The Founding Fellows program
On October 1st, 2017 a group of 6 courageous individuals
gathered in Viroqua, Wisconsin, to lay the groundwork for a new model of higher education. The Thoreau College Founding Fellows hail from three foreign countries and three states, range in age from
19 to 43, and come with diverse experiences to dedicate a year of
their lives to the co-creation of Thoreau College. They are here
to both imagine and prototype a school imbued with the
philosophies of Rudolf Steiner, Henry David Thoreau, and L.L. Nunn. Throughout the year the Fellows are modeling the practices
of self-governance, intentional living, reflective study, and working with community partners to imagine a new model of higher
education and test their vision by living it.
Colleen Smereka grew up on Bell Island, a small island tucked between a bay in Newfoundland and the vast Atlantic Ocean. At 22, Colleen discovered she has a learning disability, which inspired her to help others who need support in different learning environments. Colleen graduated from St. Francis Xavier University with an honors degree in Sociology in 2005 and Bachelor’s of Education degree at St. Mary’s University in 2012. She has worked as an Accessibility Advisor at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary, Alberta for the past four years, assisting students with disabilities and medical conditions to get the support they need to be successful in their educational pursuits. Her passion for advocating to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities and ADHD led to her work serving on the Learning Disability and ADHD Networking committee and the Foothills Academy Society Board of Governors. Colleen imagines Thoreau College as a space accessible to all students and is excited to be surrounded by others who are interested in thinking about learning in all of its forms.
Throughout his life, Luke Dougherty attended small, intimate schools where he fostered his passion for education in community. Growing up in the arms of Washington Montessori School, his curiosity and enthusiasm for life were encouraged through free play and experiential learning. Following Montessori, the Putney School in Vermont exposed Luke to holistic education, as lessons were found both in books and on the farm. The culmination of these learning environments led him to St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. St. John’s provided Luke with a rigorous four-year, interdisciplinary curriculum through which he sharpened his ability to think critically and listen deeply. Luke first discovered Thoreau during his senior year at St. John's, after walking El Camino de Camino the summer before. In the pages of Walden, Thoreau put words to experiences Luke had throughout El Camino that he felt unable to articulate. Filled will renewed inspiration, Luke wrote his senior Thesis and Oral Dissertation on Thoreau's Walden and Walking, which was an experience that, like El Camino, he will never forget. Since graduating, Luke has spent the last year contemplating what gifts he has to offer the world, leading him to Thoreau College where he is excited to co-envision a school imbued with the ideas of his favorite author.
Xiaoting (Stella) Liu was originally born in China, and recently graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance, Math, and Accounting. After working for a financial services company for few months she realized her true passion was in education and decided to change her life’s focus to Anthroposophy. Stella became fascinated with Steiner’s vision of child development; to develop the whole child, encouraging children to learn through exploration and play. Upon discovering Thoreau College, Stella found a place to offer her financial skills to support Steiner’s vision of education.
Tomoki Yoshihama is a youth activist, originally from Miyako City, Japan. When the Great East Japan
Earthquake severely damaged his city in 2011, Tomo responded by forming a team of other young people
to take on the project of regional revitalization. His team initiated a range of projects, including a music
festival, a youth café, a disaster education program and an intergenerational exchange event. His small
action created a big impact on the region. Tomo’s interest in social issues led him to Thoreau College
which he believes will be a role model for the future of higher education.
Magdalena Bermudez is an educator and art maker who was raised at the Waldorf School of Lexington, Massachusetts. Growing up next to Walden Pond, she spent her early years swimming, catching toads, and climbing trees down the hill from where Thoreau built his cabin. Magda attended Hampshire College, where she created a course of study that included educational philosophy, filmmaking, poetry, and mythology. Since graduating she has worked for a variety of nonprofit organizations where she has coordinated education programs, taught art, and promoted engagement with the natural world. For the past seven years she has coordinated the Thoreau Society Annual Gathering, which unites scientists and writers from around the world to celebrate the 19th-Century naturalist. Magda has taught a wide range of ages and subjects, from preschoolers at a Central Park based forest school to undergraduate courses in non-fiction filmmaking at Hampshire College. She is a maker of many things, images and sounds, fiber arts and foods, and she feels most at home in the gestures of creating. Magda is honored to be a Thoreau College Founding Fellow; to work with this diverse group of people with a common mission, putting their conceptual ideas and values into the tangible work of creating a school.
Since his early introduction to cultural exploration in Mexico and Guatemala, Bryan Heystek has been an avid traveler. He majored in Spanish and Biomedical Science at Grand Valley State University in Michigan where he explored many ideas of where to take his education. This led to his study abroad program with International Studies Abroad in Argentina and Peru, where he studied the history of Latin America in the 19th & 20th centuries and Argentine literature. After graduating, Bryan spent a year teaching English in South Korea through Chungdahm International where he learned the difficulties and exquisite joys of being a grade-school teacher and, similarly, what it was like living so far away from home. From his diverse cultural experiences, he has developed a passion for nurturing meaningful relationships and community living. As a Fellow, he hopes to offer his skills working with diverse cultures and communities to help Thoreau College engage with a wide-ranging student body, especially those of low socioeconomic status. Someday, Bryan envisions Thoreau College being at the center of an educational community designed to survive the harsh environments of an exoplanet.