Virtual Teacher Institute 2021: Hosts, Presenters & Historians Biographies

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Peter Carmichael

Peter S. Carmichael is the Fluhrer Professor of History and the Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. After completing his doctorate at Penn State University under Dr. Gary Gallagher, Professor Carmichael went on to teach at Western Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and West Virginia University. He is the author and editor of four books, including Lee's Young Artillerist: William R. J. Pegram; Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee; and The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion; Carmichael’s most recent book, The War for the Common Soldier, was published by University of North Carolina Press in November 2018.

Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky

Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky is an expert on the cabinet, presidential history, and U.S. government institutions. Currently, she is serving as Scholar in Residence at the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College and Senior Fellow at the International Center for Jefferson Studies. Previously, she was a historian at the White House Historical Association and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her B.A. in history and political science from the George Washington University, and completed her masters and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. She is the author of the award-winning The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, which was published by Harvard University Press on April 7, 2020. Her writing has been published on, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Ms, The Daily Beast, The Hill, and more.

Dr. Kimberly Gilmore

Dr. Kimberly Gilmore is Senior Historian and Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for HISTORY® Channel/A+E Networks. Dr. Gilmore received Ph.D. in American History from New York University in 2005. At A+E Networks, she works on education and outreach initiatives. These programs include the Emmy-Award winning Mission to Honor campaign which highlights the contributions of veterans in American society and A&E’s initiatives related to addiction and recovery. Gilmore serves on the board of the New York State Archives Partnership Trust, the editorial board of The American Historianpublished by the Organization of American Historians, and on the Advisory Council of the California History Blueprint. She also serves as a content advisor for and is active in the cable industry and historical organizations.

Anne Gillespie Mitchell

Anne Gillespie Mitchell has been at Ancestry for eleven years on products including Ancestry Library, AncestryK12 and most recently the Civil War Stories Project. She has taught genealogy courses at many national conferences including NGS, FGS and RootsTech and SLIG as well as multiple online Ancestry Academy courses. Anne has a MS degree in Computer Science from Purdue University, where she also taught Computer Science for 8 years.

Dr. Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian living in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She has written about the Civil War, US western history, and American culture for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, Preservation Magazine, and Civil War Monitor. Nelson earned her BA in history and literature from Harvard University and her PhD in American studies from the University of Iowa, and she has taught at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown. Nelson is the author of The Three-Cornered War, Ruin Nation, and Trembling Earth. Her new project, This Strange Country: Yellowstone and the Reconstruction of America, will be published with Scribner in spring 2022.

Presenters & Historians

Garry Adelman

A graduate of Michigan State University and Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Garry Adelman is the award-winning author, co-author or editor of 20 books and 50 Civil War articles. He is the vice president of the Center for Civil War Photography and has been a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg for 25 years. He has conceived and drafted the text for wayside exhibits at ten battlefields, has given thousands of battlefield tours at more than 60 sites and has lectured at hundreds of locations across the country including the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian. He has appeared as a speaker on the BBC, C-Span, Pennsylvania Cable Network, American Heroes Channel, and on HISTORY where he was a chief consultant and talking head on the Emmy Award-winning show Gettysburg (2011) and Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color (2015).  He works full time as Chief Historian at the American Battlefield Trust.

Paige Gibbons Backus 

A native of Wisconsin, Paige Gibbons Backus graduated from the University of Mary Washington with a bachelor’s degree in Historic Preservation, and George Mason University with a master’s degree in Applied History. She has been in the public history field for close to ten years focusing on educational programming and operations working at several historic sites throughout Northern Virginia including Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Sully Historic Site, and Ben Lomond Historic Site. She currently serves Prince William County as the Historic Site Manager at Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre (a 19th-century courthouse and jail complex) and Lucasville School (an African American schoolhouse). When out of the office, Paige spends her time serving on the board of the Virginia Association of Museums, exploring, being outdoors, or researching her interests which include women’s history, as well as the more morbid side of history such as death, disease, medicine, and murder. Her published works include Witness to Peace and Strife: The History of Ben Lomond in Manassas, Virginia, as well as numerous articles published for a variety of publications such as Emerging Civil War, Virginia Association of Museum’s Voice Magazine, Civil War Traveler, and Prince William Living.

