KORI MCLAIN | Founder, Executive Director, and Educator
Prior to launching LTSA, Ms. McLain’s was in the commercial design business and excelled as an award-winning designer and project manager. In an entrepreneurial move, she and a couple of friends started a Design company which still exists today. As a project manager she was responsible for the planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the project. Because of her background and experience in commercial design, she has been able to bring a business acumen and a business sensibility to LTSA which has been her goal.
Ms. McLain was motivated to found Lake Travis STEM academy after her unsuccessful mission to find an appropriate school for her own two children. She tried private schools, public schools and finally homeschooled her children. Pulling from the best of these experiences and her family influences such as her mother who was a college educator/Learning Skills Specialist, her father who is a professional engineer, a brother who is a PhD at the U. of Colorado and Director of the Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative (with which LTSA is affiliated), and another brother who owns and is Co-President of an international company, prepared her to found Lake Travis STEM Academy. Using the best of her own experiences, and relying on the latest research on STEM-based and experiential curricula, Ms. McLain founded LTSA in 2012 with just five elementary students. Since then LTSA has grown to encompass both elementary and middle school levels, and continues to add students.
Ms. McLain holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design and Architectural Design and was project manager for two nationally recognized Architectural Design firms where her designs won several national awards. Her eclectic and accomplished background provided leadership opportunities and the confidence to start a new kind of school (STEM and Experiential Learning) for her own children -- and the children of Austin. She created an LTSA Advisory Board who offer academic suggestions and assistance with educational decisions and direction. These members are Chairperson Dr. Brad McLain of U of Colorado at Boulder; Dr. Beth Moreno, formerly at UT Austin, and Dorothy Mclain also formerly of UT Austin.
“Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to regularly work from home and take an active part in my children’s education,”said Ms. McLain. “This intimacy with their school experiences – both good ones and bad ones – led me to become dissatisfied with how their education was failing to address their specific needs and potentials. Ultimately, this led to what I consider my most important achievement yet — Lake Travis STEM Academy. Together with an inspiring team of collaborating educators and parents, we constantly seek to innovate and provide the best educational experiences for our children.”
ERIC BENNETT | High School Math, Fine Arts, Technology, and Physical Education Educator
Mr. Bennett is our resident Modern Renaissance Man. Why? He is a guy dedicated to keeping his mind sharp and his body in good shape because the mind needs a healthy body so that it can function fully to achieve all that it can, and learn all it can. According to some definitions, a Modern Renaissance Man is one who is in a constant state of learning and is open to new experiences and is not afraid to be who he is. He is a role model to his students, even when they don’t see it. Mr. Bennett is an achiever, a learner. He has been a Math teacher for over seven years at various schools. He is a Certified Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine.
He holds a Master of Education degree in Physical education from Texas State University and taught undergrad courses in Jogging and Conditioning, Soccer, Badminton, and Lifetime Fitness and Wellness. He has experience in design coding, web design and web programming. He is an avid gamer who collects vintage games and designs new games. He enjoys teaching design and coding skills to students of all levels.
He was a lead counselor for Wonder Space Technology Camp and taught courses in Digital Video and Special Effects, 2D Game Design, and Digital Photography.
He completed two terms of service with Americorps teaching Math and being a Language Arts tutor. In Las Cruces, New Mexico, he was an instructor in photojournalism and arts. He enjoys fitness in running and resistance training. He is an avid golfer and played on his college team. He loves reading contemporary adult fiction and some Sci-Fi like The Martian by Andy Weir, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline or The Circle by Dave Eggers. Whether Mr. Bennett is teaching a new concept in Math class, introducing students to the game of badminton during P.E., or helping young people learn how to master technology during Friday Enrichment, Mr. Bennett brings many learning opportunities and experiences into his teaching and is always encouraging his students to do their best. He has enough experience to know that there is always a lot to learn.
“Positive relationships with my students build confidence and inspire enthusiasm for learning.”
CHRISTINA CARPENTER | Spanish Teacher, STEAM Elective Instructor
A product of a culturally-diverse family, Christina Carpenter is a gifted linguist who has lived and worked abroad for much of her life. She brings her love of language and other cultures to bear in her work as a Spanish teacher for Lake Travis STEM Academy students. Her many experiences have added to her teaching knowledge base making her classes very interesting to her students.
