Our Instructors

Allen Alter

Media/Message Instructor

Allen Alter is a veteran TV news producer and executive, spending more than three decades in a variety of roles at CBS News until mid-2016. Winner of a News Emmy Award, Alter was most recently a senior producer and producer on the award-winning CBS broadcast 48 Hours. He was CBS News’ Foreign Editor in the ‘90s, managing the network’s international news coverage and overseeing a series of bureaus worldwide. Alter served as CBS’ deputy editor for the 2004 Presidential Campaign Unit and as a producer for Dan Rather when he anchored the “CBS Evening News.” Alter’s Emmy Award was for breaking news coverage of the tragedy surrounding Pan Am Flight 103. He graduated with a BA in history from Brandeis University and received his M.A. from the University of Sussex, England.

Helena Binder


A theatre professional for over 30 years, Helena was an actor and director of plays and musicals before focusing her career on opera, allowing her to bring her wit and warmth to many of the finest opera companies in the United States. Known for her masterful sense of timing and for fostering natural, genuine and moving performances her innovative and imaginative productions have been seen at New York City Opera, and countless other prestigious venues. A committed acting teacher and coach, Ms. Binder has been on the faculty of Union College, the Opera Institute of Boston University’s School of Music and the New England Conservatory.

James Branegan, III


Jay Branegan, a workshop instructor for Alda Communication Training, is an experienced journalist and communicator with a background in science and public policy. He majored in physics and philosophy at Cornell, where he had a seminar with astronomer Carl Sagan. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where he shared a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. For 20 years he was a correspondent for Time Magazine, with Washington assignments that included covering energy, the environment, science, the space program and the White House. He also served as a foreign correspondent for Time in Asia and Europe. Jay later worked as a writer and editor for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, explaining foreign policy issues to the general public. Jay has taught journalism at Georgetown and Northwestern universities, and worked as a communications coordinator for the Natural Resources Defense Council. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., where he is a Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center, a small think tank devoted to international affairs and bipartisan governance.

David Calvitto

Media/Message Instructor

David Calvitto lives in Manhattan and has been an improvisation instructor for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science since March 2016. He taught acting and improvisation for 20 years throughout New York and New Jersey, at Oberlin College in Ohio and for the Cape Cod Theatre Project in Woods Hole before joining the Alda Center. As an actor, he’s performed in London’s West End, throughout the United Kindom and internationally in Australia, Barbados, Canada, Germany, Holland, Ireland and New Zealand since 2004. He’s directed plays in New York, London, Adelaide and Edinburgh. From 1982 to 1994, David was an ESL teacher, teacher trainer and then administrator in the English school component of a large immigrant resettlement organization called The New York Association for New Americans (NYANA).

Graham Chedd

Media/Message Instructor

Graham Chedd is a Visiting Professor at the Alda Center. He was a member of the team that founded NOVA in the early 1970s, and was that series’ first science editor and later producer. He co-founded the Chedd-Angier Production Company, where he produced over 100 hours of science television for PBS, including 11 seasons of Scientific American Frontiers and the miniseries The Human Spark and Brains on Trial, all hosted by Alan Alda.

Richard Firstman


A veteran journalist, author, teacher and communications professional, Rick has been a member of the workshop team for the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science since its inception. He’s a former reporter-at-large and editor at Newsday and the author or co-author of nine books, including The Death of Innocents, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A faculty member of the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, Rick has helped lead its graduate program in science reporting. As a communications professional, he has produced science-focused print, web and video content for The City University of New York, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and other institutions.

Lydia Franco-Hodges, MFA

Improv Instructor

Lydia works with scientists throughout the country enhancing their communication skills through improvisation and theater techniques. Lydia is an associate of the Alan Alda Center, a lecturer in the School of Journalism, and an actor and theater-maker. She teaches graduate courses for the Alda Center at Stony Brook University. Lydia has taught acting, movement and performance at the university for many years and applauds the work created by her students.

