Faculty & Staff
Jimmy McGowan is the art coordinator for the Academy of the Arts. He is a state-certified visual arts teacher with experience in the Shelby County School system and currently Mountain Brook City Schools. A native of Birmingham Alabama, McGowan graduated from the University of Alabama in Birmingham with a bachelor’s degree in art studio, minor in art history, and a masters in art education. He received his management training certificate in bank operations. McGowan is the founder and director of Big Art Camp and a member of the Alabama Art Education Association and National Art Education Association. He is married with two daughters and is an active member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.
Lisa Marie Bearden
Lisa Marie Bearden received training as a photographer through the University of Alabama at Birmingham Special Studies Photography Certificate Program and the West Coast School of Photography in San Francisco. She has worked as a professional photographer in the Birmingham area for the past 15 years and owns and operates Lisa Marie Photography. Her specialties include wedding and portrait photography. She has taught for the Samford Academy of the Arts for the past three years.
Christopher Bisset is a native of Birmingham, Alabama. He received a bachelor of architecture from Auburn University. An experienced photographer and local relief print artist, Bisset has been teaching courses such as Understanding Your Canon DSLR at the Academy of the Arts since 2010.
Dan Brooks graduated from Samford University with a degree in history and received a master of arts from Samford University in 1984. His thesis title was “The Mind of Wilcox County: An Antebellum History, 1819–1861.” Before becoming director of Birmingham’s Arlington House Museum and Gardens in 1985, Broooks taught in the Vestavia Hills and Homewood school systems. He has been active in Alabama’s historical circles, serving as president of the Alabama Historical Association and the Wilcox Historical Society and as an advisory board member for the Alabama Historical Commission. He retired from the Arlington House in 2010. Brooks now makes his home in Lowndesboro, Alabama, but he continues teaching his antiques course at Samford University as he has for a number of years.
Jane Caswell received a bachelor of fine arts in acting from Stephens College in 1980 and a master of fine arts in Acting from The University of California, Irvine, in 1983. Since then she has appeared in a wide variety of theatrical roles in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chattanooga, and Birmingham. She received The Hobo Award for Best Dramatic Actress for her role in The Graduate in 2012, and The Critic’s Choice Award for her role in The Fox in 1984. She has appeared in numerous film and industrial productions, as well as founding Jest Blessed Productions, a nonprofit theatre group in Los Angeles. Caswell was a SAG/AFTRA member in good standing until she withdrew her membership in 1999.
Betsy Cooper received a bachelor of science in engineering science with a minor in art from Vanderbilt University. After working in the engineering field for a number of years, she opened a bakery in Birmingham. She continued to pursue her passion for art as a freelance designer for craft projects for companies such as Southern Living, Lowe’s, and Michael’s. She is also a certified cake decorator and instructor through the Wilton Courses. She has been working as an instructor for the past 10 years and currently teaches candy making and cake decorating at the Academy of the Arts.
Leslie Coyne is a graduate of Samford’s Cumberland School of Law and a graduate of Auburn University. She is also a certified professional in plant-based cooking whose passion for nutrition and great taste has personal meaning. A successful attorney, mother of three college-age students and lifelong fitness advocate, Coyne discovered the virtues of a whole food plant-based diet in response to the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) nearly seven years ago and has substantially reduced the number of medications required to treat her RA as a result of this diet. Coyne’s cooking philosophy is based on one overriding premise: never compromise truly great taste. She has prepared vegan meals for high-performance athletic teams, devout carnivores and temperamental teens, in most cases without anyone detecting a difference from their normal diets. Sharing the same meals Coyne serves to her own family—from barbecue to pad thai to an amazing array of delicious desserts and juices—guests offer a common refrain, “Wow. It's just good!”
Jean Dent received her bachelor of arts in fine arts from Vanderbilt University, training from the Education for Ministry Program from Suwanee School of Theology, and a master’s certificate in project management from George Washington University. She is also a graduate of the Samford Photography Certificate Program. Photography has always been a part of her life, but after retiring from a career at AT&T, she decided to pursue it more seriously. Her favorite subjects to photograph are those of the sacred—churches, nature, stained glass and architecture.