Mrs. Carpenter was born in Austin to a French-German, American mother and a Bolivian father, and has always been proud of her diverse cultural heritage. As a child, English was the primary language used in her home, even during the 11 years that she spent living in South America. However, after they moved to La Paz, Bolivia when she was four, she also learned to speak Spanish. Her mother was always impressed by her daughter’s Spanish speaking ability after only a few short months of attending her Spanish-only preschool. She actually surpassed her mother’s college instructed Spanish speaking ability. Mrs. Carpenter’s fluency with Spanish so impressed her parents that they enrolled her in an all French school for kindergarten.
After moving back to Austin, Mrs. Carpenter finished high school in AISD and won the National Spanish Exam as a native speaker her sophomore and junior years which is an exceptional achievement. She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from UT and began a career in the high tech industry with companies like Motorola/Freescale and Advanced Micro Devices. As a multi-lingual International Marketing Manager for Wayport, Inc., she traveled to countries like Switzerland, Spain, and Mexico affording her many different cultural experiences.
Mrs. Carpenter has excelled in learning in many different areas which gives her a wealth of information to share and inform her students’ learning in many areas. She considers her most important job as that of being Mom to her three children. She continued using her Spanish talents by doing consulting work while being a Mom. She has successfully transitioned her career from international business to education and has taught at several different schools in the area, including Lake Travis STEM Academy.
Mrs. Carpenter says this about her students at LTSA: “ I hope the bright young students at LTSA look forward each week to our time together as we learn about the cultures and language of Hispanic people around the world. I hope I spark their curiosity about foreign cultures in general, and to help them be more worldly citizens. Of course, I also hope to give them a working knowledge of this beautiful romance language, which will be useful as the Hispanic population in the US continues to grow, especially in Texas.”
BARBARA RYAN-PLAKE | Elementary/Middle School Science and Math Educator
Barbara loves teaching and has lots of experience in doing just that. Her priority in teaching students is getting to know them, not just their names but who they are as kids, students and people. She makes a point of finding out the type of learner each student is-- auditory, visual, tactile or experiential and differentiates accordingly in her lesson plans. “One size fits all” is not her way of teaching. She visits with them to help them discover their passions and to how to explore these passions. She believes that part of getting to know students is finding out what inspires them and what motivates them, and to help them be successful.
Her former students still contact her and thank her for being such a great teacher and influence in their lives, and for caring that much.
Her own passion in teaching is Science and second, Math at the Middle School level. She enjoys challenging students through experiences and experiments to encourage critical thinking and curiosity. Barbara has taught Gifted/ Talented students at several Austin area schools and is proficient in teaching Project-based learning to encourage students to be problem solvers. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Indiana University and is currently working on a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction at UT Arlington.
She has been instrumental in the Science Olympiad at various schools. The Science Olympiad is an organization that holds an annual science competition for grades 6-12. Student teams choose a project that they will work on for the whole year and then present it at a competition.
One of the goals for the Olympiad is to foster enthusiasm and interest in STEM.
She is eager to teach at LTSA and to share her knowledge and stories.
“The greatest gift a teacher can give to students is repeated success through learning. Students learn best by participating in engaging lessons. I try to make learning fun and meaningful for my students. I want to have fun at school too and I can only accomplish it if learning is fun and engaging for my students.”
SAMANTHA FRENCH | Lead Elementary Teacher, K-5 / Dyslexia Therapist
Samantha has always been passionate about making learning fun and turning every lesson into a multi-sensory experience. Her favorite part about teaching is finding ways to make students excited to come to school every single day and watch their progress throughout the year! She also believes children go to school to grow holistically, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. Samantha encourages students to feel confident in themselves and to love their own unique qualities as well as appreciate the differences that their classmates have. She wants the students to end the year feeling confident, curious, and excited to learn more!
Samantha graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BS in Communicative Disorders with the intention of becoming a Speech Pathologist. After graduation she immediately got a job in New York teaching at a private school for children with dyslexia. This is where she truly found her passion for teaching reading and decided to continue on this path. After moving to Austin in 2013, Samantha continued to teach the primary grades at another private school for children with dyslexia. Because of her overall teaching experiences, she is very aware of the need for differentiating for all types of different learners to help them succeed.
Samantha and her husband have two boys, ages 4 and 2! They enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible. Their favorite family activities are going to the lake, hiking, and riding bikes. Samantha is so excited to be joining the LTSA team, and to work with and be inspired by the amazing staff and students!
