Starkle Dream Up. Stephens College

Welcome from the Dean

As Dean of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, I am dedicated to our apprentice-learning model that facilitates rigor and discipline in the creative and performing arts and values the significance of truly robust arts training.

At Stephens, we know the arts have the ability to challenge us to respect and exceed our similarities and differences in culture, age, class, gender and capabilities. In short, the power of the arts is unequivocal.

Stephens has a rich history in the creative and performing arts, and it is a privilege to honor that legacy and expand the vision for the arts. The creative professionals who emerge from Stephens in the years to come undoubtedly will make significant contributions to the field and society.

Please take a moment to learn more about Stephens College and explore our programs as we embody our mission of Communicate. Collaborate. Create.

Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian

“It is the artists of the world, the feelers and the thinkers, who will ultimately save us; who can articulate, educate, defy, insist, sing, and shout big dreams.”
—Leonard Bernstein, composer

School of Creative and Performing Arts Faculty

Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian, Dean, School of Creative and Performing Arts; Artistic Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre
Fellow, College of Fellows of the American Theater; Ph.D., M.A., American University; B.A., Allegheny College
6th year at Stephens

Dr. Gail Humphries Mardirosian serves as the chief administrator and academic leader for several undergraduate B.F.A. and B.A. degree programs and one graduate degree program. Undergraduate programs include acting, costume design, digital filmmaking, education, English/creative writing/women’s studies, musical theatre, and technical theatre and stage management. She also oversees the low-residency M.F.A. screenwriting program in Hollywood at the Jim Henson Studios. She is an arts administrator, educator and theatre director with national and international standing. Her broad experience encompasses academic administration, program development and fundraising, as well as the direction of more than 170 productions, including drama, musical theatre, children’s theatre, the classics and new works. She has directed and taught abroad in various countries, including Greece, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and the Czech Republic, where she was a Fulbright Senior Scholar at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. She also is a recipient of the Likhachev/Yeltsin Cultural Fellowship for research in St. Petersburg, Russia. Mardirosian has won several outstanding teaching, faculty and directing awards, and has published articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Current Issues in Education, Common Ground Publications, The Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences Publication, Teaching Artist Journal, Teaching Journal of Psychology, The Hellenic Ministry of Culture Journal, Theatre Education and Research Unit of Athens Institute and Theatre Topics. She also has commissioned a paper for the U.S. Department of Education. In 2013, she was invested into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and currently serves on the board of directors. Her book “Arts Integration in Education: Teachers and Teaching Artists as Agents of Change” (Intellect Books, Ltd. hardback, 2016; soft cover, 2018) has been the anchor book for various arts education symposia and summits since publication. She has also written chapters in two other books: “The Power of Witnessing: Reflections, Reverberations and Traces of the Holocaust” (Routledge, 2012) and “The Courage to Fight Violence Against Women” (Routledge, 2018).

Digital Filmmaking

Steph Borklund, Associate Professor of Digital Filmmaking
M.F.A., Savannah College of Art and Design; B.A., University of Kansas
8th year at Stephens

Steph Borklund has more than 15 years of experience as a producer, director and editor. Her works include documentaries, narratives, and corporate and industrial videos. She previously worked as director of postproduction for Left Coast Productions in California, where she won several Telly, Aurora and Summit Creative editing awards for her corporate and industrial work. Currently, she is working with Kerri Yost on a short documentary about Helen Stephens, a poor farm girl from Missouri who went to the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and became the fastest woman in the world. Other works include producing and directing “Chasing AllieCat” (Citizen Jane Film Festival and Oregon Shorts Film Festival), a short narrative about three mountain biking teens who find a priest in the woods, beaten and near death; producing, directing and editing “I Am One” (Citizen Jane Film Festival), a short educational film about bullying; and working as an assistant camera operator for “Getting Away Together,” a PBS television series. Her most rewarding job has been teaching at Stephens and having the opportunity to teach the next generation of female filmmakers.

