Our Team

We envision a next generation of engaged citizens, who experience the world as a game-like system they can modify and transform. The work we do together aims to make this vision a reality.

Katie Salen Tekinbas  Director of Research & Design

Katie is the former founding Executive Director and is currently responsible for developing new projects, programs, products, and services in her role as Fellow. Part of her responsibilities include establishing a consulting practice within the Institute to work with a wide range of organizations seeking to leverage in new contexts the Institute’s cutting edge work in game-based learning. She is an active game designer and, as one of the Institute’s founders, a pioneer in applying game design principles to challenges outside the field of commercial game development.Katie is a Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University. She lectures widely and writes extensively on game design, design education and gamer culture. She has co-authored or edited several books, including Rules of Play, a textbook on game design, The Game Design Reader and The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Also, Katie was co-lead designer on Gamestar Mechanic, an award-winning online game with built-in game design curriculum. She has been involved in the design of slow games, online games, mobile games and big games in the commercial and independent games sectors around the world.

Fred Begley  Director of Finance & Administration

Fred is responsible for overseeing all financial, administrative and general operations for Institute of Play. He brings to the Institute 10 years of experience in non-profit management, with a focus on finance and operations. Fred was previously Director of Operations for Animal Haven, a New York City No Kill Animal Shelter. In addition, he held the title of Director of Finance & Administration for the CityKids Foundation and Artists Striving to End Poverty, two internationally-recognized, New York City-based organizations that serve at risk, impoverished and marginalized youth. He received his Masters in Public Affairs from Baruch College, with a specialization in Non-Profit Administration.

Rebecca Rufo-Tepper  Director of Professional Development

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Rebecca is responsible for overseeing the implementation and ongoing refinement of the Institute’s unique game-based integrated learning model, with a focus on developing multi-dimensional teachers who make important contributions to the learning community. Rebecca brings to the Institute over ten years’ experience in New York City public schools, as a teacher and staff developer. She has also served as literacy coach at East Side Middle School and as a professional development facilitator for the Holocaust Educators Network and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Rebecca is a regular presenter at national conferences and has taught at Hunter College. Her research interests center on professional development and school reform. She holds a PhD in Urban Education from the Graduate Center at the City University of New York.

Arana Shapiro  Director of School Design & Leadership Support

Arana is the Director of School Design and Leadership Support for Institute of Play in New York City, where she oversees new school design projects and provides support to school leaders. Arana has over fifteen years of experience in education, as a teacher, technologist, curriculum developer and school leader. She collaborated on the development of new curriculum for The School at Columbia University, where she served as a founding faculty member. She served as Lead Educational Technologist at the Ross School and the Ross Global Academy Charter School, where she worked with teachers to integrate new and innovative technologies in K-12 classrooms. Arana is part of the founding team of school designers that opened the Institute's flagship project, Quest to Learn, a New York City public school which focuses on integrating games and game-like learning into middle and high school classrooms. She also served as Co-Director of Quest to Learn for 4 years. She is a regular presenter at national and international conferences. Arana received a Masters of Arts in Education from Pepperdine University and a Masters of Education in School Leadership from Bank Street College of Education.

Shula Ehrlich  Lead Game Designer

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Shula is responsible for designing and supporting the successful implementation of game-like learning materials and activities. In addition to her experience as a game designer, Shula has many years of experience in education and psychology and has worked on numerous projects at the intersection of design, technology, education and play. She recently finished a year-long project in which she researched and designed effective communication design techniques around middle school anti-bullying efforts.

Jeremy Engle  Learning Designer

Jeremy assists with the development of Quest to Learn's innovative curriculum with a team of game designers, curriculum designers, and teachers. He has been a classroom teacher, professional developer and educator for over 15 years. He was a humanities teacher at Central Park East Secondary School, a literacy coach for Teachers College Columbia University, and a documentary-making instructor at the Educational Video Center. Additionally, he has taught media-making workshops to youth and adults across the country.


Ross Flatt  Lead Learning Designer

Ross comes to the Institute with over ten years of experience in teaching and administration. Ross spent the first five years of his career teaching Social Studies in both public and parochial schools, including St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey and The Scholar’s Academy in Queens, New York.  In 2009, Ross joined Quest to Learn as a member of the founding faculty. At Quest, Ross taught 6th grade Being, Space, & Place. He also supported teachers as a Curriculum Developer and Lead Teacher.  Most recently, Ross served Quest to Learn as Assistant Principal, where he supported teachers in game-like learning pedagogy and presented the Quest mission and vision at several national conferences.