Jordan Bonardi

Jordan Bonardi is a historian from Baltimore, Maryland, currently studying history at the University of Virginia. At the University of Virginia, he is a cadet in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He is a Class of 2020 graduate of Gilman School where in addition to his attendance as a student, was also employed as an Archives Tech for the school’s archives. While at Gilman, he served as a historical advisor for plays and shows. In addition, he is deeply involved in the Civil War living history community where he has planned, prepared and executed interpretative programs at state-level and National Historical Parks. Jordan has also assisted in historical research projects that have been published online.

Colleen Cheslak

From a young age, Colleen developed a passion for history — with movies like National Treasure and The Patriot operating not as credible sources, but as inspiration for discovering new history and for sharing the past in captivating ways. Colleen graduated from Stony Brook University in 2016 with a BA in History and minors in Political Science and International Studies. Upon graduating, she moved to the Washington, DC area to pursue her MA in Public History from American University. While in school, she was an intern for the Trust’s Education Department and loved every second of it. After receiving her MA in 2018, she worked as a Visitor Guide at the U.S. Capitol building. But her love of the Trust was not forgotten, as she returned in August 2020 as a member of the communications team.

Dawn Chitty 

Dawn Chitty has been the Director of Education at the African American Civil War Museum for the past 10 years. As a lifelong museum lover, Dawn is both passionate and enthusiastic about the field. Before joining the staff of the African American Civil War Museum in 2010, Dawn was a History teacher and Curriculum Specialist and spent seven years working at historic sites throughout the Charleston area in South Carolina interpreting 18th and 19th century history. Dawn has degrees in Anthropology and Education and recently completed her doctorate in Education in which she focused her research on the topics of museum curriculum and pedagogy about slavery and abolition in the United States.

Daniel Davis 

Dan Davis is a native of Fredericksburg, VA where his love for the Civil War began on childhood trips to local battlefields. He is a graduate of Longwood University with a bachelor’s degree in Public History. Dan has worked as a Ranger/Historian at Appomattox Court House National Historical Site and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and articles on the Civil War and is a regular contributor to Emerging Civil War. He currently resides in Fredericksburg.

Dr. Kimberly DeSimone

Kimberly DeSimone, Ph.D, MBA. Associate Professor of Leadership, St. Bonaventure University. Director of the master’s in leadership program. Gender Equity Scholar. Diversity, Equality, & Inclusion Advocate. Co-chair of the University President’s Commission for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Committed to understanding and positively impacting underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.

Codie Eash

Codie Eash serves as Operations Manager at Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center, where he has been part of the institution’s staff since 2012. He is a 2014 graduate of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication/Journalism and completed a minor in History. Codie regularly writes for publication in history blogs and magazines, participates in multiple collaborative digital history projects including Pennsylvania in the Civil War, and frequently lectures for historical organizations.

William E. "Bill" Fischer, Jr.

Bill Fischer retired from the National Park Service in late 2020 after serving as Chief of Visitor Services and Resource Management at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton PA, where he supervised interpretation, education, museum exhibits, and the third largest NPS archives (3+ million document pages). During the Civil War Sesquicentennial, he was park historian at Fort Scott National Historic Site, where many African Americans were recruited into the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry Regiments. He also coordinated the development of a permanent Bleeding Kansas and Civil War exhibit that includes multiple perspectives.

Bill taught high school history and leadership in suburban Columbus OH for seven years after retiring from the US Air Force with 22 years of active enlisted and commissioned service in weather, missile operations, and intelligence, as well as an assignment as an assistant professor of history at the US Air Force Academy. After earning undergrad degrees from Ohio State (natural resources) and the College of Great Falls (history), Bill earned a master’s degree in American History from the University of Georgia. He is the author of a monograph on night flying in World War I and dozens of articles, encyclopedia entries, book reviews, and presentations primarily focused on American military history.

Bill presently serves as the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Pennsylvania Department’s Graves Registration Officer, coordinating efforts to locate, catalog, and honor all Civil War veterans buried in the Commonwealth.

