Thrival World Academies is a network of study abroad public high schools providing students from underserved communities access to personalized and culturally immersive education abroad.


Global education is central to what it means to be an educated person in the 21st century and we are making it accessible to all students, regardless of race or socioeconomic background.

Our Values

We are committed to equity. We are committed, in words and in actions, to equity across all levels of our organization – from our students and families to our staff.

  • We celebrate diversity. We approach difference with open minds and a recognition that we learn more about the world and ourselves by celebrating diversity.
  • We love to learn. We open our eyes to the world with curiosity, wonder, and a sense of adventure.
  • We are a community. We foster a sense of belonging through compassion, solidarity, and appreciation.
  • We fail forward. We fearlessly embrace taking risks because we know we learn most deeply through challenge.

  • We are introspective. We are mindful and reflective about ourselves and others.
  • We are real. We evoke trust by always being authentic and transparent.
  • We joyfully push boundaries. We see possibility everywhere. We push the boundaries and shake up the world all while filled with a sense of humor and joy.
  • We work in partnership with the public. We are dedicated partners with our districts. We work collaboratively to design and execute a shared vision.

Our Team

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Emma Hiza, MEd, MPH
Executive Director

Emma is a passionate educator, curriculum designer, and program director who has worked extensively in the fields of education and public health both domestically and overseas. Her work includes classroom instruction, curriculum design and teacher training across various contexts in the U.S, Bangladesh, Rwanda, and Kenya. She has worked in public education in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC and internationally with Partners In Health, the Asian University for Women, and the McKinsey Social Initiative. She is a culturally conscious, critically reflective practitioner who believes profoundly in education as the most fundamental mechanism for community-driven social change.

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Louis Bryant III
Director of Engagement & Experiential Learning

Louis Bryant III is a poet, author, educator and a professional photographer who has a passion for the arts. Louis began his career as a teacher, winning teacher of the year twice. A talented artist, Louis has released and published two books of poetry, Unclassifiable: Entries from Entities and Between Demon’s and Angel’s Thoughts. Louis is also a skilled professional photographer and brings both of these artistic lenses to all of his work with youth. For the past 2 years, Louis has worked with Rustic Pathways leading summer and gap year travel, designing and facilitating transformative learning experiences for young people. Through is work with Rustic Pathways and his own personal work, he has traveled extensively in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Louis is thrilled to bring his talents as a teacher, artist, and experiential learning facilitator to the Thrival team.

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Jignasha Pandya, MEd
Director of Academics & Instruction

Jignasha is an experienced educator who is passionate about culturally relevant, student-centered education immersed in real world setting. Her work in education has spanned the spectrum to include classroom instruction, teacher coaching, curriculum development and program management. In her role at World Savvy, Jignasha led professional development workshops to help teachers develop project-based unit plans focused on global competencies. She also worked with The Reset Foundation as an Instructional Coach and the Project Manager of Data & Programs. Jignasha started her career in education as a high school science teacher in Washington, DC with the DC Teaching Fellows. During her tenure as a teacher, Jignasha earned the Highly Effective teacher status under DC’s rigorous teacher evaluation system and was selected as a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. She has also worked as a Selections Associate with Teach For India and managed the principal pathway program for TNTP in Philadelphia. Jignasha holds a BA in Neuroscience from Macalester College and a MEd in Education Policy and Leadership from American University.

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Becky Goncharoff, MA
Thailand Program Coordinator

Becky joins the Thrival team as the Thailand Program Facilitator, supporting Thrival during the portion of the year that takes place in Thailand. Becky loves finding ways for local community members in Thailand and students from the United States to learn from each other and work together. She has spent over three years developing experiential learning opportunities for study abroad students in Northeast Thailand working with the Council on International Educational Exchange. Becky holds a BA in Political Science from Transylvania University and an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago.

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Panuwat ‘Maha’ Noikamkong
Ricefields Service Base Manager, Rustic Pathways

Maha joined Rustic Pathways in 2004 after spending 12 years as a Buddhist monk. He has an advanced degree in Buddhist philosophy, speaks four Asian languages, is fluent in English, and has managed the Ricefields Base for several years. P'Maha loves sharing Thai culture, especially Buddhist life, with the students who visit Ricefields. He looks forward to welcoming Thrival Academy: Oakland to Thailand and supporting their programming there.