Victor Lazo  Camps System Administrator, Connected Camps

Victor is responsible for managing and supporting the IT infrastructure for the Connected Camps Summer of Minecraft project. He brings many years of IT experience to the Institute and has served as a technology consultant for several non-profit organizations in the Los Angeles area. Victor holds a Bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Master’s degree in business administration from California State University, Northridge. He is currently helping organize an online virtual Minecraft camp for kids and parents.

Ameer Mourad  Learning Designer

Ameer is responsible for supporting teachers in developing game-like learning experiences. He was a founding faculty member at Quest to Learn, where he taught middle school science for three years before returning to pursue his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology at the CUNY Graduate Center. He brings his classroom experience, research training, and passion for innovative education to every meeting in order to support professional development for the next generation of Quest educators.

Laura Noonan  Project Manager, Colorado

Laura is responsible for managing the school creation process and engaging a range of partners to design and implement an innovative approach to teaching and learning in Colorado. Laura brings to the Institute ten years of project management and strategic planning experience which spans the private, non-profit, and government sectors, as well as expertise as a design thinking facilitator. Previously, she worked with innovative schools and districts through Colorado as part of the next generation learning initiative with the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Education Initiative. She holds a Master's in Public Affairs degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Daniel O'Keefe  North Carolina Regional Director

Daniel is responsible for leading the Institute's work in North Carolina through regional programs in professional development, school design and support, informal learning, and game design. His focus is on developing multi-dimensional teachers who make important contributions to the North Carolina learning community. As a major force in the development of the Quest Learning Model, Dan is experienced in leading teams of teachers and designers to build learner-centered curricula, processes, and integrated learning spaces. He brings to the Institute 8 years experience as a middle school mathematics teacher, as well as his instructional technology studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Ilena Parker  Senior Communications Manager

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Ilena is responsible for strategic communications to grow support for the Institute's mission, vision and projects. A writer, content strategist and project manager, she brings to the Institute experience in collaborative communications planning and a healthy respect for the power and possibility of words. At innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212, Ilena managed content development and distribution channels, partnering with thought leaders across the company to articulate and disseminate new ideas. At The Partners, a branding agency, she helped clients develop frameworks for articulating their ideas, working on positioning, messaging and design programs with a broad range of global companies.

Sima Patel  Project and Community Manager, Connected Camps

Sima is responsible for managing and supporting the various camps that are put on in connection with Connected Camps Summer of Minecraft. She works on both internally organizing the team and liaising with our community-based partners. Sima brings to the Institute several years’ of project and product management experience in both the private and non-profit sectors. She holds a Master's in Public Administration degree from the California State University, Fullerton. She is currently working as a part of a team organizing a virtual Minecraft camp for kids and parents.

Brendon Trombley  Game Designer

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Brendon is responsible for designing and supporting the successful implementation of game-based learning materials and activities. Brendon brings to the Institute several years’ experience designing and developing online learning tools and experiences, independently and at the e-learning firm, Kognito. He is currently engaged in the movement to popularize Chamball, a new sport described as “dodgeball meets martial arts,” and in the design of Brothers in Farms, a strategy game to teach kids sustainable farming techniques.

Jackson Westenskow  School Design Team Lead, Colorado

Jackson leads the school design team for Institute of Play in Colorado. He taught English in traditional comprehensive high schools before teaching Spanish at William Smith High School, an Expeditionary Learning School in Aurora, Colorado. He earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at Regis University and was a Fellow with Catapult Leadership where he worked on the design for a Creative Arts High School. He is currently William Smith High School’s Assistant Principal.

Tracee Worley  Learning Designer

Tracee is an instructional designer who loves to design student-centered learning experiences. Her work connects theoretical perspectives from the learning sciences to practice in design in order to create environments that enable communities to learn, work, play, and connect more richly. Working across a wide-range of educational and training settings, Tracee is constantly exploring ways that learning can be more student-centered. She has developed project-based curricula, innovative learning environments, and professional development workshops through her work with organizations such as PBS, Independent Television Services (ITVS), Tribeca Film Institute, Urban Arts Partnership, and Fielding Nair International.