Chase Thompson, Associate Professor
M.F.A., Stephens College; B.S., Columbia College
13th year at Stephens

Chase Thompson is an associate professor of digital filmmaking at Stephens. An independent filmmaker, Thompson is a fourth-generation teacher with a passion for helping students find their creative voice through digital filmmaking and photography. His feature length documentary “Zielinski” was selected into Slamdance, True/False Film Fest and Radar Hamburg International Independent Film Festival, and it received Best Political Doc at Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and the Golden Reel Award at the Nevada Film Festival. Thompson’s essay “Writing Around Lois Weber” was featured in the book “When Women Wrote Hollywood,” which went on to be runner-up for the Susan Koppelman Award. In 2018, Thompson directed the Stephens Film Institute, which produced his pilot episode “Tampsen Air.” In April 2019, “Tampsen Air” premiered at the Kansas City Film Festival International and went on screen at the Denver Pop Culture Convention and the New York City Independent Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best TV Pilot.  

Kerri Yost, Associate Professor of Digital Filmmaking
M.A., Central Missouri State University; B.A., University of Missouri-Columbia
15th year at Stephens College 

Kerri Yost is an associate professor of digital filmmaking at Stephens. She is an independent filmmaker who learned filmmaking overseas while teaching abroad. After returning home to Missouri, she focused on films about people in the Midwest. Her feature film “Neither Here Nor There” documents Bosnian refugees starting new lives in Missouri, which played on PBS and was nominated for an Emmy. Her short documentary films “Billy” and “X-Ray Man” both focus on the long-term effects of being a soldier.


Dr. Sean Travis Clouse, Associate Professor and Interim Director of Counseling
Ph.D., M.A., B.S., University of Missouri-Columbia
13th year at Stephens

Dr. Sean Travis Clouse earned his B.S. in psychology, M.A. in human development and family studies, M.A. in counseling psychology and Ph.D. in counseling psychology all from the University of Missouri-Columbia. A member of the Stephens faculty since 2006, he teaches courses in the Education, Psychology and Counseling programs. His courses focus on lifespan development, multicultural aspects of learning, social justice issues and counseling. He also serves as the certification officer for the early childhood and elementary education and school counseling programs. Clouse is a licensed psychologist in the state of Missouri and focuses his clinical work on adolescents and young adults.

Elizabeth Watson, Director of the Children’s School at Stephens College
M.Ed. University of Missouri-Columbia
16th year at Stephens College

Watson’s passion for education has been shaped over the past 16 years as a classroom teacher in both preschool and elementary and as an instructor in the college classroom. She started her career at Stephens College as an undergraduate student from Minnesota and received her early childhood degree and teaching certification. After her first year of teaching, she continued her education at the University of Missouri and received her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in reading. This year, she will continue as a doctoral student at the University of Missouri in learning, teaching and curriculum with an emphasis in reading. As an early childhood and elementary educator, she believes the best way to enhance learning is to provide students with hands-on experiences which will create thought-provoking experiences for students to become independent creators.

English and Creative Writing

Dr. Kate Berneking Kogut, Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing
Ph.D., University of Missouri-Columbia
15th year at Stephens

Dr. Kate Berneking Kogut is an associate professor of English and creative writing, specializing in scriptwriting and new script development. Her plays have been produced, showcased and workshopped in California, New York, Chicago and in venues in the South and the Midwest. Kogut also writes, directs and produces short films through her production company, Envelope Sky Creative. Her current research interests include character development, fictional world-building and transmedia storytelling, which explores ways a story unfolds through various media. She earned her Ph.D. in theatre at the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

Dr. Ann Breidenbach, Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing
Ph.D., University of Missouri-Columbia
5th year at Stephens

Dr. Ann Breidenbach is an assistant professor in the English and Creative Writing programs and teaches classes for the Women’s Studies minor. While working on her qualitative dissertation about the experience of menopause for second wave feminists living on women’s land in the Ozarks, she rediscovered her passion for writing. Breidenbach began taking seminars in creative nonfiction writing and eventually enrolled in an M.F.A. program. She brings an interdisciplinary approach and her identity as a writer to her teaching. She is working on a manuscript titled “Girlhood Cache,” which is a memoir told through a series of flash non-fiction essays. Her current research project, “Feminist Activism and the Women’s Film Festival: a Site for Social Change,” explores women’s film festivals as a means of feminist activism. Most recently she has presented her research at the European Network for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference and the University Film and Video Association annual conference. She earned her M.F.A. in creative writing from the Solstice Low-Residency M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Boston. She earned her Ph.D. in rural sociology with a graduate certificate in women’s and gender studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Dr. Carli Sinclair
Dr. Carli Sinclair teaches undergraduate courses in American literature, women’s literature, and writing. She earned her Ph.D. in 19th century American literature from the University of Missouri. Her research interests include American landscape writing, women’s nonfiction and American Gothic writing, and she recently published a biography of Sarah Josepha Hale in “Writers on Women’s Rights and US Suffrage: Dictionary of Literary Biography.” Her current writing project, which was supported by a grant from the Maine Women Writers Collection, analyzes the diaries and accounts of 19th century seafaring women.