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Teerapong Poolpoem
Thailand Program Facilitator

An Udon Thani native, Teerapong graduated with a degree in public administration from Udon Thani Rajabhat University. Tee has been working for Rustic Pathways for four years and brings high energy to our Ricefields Base. He loves learning new languages and is always interested in exchanging his culture with students from all over the world. He is looking forward to working with the Thrival students as one of the Thailand Program Facilitators, supporting the students at the Ricefields Base when they are in Thailand and teaching students about the language, culture and religion of his country.

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Janelle Williams
Program Development Intern
Graduate Student, Middlebury Institute for International Studies

Janelle is excited to join the Thrival team as a program development intern, helping to design curriculum and programming for Thrival Academy: Oakland. Janelle brings over 10 years of professional experience in public education combined with a deep passion for equity in education and international travel. She hopes to facilitate authentic experiential learning opportunities for diverse young people that will foster a sense of cross-cultural appreciation and social awareness propelling them toward a meaningful and fulfilling future. Janelle has a BA in Human Development with a minor in Education from University California, Davis. She is currently completing her Master of Arts degree in International Education Management at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

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Rosanna Vargas Rivera, MA
Program Development Intern
Graduate Student, Middlebury Institute for International Studies

Rosanna is excited to join the Thrival team as a program development intern, helping to design curriculum and programming for Thrival Academy: Oakland. She has worked extensively as a teacher, international student advisor, and curriculum designer in the Dominican Republic, including Kaplan Preparation Center, The Community for Learning, and the Fundación Bienestar Bahía de Ocoa. She also worked for the Ministry of Education of the Dominican Republic as a curriculum designer for the recent national reform to a competency-based curricular model. Rosanna is a committed educator with a strong interest in increasing access to international educational programs for students from diverse backgrounds. She firmly believes in creating strong learning communities and fostering cross-cultural exchanges. Rosanna has a Masters in Curriculum Design and Instruction from Teachers College at Columbia University. She is currently completing her Master of Arts degree in International Education Management as a Fulbright Scholar at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

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Erin Murphy, MEd
Rustic Pathways Partnership Manager
Director of Student Impact, Rustic Pathways

Erin has a passion for travel as a model for education and spends her time thinking about student impact at Rustic Pathways. She designs the curricular resources that support Rustic Pathways itineraries across divisions, oversees Rustic Pathways’ student impact evaluation, and supports the implementation of Thrival World Academies’ overseas school model. Before beginning at Rustic Pathways, Erin studied International Education Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has lived in Thailand off and on since 2009.

Our Board & Advisors

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Chris Stakich
Board Member
CEO, Rustic Pathways

Since graduating from Harvard University in 2001, Chris has worked at the intersection of education, community service and student travel. Chris currently serves as the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Rustic Pathways. In addition to his position with Rustic Pathways, Chris also serves as the chairman of the board of Thinking Beyond Borders. Chris is passionate about scaling programs to create future leaders who embody compassion and global understanding.

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Daniela Lewy, MPH, EdLD
Co-Founder, Board Co-Chair
Executive Director, Virginia Governor’s Children’s Cabinet

Daniela is the Executive Director of the Virginia Governor’s Children's Cabinet, working to improve wraparound support services in high-need school districts. She also serves as faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, working and teaching at the intersection of health and education in the US and abroad. She has 15 years of experience as an experiential educator with a focus on programs serving diverse students from low-income communities, including the Baraka School in Kenya for Baltimore City boys. She holds a BA from Wesleyan University, an MPH from Johns Hopkins University, and an EdLD from Harvard University.

