Our Team

Our mentors are hard-working, creative professionals, dedicated to the art of mentorship as well as to their own writing, illustration and storytelling projects. Below, meet the talented pros who makeup our Inklings community, and who join our mentorship team as their creative commitments allow. Society of Young Inklings is always looking for creative individuals to join our thriving community! Check out our current opportunities here.

Staff

Naomi Kinsman Downing
Founder and Executive Director

Author of the From Sadie’s Sketchbook Series and Spilled Ink, the award-winning Inklings Writers’ Notebook, Naomi is passionate about sharing her love of writing and creativity with young writers. Naomi’s background in improvisational and story theatre as well as her arts education work in Chicago, Portland, and the Bay Area has convinced her that creative play is a doorway through which learners can find inspiration and transformative learning experiences.

Naomi loves to play in many ways, but some of her favorites are tap-dancing, sketching, experimenting in the kitchen and tag with her Portuguese Water Dog, Turley. Naomi has a BA in Theatre Arts from Seattle Pacific University and has studied theatre with the Piven Theatre Workshop and ACT. She also has a Masters in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University.

Jena McNealy
Managing Director

Jena began working with Society of Young Inklings in 2010.  As a former traveling teaching artist Jena delivered dance, theater, visual and literary arts programs to hundreds of children in the San Fransisco Bay Area. Jena wishes she had the opportunity to participate in an Inklings program as a child. She strives to extend the opportunity to as many children as possible.  Jena holds a B.A in Creative Arts and a minor in Education from San Jose State University. In her spare time, Jena enjoys spending time with her family and taking care of her variety of pets including sheep.

Sarah Perez
Executive Assistant

Sarah joined the Inklings team in 2015. Her love for organization and problem-solving along with her passion for arts education make her a key partner in handling the behind-the-scenes tasks that help keep the Young Inklings wheels turning.

Sarah is a life-long musician and book lover. She is thankful for her 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Huff, who instilled in her a love of reading and writing.  She grew up in Orlando, Florida where she sharpened her creative skills at a performing arts high school and earned her BA in music with a focus in education. She spent several years teaching elementary school music before moving to California.

Sarah enjoys brand new notebooks, staring at the California coast, and good coffee (sometimes even not-so-good coffee).  She lives in South Orange County with her husband Socrates, and her two young children, Cora and Miles.

Natalie Stroble
Marketing Assistant

Natalie practically grew up in a third-grade classroom. Her mother, a retired third-grade teacher, always exhibited a passion for helping children discover their confidence and creativity. These are passions Natalie values greatly in her work today.

Having a Bachelors Degree in Communications, Natalie enjoys social media communications and finding new ways to share and connect with people around the world. Natalie and her family of three enjoy nature walks and biking together near their home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Board Members

Karyn Bechtel
Board Chair

Karyn’s two daughters have benefitted immensely from Young Inklings programs, including the Inklings Book Contest, classes, and one-on-one mentorships. She is passionate about kids, creativity and the kind of playfully nurturing environment Young Inklings creates. Her contributions as a board member stem both from being a parent of two young writers and also from her previous work in education and non-profits. Karyn’s professional work has taken several interesting turns, having spent time in higher education at the University of Colorado Boulder and Stanford University, helping found and incubate a small public charter elementary school in rural Colorado, and also working as a consultant to plan and facilitate leadership conferences and nonprofit strategic planning sessions. Her advanced degrees include a Master’s Certificate in Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement from Fielding University.

Odette Harris
Board Member

Dr. Odette Harris is an Associate Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of Brain Injury for Stanford Medical Center. Dr. Harris manages and coordinates the medical and surgical care of all patients suffering from traumatic brain injury that are admitted to the Stanford System. She focuses on implementing and streamlining current treatment algorithms aimed at improving the outcomes of this growing population. The primary focus is specific not only to mortality but to functional outcome improvements. Dr. Harris works in a collaborative manner with colleagues in Surgical Trauma, Neuro-Critical Care, Nursing, Rehabilitation, and all related specialties.

Kelly Hoy
Board Member

Kelly Hoy has been a public and private school teacher for more than 20 years. After completing her degree at the University of Rhode Island, she started her public-school career as a computer specialist at Crim Elementary in Bridgewater, NJ and as a third-grade elementary school teacher in Dunellen, NJ. She then moved to California private schools: teaching special education at Star Academy in San Anselmo, fifth-grade at Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park, and currently, fifth-grade humanities at Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco. Teaching and writing are her passions. She has published a number of case studies and analyses in several editions of Anita Woolfolk’s best-selling psychology text, Educational Psychology. Her goals as a teacher are to develop an appreciation for the unique stories of her students, strengthen their voices, cultivate empathy, and advance social justice, as they all grow academically, socially, and emotionally.