Dr. Jared Frederick

Jared Frederick is an Instructor of History who specializes in American History and Public History at Penn State University-Altoona. He received his doctorate from Penn State University, and his M.A. from West Virginia University in 2012, Frederick has also served as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park and is the publisher of historical books for young adults. Highly involved with regional museums, cultural attractions, and institutions, he is a strong proponent of grassroots history. With this conviction in mind, he helped establish Penn State Altoona’s Public History Initiative in 2013 to build a collaborative spirit among local historic sites and offer students career-building opportunities at such venues. Beyond central Pennsylvania, he has completed projects in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, NASA, and Pennsylvania Civil War 150. Additionally, he has served as a commentator on a number of films and documentaries. His areas of expertise include American History, U.S. Military History, Public History, Pennsylvania History, and Film. His most recent books are Images of Modern America: Gettysburg National Military Park (2016); and Dispatches of D-Day: A People's History of The Normandy Invasion (2019). Above all else, he strives to bring the past to life through meaningful educational experiences both in and out of the classroom.


Phillip S. Greenwalt

Phillip S. Greenwalt is the co-founder of Emerging Revolutionary War and a historian with Emerging Civil War. He is the author or co-author of five publications in the Emerging Revolutionary War and Emerging Civil War Series. He is currently a park ranger with the National Park Service in Florida but has worked at American history national park sites in Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. 

William R. “Billy” Griffith IV

William R. Griffith IV is a full-time Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide and an author/historian for Emerging Revolutionary War. He received his BA in History from Shepherd University in 2014, and MA in Military History from Norwich University in 2018. He is the author of The Battle of Lake George: England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War (The History Press, 2016) and A Handsome Flogging: The Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778 (Savas Beatie, 2020).

Drew Gruber

Drew Gruber is the Executive Director of Civil War Trails, Inc., and is the Interim Director for the Williamsburg Battlefield Association. By day he drives all over six states maintaining and developing the Trails program which offers over 1,350 sites for visitors to explore. By night he enjoys rock-steady music, bourbon, and time with his wife Kate and their cats.

Kate Egner Gruber

Kate Egner Gruber is the special exhibition curator for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia. Gruber earned her B.A. in historic preservation and classical humanities at the University of Mary Washington before receiving an M.A. in early American history from The College of William and Mary. She also holds a certificate in early American history, museum studies, and material culture from the National Institute of American History and Democracy. Gruber enjoys developing exhibitions on a wide range of topics in early American history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. She currently serves as Vice President of the Virginia Forum and sits on the State Historical Records Advisory Board. Kate has contributed to the Emerging Revolutionary War blog and Encyclopedia Virginia.

Michael Hensinger

Michael Hensinger, Manager of School Programs at the Museum of the American Revolution, is an educator who has been teaching students of all ages since 2011.  He graduated from DeSales University with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, later earning his teaching certification at Kutztown University.  He has experience working within the classrooms of both public and private schools, as well as collaborating with other education professionals to develop their instructional practices.  While a teacher, Michael helped introduce a Geography Bee, pilot a grant-funded STEM program using the TechyKids coding platform and collaborated with other professionals to launch 1:1 technology initiatives.  His passion for history led him to his current position in the museum field where he trains fellow educators on staff and develops classroom curricula and student programs.  He is a board game enthusiast and amateur board game designer. Michael currently resides in Philadelphia, PA with his wife Melissa and their rambunctious dog Fiona. 

John Hoptak

John Hoptak has been employed by the National Park Service since 2006 and served as a seasonal interpretive Park Ranger at Antietam National Battlefield and at Gettysburg National Military Park until August 2016 when he was hired as the Education Technician at Gettysburg NMP. A lifelong student of history, Hoptak earned a master’s degree in history from Lehigh University and holds an Instructional I Teaching Certificate in Citizenship Education (7-12) in Pennsylvania. In addition to his work with the National Park Service, Hoptak has authored several Civil War-related books, including The Battle of South Mountain, Confrontation at Gettysburg, First in Defense of the Union, and, most recently, Dear Ma: The Civil War Letters of Lieutenant Curtis Clay Pollock, and has had numerous articles published in such periodicals as Civil War Times, America’s Civil War, and Pennsylvania Heritage.

James Horn

Ranger James Horn is an interpretive ranger at Baltimore Area Parks, working for Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Hampton National Historic Site, and The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail. In his 9th year working for the National Park Service, he has previously worked at Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, volunteered at Antietam National Battlefield, as well as working at other historic sites such as the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and Historic Shepherdstown Commission.