Darius Hill is chair of the visual arts department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. He holds a bachelor of fine arts in printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art. He is an exhibiting artist, participating in shows throughout the southeast including New Vision Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia; the University of Montevallo; and the Crossroads Initiative, New Orleans, Louisiana. Hill’s work is represented in many collections, including museum, corporate and private, throughout the U.S. He has earned several honors and awards including Operation New Birmingham Best in Show Award at the Magic City Art Connection, and he was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He was one of 13 Alabama printmakers selected to work with the University of Montevallo’s Big Print project. Work generated from the project traveled to major museums throughout the state of Alabama. Hill’s work has been selected by many juried exhibitions such as the Red Clay Survey, Huntsville and the Energen Exhibition, Birmingham. His work has been reviewed in publications such as Art Papers, Birmingham Magazine, B-Metro magazine, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Birmingham News.
Steve Logan holds a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design from the University of Alabama and a juris doctorate from Cumberland School of Law. He worked for a number of years at Southern Progress as art director of the book division and director of the corporate division. After retiring in 2007, he has filled his time with running Steve Logan Calligraphy and Designs where he designs invitations for weddings. He has worked as calligraphy instructor for Samford Academy of the Arts for the past five years.
Meg McKinney is a longtime professional photographer holding both a bachelor of arts in television, radio, and film from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and a master of arts in journalism with a concentration in photojournalism from the University of Missouri. She has also participated in the Santa Fe Photography Workshop and week-intensive workshops in Maine focusing on on-location lighting and home interiors. Her experience includes working as a photographer for daily newspapers and corporate clients. She has also served as staff photographer for Southern Living where she specialized in on-location photography for travel features and home interiors. She is currently a contributing photographer for B-Metro magazine. You can view her work at www.megmckinneyphotos.com.
Mike Nelson is an experienced photographer, professional event consultant, and owner of Michael L. Nelson Photography. He specializes in on-location event photography, corporate photography, weddings, and senior portraits. He got his education from Jefferson State and is a graduate of the Samford Academy of the Arts Photography Certificate Program. He started work as a photographer back in 1984. His photography can be seen on the album covers of recording artists Tayllor Hanson and Kim Scott and at his website www.mlnphoto.com.
Allyson Evans Roebuck
Allyson Evans Roebuck is a registered interior designer with more than 25 years of experience in designing both commercial and residential spaces. She has a background in architecture and interior design from Auburn University, philosophy and religion from Samford University and is pursuing a master’s degree in construction engineering at University of Alabama at Birmingham. With a love of drawing, sketching and teaching, she enjoys incorporating urban architectural subjects into her work and capturing the energy and essence of a place in her sketching work. Her background in architecture and design gives a technical vantage point for approaching drawing and sketching that is more realistic. As her interest in urban sketching has evolved over the years, there is a sincere desire to share the joy of drawing with others.
Building and Program Coordinator
Nedia Rooker serves the Academy of the Arts as building and program coordinator. She began working at Samford in August 2012 as program coordinator for Samford After Sundown. Rooker studied mass communication with a focus on public relations at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. She received a master’s certification in project management from George Washington University. She retired from BellSouth/AT&T with 28 years of administrative and management experience. Fifteen years of that time was spent as senior project manager supporting the build-out and implementation of wireless telecommunication systems throughout the United States. Her interests include designing textile art pieces such as quilts, dolls and wall hangings.
Scott Thompson was born in 1973 in Birmingham, Alabama. He graduated from Samford University in 1998 with a bachelor of arts, as well as San Francisco’s Academy of Art in 2011 with a master of fine arts in studio art. Since then, painting has been a large part of his life. He expresses his love of painting through landscapes, horses, cattle and the working cowboy. He has a strong appreciation for the shapes, colors and transitioning light seen in nature. Thompson is attracted to the always changing atmosphere and the challenge it presents to an artist. He feels practice and repetition are two of the most important factors in becoming a good artist. These are the values that have guided his painting philosophy. He is currently an instructor with the Academy of the Arts at Samford University. His paintings can be viewed at Scott Thompson Southwest Art via Facebook.
