About Meridian Stories

The Mentors

2016-2017 Mentors

Omar Adam

Omar Adam is a UAE-based Media Professional that specializes in Writing, Producing, and Directing content. In his relatively young career, Omar was selected from over one hundred regional filmmakers to write, produce, and direct a short film for Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation. His short film, FIVE, won several awards – including Best Film at the prestigious Arab Film Studio awards – and continues to tour Film Festivals around the world. Since then, Omar’s been honing his teeth working on productions both big and small – the most recent of which is Iftah Ya Simsim, the Arabic version of Sesame Street. Omar hopes to continue to build a foundation for a successful writing and directing career.

Dr. Cairo Arafat

Dr. Cairo Arafat is the Managing Director of Bidaya Media an Abu Dhabi-based organization that develops media based educational and learning programs for children. She is currently working on the Iftah Ya Simsim/Sesame Street program and preparation of a variety of digital and print learning materials for young children in the Arab world. She is a leading educational advisor specializing in the area of child rights and early childhood education, and acts as the Special Advisor to the Palestinian Ministry of Education on education policy.  Previous and ongoing work with Save The Children International as the Senior Child Rights Advisor in the Occupied Palestinian Territory includes supporting inclusive education opportunities for children in addition to developing programs to eliminate violence against children.

Cairo received her Masters Degree in Developmental Neuroscience and Ph.D in Psychology from Ohio State University.  

Dr. Lewis Bernstein

Dr. Lewis Bernstein’s forty-year career has been defined by his passion to improve the intellectual, social, emotional, and moral lives of children, through media. His expertise and experience includes: educational design, global multi-media production, community engagement programming, and research.

As Executive VP, Education, Research and Outreach, at Sesame Street, his most recent responsibilities included establishing the overall educational agenda (direction and content) for Sesame Workshop’s domestic and international programs. Highlights of his achievements include his three years as the Executive Producer of domestic Sesame Street (winning an Emmy for best children’s series each year). He also was Executive Producer for the Israeli-Palestinian series Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Simsim as well as the Sesame English series (in Japan, China, and Taiwan).

Dr. Bernstein holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in Communications Research, an M.A. from Hebrew University in Communications, and a B.A. from Queens College, CUNY, in Psychology. 

David Britt

David Britt retired from Sesame Workshop, a world leader in young children’s education through media, after 10 years as CEO, and 8 years as COO. His public service included the US Agency for International Development, US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Britt is Board Chair of the Education Trust, which works for equity for poor and minority youth, from pre K- through college. He is a member of the Board for Children, Youth and Families of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. He teaches on foreign policy issues for adult learners

He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He graduated from Wesleyan University, where he later served as Trustee, and an M.P.A. from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Britt and his wife, Sue Cushman, live on Amelia Island, FL.  

Janice Burgess

Janice Burgess is a veteran Nick Jr creative and production executive. In 2015 – 2016, Burgess served as Executive Consultant for DreamWorks Animation Television, focusing on development of original preschool properties.  She was Creative Consultant for The Winx Club on Nickelodeon from 2010 to 2013.   In 2011, as Consulting Creative Director for the Nick Jr Channel, she consulted on the channel redesign until it’s launch in March 2012.   She created and served as executive producer of the Emmy Award winning preschool series The Backyardigans also for Nickelodeon.

Before creating The Backyardigans, Burgess joined Nickelodeon in 1995 as an executive-in-charge of production at Nick Jr. and later became Vice President, Nick Jr.  In this capacity, she oversaw the production of Peabody and Emmy Award-winning Nick Jr. shows including Gullah Gullah Island, Blue’s CluesLittle Bill and Whoopi’s Littleburg. She also served as co-executive producer of Little Bill.  Prior to joining Nickelodeon, Burgess served as project manager for Ghostwriter at Children’s Television Workshop.

Burgess is a happy resident of New York City, where she loves to shop, eat out and do Pilates.

Karlene Burrell-McRae

Karlene Burrell-McRae is currently Dean of the College at Colby College in Waterville, ME. Karlene’s responsibilities revolve around promoting a fully integrated student experience. Prior to her recent arrival at Colby, Karlene held a variety of leading administrative positions at University of Chicago, Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania around issues of student identity and inclusion, with a particular focus on black, LGBTQ, and first generation student life. Karlene holds an Ed.D. in Education from the University of Pennsylvania and is a 1994 graduate of Colby. 

Frank Campagna

Frank Campagna, a 22-year children’s television veteran, is the Assistant Vice President of Production Services for Sesame Workshop. Early in his career at Sesame, Frank travelled the world working on Sesame Street international co-productions in China, South Africa, Brazil, Japan, Hungary, Canada and the UK.  However, when his son was diagnosed with autism 11 years ago, he requested a job shift that would keep him at home to help his wife and son.  Frank most recently served as the producer for all of the video content related to Sesame Street’s autism initiative “See Amazing in All Children”. 

