Higher Ground Learning Our Tutors

Higher Ground Learning is a team of local educators, graduate students, musicians, artists, athletes, and active community members. Our staff members' qualifications include university degrees and years of experience in diverse fields: special education, engineering, nursing, music, finance, public health, journalism, fine art, psychology, history, math, and chemistry. We share a passion for teaching, working with youth, and creative education.

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Eric Brown

Executive Director

Eric Brown graduated from Princeton University with a BA in Anthropology. He claims he arrived in Utah by car (although legend has it he arrived by bear) and currently enjoys snowboarding, backpacking and volleyball. Eric has spent time teaching youth in wilderness therapy and experiential learning environments. Eric believes that making the interaction between student and tutor lively and interesting is paramount to a successful learning experience; Eric adds that “results will come naturally if the student enjoys the process.”

Eric specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep, Calculus, Physics, and GRE/GMAT.

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Jason Topa

Managing Director

As a wee lad, Jason watched "The Blizzard of Aahhh's" and vowed to move West and ride Snowbird's tram at least once. En route, Jason earned a BA in Philosophy from Brown University (with a heavy side emphasis on music and art). He gleaned a lot of inspiration from some amazing professors who were skilled communicators that fostered real relationships with students. He believes that establishing a relationship with trust and respect is key to any student-tutor learning process. When not tutoring, Jason enjoys writing music, backpacking, skiing, running chainsaws, and sometimes pining to set up his welding rig.

Jason specializes in working with independent study students on college essays, ACT/SAT Test Prep, Algebra, Trig, Calculus, Reading, and Writing. He also travels to teach internationally several times per year.

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Colton Wright

International Coordinator

Colton grew up in Idaho but was waylaid in Massachusetts at Tufts University, where he graduated with a degree in International Relations. During past winters he spent time tutoring at HGL and snowboarding the gnar at Snowbird, while in the summer in fought wildfires across the American West with the Bonnieville Hotshots. Colton now works year-round with Higher Ground to coordinate the logistics of international classes, teach, and tutor. When he's not busy unleashing deft programmatic skills he is snowboarding or building fine creations in his woodshop.

Colton specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep, all levels of Math, and Writing.

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Kelsie Rank

Office Manager

Kelsie has moved around the past few years and has been able to see some amazing places, including living near the pacific coast (twice!) and the base of the Sawtooth mountains. These moves created a love of exploration, and now yearly excursions take place: by plane, train, or automobile! Kelsie graduated from Westminster with a BA in Economics and a Minor in Film Studies, and she hopes to one day run a nonprofit. When Kelsie is not working, she enjoys hanging out with her dog Archie and exploring the local Utah mountains.

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Billy Thomas

International Test Prep

Billy is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Utah, with degrees in Business, Psychology, and Philosophy. When he’s not talking someone’s ear off about SAT prep, Billy enjoys traveling, snowboarding, and trying to recreate delicious restaurant meals at home. Though he can't sing and dance (but secretly wishes he could), Billy believes that an entertained class will learn better and so focuses on engaging students in a relatable way. Billy’s next projects include coding, yoga, and karate.

Billy specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep.

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Ava Alexander

Ava grew up in the farmland just outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, and went on to study psychology at Bowdoin College in coastal Maine. She also earned a minor in Spanish, and spent a semester studying at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo in Mendoza, Argentina. After graduating, she spent a few years in the "real world," working with youth in the juvenile justice system in Brooklyn, New York. She recently moved across the country with her Honda Civic Stella and her rescue dog Izzy to start a PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Utah. When not teaching or studying, she enjoys hiking, camping, listening to music, and watching old horror films.

Ava specializes in Test Prep, Statistics, Spanish, and Biology.

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Andie Arnold

Originally from Utah, Andie grew up in both Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. She holds a BS in Biology and a Masters in Education from the University of Utah. Andie believes that learning should be fun and wants her students to enjoy the work that they do. When she isn't busy obsessing over candles, one can find her enjoying the outdoors by camping, hiking, and mountain biking.

Andie specializes in Chemistry, Biology, Math, and Test Prep.

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Hannah Butler

Hannah graduated from Brown University with a degree in Applied Mathematics – Biology. She came to Utah to pursue a Master’s in Business Analytics at the University of Utah. As a member of the cross country and track teams at Brown, she became a student-athlete peer tutor, teaching fellow student athletes in calculus and genetics courses. Hannah loves to help others enjoy the process of learning and working towards their goals. When not taking classes or tutoring, Hannah can be found running, cooking, or drinking coffee.

Hannah specializes in Math, Statistics, Biology, Chemistry and Test Prep

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Kaile Cota

Kaile grew up on the beautiful lakes of northwest lower Michigan and graduated with a degree in biological sciences from Michigan Technological University. Since graduation, she has followed the snow, living in Oregon, Colorado, and Utah; her love for biology is second only to her love for skiing. She spends her time chasing that perfect ski turn, tutoring math and science, hiking, listening to podcasts, and reading. Kaile has a passion for learning and hopes to spark the same in her students. Her most recent educational explorations have included research on the life of Cleopatra and desperately trying to comprehend (and fix) the inner workings of the cooling system in her car. Kaile loves tutoring and is excited every day she gets to work with students.