Denise Trimm has taught and served as an administrator everywhere from the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham to a fine arts charter school in Flagstaff, Arizona. She is a two-time graduate of the University of Alabama, earning a bachelor of science in secondary education, and an MFA in creative writing. In 2002, she was named Teacher of the Year by the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. Soon after, Birmingham magazine featured her in its “Women Who are Making a Difference” edition. In 2010 she earned her national board certification in language arts. Trimm received a performance award in 2014 from Mountain Brook City Schools, where she teaches English and creative writing. She has a great passion for reading and writing, and her poetry, fiction and feature articles have won contests and been published in various magazines and newspapers across the country.
Carolyn Wass is a local clay artist whose whimsical sculptures can be seen at regional galleries and art festivals. She is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a bachelor of fine arts in painting and ceramics and has been working professionally as an artist and instructor since 2002. She has been in more than 80 juried fine art shows including Birmingham’s Artwalk and Magic City Art Connection and is the recipient of numerous awards including judge’s choice at last year’s Art on “r” Mountain. Last spring she was featured in the exhibit “Three women, Three media” at The Alabama Center for the Arts. Her work is widely collected and is available at many regional galleries including Birmingham’s Naked Art gallery. In addition to her spring festivals, she will be having a solo show starting in March at Lowe Mill in Huntsville.
Stephanie Archer received a bachelor of arts in music with a concentration in piano from the University of Mobile. She then completed a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy from Louisiana State University where she studied pedagogy under Dr. Pamela Pike and performance under Gregory Sioles. Her performance experience includes numerous recitals and chamber orchestra concerts including performing as concerto soloist with University of Mobile Chamber Orchestra. She took her first job as a teacher in 2008. Her teaching experience includes private lessons and group classes for children, as well as courses for freshmen and sophomore music majors. Her professional affiliations include the Birmingham Music Teachers Association and Music Teachers National Association. She currently teaches piano at Samford University Academy of the Arts.
Laura Beth Mitchell
Music Coordinator and Piano Instructor
Laura Beth Mitchell, Music Coordinator for the Academy of the Arts, is a nationally certified teacher of music in piano and holds a bachelor of music in theory and composition with university honors from Samford University and a master of music in piano performance and pedagogy, also from Samford. She is currently pursuing a doctor of musical arts in piano performance at the University of Alabama. Mitchell has taught private piano and musicianship classes in the Samford Preparatory Music Department since 2008 and taught various courses as adjunct faculty for the Samford School of the Arts division of music from 2011 to 2014. She was the winner of the 2010 Alabama Music Teachers Association Composition Competition in the young artist category, and her compositions were featured in a master class with composer Samuel Adler. Mitchell is an alumna of Omicron Gamma chapter of Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity and a member of Music Teachers National Association, Alabama Music Teachers Association, Metro Music Forum, Pi Kappa Lambda, Alpha Lambda Delta and Phi Kappa Phi.
Melodie King Bobbitt
Melodie King Bobbitt has been teaching piano since 1995. In 1997, she began teaching through the Samford University Preparatory Music Department where she teaches private, group and camp music lessons. She served as the assistant director of the department from 2005-2015. Bobbitt has collegiate teaching experience at Samford University and the University of Montevallo. Pre-college, Bobbitt studied for 11 years with Patty Kirkley. She has a bachelor of music in piano performance from Samford University where she studied with Betty Sue Shepherd. She has a master of music in piano performance and a doctor of musical arts in piano performance from the University of Alabama where she studied with Amanda Penick. While a student, she was a winner in Alabama’s Federation competition, a two-time winner in Samford’s concerto/aria competition, honorable mention in Alabama Music Teachers Association (AMTA) and Music Teachers National Association Collegiate Artist, and she was featured three times on the PBS show Pianist at Work. Bobbitt is a member of Birmingham Music Teachers Association (past president, 2009–2011; chair of the Piano Solo Festival at Samford University; and Gold Cup Chair), MTNA, Metro Music Forum (past president, 2007–2009) and AMTA (state auditions coordinator).
