Gravitas teachers are engaging, supportive, dedicated, mission-driven experts in their fields. Here’s what our students have to say about them:
"All the teachers and faculty members are engaging and always show interest in students and their classes. The classes are intensive and rigorous, but all the teachers support you to a degree where all the work and studies become manageable."
"My class was pretty intensive, but my teachers were very supportive and helpful with the assignments and projects given to me throughout the week. Not only with assignments but during class, they were very engaging and were some of the greatest teachers I had."
"Great teachers for every class."
Director of Passion Academies
Sam is currently the director of Stony Brook School’s Gravitas Passion Academies and has more than 16 years of experience in the global private education industry – startups, franchises, and companies that went public – with significant global entrepreneurship experience. Most recently, Sam was the Director of the Institute for Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Miss Porter’s School, an all-girls boarding high school in Connecticut, where he was the architect, taking a concept to the signature program that focused on inspiring and empowering young girls to be the future change makers that the world desperately needs. Sam has also specialized in top college admissions consulting with nearly a thousand students having matriculated to top-25 universities and continues to work with students around the world in facilitating an entrepreneurial mindset to tackle global problems.
His educational background is in edtech and instructional design. Sam has two master’s degrees (Ed.M & M.A.) and is currently an Ed.D. candidate at the Teachers College, Columbia University. His research interests include using game dynamics and mechanics to engage learners and make learning fun. His lifelong goal is to continue designing engaging, authentic, and immersive real-world problem-solving-focused educational experiences for all learners.
Visual Arts Faculty
Samantha Limkeman joins the Gravitas team as the Visual Arts teacher. Prior to joining Gravitas, she served as a Studio Art and Digital Art teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. She does freelance Graphic Design and is an experience lacrosse coach as well. Ms. Limkeman holds a BA in Studio Art from Westmont College. She recently moved from California to North Carolina with her family.
Landon Loftin teaches Humanities courses for Gravitas. Prior to joining Gravitas, he has served as a hospital chaplain and as a lead caretaker at a home for formerly trafficked girls in Ghana. Mr. Loftin earned his BA in Religion and Philosophy from Southwest Baptist University, an M.A. Apologetics (philosophy track) from Houston Baptist University, and is currently working on his Ph.D in Humanities (philosophy track) at the Great Books Honors College, Faulkner University.
Nancy "Joqui" Giron-Melendez
Dean of Students
Nancy "Joqui" Girón-Meléndez serves as a Spanish teacher for Gravitas. Joqui graduated from Gordon College in 2011 with a double major in Middle School Education and Spanish. Upon graduating, she returned to her high school alma mater, Boston Trinity Academy, to serve as a Spanish teacher for 10 years. In that decade, she taught levels 1 through AP to grades 6-12. As a language teacher, Joqui strives for her students to include Spanish into their persona, challenging students to view language acquisition as a pathway to practice loving their neighbor. In addition to her passion for language acquisition, Joqui has a passion for student leadership and has led training on leadership and character development. Joqui has held various leadership roles throughout college and her 10 years at Boston Trinity Academy, including serving as the Dean of Students. In May 2019, she received the Boston Trinity Academy Alumni Recognition award, which highlights how an education at Boston Trinity Academy prepares students for leadership and service in college and beyond. Outside of school life, Joqui is an avid reader of fiction and social justice, seeking ways to understand how to love her neighbor. She and her husband are currently expecting their first child!
Christina Howland serves on the Gravitas science faculty teaching a range of courses in the life and physical sciences. Prior to joining the team, Ms. Howland served as the Program Coordinator for Aerospace engineering and Aviation Technology for Prince George's County Public Schools. She has also been a Science Department Chair and a Professional Development Lead Teacher. Additionally, Ms. Howland has research experience in the areas of molecular biology. She hold a Masters of Public Health from The George Washington University and a BS in Biology from Widener University and has participated in the Data Wise Leadership Institute in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She lives in the Houston, Texas region with her family.