Dr. Sarah Childress

Dr. Sarah Childress is Research Associate of Cinema Studies at Bowdoin College, Adjunct Professor of Motion Pictures at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and Chief Creative Officer of Headstrong Media Group. After spending ten years as an advertising executive, Sarah earned her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University. Sarah has taught Introduction to Film Studies as well as courses in film history, avant-garde cinema, documentary cinema, horror films, and Latin American cinema at Vanderbilt University, Bowdoin College, and Belmont University. 

Dr. Charlotte Cole

Dr. Charlotte Cole is co-founder and executive director of Blue Butterfly Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that uses children’s media to advance international development aims. Prior to founding the collaborative, Dr. Cole was SVP, Global Education at Sesame Workshop in New York where she oversaw the education and research activities associated with international co-productions of Sesame Street. Dr. Cole received her doctorate in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research appears in publications such as the International Journal of Behavioral Development and Communication Research Trends.

Theo Dolan

Theo Dolan is Director of PeaceTech Lab Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. PeaceTech Lab is a recent off-shoot of the United States Institute of Peace. Theo has worked with local partners in Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan to develop peacebuilding radio and television programs for youth. He is also focused on researching hate speech and developing social media tools and campaigns to prevent the spread of hateful language on social media.

Ed Durkee

Ed Durkee is currently Executive Director of Arts on the Lake, a multidisciplinary art center located in Putnam County NY. He has been involved in the arts and technology for most of his career having studied painting, philosophy and technology. He holds an M.A.R from Yale Divinity School and an MBA in Technology and Innovation from the Theseus Institute. He lives with his family in Lake Carmel, NY.

Gregory J. Gettas

Gregory J. Gettas has been a feature film, television and internet producer/writer for 35 years, working for, among others, Warner Brothers, Jim Henson Productions, CBS, Disney Interactive, LeapFrog Toys, the CTV Television Network, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Previously the head of global ‘Sesame Street’ production for the Children’s Television Workshop – overseeing 12 indigenous, local-language versions of series worldwide – he is currently the Global Lead of Employee Development Solutions/Talent Development at Morgan Stanley, New York.  Mr. Gettas holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts (Radio & Television Production) from Ryerson University, Toronto, and a Masters (Social-Organizational Psychology) from Columbia University/Teachers College, New York. 

Ben Guido

Ben Guido is a first-year student at the Tufts University School of Medicine. Born and raised in Maine, Ben studied psychology and Chinese at Colby College, and has ambitions of returning to his home state upon completion of his medical training. Though he’s just starting out, Ben has a tentative interest in practicing family medicine or psychiatry, or perhaps even pediatrics.

He has been involved in Meridian Stories since taking Brett’s course titled Creating Media for Social Change at Colby, and has loved seeing the enthusiasm and creativity in each new batch of Meridian submissions. In his (now limited) spare time, Ben enjoys following professional basketball, practicing mindfulness meditation, and being in the outdoors.

Hussam Hadi Alshalah

Hussam Hadi Alshalah is program developer and producer of youth oriented programming in the Middle East. Recently settled in the US, Hussam has worked with numerous UN Agencies, producing campaigns around such topics as Avian Influenza awareness, and Landmine/Unexploded Ordnance Risks for Children. He is the producer of the Iraqi youth series, Salam Shabab, which took home the UNESCO Special Prize at the Prix Jeunesse Festival for programming that ‘promotes cultural understanding.’ Most recently, he is the creator and producer of The Albasheer Show, an Iraqi political satire that is inspired by The Daily Show. The Albasheer Show has over 80 million views on YouTube.

Sydney Hammond

Sydney Hammond is an Advertising Coordinator at Resolution Media. A recent Colby graduate, Syd recently completed her Master’s Degree at Northwestern University and was instrumental in creating Meridian Stories’ new Social Growth and Civic Sustainability curricular area.

Katie Heintz

Katie Heintz, Ph.D., teaches Media Studies at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. Her main area of interest is examining the role of media technologies in the lives of youth.

Zoe Karp

Zoe Karp graduated from Bowdoin College in 2014, where she studied mathematics and neuroscience. She started working with Meridian Stories in 2012 creating science challenges, and she has since expanded her role to include math challenge creation and mentoring. She currently works in Boston creating digital math problems for pre-calculus and calculus college textbooks. Zoe enjoys hiking, playing ultimate Frisbee, and making homemade fruit leathers in her spare time.

Shanna Kohn

Shanna Kohn is Project Manager of Educational Programs in the International Social Impact Department at Sesame Workshop. She supports project management and educational content development on a number of multi-country projects, including a water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) project in the Middle East and a project focused on shifting parent’s perceptions and capacity around meaningful play in Mexico, India, and South Africa. She also leads content development for the international co-production of Sesame Street in Afghanistan, Baghch-e-Simsim. Before joining the International Social Impact Department, Shanna worked as Editorial Assistant for the Sesame Learning team creating multimedia content for formal preschool classroom settings in the United States. She holds a BA in American Studies from Vassar College and an EdM in Educational Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Kerry Michaels

Kerry Michaels is a photographer, writer, and multimedia producer. She photographed Growing The Northeast Garden, published by Timber Press, (2015) as well as A Gateless Garden: Quotes by Maine Women Writers, published by Maine Women Write, (2015). She is a contributing photographer and writer for Coastal Home magazine, and was the writer and photographer for the popular website, www.containergardening.about.com for over eight years. She co-produced and directed the award winning documentary film, River of Steel. Kerry runs Flying Point Photography.