Daryian Kelton

Daryian Kelton has been an interpreter for about 6 years. He started young at the Old Barracks Museum as a drummer in our Fife and Drum Corps. He has always been intrigued by the puzzles of history and how everyone's stories fit together. In 2015, Daryian stepped into producing social media content by producing photos, videos and graphics. In addition, he has been an integral part of developing African American History programming for the museum. 

Alexander Lothstein

Alexander Lothstein is the Museum Learning Manager at the Maryland Center for History and Culture. Alex manages all onsite education program development and interpretation and works with exhibition teams to develop new exhibits, content, and interpretation. Alexander received his Bachelor’s degree in History from Ohio Wesleyan University in 2015 and his Master’s degree in History from Temple University in 2017 and has been at the Maryland Center for History and Culture since 2017. His content specialties are Revolutionary War to the Early Republic American military, industrial, and economic history as well as the long civil rights movement in America.

Dr. Chris Mackowski

Chris Mackowski, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Emerging Civil War. He is the series editor of the award-winning Emerging Civil War Series, published by Savas Beatie, and the “Engaging the Civil War” Series, published in partnership with Southern Illinois University Press. Chris is a professor of journalism and mass communication at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, NY, and historian-in-residence at Stevenson Ridge, a historic property on the Spotsylvania battlefield in central Virginia. He has also worked as a historian for the National Park Service at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, where he gives tours at four major Civil War battlefields (Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania), as well as at the building where Stonewall Jackson died. Chris has authored or co-authored a dozen books on the Civil War, and his articles have appeared in all the major Civil War magazines. Chris serves on the national advisory board for the Civil War Chaplains Museum in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Shannon McLucas

Shannon McLucas is an interpretive ranger at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, and Hampton National Historic Site in Towson. She received her master’s degree in history from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and served as a research fellow at American University. As an historian and preservation advocate, she has published works on a variety of topics in United States political and social history, and regularly develops interpretive programs, events, and curriculum-based programs for the National Park Service.

Kara Boehne-Miele

Kara Boehne-Miele is the High School Librarian and Library Department Chairperson for the Cumberland Valley School District in Mechanicsburg, PA. She collaborates with teachers from all content areas on research projects and methods for incorporating technology into instruction and student experiences. Prior to her tenure in librarianship, Kara served as a middle and high school music teacher and marching band instructor in Frederick County, Maryland. She is a 2001 graduate of James Madison University with a Bachelor of Science in Music Education, received her Master of Library Science with a concentration in School Library Media from the University of Maryland in 2007, and recently earned a graduate certificate in Online Teaching and Learning from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She is currently pursuing her certification as a school administrator.

Peter “Pete” Miele

Peter "Pete" Miele is Executive Director of Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center in Gettysburg, PA. Miele has spent the last decade working in museums, secondary education, higher education, and libraries. At Seminary Ridge, he has been responsible for envisioning and constructing the museum’s robust educational and interpretive departments and is currently spearheading a new digital education initiative for the institution. A frequent lecturer, Miele has presented at national conferences of the Society of Civil War Historians, National Council for the Social Studies, and American Association of State and Local History. He is currently working on a project situating the Gettysburg Campaign in the context of a humanitarian crisis.

Elizabeth "Beth" Parnicza

Elizabeth "Beth" Parnicza currently serves as the Chief of Education and Visitor Services at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. She served for 8 years as a historical interpreter at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and has written several articles on the Civil War, memory, and interpretation. A 2011 graduate of West Virginia University, she joined the National Park Service and moved to the "other Virginia" to pursue her passion for Civil War and 19th century history.

James A. "Jim" Percoco

James A. "Jim" Percoco is a nationally recognized history educator with over 33 years of service to American education. The author of three previous books, his books A Passion for the Past: Creative Teaching of US History and Divided We Stand: Teaching About Conflict in US History are staples in collegiate social studies methods courses across the United States. Percoco has pioneered the combination of public education with public history utilizing public history opportunities throughout his curriculum. Thirty-six of his students have worked for the National Park Service, several of who are currently in leadership positions. Many of his former students also became social studies/history teachers. A prolific speaker, Percoco demonstrates how to use historic sites and museums as adjuncts to his teaching and has modeled his approach in countless in-service programs nationally.