Ravi Kalkunte
Board Member

Ravi is an Innovation manager in the field of polymers and plastic films.  He has been involved in new product development all his professional life and continues to introduce new products with unique functionalities. He has a Master’s in Textiles from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Wake Forest University. He came to the US as a student to pursue higher education. Ravi likes to travel and play tennis. He has 3 children and has experienced first-hand how good writing skills can facilitate access to great opportunities. He is passionate about encouraging children into trying new and creative pursuits.

Ani Singh
Board Member

Ani is an experienced Management Consultant with over 20 years of consulting, focused on developing market strategies, strategic planning and program implementation for various profit/non-profit clients within education and healthcare. Ani’s talent is her ability to jump-start projects, including starting her own consulting business and has worked with senior executives to lead cross-functional teams, identify strategic and operational opportunities, undertake market/competitive assessments, and manage large-scale change programs. Over the last few years, she has become ever more conscious about the disparities in the system and hopes to make an impact on the under-served.

Other facts: Ani loves to ski, hike, and travel off the beaten path; her passions include yoga, reading, jewelry making, and all things Italian. Ani holds BSc and MSc from the London School of Economics, and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Mentors

Alex Doherty
Mentor

Alex is a writer based in the Bay Area and has an MFA in screenwriting. He worked as a Story Assistant for film and TV production in Los Angeles before working as an Assistant Producer at LucasArts in San Francisco. He’s querying his first novel in 2018, a Middle Grade adventure! He’s inspired by the creativity of others and enjoys theater, movies, reading and finding time to practice his green thumb when he’s not hiking.

Malar Ganapathiappan
Mentor

Malar received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, summa cum laude, from Arizona State University and recently became certified as a Creativity and Empowerment NLP Coach. Writing is a profound part of her life as a way to process, reflect, generate ideas, create, and express herself. She loves inspiration and sharing her passion for writing in her roles as a writing instructor, coach, mentor, and tutor.

Olivia Ghafoerkhan
Mentor

Olivia grew up in rural north Florida, hiking through the woods imagining different worlds. She now lives outside Washington DC. She received her BA from Florida State University, where she majored in English and minored in Women’s Studies. She received her MFA from Hamline University, specializing in writing for children and young adults. She writes both fiction and nonfiction. When she’s not hard at work, Olivia enjoys hiking, visiting the beach, and Bollywood movies.

Alex Jacobus Kordahl
Mentor

Ann has published short fiction, poetry, and essays for young readers and adults in the US and the UK. Her debut YA thriller is Romancing the Dark in the City of Light. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College and lives with her family in San Francisco.

Ailynn Knox-Collins
Mentor

Ailynn was a Montessori teacher for many years and loved sharing her love of books and writing with her students. She has a degree in law, several teaching credentials and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. With four books in the middle-grade sci-fi Redworld series published, and another nonfiction series coming out in 2018, Ailynn is working hard on a graphic novel, among other books. When she’s not writing, she is working with her 4 dogs on agility, obedience and rally competitions. She is excited to join Young Inklings and share her love for writing with young authors everywhere.

Gwen Lee
Mentor

Gwen Lee is the award-winning author of six children’s books and an architecture book. Fluent in three languages, she had worked as a translator, theater manager, and cartoonist in her youth before studying architecture in the UK. In her final year in college, Gwen discovered that what she really wanted to do was to tell stories. While working as an architect and design writer, Gwen published her first children’s book Little Cloud Wants Snow! A recommended book for the Read! Singapore Festival 2014, Little Cloud Wants Snow! has been translated to Korean and Mandarin, and is being used by schools in Texas to educate children about weather science. Today, Gwen is one of the few interdisciplinary writers straddling the fields of architecture and literature, writing for both children and adults alike. She enjoys working with young writers from all backgrounds to help them discover their unique literary voices. Gwen lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Tasslyn Magnusson
Mentor

As a fourth grader, Tasslyn Magnusson once tried to read her school library from A to Z, backward. She got stuck on P. L. Travers and Mary Poppins and has been reading anything and everything since. When she’s not writing her poetry or working on her middle grade novels, she’s reading fan fiction written by her teens and trading book recommendations with their friends. Tasslyn received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University in January 2017. She has had several poems published and won the 2017 Room Magazine Poetry prize.