Bob Moore

Bob Moore’s career has woven together the strands of natural scientist, writer, storyteller, and media producer, now fully manifested on his website, www.BobMooreFieldNotes.com. He was Senior Partner at Meridian Stories, and before that was publications editor for the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Bob has a Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, and a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from Yale University. He received his BA in History from Kenyon College.

Alexander Morris

Alexander Morris is a 2014 graduate of Colby College, originally from Mill Valley, CA. He became involved with Meridian Stories as a Mentor after taking Brett’s Media for Social Change course in 2013, and began writing math challenges for the 2014/2015 season. Alexander now lives in Berkeley, CA, where he enjoys the distinct lack of snowstorms. When not evaluating Meridian Stories challenges, Alexander is likely managing projects at Location Labs, and may also be found playing competitive ultimate frisbee or home-brewing disconcertingly-unique flavors of kombucha.

Kevin O’Connor

Kevin O’Connor has experience in virtually every aspect of kids’ media. He started his career at Sesame Workshop: first in television and then in the toy group working on Sing & Snore Ernie, Rock & Roll Elmo and more award-winning toys. For six years he was in charge of business development and brands at KIDZ BOP earning 9 GOLD records. He cut his teeth in publishing while overseeing publisher relations for NOOK Kids — Barnes & Noble’s foray into digital picture books.  Kevin left B&N to become Vice President of Consumer Brands & Products at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, overseeing development and marketing for Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, and their new venture Go Math! Academy. In December 2014, he became a full-time literary agent under the tutelage of the legendary Charlotte Sheedy.

Tina Peel

Tina Peel is a veteran Program Developer, Content Specialist, Researcher and Producer with over 30 years experience working in kids’ educational programming with organizations such as Disney, Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, Discovery Kids and PBS. With a Masters Degree in Education from Harvard, Tina has served in executive positions on such series as Max and Ruby, WordWorld, UMIGO and Ghostwriter. She is currently in development on a new pre-school series, The Cloud Forest Friends.

Jill Spencer

Jill Spencer is a former middle school teacher who currently consults and writes in areas of curriculum, instruction, technology integration, leadership teams, literacy, and middle level organization and practices. Her newest adventure is collaborating with Ed Brazee and Chris Toy at BoomerTech Adventures, learning for creative adults.

Chris Toy

Chris Toy has over 30 years experience as a middle school teacher, principal, and university instructor. With articles published in numerous educational journals and a certification from Apple Professional Development, Chris is currently leading workshops around the globe about topics that include Project-Based Learning, Digital Storytelling and Learning with Technology. Chris, along with Jill Spencer, is currently working closely with the leadership at Thomas College to help shape their new Center for Innovation in Education.

Kate Werner

Kate Werner has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from University of Southern Maine and a Juris Doctorate from University of Maine School of Law. She practiced law with a focus in employment law, civil rights law and mass tort litigation. For the past fifteen years she has been a restaurant owner. During that time she has also been a strong educational proponent, co-founding an advocacy group supporting transparency and excellence in public education with a focus on quality arts and gifted programming.

Cooper Wright

Cooper Wright is the former VP, International Creative at Sesame Workshop. She was the supervising producer of the first co-productions of Sesame Street in China and South Africa and has recently completed a Masters in Digital Media Design Learning at New York University.

Student Mentors

James Lindberg

James Lindberg is a sophomore at Colby College studying Theater, Computer Science and American Studies. Through those three disciplines he explores what it means to tell a story. Among other things, James has designed a video game about a squirrel that dreams of being a flying squirrel, made a radio noir on who stole his fruity chews and built a Tumblr page for a bar of soap.

Johanna Neeson

Johanna Neeson is a sophomore at Colby College who plans to study English with minors in Economics and Theater. She is a born and raised Mainer that hopes to one day be a journalist and has taken Brett Pierce’s “Creating Media for Social Change” course.


Singular Curricular Area

$150 per year

Access To

  • One of three curricular areas
    • Language Arts
    • History
    • STEAM


  • participation in up to 5 Competitions (which includes posting Student Video, receiving Mentor Feedback, and earning Digital Badges);
  • access to 8 Activities and 10 Projects; and 
  • access to the entire Media Resource Collection. 

All Curricular Areas

$350 per year

Access To

  • All three curricular areas
    • Language Arts
    • History
    • STEAM


  • participation in up to 15 Competitions;
  • access to all Activities and Projects; and
  • access to the entire Media Resource Collection.