Radha Ganesan

Media/Message Instructor

Radha Ganesan has been working in the areas of Education and Training for the past 13 years. She comes with extensive experience in designing and delivering professional development learning experiences for a wide range of sectors. She has been worked in international development sector in the South Asia and African region seven years, focusing on technology integration, instructional design, curriculum design and training (formal and informal programmes). She has worked with universities in the United States, the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction, National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), World Bank and the USAID. She has a doctorate degree in instructional design, development and evaluation as well as a M.S. degree in educational programme evaluation from the school of education, Syracuse University and an M.Ed. in special education from the teacher’s college, University of Cincinnati.

Lauren Garlick

Message Instructor

Lauren is an experienced communication skills expert and training professional.  Using her extensive background in theatre arts, linguistics, English literature and education, Lauren coaches academics, architects, medical and science professionals, as well as non-profit and corporate leaders. Through her Boston-based communication company, The Lauren Garlick Group, she works with her clients to communicate with presence to develop and land their message with maximum impact.

While teaching at Stony Brook University, she received the President’s Award and the NY State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Lauren was Chair of the English Department at The Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School in Israel, and taught theater arts in Cape Town, South Africa.

Terry Greiss

Improv Instructor

Terry is a co-founder of Brooklyn’s Irondale Ensemble Project where he is also an actor and the Executive Director. He has performed in more than 60 roles with the company, and is a creator of most of Irondale’s original plays and education programs. Away from Irondale he has performed at the Manhattan Theatre Club and the Cincinnati Playhouse, in Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Three Sisters, directed by John Doyle.

Carolyn Hall

Workshop Instructor

Carolyn, based in New York City, is a marine ecologist and a professional contemporary dancer. She earned her M.S. in Marine Science from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, NY, and works as an independent researcher and consultant on various projects.

Carla Jablonski


Carla Jablonski is an actor, writer, and editor with extensive experience in several forms of improvisation. She is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, Vassar College (BA: Anthropology), and New York University (MA: Interdisciplinary Studies: Arts Administration, Cultural Studies, and Playwriting). She has taught a variety of classes in New York and Nashville (Vanderbilt University and private studios) including Writing Through Improv, Ensemble Techniques, and Intro to Theater Games. She was an instructor of Public Speaking, one of the core curriculum courses at Marymount Manhattan College. She has recently been commissioned to write two books about science for children.

Louisa Johnson

Improv Instructor

Louisa grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and attended LaGuardia Arts High School with a concentration in Theater Arts. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University in Theater Arts and Philosophy, and her Masters degree from NYU Tisch in Acting. Louisa now teaches Improvisation for Scientists to graduates students and works with scientists nationwide for the Alda Center. She has worked as a professional actor in New York, and has appeared on stage and screen, but she always felt that theater had a broader purpose. She co-created and ran a confidence building writing and acting workshop at Girls’ Education and Mentoring Services (GEMS) in Harlem, and currently works with Hunts Point Alliance for Children, where she places underprivileged students into after-school arts programs in order to help them get into specialized high schools and eventually college.

Valeri Lantz Gefroh, MFA

Director of Improv

Val is a Lecturer in the School of Journalism where she serves as the Improvisation Program Director in the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. She teaches workshops and graduate courses at Stony Brook University and School of Medicine, and travels around the country teaching improvisation at other universities, medical schools, hospitals, conferences and labs. Val was the creator of Science on Tap, an award winning live event and web show.
She created Science Unplugged, an outreach program, where she mentors and coaches students from the Alda Center to give science talks in high schools and public libraries.

Laura Lindenfeld, PHD

Director, Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

Dr. Lindenfeld is director of the Alda Center and professor in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University. She holds a Ph.D. in cultural studies from the University of California, Davis. As a communication researcher, her work draws inspiration from the idea that we can make better, more informed decisions about how we shape our collective future.

