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ESS leadership team is made up of seasoned professionals with a combined total of more than 100 years providing direct educational services including advising, teaching, and academic advising.

Joel Peterson
Founder & CEO



  • Chairman & CEO, Pintoresco Advisors, LLC

  • COO Europe, Level 3 Communications, Inc.

  • Sr. VP, Strategy & Corp Dev., AT&T/Concert

  • Executive Director, Mergers & Acquisitions, BellSouth Corp.

  • VP, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi

  • Assistant VP, Wachovia Corporate Services

  • U.S. Navy Officer (Lt. Cmdr.)


30 years’ experience in educational institutions and programs, including:

  • 8 years on La Cañada Unified School District’s (LCUSD) Governing Board

  • 3 years on La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation Board

  • President, Community Scholarship Foundation of La Cañada Flintridge

  • 3 years on the LA County Committee on School District Organization

  • 7 years on the Emory University School of Medicine’s Waldon School Board

  • 3 years Assistant Professor and General Academic Advisor, Virginia Tech


  • Ph.D. candidate, Claremont Graduate University

  • M.B.A., Virginia Tech, R.B. Pamplin School of Business

  • B.A. in Economics, University of Virginia

Dr. Michael Leininger

Vice President, Development



  • Seasoned education professional with 40 years of teaching, coaching, advising, and administration experience

  • Assistant Superintendent, Facilities & Operations at La Cañada Unified School District (LCUSD)

  • Principal, Associate Principal, Summer School Principal, and Assistant Principal at La Cañada High School

  • Activities Director at Rowland High School, Rowland Unified School District

  • Activities Director and Behavior Intervention Center Coordinator at Bellflower High School, Bellflower Unified School District

  • Over 10 years of direct teaching experience in science, biology, and physical education at Bellflower High School and Long Beach Unified School District


  • Ed. D. in Education Management, University of La Verne

  • M.S. in Education, Pepperdine University

  • B.S. in Physical Education and Biology, University of Utah

Dennis Trotter

Senior Advisor



  • President of Hastings College and President of Hastings College Foundation

  • Higher Education Consultant, Stamats Communications, Inc.

  • Vice President for Advancement, Pitzer College

  • Vice President for Enrollment Management & Marketing and Dean of Admission, Franklin & Marshall College

  • Vice President for Admission and Financial Aid, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Coe College

  • Director of Admission, Saint Martin’s College, Sheldon Jackson College



  • Ph.D. Candidate, Claremont Graduate University

  • M.B.A., University of Iowa

  • B.A., Whitworth College

  • Harvard Seminar for New Presidents, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Dr. Darleen Peterson 

Vice President, Academics & Admissions



  • Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program for CGU's Graduate School of Community and Global Health

  • Associate Professor of Practice, appointed at CGU and City of Hope National Medical Center, with 15 years of teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels

  • Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Assistant Director for the MPH Program at the University of Southern California (USC)

  • Board Member of the YMCA of the Foothills and the La Cañada Flintridge Community Scholarship Foundation



  • Ph.D. in Preventive Medicine, USC's Keck School of Medicine

  • M.P.H. in Community Health Education, California State University, Northridge

  • M.A. in Communications Management, USC

  • Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES)

  • Master's Program, higher education administration/student affairs, CGU

Dr. Brian Dennis




  • 13 years working directly with students to enhance their educational experience

  • Director of Administration and Programs, Claremont McKenna College Robert Day School of Economics and Finance

  • Assistant Director, Claremont McKenna College Financial Economics Institute

  • Associate Director, Claremont McKenna College Robert Day 4+1 BA/MBA Program

  • High school mathematics tutor

  • Actively involved in local youth sports programs

    • 6 years as an assistant football coach at local high schools



  • Ph.D. in Education, Claremont Graduate University

  • M.B.A., University of Southern California

  • B.A., Claremont McKenna College

    • Worked for 3 years as an intern at the Claremont Autism Center and published article entitled, “Teaching Socially Expressive Behaviors to Children with Autism through Video Modeling” in Education & Treatment of Children

Melinda M. Harriman  

Director, Relationship Management


  • Director of Conference & Event Services and Campus Scheduling,Westmont College

  • Director of Student Life, The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University

  • Director of Alumni Relations and Student Life, The Drucker School, CGU

  • Director of Alumni Relations, The Drucker School, CGU

  • Resident Director, Westmont College

  • Resident Director, Huntington College

  • Discovery Insights, Certified Facilitator 

  • Professional member of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, CASE

  • Professional member of Association of College Conference and Events Directors-International


  • PhD Candidate – Higher Education Administration, Claremont Graduate University

  • Masters of Arts, College Student Affairs – Azusa Pacific University

  • Bachelor of Arts, Religious Studies – Westmont College

Sheri Stevenson 

Director, Programs & Services



  • 25 years’ experience as an Academic, College, and Life Coach

  • Helped more than 2,500 students with their personal and academic growth, resulting in many applying to and attending the college of their choice

  • Educational Therapist and Night School Teacher at Hillside School and Learning Center for 21 years

  • Worked with adults to help build skills such as time management and organization and achieve self-actualization goals in both their professional and personal lives

  • Recipient of the Century III Senior Leadership Award and the National Communicator’s Association Award of Distinction



  • M.S. in Psychology, California State University Los Angeles’ Marriage, Family, Child Counselor Program

  • B.A. in Psychology, Northwest Nazarene University

Walt Robinson

Chief Financial Officer


  • 30 years experience as a financial officer and banker

  • Managing Director, Turnstone Securities (registered securities representative)

  • Commercial Banking Executive, Regional Financial

  • Chief Financial Officer, CIMA Telecom

  • Chief Financial Officer, Magellan Submarine Cable Project

  • Banker, Credit Lyonnais, Sun Trust Bank, TD Bank


  • M.B.A., Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

  • B.A., Mathematics, Vanderbilt University

Sam Spurlin

Senior Advisor



  • Founder of The Workologist, which provides one-on-one executive and personal development coaching, organizational consulting/workshops, freelance writing, and speaking.

  • Co-Founder of Outlier Consulting Group, which specializes in strategic developmental initiatives to support the enhancement of three forms of capital and offers services to help employees maximize their productivity, creativity, well-being, and engagement at work.

  • Research Assistant & Leadership Coach of LeAD, a part leadership research lab and part stand-alone consulting firm.

  • Co-Curator of TEDxClaremontColleges

  • Teacher at Avondale High School

  • Head coach of the men’s hockey team at the University of Detroit Mercy



  • PhD candidate, Positive Organizational Psychology, CGU

  • MA, Positive Developmental Psychology, CGU

  • BA, Secondary Education, Bowling Green State University

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