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. 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 playing guitar, backpacking, skiing, mountain biking, and not working on his two old cars.

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

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Jonnie Boyd-Field

Office Manager

Jonnie is a lover of coffee, people and the outdoors. After working in coffee shops and studying coffee culture for her Anthropology degree, she has decided to bring her inquisitive spirit to HGL. She is a big fan of education, enjoys being around people big and small and is excited to take on the task of keeping HGL organized. Jonnie graduated with her Anthropology degree from UVU and dreams of one day becoming an Anthropology professor.

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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 the last 5 summers were spent fighting wildfires across the American West with the Bonnieville Hotshots. Now, Colton has returned year-round 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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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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Nikita Abraham

Nikita has a long history with Higher Ground, first as a student in a test prep class and now as a tutor! Since her time as a student, she graduated from the University of Utah with a BS in Biology and a double Minor in Chemistry and Sociology. Nikita has experience working with students from many diverse backgrounds and across all age ranges, and she brings a unique skill-set to instructing, able to adapt to many different subjects and learning styles. Someday she'll go to med school, but before then she is focused on teaching at Higher Ground and painting, drawing, and rock climbing in her free time.

Nikita specializes in Biology, Chemistry, ACT/SAT Test Prep, Spanish, Math, and working with ESL students.


Erin Acker

Erin came to Utah from the Pacific Northwest where she studied Environmental Science and Economics at Western Washington University. After she earned her BS she went on to Evergreen State College to study teaching. She is adept at communicating the intricacies of a wide range of subjects and is always looking for ways to challenge her students to achieve more than they thought possible. When she isn't teaching she is most likely playing outside - climbing or hiking (she completed over 1,400 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2014)!

Erin specializes in all levels of Math, Science, and ACT/SAT Test Prep.

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Andie Arnold

Originally from Utah, Andie grew up in both Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. When she isn't busy obsessing over candles, one can find her enjoying the outdoors by camping, hiking, and mountain biking. Andie believes that learning should be fun and wants her students to enjoy the work that they do. After finishing her Bachelors in Biology, she plans on receiving her Masters in Education in order to become a High School Biology teacher.

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

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Harvest Daurelle

Born and raised in Utah, Harvest brings an extensive background of working with kids of all ages to Higher Ground. She has taught elementary school science clubs and preschool in Utah and California and taught one-on-one at a private secondary school in London.

Harvest has a Bachelor's in International Relations from St. Mary's College of California (with a minor in History) and a Master's Degree in Human Rights from the University of London. In addition to her studies, she has also gained experience running political campaigns in Utah and working in Parliament in London. Her primary focus is teaching mathematics but she has also tutored in the sciences, reading, Geography, politics, History, and Sociology - as well as the ACT and SAT!

Harvest brings a unique perspective to her sessions; it can seem like a bit of tough love, but only when she's sure that a student can handle it and needs it. With students that just need a bit of encouragement, her years of working with little children and politicians have given her a very soft hand and a big heart.

In her words, "To me, it doesn't matter if progress means higher grades or something as simple as less of a groan when a textbook is opened. If the student is enjoying learning more than they used to, I take it as a win. I’m where I’m at because of amazing teachers, and I've always wanted to pay that back to society and try to help other kids find that love of learning that I feel so lucky to have."

Outside of Higher Ground Harvest enjoys reading, puzzles, taking math exams for fun, cooking, and vegan baking.

Harvest specializes in Math, Reading, the sciences, and ACT/SAT Test Prep

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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.


Devon Ericksen

International Test Prep

Hailing from Virginia, Devon stayed close to home and attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in Anthropology and minored in Global Sustainability. After graduation she has continued to learn and explore the world - which has included world-wide travel and teaching in Mexico. In her free time, among many things, Devon enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee, studying neuroscience, and pursuing photography.

Devon specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep.

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Kamala Ganesh

A native of Salt Lake City, Kamala earned a BS in Biology from the University of Virginia. She arrived at Higher Ground with a diverse tutoring background that includes students of all ages and ranges across many subjects from Russian literature to Biology. She believes that forming a strong bond of trust with a student is of the utmost importance during tutoring and teaching. When she isn't reading or writing she prefers to be outdoors: running, hiking, and enjoying the wilderness of Utah.

Kamala specializes in Test Prep, Biology, Chemistry, and all forms of Writing.

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Larry Grant

Born into a home filled with science fiction novels and comic books, Larry fell in love with reading at an early age. As a child his favorite stories were the ones involving magic. Although he eventually grew out of trying to throw fireballs, he never lost interest in understanding how the universe is put together, and thus a scientist was born. He earned a B.S. in Biochemistry from Cal State Fullerton and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the U of U. In the process, he realized he also loved to teach and has been doing so for most of his adult life, tutoring students of all ages and acting as a Graduate Student Teacher at the U for 6 years. He is a fan of the Socratic method but believes everyone learns differently and that the best method is whichever one helps the student understand the most. When he isn't reading or coming up with new research ideas, he's probably playing video games or building a new gaming rig so he can do so.

Larry specializes in Math, Chemistry, and Biology at all levels in addition to SAT/ACT test prep. He can even help you crush the MCAT if you so desire!


Peter Josten

Raised in Idaho, Peter graduated with a degree in Botany from Idaho State University. An intrepid adventurer, he spends most summers collecting environmental data in the mountains and valleys of Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Washington, or Oregon. Following the sweet scent of Wasatch powder, he moved to Utah for the bodacious winters. Having worked a variety of jobs from construction to cooking, Peter believes that understanding how to learn is paramount for any student, regardless of his or her future career. His other interests include art, camping, hiking, tabletop gaming, and gardening.