Anne Machalinski

Message Design

Anne Machalinski is Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and science writer, focusing on women’s health, medicine and parenting. She is a contributing editor at Weill Cornell Medicine, the alumni magazine affiliated with Weill Cornell Medical College, and has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Parents Magazine, the TODAY Show and UCLA Health, and appeared on Good Morning America. Anne previously spent seven years at Newsday, where she edited and produced content for the award-winning website. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Vanderbilt University and a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Steve Marsh, MFA

Improv Instructor

Steve is an actor and dramaturg who teaches both subjects at Stony Brook University’s department of Theatre Arts. He received a BFA in Acting at NYU in 1981 and an MFA at the State University of New York in Dramaturgy in 1999. He helped co-founded the Asylum Theatre Company, an Equity company on Long Island, and teaches various theatre arts disciplines at Stony Brook University.

Marcy McGinnis

Media Instructor

Marcy is an award winning television news network and cable senior executive with university journalism and academic experience. Her CBSNews career spanned over three decades. As senior VP of news coverage, she managed the network’s worldwide newsgathering and news coverage operation and that covered September 11, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and Katrina.

After CBS News, she served as associate dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism for seven years, where she helped start the first undergraduate School of Journalism in the SUNY system and was instrumental in the creation of the Center for News Literacy, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and the Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. Marcy returned to television from 2013-2015 as senior VP of newsgathering and corporate outreach for Al Jazeera America.

Judy Muller


Judy is a professor emeritus of broadcast journalism at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, she was a correspondent for ABC Network News for 15 years, reporting for such broadcasts as Nightline, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, Good Morning America, 20/20 and This Week. Prior to joining ABC News, Muller spent nine years as a correspondent for CBS News, where she was a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning and CBS Weekend News on the TV side and as a commentator and reporter on the radio side. During her career, she has won numerous Emmy awards for her reporting, two Edward R. Murrow awards, two Columbia-duPont awards, and a Peabody Award. She has been a contributing commentator for NPR, and a contributing correspondent for Al Jazeera America and PBS’ News Hour. She is the author of two books: “Now This: Radio, Television and the Real World,” and “Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns.”

Susan Neisloss

Media Instructor

Susan’s expertise spans the media, corporate and public relations arenas including: reporter, producer, anchor, and bureau chief at several major market TV stations, e.g., CBS in Orlando, New Jersey Network , WPIX in New York. She was a senior executive at Golin/Harris and Fleishman-Hillard, two global public relations Pirms, and spokesperson, media manager, and video producer at pharmaceutical giant, Syntex, now Roche. Susan also was communications director for the CBS Plagship station in Los Angeles where she served as media spokesperson and head of public relations. She has produced website and corporate videos for a variety of clients, conducted media and presentation trainings for hundreds of executives, and is a respected crisis communications expert.

Christie Nicholson

Media/Message Instructor

Christie Nicholson produces and hosts Scientific American’s podcasts 60-Second Mind and 60-Second Science and is an on-air contributor for Slate, Babelgum, Scientific American, Discovery Channel and Science Channel. She is a Contributing Editor at CBS’ Interactive’s Smart Planet. She has spoken about technology and communication at MIT/Stanford VLAB, SXSW Interactive, Sundance Film Festival, the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, and the Space Studies Board. She holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Dalhousie University in Canada. She is an editorial advisory member for the Science Media Centre of Canada. She is based in New York.

Grace Noonan-Kaye

Executive Training and Coaching

Corporate Instructor Grace brings 20 years of “hands-on” experience to her role as a transformational coach for individuals and groups. Before launching her consulting practice, she served in a number of executive leadership positions in the corporate sector. She is a certified trainer, mediator and arbitrator who speaks fluent Spanish. Grace is a graduate of UMASS/ Amherst and studied graduate level course-work in Economics at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and graduate leadership studies at the University of Southern Maine.

