2019 Speakers

Meet the 2019 Speakers!

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Grace Cho

Founder/CEO, Artrepreneur

“It’s All About the Business Plan”

Grace founded Artrepreneur on the premise that artists were lacking the necessary tools and resources they needed to thrive in the creative economy. With over 25 years of experience in the financial services, media and entertainment, and private equity industries, Grace has transformed global business units at GE Capital, NBCU, and Nielsen. Skilled at taking conceptual initiatives and turning them into $100 million businesses, Grace founded Artrepreneur to assist independent, working artists in building their own creative empires. Grace’s vision for the creative economy encapsulates her singular mission: to do away with the myth of the ‘starving artist’ and empower future generations of creators. In between leading a team of creatives and strategic development of art industry partnerships, Grace can be found cooking for friends or dabbing a paintbrush.


Brandon Emerick

Sole Proprietor of Brain Spawners

“How the Science of Curiosity Can Crush Your Comfort Zone”

I am a Sophomore Cognitive Science major at UConn, fascinated by how the mind works from multiple perspectives. It is extremely fun researching information about the brain, behavior, cognition, and emotion on Google Scholar. It is not only intrinsically fascinating, but also quite useful. Since Cognitive Science sweeps through neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, linguistics, artificial intelligence, and anthropology, I am able to see education, relationships, business, health, and the self through a scholarly perspective. Rather than waiting until college is over to get a job, I founded my sole proprietor business Brain Spawners. To “brain spawn” (verb) means to create something using principles from Cognitive Science. Right now, I am working on a blog about productivity/motivation, mental health, learning, and more. After I graduate from UConn, I intend to get a PhD in Cognitive Science and do research in fields such as Autism, Self Determination Theory, and Artificial Intelligence. I really enjoy talking about my interests with other people and I believe that public speaking and debate are great ways of sharing and processing the newest insights. I am also interested in political satire, educational videos, hiking, health, and fine dining.

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Matthew Guberman-Pfeffer

UConn Ph.D.’19 – Gascon Chemistry Labs

“Seeing Beyond Our Senses: How I Bonded with Chemistry”

Matthew J. Guberman-Pfeffer is a National Science Foundation Graduate Research fellow pursuing his PhD under Dr. José A. Gascón at the University of Connecticut. From research on gold nanoclusters less than 2-billionths of a meter wide to a highly efficient photosynthetic light-harvesting protein antenna, Matthew has sought to more fluently speak Nature’s molecular language to be able to arrange timeless atoms in new ways to unleash the hidden potential of the world in which we live. He has received the NextGenCT and Doctoral Dissertation scholarships from the University, the 2017 Bobbitt-Chu Summer fellowship from the Chemistry department, and the 2014 Learning Ally Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Award, among other honors. Since 2014, he has published 10 peer-reviewed articles, which have been cited 45 times.


April Hernandez

Actor, Motivational Speaker

“The Gift of TransPARENTcy”

Best known for her starring role as Eva Benitez in the award-winning film Freedom Writers where she acted alongside Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. April has also guest starred in shows such as Person of Interest, The Following, Law & Order: SVU, Elementary and was nominated for a SAG award nomination for best ensemble cast in Showtime’s Dexter. April has demonstrated her versatility as an actress. However, her latest role is not only in front of the camera but also as a motivational speaker and author. Her book Your Voice Your Choice is her story of being a survivor of teen dating violence. She uses her actor training; stage presence and personal experience to serve young women, teachers, and administrators and helps individuals establish their own voice through personalized workshops and trainings. April and her husband Jose Castillo have been together for 18 years. They have a production company called LionChaser Films and are parents to two vivacious girls Summer Rose and Lyla.

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Fumiko Hoeft

Professor of Psychological Sciences, and Director of Brain Imaging Research Center, UCONN

“From Fear of Public Speaking to a TEDx Speaker. What I Have in Common with You and Dyslexia”

Fumiko Hoeft MD PhD is Professor and Director of the Brain Imaging Research Center (BIRC) at University of Connecticut (UConn). She also holds appointments at Haskins Laboratories and UCSF. She has held faculty positions at Stanford, UCSF and UConn, and received training at institutions such as Harvard, UCLA, Caltech and Stanford. Hoeft is a clinician and neuroscientist. Her areas of work span widely from the neurobiological mechanisms underlying dyslexia, to resilience and socio-emotional competency in those with learning disabilities, and developing and validating apps such as APPRISE that assesses school readiness and identifies risk for dyslexia early. Recent honors include awards from the International Dyslexia Association (2014), Learning & the Brain Foundation (2015), International Mind Brain & Education Society (2018), and Society for Neuroscience (2018), many of which are related to translation of neuroscience to the public. She has over 130 publications, and has delivered over 160 talks at venues such as local schools, International conferences, TEDx and the White House. Her work has been widely covered in media such as The New York Times, NPR, CNN, the New Yorker, and Scientific American. She serves on numerous boards and has (co-)founded a number of organizations and centers across the world.