“My favorite part about teaching is helping children create goals, and watching their faces light up as they achieve them. I aspire to create a classroom environment that fosters a love of learning and exploration.”
PAM KNAB | High School Biology and Project Integration Educator
As a Middle / High School Teacher at Lake Travis STEM Academy, Pam Knab brings both experience and excitement to the classroom. Her goal is to encourage young people to explore the world around them and beyond in an inquiry-based setting.
Ms. Knab comes to LTSA from the Round Rock Independent School District, where she taught sixth grade science at Ridgeview Middle School and was the teacher facilitator for the University of Texas Center for Space Research High School Summer Intern Program, formerly NASA ROSES. Previously she taught sixth grade science at Lake Travis Middle School in the prestigious Lake Travis ISD.
Early in her career, Ms. Knab began as a marketer in the hospitality industry, but soon returned to her first love: science. She had the opportunity to work as an assistant in Electron Microscopy at the Princeton Electron Microscopy Facility in Princeton, New Jersey. After moving to Chicago, she worked under a research grant as an EM Technician in the Pediatric Surgery Department of the University of Chicago Medical School and Hospital. She then worked as a laboratory technician at the University Biochemistry Department.
Ms. Knab holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biology from Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts and did graduate work in Physiology at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Certified to teach science to grades 4 through 12, Ms. Knab is a member of the National Association of Science Teachers, Texas Association for Biology Teachers, Texas Computer Education Association, Texas Association for Environmental Education and Texas Marine Education Association. She has more than 300 hours of professional development at such prestigious institutions as Rice University, Johnson Space Center, and more.
She was fortunate to stay home with her two boys, during which time she was a constant presence at their schools leading the Ecology Club, the Environmental Club, and supporting their teachers and staff through her volunteer efforts. She was also a Boy Scout Merit Badge Counselor. When her younger son launched into adulthood, Ms. Knab launched her teaching career.
For over the past year, Ms. Knab has worked as Outreach Coordinator at NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC). Her responsibilities included assisting the Program Manager for Education and Outreach at TSGC, running workshops for teachers, working with High School Interns, bringing NASA-created activities to Science Nights, STEM Fests and individual classrooms. While teaching the High School Biology course and overseeing the Middle School and High School HUB, Ms. Knab will continue to provide outreach part time for TSGC.
“Learning should be fun!”says Ms. Knab. “I passionately believe that individuality, creativity, depth, fun, respect, curiosity, spontaneity and relevance should never take a back seat to testing and rigidity. Learning through experience, asking questions, having the opportunity to discover how we each learn and how we each will accomplish our goals – these are what education should embrace. This is what I see at Lake Travis STEM Academy! Together we will take chances, make mistakes and get messy. I am looking forward to sharing this amazing experience with my students as we inspire each other.”
JESSICA RICE | Integrated Curriculum Specialist
“I love animals! Mrs. Rice has known this about herself since childhood. She not only loves them but she is very curious about them. What or “who” do they eat? Are they friendly or scared of humans? How big are they?
Students have lots of questions about animals, tame ones and wild ones. Mrs. Rice’s love of animals and attendant science led her to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Science from A&M University.
After graduation, she began her professional career with the Houston Humane Society running the volunteer and outreach programs to schools and businesses, recruiting volunteers, and educating the public about animal cruelty. She also assisted with animal rescue and animal adoptions.
Upon moving to Austin she accepted a job with Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation and was immediately awed by their commitment to animals. The organization aides over 7,000 native wildlife per year and provides permanent sanctuary for over 6,000 non-native animals. Her job here was to educate the public about the organization’s mission, as well as how to care for native wildlife, and how to advocate for non-native animals in captivity. Mrs. Rice ran the intern program, training and teaching these interns in the organization’s commitment.
After a brief stint in veterinary pharmaceutical sales, she realized that what she loved the most in all of her experiences were teaching and education, whether this was teaching or educating interns, school personnel, company employees, or the general public. She had identified her passion.
Soon she found a teaching position at Pflugerville ISD in Special Ed. where she thrived in teaching students who needed special help in their learning journeys. Her magical way of gaining students’ attention is often through a story about an animal in some situation so that she is able to generate questions and curiosity in her students. She also uses her stories to inspire wonder and concern in her students--both wonderful qualities to learn at a young age. Experiences do have a way of intertwining.
Mrs. Rice loves to spend time with her husband, and one-year old son, and enjoys traveling the world whenever she gets the chance.