Kristine Somerville, Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing
M.A., University of Missouri; B.A., College of the Ozarks
20th year at Stephens

Kristine Somerville teaches contemporary literature, advanced composition, language ethics, nonfiction workshop, fiction workshop and the Harbinger publishing internship at Stephens College. Her short stories and prose poems have been published in various magazines, including The North American Review, Passages North, River City, Zone 3, The South Carolina Review and Quarterly West. Her essay "Katie Suber" received notable mention in Best American Essays, and her fiction has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Her visual and “Found Text” features and omnibus reviews appear regularly in The Missouri Review. Somerville is the co-editor of TMR Books and faculty advisor of Harbinger and Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society.


Dr. Mark Thompson, Associate Professor 
Dr. Mark Thompson is an associate professor of history and global studies. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Toronto. Thompson teaches modern European, U.S. and world history, as well as the sophomore core courses Government and Economics and Global Village. His research interests include the Indochina War, as well as the intersection of European integration and decolonization. His article "Defending the Rhine in Asia: France’s 1951 Reinforcement Debate and French International Ambitions" is forthcoming with the journal French Historical Studies.

Performing Arts

Timuchin Aker, Assistant Professor of Theatre
M.F.A., University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; B.A., Kalamazoo College
4th year at Stephens

Timuchin Aker is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches all levels of acting. He also directs, acts in various productions and fight directs. At Stephens, he directed "Julius Caesar" and "Emma," and has acted in "Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood," "Intimate Apparel," "Blithe Spirit," "Into the Woods," "An American Daughter," "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hay Fever," and "Clybourne Park." Professionally, Aker has worked across the country at Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Cleveland Playhouse, Great Lakes Theater Festival, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, American Theater Company and Okoboji Summer Theatre, among others. He completed the acting apprenticeship at Actors Theatre of Louisville, following which he lived and worked in N.Y.C. and Chicago. He also worked as an actor, director and writer on various world premieres while a member of The Ruckus, a Chicago-based theater company. While in Chicago, he taught several classes based in Meisner Technique at Green Shirt Studio. While earning his M.F.A. in acting, he also studied the Alexander Technique at the Alexander Technique Center Urbana.

Tom Andes, Instructor of Music
B.S., University of Missouri–Columbia; 2-Year Certificate in Piano Performance, Berklee College of Music
13th year at Stephens

Tom Andes has studied privately with distinguished jazz masters including Joanne Brakeen, James Williams, Kenny Werner and Jerry Bergonzi. Andes was the musical director for "Fun Home" at Stephens and "Annie" and "Godspell" last summer at Okoboji Summer Theatre. Andes is the house pianist at Murry’s restaurant in Columbia, Missouri, where he has performed with the Tom Andes Trio for 25 years. His original compositions have been featured on television, radio and various websites regionally and nationally. His fifth CD, “Here to Stay,” was released in Fall 2006 and his latest CD, “One Thousand Sets,” was released in 2008.

Robert Doyen, Program Coordinator for Theatre, Professor of Theatre
M.A., Illinois State University; B.F.A., Stephens College
38th year at Stephens

Rob Doyen is a resident actor/teacher at Stephens, where he teaches Acting and Directing. He has spent the last 42 summers at Okoboji Summer Theatre. This year at Okoboji, he appeared in "Murder on the Orient Express," "Mary Poppins," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Living On Love." Last season at Stephens, he was featured in "Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood," "Leader of the Pack," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Pippin." Doyen is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild.

Rusty Elder, Program Coordinator for Music, Program Co-Coordinator for Musical Theatre, Instructor of Music
M.M., B.S., University of Missouri-Columbia
20th year at Stephens

Rusty Elder serves Stephens as a teacher, administrator, adviser and performer. As program coordinator for music, Elder works with faculty to facilitate a variety of music opportunities to Stephens students: private lessons, academic classes, ensembles, master classes and over 10 major performances each year. He is also a member of the First-Year Faculty Adviser program, a program that pairs first-year students from all disciplines with experienced faculty dedicated to their success. A recipient of the College’s Distinguished Advising and Teaching awards, Elder instructs courses in Music Theory, Music History, World Music and Rock & Roll. A percussionist, he performs for numerous concerts and recitals throughout the year. Elder is a member of the American Musicological Society. 