Christine O’Connell

Media/Message Instructor

Dr. Christine O’Connell is an Assistant Professor of Science Communication at the Alda Center and School of Journalism where she works on improving STEM communication to the public and engagement with the community. Christine was the Alda Center’s founding Associate Director where she worked to build the Center and its curriculum to international renown.

Rory O’Conner


Rory O’Connor is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker, whose programming has aired on leading networks in more than one hundred countries – from ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, and FOX in the U.S. to the BBC, RAI, NHK, National Geographic and many others internationally.

He has written three books, including most recently Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media, and his articles have appeared in such national outlets as The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vogue, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, Newsweek, numerous other publications.

O’Connor’s broadcast, film and print work has been recognized with a George Polk Award, a Writer’s Guild Award, a George Orwell Award and two Emmys, among other honors.

Steve Rabinowitz


As a lawyer, mediator, and trainer, Steve has been helping people get their message across for more than three decades. A partner with the prestigious law firm of Pryor Cashman and a long-time member of the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School, Steve is widely regarded as an expert in the art of persuasive communication. Having begun his career in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, Steve is a skilled trial lawyer who knows how to win over judges and juries. Yet as a mediator with more than 20 years’ experience and hundreds of hours of advanced teaching and training, Steve also excels at showing people in conflict how to resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom. A gifted writer and speaker, Steve has taught writing and oral advocacy at Columbia Law School, where, for the past six years, he has led a 13-week workshop in the art and craft of negotiation. Steve’s diverse legal and mediation practice involves a broad array of personal and business matters, ranging from resolving high net-worth matrimonial matters and defending individuals accused of crimes, to the negotiation of complex commercial transactions and the litigation of business disputes. Recent matters have seen Steve negotiating the terms of an equity investment in a high-tech start-up, litigating and ultimately negotiating the realignment of a $250 million coal supply agreement, mediating a celebrity divorce, and defending an FDNY fire chief facing disciplinary charges.

James Rea

Business and Media/Message Instructor

For more than 20 years, James has rooted around in dense thickets of scientific and public policy content, searching for the stories that shine. He found this calling in 1996 at the US Environmental Protection Agency, where he translated vital scientific research into language the public would understand and remember. James further honed his skills as an independent reporter for National Public Radio, crafting stories most often for WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington, DC. As the 21st century dawned, James founded the production firm SiteStories to help technical organizations share their stories through web videos. By 2011, James had interviewed countless experts. He knew how to find the gold in their stories, and wanted to help them do the same. He now follows this passion through his own firm Experts/Clearly, and as an instructor with Alda Communication Training.

Celia Schaefer

Celia Schaefer is a communication training consultant, working with scientists, medical professionals, business leaders and educators to more effectively engage and inspire their audiences. She also coaches actors at The McCaskill Studio, a professional actors’ training studio in New York City. Celia is a working actor, currently appearing as a recurring character on Hulu’s “The Path.” In addition to appearing in major feature films, network television and in regional theaters all over the country, she has toured nationally with Chicago City Limits Improv. Celia was a founding director of New Avenue Theatre Project, dedicated to the development and production of the work of emerging playwrights.

Carol Schindler

Improv Instructor

Carol has been a creative director, writer and speech coach for corporate conferences for the past 25 years. She has worked in every area of the corporate world from pharmaceutical, high tech, service industries and financial institutions. Carol is a founding member of Chicago City Limits, an award winning improvisational group and the longest running comedy show in NYC. Her improvisational background and her corporate experience give her a perfect blend of big business and show business, allowing her to coach many corporate executives, scientists, and physicians toward their best performance. Carol is thrilled to be working with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Her book, “A Doctor and a Plumber in a Rowboat: The Essential Guide to Improvisation for Performers, Teachers, Writers & Everyone else”  is available on Amazon.

John Timmer, PHD


John is the science editor of Ars Technica, a leading online publication in science and technology news and innovation. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California, Berkeley. He has done over a decade’s worth of research in genetics and developmental biology at places like Cornell Medical College and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.