina Bhandari
Director of Early STEM Curriculum
Contact: prabina@stemlearninglab.com

Prabina is an avid believer in the importance of learning in the early years of child’s life. She believes, it is through play and exploration that children acquire knowledge, skills and abilities that become the foundation for lifelong learning and development. Prabina has a multitude of experience in researching, teaching and implementing science, technology, math and creativity in schools, early childhood programs, non-profit organizations and IT industry. She has an exposure of child’s right brain development in Japan, and Canada and is impressed by Sichida Method of early childhood learning. She went to Reggio Emilia, Italy to study Reggio-inspired philosophy and project based approach of teaching to children and has designed age-appropriate, customized curriculum to meet child’s need. Prabina uses her many talents and her deep pedagogy in early learning to design creative and innovative curriculum for our littlest learners.

Lin Farnholz
Director of Operations

Lin has multiple years of Administrative experience to go along with her two degrees from Nipissing University: a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology (with a minor in English) and a Bachelor of Education, specializing in the primary/junior division (K-6).
Understanding, helping and life long learning have always been of strong importance to Lin. Teaching with the Calgary Board of Education reinforced her belief that a child’s development can help lead children, and our society, to great things. Assisting them in their learning quickly became a passion. One of Lin’s main goals in life is to help others become the best version of themselves. She believes that education is the best way make our world a better place.

When she’s not in the office, Lin loves painting, reading and managing the crazy world of her own two children.

Markus Salvador
Director of IT
Contact: markus@stemlearninglab.com

Markus graduated from SAIT in the field of Information Technology with a major in software development. Markus developed his love for programming during his computer programming courses in high school where he was inspired to develop a robotics curriculum along side his computer programming teacher and two of his fellow classmates. Markus has a passion for teaching, tinkering and playing with technology.  In his free time, Markus likes to get explore the city with friends, travel, or just relax and play some video games.

Board of Directors

Jim Gibson, Chair
Jim has spent 30 years being at the center of technology’s evolution and adoption across the world. He has formed companies in spaces that didn’t exist prior to starting the business. He has succeeded – in varying ways and degrees – in most, and failed in some. He has been on the front lines of the very complex and difficult process of building real companies.

Complementing his entrepreneurial and capital investment is his Management Consultant designation (CMC) along with a Bachelor of Commerce in accounting and an MBA in Finance. With this he understands both the accounting and the real balance sheets of the companies with whom he engages.

Jim has recently published his first book, Tip of the Spear: Our Species and Technology at a Crossroads, chronicling what he has learned over the course of his adventures to date.

Gord Cormack
Mr. Gordon A. Cormack is currently President of Solair Energy Ltd., a private oil and gas company. Prior thereto, from 1998 to 2010 he was the owner of Kobi Resources Ltd., a private oil and gas production company until its sale to Westfire Energy Ltd.

He also served as President for The Rimoil Corporation (a TSE listed junior oil and gas company) and Gopher Oil And Gas Company until their subsequent mergers. Prior to that he worked at Alberta Energy Company and Amoco Canada Ltd. holding positions of increasing responsibilities. Gordon graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Saskatchewan.

Laura Haynes
Laura’s experience includes over 25 years helping organisations to embrace change, build and enhance culture and expand potential through a unique approach that fuses strategic planning, innovation and intelligent design. Laura’s long-held belief that purpose should be at the heart of every organisation is manifest in the way in which she works.

A passionate advocate of the power of the brand and a dynamic, motivational speaker, Laura plays an active and contributory role in the industry itself and speaks regularly at conferences and seminars on all aspects of purpose, brand, culture, gender equality, communications and change.

Laura is Co-Chair of UN Women National Committee UK and actively supports UN Women in its mission for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Laura is also currently a Director of FutureLondon Enterprises, a member of the Parliamentary Design Commission, a Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts (UK) and the Marketing Society (UK).

Evan Hu
is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded and was co-CEO of the ERP technology consulting firm OmniLogic which grew to over 500 staff in five offices across Canada before being acquired in 1998 by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He was one the original founders of Canada’s largest independent music label MapleCore, the charity UEnd, and Ideaca, a management and technology consulting firm until it was acquired by Hitachi Solutions in 2013. Evan is a certified executive coach working with entrepreneurs, executives and senior managers of start-up and high growth enterprises. He is an active tech investor both as investment angel and venture capital limited partner.

Board of Advisors

Tracy Beairsto
Executive Advisor
Contact: tracybbai@shaw.ca

Tracy is a Chartered Professional Accountant and also holds an MBA from the University of Calgary. Tracy brings her passion for girls in STEM along with a wealth management skills, financial analysis, due diligence, financial modelling and business planning, strategy, contract negotiation and corporate budgeting skills. Through her company, Beairsto Business Analytics Inc., (in partnership with Alan Beairsto), Tracy has extensive experience in all areas of management, including human resources, marketing, project management and logistics, IT management and legal/contract management. Private equity deals and angel investing are also two areas of recent focus. Tracy also mentors and coaches executives, managers and students in for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Tracy is a life-long learner in many fields, including golf, travel, physics, economics, technology, psychology, soul-work and her favorite, music! Click here to see Tracy at her new passion – singing with Calgary’s Cool Choir https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccjp4kfSy6I

Robert Martellacci
MA EdTech, President, MindShare Learning Technology,
Co-founder & President, C21 Canada
Robert has over 25 years of expertise in the learning and technology space as an administrator at York University and Country Manager at TLC Canada School Division.  His board appointments include: Past Chair, Canadian eLearning Enterprise Alliance and board member York U IRLT. Robert was recently appointed to the ICTC CTIC Task Force on Driving Change Education and Skills DigitalTalent2020 in 2016. Under his leadership MindShare learning, with the support of C21 Canada, he was also awarded the Chair’s Global Partnership Award for outstanding work nationally and internationally for taking a leadership role in connecting industry and education.

Ryan Clements: Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Author
Consultant and Business Advisor

Ryan isn’t only an advisor to STEM Learning Lab, he is a successful entrepreneur, lawyer, speaker and consultant. Ryan delivers high-performance consulting services and empowering training content for a variety of businesses and organizations.  He conducts workshops and delivers presentations on networking, entrepreneurialism, marketing, sales training, program development, customer service, performance mindset and motivation. He also speaks widely on career fulfilment, transition and planning, and has delivered a TEDx talk on this subject.

Ryan is the author of the book Unsuited: How We Can Reject Conventional Career Advice And Find Empowerment, and is also a freelance writer and blogger on the topics of performance, entrepreneurialism, motivation, productivity, marketing, and career planning for many

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online publications.  He is also a partner in a highly successful global direct marketing business where he trains and provides leadership to many thousands of sales consultants worldwide.  In his spare time, he volunteers his time as a an entrepreneurial coach, mentor and strategic advisor.