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith, Associate Professor of Voice

M.M., Loyola University; B.M.E., Arkansas State University
27th year at Stephens

Pamela Ellsworth-Smith teaches voice at Stephens and is the director of The Velvetones, Stephens’ vocal jazz ensemble, which has performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Jazz Standard in New York. The group made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2004. She also directs Stephens’ A Class Act: Musical Theatre Troupe. In addition, Ellsworth-Smith serves as a vocal coach for many mainstage musicals. This year, she is thrilled to be the artistic director of "Great American Songbook." She has performed roles with New Orleans Opera Company and Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera, as well as regional companies on the West Coast. Ellsworth-Smith has studied and performed at The Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. She is the Missouri District Governor for the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Ellsworth-Smith has been an active adjudicator for voice/choral festivals and taught master classes in various high schools in the Midwest. Her students have attained high honors in regional and national competitions, performing in professional companies and apprenticeship programs across the United States.

Darren Gibson, Visiting Artist, Dance
Ballet Tech School
3rd year at Stephens

Darren Gibson grew up in New York City, where Eliot Feld discovered him. He was the first graduate of The New Ballet School (known now as Ballet Tech) at the age of 16, where he worked as principal dancer and ballet master and also served on the board of directors. Since then, Gibson has accumulated numerous ballet credits, staged ballets for Richmond and Boston ballets, and assisted Ann Reinking in an original work for the American Ballet Theatre. Gibson also has been involved in musical theater, appearing as a featured performer in both the New York Shakespeare Festival production and Broadway revival of "On the Town," directed by George C. Wolfe; and "Movin’ Out," directed/choreographed by Twyla Tharp. He also served as assistant choreographer for "The Look of Love," choreographed by Ann Reinking, and was an original cast member in the first national tour of Fosse. Gibson was a featured performer and resident director/choreographer in London’s West End production of "Fosse" and "Movin’ Out." Other credits include "City Center Encores: House of Flowers," directed by Kathleen Marshall; "No Strings!" and the "Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular," directed by Robert Longbottom. Gibson is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists and American Guild of Variety Artists. He is a former artistic director for TexARTS Academy and the TexARTS Broadway Company in Austin, Texas, where he choreographed and directed 30 musicals and ballets. He taught dance for the Texas State University Musical Theatre Department. He teaches Ballet, Modern and Jazz techniques as well as Improvisational Choreography. 

Jennifer Hemphill, Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre, Program Coordinator for Musical Theatre
M.F.A., Kent State University; B.F.A., Tisch School of the Art at New York University
1st year at Stephens

Jennifer Hemphill teaches all levels of Acting and Musical Theatre, and directs and acts in various productions. Prior to joining the faculty at Stephens, Hemphill was most recently seen on Broadway in "Mamma Mia!" She enjoyed three years of performing the hit ABBA show at the Winter Garden and Broadhurst theaters on Broadway and two years playing to full houses on the national tour. Hemphill has performed in New York, on tours across the U.S. and Canada, in Europe, with symphonies, and at sea for the last two decades. She enjoys adjudicating for Showstopper national dance competitions and is a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association. Her academic focus is on preparing actors for the industry through solid technique and practical application. 

Matthew Pedersen, Visiting Guest Artist, Costume Design
M.F.A., Florida State University; B.F.A., University of Central Missouri
2nd Year at Stephens

Matthew Pedersen is a costume designer and wearable artist based out of Brooklyn, New York. As a native of Columbia, Missouri, he is very excited to join the team at Stephens College. After serving two consecutive apprenticeships at the Santa Fe Opera, Pedersen obtained his M.F.A. in Costume Design from Florida State University. During that time, he served as the assistant costume shop manager for Central City Opera and designed productions in the theatre, film, dance and opera depart­ments at Florida State University. After completing his M.F.A., Pedersen quickly moved to New York City to work in the wardrobe department of The Metropolitan Opera. Since living in New York, he has served as a costume design assistant on Broadway productions including "The Book of Mormon," "Aladdin," "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812," "Frozen," "Misery" and "Sylvia." His design work has been seen on the opera stages of Tri-Cities Opera, IllumniArts, the Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Bard College Conservatory of Music. His work has also been featured in primetime commercials/promos for networks and companies like ESPN, Crest, Netflix and Madison Square Garden. This summer Pedersen served as the resident costume designer for the Endstation Theatre in Lynchburg, Virginia. He also designed a world premiere opera, "My Undying Love," with the American Chamber Opera in New York City. He also was featured in a world exhibit highlighting 200 of the most innovative costume designers of the 21st century from more than 50 countries at Bakhrushin State Historical Museum in Moscow, Russia.