Polly McCann
Mentor

Polly grew up in the heartland. When she wasn’t up in a cottonwood tree reading a book, or trailblazing with her mom’s sewing scissors, she spent most of her time “making something.” She began art classes at the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City before her Buster Browns ever reached the floor. Polly graduated from Messiah College with a degree in Studio Art, then with her MA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University in St. Paul in 2011. She is a published poet and author, an adjunct English professor, and loves spending time painting in her studio. Polly thinks writing with kids is all about exploring our imaginations, creating new places, new inventions, new worlds, and new friends. Her favorite animals are goats, unicorns and mermaids.  She is always planning the next adventure to share with her family. They have an enormous coonhound dog and live by a stream in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out her children’s illustrations at pollymccann.com.

Kalena Miller
Mentor

Kalena grew up in College Station, Texas, then moved a thousand miles north to attend Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. In 2015, she graduated summa cum laude with a major in religious studies and a specialization in women’s and gender studies. In July of 2018, Kalena graduated with her MFA from Hamline University after presenting her critical thesis on the history and craft of young adult Chick Lit. Her previous teaching experience includes two years at Maine Arts Camp, three years as a writing tutor at Carleton College, and one year working as a paraprofessional at the Academy for Precision Learning in Seattle. She currently lives in Hopkins, Minnesota with her husband, Kenny, and Toy Australian Shepherd, Toshley. When she’s not writing or teaching, Kalena enjoys tap dancing, needle felting, and watching reruns of the West Wing.

Trisha Parsons
Mentor

Trisha has been working with children and students for five years as a skills trainer in day-treatment settings, a Special Education paraprofessional, a tutor, and currently as a mentor for the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop. In July of 2018, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She has had poetry published in High Plains Register, Spittoon, and Wicked Alice, but is currently invested in writing novels for young readers.  When she’s not writing or working she likes to practice calligraphy, explore the beautiful nature around her Colorado home, and hang out with her husband and dog.

Melody Ramie Reed
Mentor

As a child, Melody could be found sitting on the floor surrounded by books at the public library. The friends she met in those pages and the adventures she experienced sparked her imagination. Her love of story led to her love of writing at an early age.

As an adult, Melody can still be found surrounded by books at the public library, but now she’s behind the desk. She enjoys helping patrons find enriching tales and shares her passion by leading writing classes for adults and teens. Melody is a creative professional with over 15 years teaching children. She has a BS in Computer Science from St. Francis University and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. When she’s not writing, reading or revising, she fancies walking her dogs, listening to beach waves, or eating ice cream. She has raised 3 children and lives with her husband near Chicago.

Sonja Solter
Mentor

Sonja spent her childhood summers in her mother’s homeland of Finland and traveled the world extensively with her family. She read so voraciously as a child that she once brought over 70 books on a trip. (Her mother is still trying to figure out how that slipped by her.) Sonja graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in Human Biology from Stanford University and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University. She writes for all age levels and has had a reader published for the educational market. She has also been a Music Together director and teacher, where she especially enjoyed the collaborative improvisation aspect of the program. Sonja lives with her husband and two children in Louisville, CO, and enjoys nature, travel, and yoga.

Beth Spencewood
Mentor

Beth Spencewood grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota where she spent the long winters reading her favorite books and writing funny short stories starring her friends. She got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked in nonprofit management for many years. Now she has an MFA in writing and writes novels for young adults. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling, playing board games, biking with her family, or cross-stitching.

Patrick York
Mentor

Patrick Garrett York is from the Mojave Desert of California. He received his MFA from the University of California, Riverside where he was a Gluck Fellow of the Arts. He lives in Los Gatos, California with his wife.

Advisory Board

Sue Penchina
Advisory Board

Lauren Byunn-Rieder
Youth Advisory Board

Inés García
Youth Advisory Board

Dana Huch
Youth Advisory Board

Nuala Kilroy
Youth Advisory Board

Amann Mahajan
Youth Advisory Board

Claire McNerney
Youth Advisory Board

Sophia Nesamoney
Youth Advisory Board

Kaitlyn Penchina
Youth Advisory Board

Anna Sandell
Youth Advisory Board

Sahana Singh
Youth Advisory Board

Max Wang
Youth Advisory Board

Anna Yang
Youth Advisory Board

Avery Yue
Youth Advisory Board

Collaborating Artists

Collaborating and Contributing Artists

We also partner with a group of professional authors, illustrators, and creatives that we call our Collaborating Artists. Collaborating Artists serve as volunteers and encouragers for Society of Young Inklings and our young writers. Click here to see our featured partners.