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Gwendolyn DeSilva

International Test Prep

Gwendolyn may have been raised in a small community along the Missouri River, but her desire to travel the world was ignited at the age of seven. After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in Public Relations, she set off for a three month back-packing tour of Europe, before settling in England. Based in London, she became the Vice President of Marketing Communications at one of the world’s top investment banks. However, after 14 years in the corporate world, Gwendolyn decided on a career change to teach English as a Second Language, before landing with Higher Ground Learning where she focuses on the SAT and ACT. When she is not teaching her international students - whom she calls her ‘kids’ - she can be found scouring her current home city for the best craft coffee.

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Gerard Dion

Gerard has a passion for travel and adventure spanning many decades. He received his Phd in Physics from UC Irvine, where he first got a taste of of science and the outdoors. He next lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico, doing plenty of hiking in the Jimenez Mountains. He then jumped to Japan for 2 years to work on cosmic ray and neutrino experiments, going deep into a mine to maintain experiments and walking the countryside villages on days off. He lived for 2 years in China and still studies Mandarin whenever he can. His passions are STEM subjects, everything about mathematics and science, building things, and the Mandarin language. Gerard calls Salt Lake City his home now but still travels, with most recent teaching experiences on the Navajo Reservation of Southern Utah, in the "flatlands" of Oakland, California, and in Alaskan villages, where he would also occasionally pick berries and snag salmon.

Gerard specializes in Physics, Math, Chemistry and Test Prep.

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Toby Frazer

Toby was born in Dallas but quickly made his way to Utah at a young age. Possessing a voracious curiosity, he has interests that range from playing guitar to coding and from chess to skiing. He graduated from the University of Utah with a BS in Biomedical Physics. His next steps include pursuing a Master/PhD of Physics or Astronomy. Toby's other hobbies include gaming and trying (in vain) to read every article on Wikipedia.

Toby specializes in all levels of math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Test Prep

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Kevin Fober

Our resident AP US History expert (via Zoom), Kevin originally hails from Wisconsin, where he earned a BA in Political Science from UW-Madison. From there he traveled to Illinois, and one MA in Political Science later from UI-Chicago, he continued to move West, eventually landing in Park City as a much-loved APUSH teacher for many years. These days Kevin finds himself in Ohio, wishing for the days when he can travel again (he has been to 20 countries and 49 states) and maybe one day again dress up as Teddy Roosevelt when he covers the Progressive Era!

Kevin specializes in preparing students for the APUSH test, Government, and Political Science.

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Katie Horvath

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Katie graduated from West High School’s IB program. She is currently studying at UC Berkeley, majoring in Molecular and Cell Biology and minoring in Global Poverty and Practice. At Berkeley, she is a co-instructor for Cancer 101 and also works as an Advising Fellow for Matriculate, a college advising program aimed to help first generation college applicants. In her free time, Katie enjoys running, skiing, and doing crosswords.

Katie specializes in ACT/SAT prep, AP/Honors Chemistry, and AP/Honors Biology.

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Melissa Ilardo

Melissa has been tutoring more than half her life and loves working with students of all ages and interests. Born in New York and raised in North Carolina, she has lived in many cities on 3 continents. Melissa has a profound love of learning that led her to spend a (very) long time in school, pursuing a BA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University, MS in Theoretical Evolution from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, and PhD in Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Copenhagen. During her PhD, her research took her to the remote islands of Indonesia where she swam with Sea Gypsies and discovered a new evolutionary adaptation, which she got to discuss with Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday. Melissa believes the best way for students to achieve success is to first believe in their own potential, and then to see the magic waiting to be unveiled through a solid understanding of science and math. When she isn't learning or teaching, you'll find her on her road or mountain bike enjoying the outdoors.

Melissa specializes in ACT/SAT and GRE Test Prep, Math, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Spanish, Italian, ESL, and Statistics.

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Kevin Marren

Kevin recently moved to Utah after growing up in the Bay Area. He graduated from Duke University with Bachelor's Degrees in Statistical Sciences and Economics. In high school, Kevin co-founded and taught at Engineering Change, an interactive math and science camp geared towards low-income middle school students. In addition to math and science, Kevin has extensively studied Spanish, including spending a semester abroad in Madrid in college and completing service projects in Mexico and South America with a focus on language immersion. As a skiing fanatic, Kevin is excited to explore the wonderful outdoors of Utah. He also enjoys performing and enjoying music, playing the piano, drums, and guitar.

Kevin specializes in Statistics, Spanish, all levels of math, and Test Prep.


Janet Amaya Pisco

Janet is a real language lover who graduated from Universidad Pedagógica Nacional de Colombia with a degree in modern languages (Spanish, English and French). She enjoys teaching and firmly believes that language is a powerful tool that unifies people and allows them to take action in the world. Born in a small town called Chía, next to the capital of Colombia, Janet became delighted with language learning when she strongly longed for understanding the English lyrics of the songs of her favorite bands (in fact, she admits that those bands were her first actual English teachers). That was the beginning of a wonderful journey that hasn’t stopped yet and has led her to explore, learn and discover the world of English, French and German. When Janet is not tutoring, she can be found watching astronomy documentaries (one of her greatest passions), spending time with her two adorable cats, or working out at the gym.

Janet specializes in Spanish, English, French and German

Higher Ground Learning Application [MS Word]

Download the application above, fill it out, and e-mail it to us along with a resume and cover letter. Even if we're not hiring, we'll keep your resume on file and call you when a spot opens up. Thanks, and good luck!