Creative and Performing Arts Staff

Sarah Aker, Staff Artist, Lighting Design
M.F.A., Florida State University; B.A., Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana
5th year at Stephens

Sarah Aker teaches, designs, serves as the master electrician, and advises students at Stephens. Some of her favorite designs here at Stephens include " A Midsummer Night’s Dream," "Emma," "Everything You Touch," "Fun Home," "Julius Caesar" and "Pippin," as well as the dance concerts. Before Stephens, Aker was the staff space coordinator and lighting designer for the University of Illinois Department of Dance. Professional lighting design credits include designs for Okoboji Summer Theatre in Iowa, Bristol Valley Theater in New York, Station Theatre in Illinois, Parkland College in Illinois, South Bend Civic Theater in Indiana, Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Illinois, Beloit College in Wisconsin, Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Illinois and About Face Theatre in Illinois.

Michael Burke, Director of Production, School of Creative and Performing Arts; Director of Production & Operations, Okoboji Summer Theatre
M.F.A., B.F.A., Stephens College
13th year at Stephens

Michael Burke returns to campus following the successful 62nd season at Okoboji Summer Theatre. At Stephens, he oversees all production departments for the School of Creative and Performing Arts; is the resident sound designer; supervises all student stage managers and sound designers; and teaches Introduction to Stage Management, Stage Management II and Sound Design. Burke also is an adviser to the Warehouse Theatre Company. Prior to his return to Stephens in 2007, he spent 15 seasons at the 5th Avenue Musical Theatre in Seattle as a stage manager and as the company manager, working on more than 35 productions, including the pre-Broadway runs of Jeckle & Hyde, Hairspray and The Wedding Singer. Other regional credits include the American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City and The Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Burke is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and the Production Managers’ Forum and a graduate of Stephens College.

Ruth Ann Burke, Executive Director, Okoboji Summer Theatre; Business Manager, School of Creative and Performing Arts
M.B.A. and B.F.A., Stephens College; M.A., Drake University
13th year at Stephens

Ruth Ann Burke serves as the executive director for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, where she recently completed her 21st summer season in the Iowa Great Lakes region. During the school year, she is the business manager, overseeing box office operations, marketing and corporate sponsorships for the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Before returning to Columbia in 2007, Burke worked in marketing and public relations in Seattle. She is a proud alumna of Stephens College.

Dr. Rebecca Holley, Scene Shop Foreman
Ph.D, University of Missouri-Columbia
1st year at Stephens

Dr. Rebecca Holley is an artist and educator who hails from Colorado. She holdsF a Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where she wrote her dissertation on cosmic symbolism in musical theatre. In Columbia, she has stage managed and designed lights for several GreenHouse Theatre Project shows, and stage managed and sound designed for many shows at MU's Department of Theatre. Favorite projects include: “Our Town” and “A Christmas Carol” with GreenHouse, and “Crimes of the Heart,” “By the Bog of Cats” and “Greater Tuna” with MU Theatre. This past summer, she served as the technical director for the Stephens College Summer Theatre Institute.

Kerri S. Packard, Costume Shop Supervisor
M.F.A., University of Iowa; B.F.A., Arizona State University
3rd year at Stephens

Kerri Packard has been a costume designer/technician for more than 30 years. Her work has been seen at the University of Missouri-Columbia (where she taught for 23 years), the Texas Shakespeare Festival, Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, Maples Repertory Theatre and Southeast Missouri State University.

Kristy Simpson, Administrative Assistant, School of Creative and Performing Arts
B.E.S., University of Missouri-Columbia
2nd year at Stephens

Kristy Simpson is the administrative assistant for the School of Creative and Performing Arts. Before coming to Stephens, Simpson worked for 10 years as the operations manager for a locally based e-commerce company specializing in purchasing and fulfillment. She serves on several community committees in support of the arts and has two children active in music and theater.

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