Language Learning Innovators


Frith Ann Maier

Frith’s immersion language learning experiences inspired the NEI method, using web technology to create a program proven to help learners of English achieve their goals faster. She studied French in high school, then learned to speak Japanese during two years living in Japan, before becoming fluent in Russian as a college student. A successful serial entrepreneur, Frith created the Russia & Central Asia travel program for REI Adventures, and subsequently founded and built a software company, Sesame Communications. Master’s in International Studies (University of Washington), TESL-certified, Internet innovator. 

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Kristina Curtis Ekiz
Senior Education Director

Kristina's interest in language learning has translated into being both a lifelong student of languages and an ESL teacher. After graduating with a B.A. in Russian Studies, she decided that using language to connect people and bridge cultures was her passion. She graduated with a Master's in TESL, and has taught English to learners of all ages from Moscow to Seattle, at public schools, private schools, and colleges and universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington. She is currently challenging herself with the study of Turkish. 

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Daniel Lester
Education Director

Danny has been teaching English since 2011 after completing a BA in Spanish, along with a minor in Applied Linguistics and TESOL certificate from Portland State University. He realized that his interest in Spanish was a love of linguistics and turned his focus towards teaching. He will soon complete an MA in TESOL also from Portland State. Danny has taught English in South Korea, and Portland, Oregon to wide variety of age groups and classroom settings. In his free time, he is an avid NBA fan – especially of his home team, the Portland Trail Blazers – and a life-long video game player.

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Erin Watters
Education Director

Erin Watters is a former English Language Fellow for the U.S. Department of State English Language Programs that sends highly qualified educators as cultural ambassadors for regional educational projects around the world. Her experiences include professional development training for teachers in the U.S., Algeria, and Saudi Arabia and teaching children, young adults, and adults around the globe. Ms. Watters speaks at conferences worldwide on language assessment, curriculum design, and techniques for effective teaching. She has studied a dozen languages and traveled to over 15 different countries on four continents. She obtained her MA in TESOL from Portland State University.

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Nancy Watt
Teaching Methodology Lead

Nancy graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human biology and went on to complete a Master’s degree in city planning at the University of California, Berkeley in 1981.  She worked in the field of city planning for 10 years before raising her family.   She has been teaching English in the Spanish-speaking community in Seattle since 2009.

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Karen Thode
Subscriber Relations Lead

Karen earned a B.A. in Social Science Teaching and subsequently taught World Literature and English to teenagers at a public school in Boulder, Colorado. Her TESL certification was motivated by Karen’s desire to work with English language learners of all ages in diverse educational settings.

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Allen Miner
Board Director
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Max Bovykin
Advisor - Technology
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Stepan Braginskiy
Advisor - Finance
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Read about the talented contractors who teach using the NEI method.
•native speakers of North American English
•university graduates


Susan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Japanese Studies at Guilford College, in North Carolina, and lived and worked in Japan for three years, during and after her university studies. She received her M.Ed. in TESOL in 2010 from Seattle University, in Seattle, WA. While working at City University of Seattle she spent 11 weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam, teaching Academic English through a partner program with the Banking Academy of Vietnam. In 2016, she moved to Madrid, Spain to complete her M.A. in Visual and Digital Media at Instituto Empresa (IE), staying on for another year to study Spanish. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hiking, travel, and photography.

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Before teaching English at NEI, Rebecca taught at Casa Latina and North Seattle College in Seattle, WA. Besides being an ESL teacher, she is also a novelist and a creative writing teacher. She loves to travel, climb mountains, read, and hang out with her pug, Sugar. Rebecca speaks Spanish and used to speak French, but has forgotten it all. 

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Estelle has a B.A. in German Studies and English Literature from Pacific University. She has been teaching English since 2006. Upon graduation, she spent a year in Austria as a Fulbright teaching assistant. After returning to the U.S., she received her Master’s in TESOL from Portland State University and has taught in community, academic, and individual tutoring contexts. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and traveling, and has visited nearly 35 countries.

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Paul is a native Californian.  He graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor's in Public Relations, and then went on to Golden Gate University in San Francisco for his Master's, also in PR. He enjoyed a long and successful career in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, launching many new products, working in California, Hawaii and Idaho. He retired from the pharmaceutical industry and pursued his life-long dream of adventure and travel.  He went to Guadalajara, Mexico where he obtained his certificate to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).  In Mexico, he taught English to Spanish-speaking students, as well as teaching English online to Chinese students in Beijing and Shanghai. He left Mexico, traveling to Eastern Europe, and taught English to Russian-speaking students in Eastern Ukraine. He now lives in Turkey, teaching English to Turkish university students and business professionals. 

