Meet the Pre- College Excel Directors

The directors of this summer’s Pre-College enrichment programs came together at the Putney Barn this past weekend for their annual meeting of the minds. With more than 50 years of Pre-College summer program experience between them, the group discussed exciting new ideas for continued excellence in Excel at Amherst College, Excel Madrid/Barcelona, Excel Oxford/Tuscany, Excel China, and Foundations Costa Rica for 7th and 8th grade students. Get to know the directors by reading their bios below.  

Pre-College Excel Oxford/Tuscany:

Director Tom Kane

Education: Northwestern University, B.S., American Conservatory Theater, M.F.A.

Tom is an educator and theatre professional with extensive educational leadership experience. For over twenty years he has worked with teenage actors at the Storm King School in New York, the American Conservatory Theater and the Hamlin School in San Francisco, Camp Laurel in Maine, and the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts. Tom has been directing the high school Pre-College enrichment program at Oxford and Tuscany since 2000; previously he co-directed the high school theater program at Pre-College Excel at Williams College. Tom is currently the Head of the Theater Department at the Middlesex School, where he lives with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Zoe. Tom has been with Excel for fourteen years.

Assistant Director Erika Prahl

Education: Kenyon College, B.A.

Erika majored in Spanish and Italian at Kenyon, where she was a member of the Kenyon College Chamber Singers and lettered in both Field Hockey and Lacrosse. She spent two summers working for Case Western Reserve University’s Upward Bound program, most recently as Residential Director. Erika has worked as the Director of Diversity at the Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts, where she is currently Assistant Director of Admissions and Director of Financial Aid. She coaches lacrosse, sings karaoke whenever she gets the chance, and consumes sushi frequently and voraciously. Erika has traveled extensively in Italy and Spain and is fluent in Italian. Erika has been working on our Pre-College Excel program at Oxford and Tuscany for nine years.

Pre-College Excel at Amherst College:

Director Joel Sugerman

Education: Northwestern University, B.A.

Joel is happy to be returning to our high school Pre-College program at Amherst College for his seventh summer, having taught the theatre class in the first five years of the summer program and returning in 2007 for one summer. During the school year, Joel is the Director of Theatre at Lawrence Academy in Groton, MA, where he has taught theatre for six years. In 2005, Joel repatriated after living and working in Prague, Czech Republic for seven years. There, he taught theatre and directed fourteen shows at the International School of Prague, working with students of sixty different nationalities. In Prague, in addition to working on a variety of film, television and commercial projects, he worked with a number of different theatre companies, creating original shows that toured to Ireland, Bosnia, Germany and Austria. Joel was also fortunate enough to play Hamlet in Prague’s Globe Theatre, a replica of Shakespeare’s theatre in London. Joel has also been a performer and teacher in Chicago and Minneapolis. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Joel earned his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and studied at the Dell’ Arte School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, California.

Assistant Director Adam Cogbill

Education: Franklin and Marshall College, B.A., University of Massachusetts, Amherst, M.F.A.

Adam studied English and graduated with honors from Franklin and Marshall college before coming to UMass to study Fiction. He has taught courses in both composition and literature and twice has been nominated for Residential First Year Experience Student Choice Awards. He also worked for the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House in Lancaster, PA, where he helped establish a community for local and student writers. His book reviews and fiction have appeared in the Kenyon Review, The Common, The Ampersand, Word Riot, and other publications and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Adam loves dogs, bowling, games – both board and athletic – and cooking. He has taught Journalism, and Public Speaking and Debate on our Pre-College summer program, Excel at Amherst College.

Pre-College Excel Madrid/Barcelona:

Director Schuyler Hedstrom

Education: Dartmouth College, B.A.

While at Dartmouth, Schuyler spent two semesters abroad, studying Spanish art history in Barcelona and drama with coaches from the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. After performing and teaching theatre in San Francisco for two years, he moved to Madrid to teach English and acting to Spaniards. Now in his eighth year in Madrid, Schuyler still teaches, but also runs a bilingual theatre company he founded.  A Vermont native, Schuyler enjoys hiking, swimming, and yoga. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, and Central America.  Schuyler has spent twelve summers leading high school student travel programs for Putney; his high school summer travel trips include Cultural Exploration Australia, New Zealand, FijiCultural Exploration Switzerland, Italy, France, Holland, Community Service Hawaii, three summers directing Foundations Costa Rica, and five summers with Pre-College Excel Madrid/Barcelona. He is fluent in Spanish and Italian.

Excel China:

Director Meha Priyadarshini

Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., Columbia University, PhD (candidate)

While at Wesleyan, Meha studied abroad in China twice. She spent time in Beijing and Hangzhou learning Mandarin and traveled to places like Inner Mongolia and Yunnan province. Meha was also editor of the East Asian Studies Journal. After finishing her bachelor’s degree she worked for a year at a non-profit in Washington, DC but decided she liked school better and started a PhD in history at Columbia University in New York. Her dissertation is on the trade relations between Mexico and China in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the project has allowed her to learn another language, which means she now speaks Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi and English. This will be Meha’s fourth summer with Putney. She has led Community Service programs and been an instructor on the Excel China program. In addition to learning new languages, she enjoys dancing, writing and long train rides where she can look out the window and listen to podcasts.

Foundations Costa Rica:

Director Kelsey Burns

Education: St. Lawrence University, B.A.

Kelsey grew up in the small town of Middlebury, Vermont. She headed off on her first international adventure during high school to live with a family in Toledo, Spain. During college, Kelsey focused her studies on Spanish and Creative Writing, spending a year abroad studying in Madrid. She has led Putney’s Language Learning program in Spain, Community Service programs in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, and Ghana, and has co-directed Putney’s Global Action programs at Yale University. Kelsey has worked as an associate director at Putney Student Travel for the last 7 years hiring leaders.  She currently coordinates outreach efforts and directs various programs in Spain, Latin America, and Africa. Kelsey loves to travel, ski, dance, and eat good food.

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