Julie Mountcastle

Head of School, Slate School

“Changing the Landscape of Education Through Side-by-Side Learning with Children”

Julie Mountcastle is Head of School and Grade 2 Teacher at Slate School, where she developed and leads the school’s curiosity-driven curriculum that is both developmentally-appropriate and academically rigorous. Each child at Slate School embarks on guided discoveries which are designed intentionally and lovingly to excite and motivate the children, and to cultivate each child’s innate love for learning. A passionate advocate for child-centered education, Julie designs the classroom experience to nurture every child to be inquisitive and to delve deep into all that there is to learn about the world. Julie believes that trusting the natural curiosity of the child to drive learning leads to the most joyful and meaningful discoveries for the student, the teacher and, ultimately, our beautiful world. Julie has been an educator since 2001, first in New Jersey, and thereafter as a senior member of the mixed-age, project-based Integrated Day Program at Ridge Road School in North Haven, Connecticut. She began leading Slate School’s design and development in 2017. Throughout the course of a nearly 20-year career as an educator, Julie has taught at every elementary grade level. Before becoming a teacher, Julie was a professional actress and appeared in plays and musicals on Broadway, on London’s West End, and in regional theatre across the country. She has also produced and directed many original theatre works with student performers ranging from elementary school to high school. Julie received her BFA from Florida Atlantic University and a Teaching Certificate from Fairleigh Dickinson University. She is also an alumna of Columbia Teacher’s College Summer Institute.

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Bridget Oei

Miss Connecticut 2018, UCONN School of Medicine Medical Student

“Success Beyond Oneself”

Bridget Oei is 23 from Hebron, Connecticut and a recent Magna Cum Laude graduate of the University of Connecticut with an Honors degree in Environmental Chemistry. Bridget was a recipient of a Nutmeg scholarship: a 4-year full tuition, room and board, merit scholarship, and the Stamps leadership scholarship: an enrichment fund scholarship that allowed her to study abroad through medical service programs in Lima, Peru and the Dominican Republic. Bridget was also named a 2017 University Scholar for her research on finding clinical preventative treatment for Osteoarthritis at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, CT. Bridget is currently a first year medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Bridget served as Miss Connecticut 2018. Through her year, she travelled the state promoting her platform: Women in STEM: Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators, Bridget uses her experiences in science research to encourage young women to explore their potential in STEM. Bridget believes in research as a creative approach to solving daily science inquiries. She hopes to ignite curiosity among young women to think outside the box and hopes to inspire young women to envision their potential as innovators and leaders in STEM fields.


Monalisa Padhee

Program Head, Women Wellness Initiative and Enriche Health, Barefoot College

“The Reverse Youth Migration; Why Young Urban Graduates are Moving Back to Villages?”

Monalisa Padhee is the Program Head of Women Wellness Initiative and Enriche Health at Barefoot College, a grassroots organization based in India. In her role, she works on conceptualizing and delivering health care interventions directed at disrupting the “intergenerational cycle of poor health” in rural girls and women. Working with community health workers and trainers in more than 30 villages, her main efforts have been raising awareness on menstrual, sexual and reproductive health rights and services, specifically for semi and/or illiterate girls and women, alleviation of anemia and introducing simplistic digital and technological solutions for providing basic diagnostic care. She is passionate about creating entrepreneurial health solutions for community health workers who she believes play the most important role in improving health outcomes. Dr. Padhee holds a doctoral degree in Medical Science from the University of South Australia, Australia and an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology from ICFAI University, India.

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Ryan Small

Shaman & Transpersonal Coach

“Shamanism & Spirituality: Paradigm Shifts in Mental Health”

Ryan is a senior studying Psychology and Anthropology, and is deeply involved with research at the intersection of spirituality and mental health. He is a member of the Systematic Health Action Research Program (SHARP), and is currently investigating a novel mental health intervention rooted in modern shamanic practices. While being a student, Ryan has also immersed himself in the teachings of Peruvian Shamanism, and is a certified Shamanic Practitioner. He has aspirations to continue his training with indigenous tribes in South America, with the hope of bridging the gap between indigenous medicines and modern psychology.


Aysha Upchurch

The Dancing Diplomat, Artist, Educator, Consultant

“Movement is A Movement: A New Narrative on Dancing Bodies”

Aysha Upchurch, the Dancing Diplomat, is a seed planter and soil agitator who creates, facilitates, and designs for radical change. This translates to her working as a sought after performer, instructor and education consultant whose work sits at the nexus of youth advocacy, social justice, and transformative education. She has spoken at national conferences about artfully designing classrooms centered around equity and cultural relevance, the importance of dance and movement in education, and embracing Hip Hop as a powerful literacy and cultural lens in schooling. As a soloist and choreographer, her work weaves together history, narrative and movement to create pieces that share stories of celebration, survival, and liberation. In 2007, she was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing arts to create Am I On?, and award-winning, evening-length Hip Hop work that explored the space between youth and adult voices, standardized testing, and school shootings. Aysha is a current Boston Schonberg Fellow at The Yard (Martha’s Vineyard) and on faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where she is piloting new courses on embodied learning and Hip Hop pedagogy, as well as directing HipHopEX – a collaborative lab for graduate and high school students to explore Hip Hop in education. Whether on the stage or in a classroom, Aysha is on the move to crush borders and show how Hip Hop and movement education are D.O.P.E. – dismantling oppression and pushing education.

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Robert Hale

Educator & Head Wonderizer at Bob Hale Magic

“A Gift of Wonder”

An award-winning educator, musician, and magician, Bob Hale has been making people wonder what he’s up to for years. For over a decade he has been influencing a new generation of teachers as an adjunct faculty member for the Neag School of Education. Bob served as principal at Westbrook High School for twenty years and prior to that was an administrator and music teacher at The Morgan School in Clinton. He is currently the director for Connecticut Special Olympics’ Unified Sports. A performing magician for over half a century, Bob delights in sharing the gift of wonder with his audiences.