R. Zachary Manis, Ph.D
Director of Character Formation and Humanities Faculty
Zachary Manis (Ph.D., Baylor University) is Director of Character Formation and Humanities Teacher for Gravitas. He is an academic philosopher by training, with areas of expertise in philosophy of religion, Christian ethics, and Kierkegaard studies. Dr. Manis is the author ofSinners in the Presence of a Loving God: An Essay on the Problem of Hell (Oxford University Press, 2019), as well as numerous peer-reviewed articles. He is coauthor, with C. Stephen Evans, of Philosophy of Religion: Thinking about Faith, Second Edition (IVP Academic, 2009). Prior to joining the Gravitas team in 2021, Dr. Manis taught philosophy at a Christian liberal arts university for sixteen years. He lives in Bolivar, Missouri with his wife Lisa and their three children: Solomon, Nora, and Emmaline. In his spare time, Dr. Manis enjoys spending time with family and friends, discussing philosophy and theology, reading, and playing drums.
Sean A. Riley, Ph.D
Sean Riley serves as the Executive Director of Gravitas. Since 2007, Sean has served the school as Academic Dean, History Department Chair, Teacher, Coach, and Dorm Parent. His Ethics Bowl team has won the Long Island Regional Competition four years in a row. He has won several teaching awards, including the PLATO K-12 Teaching Award, a national award for pre-college philosophy teachers. During the summer of 2021, he will help lead a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for teachers entitled "Disputatio and the Pursuit of Wisdom in the Humanities." Additionally, he has been a frequent presenter at conferences and has published several articles on philosophy and education. Sean holds a BA/MA in philosophy from Penn State University, and a Ph.D in philosophy from Baylor University. He loves competitive sports, travel, wildlife photography, architecture, and designing elegant solutions to complex human problems. He lives on the campus of The Stony Brook School with his wife, Emily, and his four children.
Mathematics and Computer Science Faculty
Ali Schwein serves as a math, physics, and computer science teacher for Gravitas. Ali graduated with distinction from the University of Colorado in 2020 with a BA in Mathematics and an Education License. While at CU, Ali earned the Jack Hodges Award for Excellence in Mathematics, she started and led a Bible study for athletes, and won an NCAA title in triathlon. Since graduating she has been working as a teacher and track coach in Boulder, CO. Ali is passionate about building relationships with students, integrating cross curriculum problems into mathematics, and teaching students to find innovative solutions using computer coding. She’s on the hunt for the best vanilla latte, loves spending time with her family and dog, Penny, enjoys accruing plants and succulents, and competes competitively in triathlons.
Vanessia Wilkins serves as the World History Teacher for Gravitas. Vanessia holds a BA in Spanish and a BA in History from the University of North Florida, a MA in History from Western Kentucky University and a MS in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology from the University at Albany. Currently, she is a doctoral student at UAlbany pursuing a Ph.D in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been privileged to partner with students and teachers in a variety of settings ranging from K-12 to higher education. She has worked as a GED Instructor, History, ELA, and Writing Teacher, Academic Advisor, Career Coach, and Adjunct Professor. Her goal is to create academically engaging learning experiences through an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, and kindness. With that as her focus, Vanessia serves as part of The Freedom Dreaming for Educational Justice Collective which is directly targeted to changing inequitable schooling systems. Additionally, she shares her passion for student success as an adjunct professor at University of the People. Her teaching philosophy is built on the premise of creating productive members of society through socio economic awareness and educational success as “Lifelong Learners”. Above all, her greatest accomplishment is her family. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, Jonathan, and their four children.
Karyne Woodson joins the Gravitas team as a French teacher, expanding upon her prior role as a French teacher for the Stony Brook School. She is a native French speaker who has experience teaching French in a variety of contexts. Ms. Woodson holds Law degrees from University François Rabelais and University Paris II Pantheon-Assas. She lives on Long Island with her family but will be teaching from Finland in 2022-2023.