Barbara Sanders

Barbara (Barb) Sanders has been Gettysburg National Military Park's Education Specialist since 1999, where she oversees thousands of students visiting the park each year—whether in-person or on virtual field trips. In addition, the park annually offers professional development opportunities for teachers, classroom loan materials and more. Barbara was the educator on the project team for the planning and construction of the visitor center and museum, which included the concept and design for exhibits, films and computer interactive elements. Barbara began her career within the museums of Philadelphia, and she then moved to Washington, D.C. to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from The George Washington University’s Museum Education program. She was recently awarded the National Park Service Northeast Region’s Freeman Tilden award which recognizes creativity, advancement and ingenuity in the field.

Vanessa Smiley

Vanessa Smiley is an historian and interpreter whose roots began at National Park Service Civil War and Revolutionary War sites. Her Rev War park experience includes serving as the Chief of Interpretation at the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group in South Carolina, an acting assignment as Superintendent at Guilford Courthouse NMP, and Chief of Interpretation at Morristown NHP. Vanessa is currently the Project Manager of Interpretive Media Development for the National Capital Area at Harpers Ferry Center. She received her undergraduate degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and her Master’s degree in Resource Interpretation from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Outside of her work with the NPS, Vanessa enjoys researching family histories, studying material and social culture of the 18th and 19th centuries, listening to podcasts, reading true crime, drinking craft beer, and attempting to make the perfect sangria. She and her husband live in Morgan County, West Virginia on their small farm where they run a nonprofit animal sanctuary.

Courtney Straka 

Courtney Straka has been a secondary teacher in the Los Angeles area for 20 years. She has taught grades 6-12 and is dual credentialed in both Spanish and Social Studies. She has taught Spanish and World History in the past and is currently teaching Human Geography and Psychology at Golden Valley High School in Santa Clarita, California. In addition to teaching, she serves as her high school’s Instructional Coach as well as traveling the country as a Curriculum Trainer for the Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development Program.

Connor Townsend

Connor Townsend is the Manager of Audience Development at the American Battlefield Trust. Her work includes the creation of the Trust’s social media content, managing the Trust’s Youth Leadership Team, and organization of the Trust’s annual day of volunteering, Park Day. Townsend is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a B.S. in Community and Public Health. In her previous employment, she was the coordinator of a nationwide peer to peer education intuitive that at its peak was active on 75 college campuses and enrolled 700+ student peer educators.

Jason Wells

Jason Wells is a teacher with Virtual Arkansas, the state distance learning program for public schools. He has just completed his eighth year of teaching with the program. Prior to coming to the program, Jason worked for Greenwood (AR) Schools. Over the last eight years, Jason has helped develop and design both high school and middle school U.S. History courses for Virtual Arkansas. Jason has attended teacher institutes with the American Battlefield Trust, Mount Vernon, the White House Historical Association, and Teaching American History. Jason holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies and Secondary Education from Ouachita Baptist University and a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Jason currently teaches AP United States History and was named the 2019-2020 Virtual Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

Kristopher D. White

Kris is a senior education manager at the American Battlefield Trust. White is a graduate of Norwich University with an M.A. in Military History, as well as a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in History. For nearly five years he served as a historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. White is the co-founder of Emerging Civil War and is also the co-creator of the Engaging the Civil War Series, which is a partnership between Southern Illinois University Press and Emerging Civil War. An award-winning speaker and editor, White has authored, co-authored, or edited nearly two-dozen books; and he frequently leads tours in the United States and abroad.

Matthew Young

Matt Young has worked as an educator in Baltimore County Public Schools for the past 17 years.  He currently teaches 8th Grade US History at Perry Hall Middle School.  During his career, he has served as a curriculum writer, department chair and has worked with the Teaching American History grant program.  He is also a past 2nd place winner of the Civil War Trust’s lesson plan contest for his lesson titled “Roads to Antietam”.  Matt is especially passionate about using a combination of technology, local history, and storytelling to connect with today’s students.

Adam E. Zielinski

Adam E. Zielinski is a Revolutionary War Fellow with the American Battlefield Trust. A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, he has been published with the Jornal of the American Revolution and several other historically-based outlets. He spent four years as a special education instructor and helped to develop social studies content with his district. He has since moved to curriculum and test development and has served as a researcher and writer on various projects with the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and the American Battlefield Trust.