Our Instructors

James (Jay) Branegan, III

Policy Specialist

Jay Branegan, a policy specialist 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.

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.

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

Message Design 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

Message Design Instructor

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, Ph.D.

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.

Brenda MacArthur, Ph.D.

Message Design Instructor - Healthcare

Dr. Brenda MacArthur is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Her research is centered on the intersection of health and instructional communication to improve the quality and continuity of healthcare for patients and improve health outcomes for patients and communities. Her work focuses on educating healthcare providers about the important role of effective communication when exchanging complex health information with patients and colleagues.

Dr. MacArthur earned her Ph.D. in Health Communication from George Mason University, her M.A. in Communication Studies with a concentration in Health from Texas State University, and her B.A. in Communication from Bryant University. Prior to joining the Alda Center she taught in the Department of Communication at George Mason 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.

Susan Neisloss

Media and Crisis Communication 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.

Elizabeth Newman

Message Design Instructor

Elizabeth is an Associate Professor of History and Sustainability Studies at Stony Brook University where she is also affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences.  She received her PhD in Anthropology from Yale University in 2008 where she trained as an environmental and historical archaeologist. Her award-winning book, Biography of a Hacienda: Work and Revolution in Rural Mexico, brings together more than a decade of archaeological and historical research on the lives of rural farmworkers in central Mexico during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recently, Elizabeth has begun exploring the lives of migrant workers in the Maine. Prior to joining the faculty at Stony Brook, Elizabeth also taught for the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico and Connecticut College. Outside of academia, she has worked in public education venues including the National Park Service and the Boston Museum of Science.

Todd Newman, Ph.D.

Message Design Instructor - Environment

Dr. Todd P. Newman is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Alda Center. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication from American University. Todd’s research focuses on the intersection of science, the media, and society. Specifically, he looks at the relationship between individual values and beliefs, information exposure, and opinion formation within the context of contested science and environmental issues, as well as the role of scientists as public communicators.

Dr. Newman previously served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Connecticut where he worked on a NSF supported research grant focused on developing metrics to assess the effectiveness of science communication training programs. Todd’s work has appeared in various journals and edited volumes, and he is the co-author of Brand (2017), published by Kendall-Hunt, which explores the different roles that brand strategy plays across a range of entities, including complex scientific debates.

Christie Nicholson

Media/Message Design Instructor - Entrepreneurship

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.

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.

Steve Rabinowitz

Message Design Instructor - Negotiations

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

Improv Instructor

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.