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Paige majored in English and received her certificate in teaching ESL from School of TESL/Seattle University. She taught ESL in Ecuador, online, and in San Diego to many levels and ages before joining NEI. She's also a writer and editor who speaks Spanish fluently. Paige loves meeting people of other cultures and traveling and has a passion for healthy eating.

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Christopher hails from the United States. Christopher has worked in a variety of settings in the field of international development. His career includes service as a Peace Corps volunteer, and employment with Peace Corps Headquarters and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the areas of information systems development and administration. Learning and training have been important aspects of Christopher’s work, whether it was teaching biology in a government high school in Cameroon (West Africa), managing computer training at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, DC (USA) or providing information systems training for FAO staff in Europe or Asia. Christopher is very familiar with the challenges facing adult language learners, having studied Spanish in junior high and high school, as well as French, Italian and Thai as an adult. When not teaching for NEI Christopher volunteers his time teaching English to students from disadvantaged families in Northern Thailand. 

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Jason began tutoring foreign exchange, university students in 2005 in his hometown of San Diego, California. He graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in humanities, history and philosophy.  After teaching in the States for 5 years and receiving his TESOL certificate, he moved to Thailand where he continued teaching students of various nationalities.  Still residing in Thailand, Jason enjoys spending time with his daughter, taking her to the sea as much as possible. He enjoys water sports, such as surfing, sailing, swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing, paddle boarding, and kayaking. He is passionate about teaching and helping students reach their individual goals to be the best English speakers they can be.

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Katie's love of language and culture was cultivated in Costa Rica where she began teaching in a small village in 2015. As she perfected her Spanish, she was able to better develop English teaching methods and earn her TEFL Certification. Later, she moved to Argentina to complete a Fulbright English teaching assistantship, and her passion for Latin American culture and language acquisition grew even more. She now resides in Ecuador where she leads yoga and meditation workshops.

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Shawn earned her MA TESOL from Portland State University. Since then, she has taught at Chemeketa Community College and Oregon State University. As part of her teaching, Shawn developed new academic writing curriculum for immigrants and international students transitioning into higher education. In addition, Shawn used her Bachelor’s in Technical Communications to teach an ESOL-based technical writing class to OSU graduate engineering students. 
After earning an MS Ed Information Technology in 2019, Shawn returned to her home state of Colorado and is now working as an Academic Coach at an online high school. Shawn likes reading and watching science fiction, coming home to her two cats, Chai and Mocha, and spending time with family and friends.  

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Michael’s love of language, culture, and teaching led him to move to the Middle East to work with refugees in 2013. Since then, he has taught English in a variety of contexts while living in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. His efforts to learn foreign languages, including Arabic and Turkish, have made him sensitive to the needs of English learners. Michael holds CELTA certification that he earned in Izmir, Turkey. In his free time, he enjoys biking, kayaking, lifting weights, and reading.

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Jeffrey earned his Bachelor’s degree in German and minored in Russian and Speech Communication. After graduating, he began his career in teaching English in numerous countries around the world. In 2014 he earned his Master’s degree in TESOL from Portland State University. He continued his teaching career in Qatar and the United States, and is currently living in Sweden. In his free time, Jeffrey enjoys learning languages, traveling, reading, and cooking. 

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Rachel has been working as a teacher of English since 2006. Her experiences include K-12 and higher education, including working as an ESL instructor at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she has worked as a coach of business professionals. Rachel earned her M.Ed. in TESL and Teacher Leadership from Rowan University; she has also dedicated time to studying French and Arabic. Her travels have taken her to more than 15 countries, and through these experiences, she has enjoyed learning about and expanding her knowledge of different languages and cultures. 

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Margot has worked in English Language Learning  for nearly thirty years. She has taught in Japan, and most recently served as an English Language Fellow in both Algiers, Algeria and Rabat, Morocco. Prior to her work in North Africa, Margot chaired the department of English to Speakers of Other Languages at a Baltimore City high school. She also taught TESOL Assessment and Methods at the University of Notre Dame of Maryland. When she is not teaching, Margot can be found reading, hiking, or riding her bicycle. She has visited much of Asia and Europe and finds contentment in her meditation practice.

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Elsa earned her BA in Psychology and Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduating, she completed her TESL certification, taught English in South Korea for one year, and then taught English to elementary school students in Portland, Oregon. Through these experiences, Elsa discovered her passion for teaching and went on to pursue her Master’s in TESOL at Portland State University in Oregon. During that time, she also taught English to adults through a community ESL program. Elsa speaks Spanish and Korean, but would like to learn many other languages! She loves to travel, play video games, go hiking, and listen to music.  

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