Peter specializes in Chemisty, Biology, Statistics, Math, and ACT/SAT Test Prep.

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Marina Kalliga

International Test Prep

Marina graduated from Stanford University with a BA in International Relations and celebrated by driving across the continental USA to Brooklyn, NY, where she is currently based. She grew up in a small seaside town near Athens, Greece, and considers the Mediterranean Sea her home and happy place. While at Stanford, she returned to Europe for two study abroad programs in Madrid and Oxford, and a summer internship in Sarajevo. Marina loves working with high school students, and believes in always treating her students with empathy, kindness, and respect. In addition to swimming, she’s happiest when spending entire days reading books on the beach, traveling, going on long walks in the countryside, and trying new food.

Marina specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep.


Matthew Kaufmann

International Test Prep

Matt attended the University of Florida where he graduated cum laude with a BA in Economics and a minor in Physics. He went on to the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah where he earned a JD and graduated at the top of his class (fun fact: he argued before Chief Justice John Roberts)! He practiced law, specializing in corporate litigation, for several years and then decided to take a break and pursue many of his other interests, one of which is teaching! He brings a diverse skillset and knowledge base to all of his sessions and classes. When Matt isn't at Higher Ground he might be found traveling to teach internationally (with HGL), skiing, playing soccer, or eating cookies.

Matt specializes in Math, Physics, Stats, and Test Prep.


Emma Lee

Emma was born and raised in Utah and attended Southern Utah University, where she was able to customize her education and earn a Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies that combined Elementary Education, Art, Dance, Theatre, and English. She is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching at Westminster College. She has taught, tutored, and mentored students of all ages in everything from Math to Spanish!

Emma is incredibly passionate about the Arts, creativity, and the benefits of the outdoors - reading, television and film, fantasy, science fiction, and music are all fair game too! Above everything else, however, Emma loves bringing joy to those around her.

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Michael Lowden

International Test Prep

Born and raised in California, Michael graduated from UC Berkeley and embarked on a professional baseball career - playing in Germany and Australia. He has since returned to California, and when not traveling and teaching with Higher Ground, he enjoys all that the Sierra Nevada range has to offer. In addition to teaching and climbing up and down large chunks of rock, Michael spends his time playing guitar, reading, writing, and fly fishing.

Mike specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep.


Kasey Mann

International Test Prep

Kasey grew up in Lancaster, PA and studied Economics and Psychology at Yale. Post graduation she worked for Credit Suisse in New York, but one of her many passions is teaching. Kasey pursued research in social psychology and has long been fascinated with how people learn and make decisions. She believes learning should be fun, engaging, and undertaken with a holistic perspective. When she isn’t working or reading, Kasey loves to travel, explore, run, hike (activity is a theme, she was on the Yale swim team), and eat interesting foods (still working on the cooking part)! She’s happiest when she’s trying new things and meeting new people.

Kasey specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep

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Thomas Pagel

International Test Prep

Tom was born and grew up in Oxford, UK. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in Economics and Mathematics. During his time in New Haven he was heavily involved with the crew team and the Yale European Union. He is interested in a number of different subjects but if he had to focus on just one it would be Math. In his own time he loves to travel and in general prefers outdoor activities like cycling and rowing.

Tom specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep


Melanie O'Toole

International Test Prep

Having grown up in Connecticut dreaming of adventure, Melanie studied Anthropology and Business at Tulane University, then struck out overseas - obtaining a Masters in Globalization, Development, and Transition from the University of Westminster. She loves experiencing different cultures and has learned a lot from her travels to more than 60 countries. Beyond test prep, she has a broad range of teaching experience that ranges from conducting training seminars on social-impact consulting in Brazil to preparing students for ESL exams in China. She believes that learning should not only be fun and engaging, but relevant to the students' particular needs and cultural context. When not planning her next escapade, Melanie enjoys hiking, scuba diving, lounging around on the beach, and purchasing fancy shampoos.

Melanie specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep

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Rachel Silva

International Test Prep

Rachel was born in Brazil and grew up in Dallas, Texas. She attended Texas A&M University and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Ecological Restoration and Forestry. Rachel believes that anybody can learn anything as long as they have the right teacher, and she strives to be that teacher for her students. When she isn't teaching, Rachel enjoys baking cakes, practicing yoga, and trying to approach the family of turkeys that visits her lawn every day.

Rachel specializes in ACT/SAT Test Prep


Jesse Snow

Jesse was born in Texas but has lived all over the world, graduating from high school in Moscow and traveling extensively with his family. While he is currently a Senior studying Applied Physics at the University of Utah, Jesse plans to master in Nuclear Engineering. With a strong grasp of Physics and Mathematics, Jesse focuses on keeping his lessons entertaining and effective. His hobbies include music, video games, arguing with his cat, and long walks on the beach.

Jesses specializes in Physics, Math, and ACT/SAT Test Prep


Michael Young

Michael came to Higher Ground from the far flung corners of Orem. He stopped along the way at the University of Utah, earning a BS in Biomedical Engineering and Minors in English Literature and Chemistry. He emphasizes the recognition of the inherent value and beauty in every subject that he teaches, drawing inspiration from science communicators such as Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman. He's a traveler (Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, and more!), a reader (everything, really, EVERYTHING), and a thinker - currently contemplating whether Free Will is merely an illusion (Sartre would take issue). Michael brings his dynamic interests and experiences to all of his students at Higher Ground; just don't get him going on about time travel or you may never get him to stop.

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!