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Tyron Young, MEd
Board Member
PhD Student, University Of Southern California

Tyron is currently a PhD student at the University of Southern California, pursuing his doctorate in Urban Education Policy in Educational Psychology. His work experience includes teaching in both formal and informal K-12 settings in public and private schools in Atlanta, New York, and Chicago. He has also served as an instructor of classroom management and science instruction at Temple University. Finally, he is an alumnus of the Baraka School in Kenya for Baltimore City boys where he spent his 7th and 8th grade years studying and living in rural Kenya through a program supported by Baltimore City Public Schools and a local foundation. Tyron brings a wealth of expertise to Thrival from the perspective of a student and an educator. Tyron holds a BA from Morehouse College and an MSEd from Temple University.

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Michele Sutton, MEd, MPP
Board Member
Senior Consultant, UPD Consulting

Michele is a Senior Consultant at UPC Consulting, where she focuses on issues of organizational transformation, programmatic innovation, and performance management. Prior to UPD, Michele was the Vice President of Teacher Leadership Development for Teach For America-Bay Area and Executive Director of Teach For America-Kansas City. Previously, she worked as the interim principal for KIPP, a policy analyst for the Education Trust-West, and a teacher in both Phoenix and Oakland. Michele has a BA from Duke University, a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, and a Master of Public Policy from the Goldman School at UC-Berkeley.

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Andrew Frishman, MAT, EdLD
Co-Executive Director, Big Picture Learning

In the spring of 2002 Andrew heard a student describe his unique transformational learning experiences at The Met High School in Providence, RI, the “mother ship” of the Big Picture Learning Network. That fall, Andrew joined the Met as an Advisor (Teacher), working with a 9th grade advisory group through to their graduation in 2006. He then moved to CA to support the development of the Met Sacramento High School, worked with its first graduating class, and became the school’s first “Learning Through Internship Coordinator.” Andrew has assisted with the expansion of the Big Picture Network in a variety of capacities, including supporting the launch of innovative schools across the US and internationally. Along the way he has melded experiences from an MAT, an administrative credential focused on urban schools, and a Health Leadership Program, into a belief that student-centered education is a crucial determinant of both individual life outcomes as well as community well-being. He completed the Education Leadership Program (EdLD) at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School and joined the leadership team of Big Picture Learning in 2013.

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Brent Watkins, MAT
Vice President Of Programs, Rustic Pathways

Brent currently serves as Vice President of Program Operations at Rustic Pathways, where he manages Rustic Pathways' global portfolio of programs. In addition to his work with Rustic Pathways, Brent is an adjunct instructor and graduate advisor at the Johns Hopkins University Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining Rustic Pathways, Brent managed teacher professional development and training for Teach For America - Baltimore. Brent is excited about offering transformational travel experiences to students with a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.

Our Partners

We are proud to be partnered with the following leading organizations in education, student travel, and entrepreneurship.

Big Picture Learning We are proud to be a part of the Big Picture Learning (BPL) network as a BPL affiliate school. As our incubation partner BPL provides expertise in instructional design and student-centered pedagogy. For over 20 years, BPL has been a leader in personalized learning where students work in tandem with the real world. BPL currently supports a network of 60 schools across the US and has received national acclaim for their innovative model and student outcomes.

Rustic PathwaysRustic Pathways is our operations and travel abroad partner, providing us with high quality facilities, travel logistics, and safety & risk management processes. The organization brings three decades of expertise in the education and travel industry and today runs over 100 programs in 19 countries serving 10,000 students from over 2,000 schools annually.

Oakland Unified School DistrictOur flagship school site, Thrival Academy: Oakland, opened in fall 2016 in partnership with Oakland Unified School District. We have 11 juniors from Oakland currently enrolled in our pilot program for the 2016-2017 school year and look forward to expanding to 100 students at full capacity. To learn more about our current work in Oakland and follow our blog, check out our Thrival Academy: Oakland page.

Summit BasecampThrival Academy: Oakland is a part of the Summit Basecamp 2016-2017 cohort. Summit Basecamp provides teachers and schools across the US with the resources they need to bring personalized learning into the classroom. Developed by Summit Public Schools in collaboration with Facebook, Summit Basecamp has built a Personalized Learning Platform that empowers teachers to customize instruction to meet students’ individual needs and interests, while putting students in charge of their own learning.

Our Supporters