Executive Director and Piano Instructor
Connie Macon is the executive director of the Academy of the Arts. She began her Samford career as director of the Preparatory Music Department in 1989 and continues to teach piano for the academy. She has collegiate teaching experience at Samford University in class piano and piano pedagogy. Macon has been teaching for more than 30 years and is a nationally certified piano teacher. She is a member of Birmingham Music Teachers Association; past faculty sponsor for the Music Teachers National Association, Samford Collegiate Chapter; and the Omicron Gamma chapter of Delta Omicron professional music fraternity. During the 2009 Alabama Music Teachers Association conference, Macon received the Alabama Music Teacher Association (AMTA) Teacher of the Year Award, which is presented annually to a member who exhibits excellence in teaching, musicianship and service to AMTA and the community. Macon studied pre-college piano with Betty Gillum in Sylacauga. She graduated from Samford University in piano performance as a student of Betty Sue Shepherd and received her master’s in piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, as a student of David Karp and Louise Bianchi. At SMU, she was a Meadows Scholar and worked as a graduate teaching assistant in class piano and in the preparatory division. Macon has served on the executive board of the Alabama Music Teachers Association as advertising chair. She is currently a co-chairman of Birmingham Music Teachers Association NFMC Solo & Hymn Festivals and is past president of Birmingham Music Teachers Association and the Metro Music Forum. As the creator and director of the Preparatory Department’s Adventures in Music Camp (grades 1–12), she has seen the camp grow in size and in creativity for the past 25 years with the help of many incredible teachers and university student assistants. She also directs All Aboard for Music Camp (ages 3–6).
Ellen Mitchell is a mezzo-soprano from Marietta, Georgia. She has studied under Paul A. Richardson, Joseph Hopkins, and currently studies under Laura Doss. She recently won her category at the Collegiate National Association of Teachers of Singers competition at the state level. Mitchell has participated in master classes with pedagogues Bruce Kolb and Stephen King. She is a section leader in the internationally renowned Samford University A Cappella Choir. She was also a participant in the choral master class with the King Singers. With the choir, she has been a soloist on the international stage in the Florilege Vocal de Tour Choral Competition. Mitchell is also heavily involved with the Samford Opera program, having been cast as the Ruth in last year’s Pirates of Penzance and is looking forward to being in the ensemble of Amahl and the Night Visitors this fall. She teaches voice at the Academy of the Arts.
Caroline Nordlund is a lecturer at Samford University where she teaches string methods, instrumental pedagogy and plays in the Samford University Faculty String Quartet. She teaches violin at the Samford Academy of the Arts and the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She serves as the president for the Alabama chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Nordlund plays in the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra and teaches at the Community Music School of the University of Alabama. She is the former director of the Scrollworks Youth Music School in Birmingham, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to making music instruction available to all. Nordlund earned a master of music in violin performance and pedagogy from Northwestern University as a student of Gerardo Ribeiro. At Northwestern, she was awarded the Richard and Helen Thomas Fellowship while a graduate assistant to Stacia Spencer and James Kjelland. Nordlund is a former faculty member of the Northwestern University Music Academy where she taught violin and Kindermusik. She is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda, American String Teachers Association and Music Teachers National Association. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor of music in violin performance. She attended the Meadowmount School of Music, Aspen Music Festival and School, Spoleto U.S.A. and Sewanee Summer Music Festivals and participated in master classes and additional studies with Mimi Zweig, Vadim Gluzman, Benny Kim, Chee-Yun, Herbert Greenberg, Ian Swensen, Axel Strauss and Thomas Moore.
Samuel Nordlund is active as a performer, teacher and conductor. A cello instructor for the Academy of the Arts, Nordlund is also on the faculty of Samford University, where he teaches cello and plays with the faculty Samford Quartet. He has served as music director of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of Central Alabama and as assistant director of performance activities at the Music Institute of Chicago. Nordlund is a member of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra and frequently plays with the Tuscaloosa Symphony. As a conductor, he has directed the 2013 Alabama ASTA Honors string orchestra and served as guest conductor for the inaugural concert of the Cave Run Symphony in Morehead, Kentucky. He is currently pursuing the doctorate of musical arts from the University of Alabama, where he has been a member of the Capstone Quartet, a graduate fellowship ensemble. Nordlund is currently collaborating with Kevin Chance to record all four of Lowell Liebermann’s Sonatas for Cello and Piano. After earning his bachelor of music degree in cello performance, magna cum laude, from The University of Alabama, Nordlund moved to Chicago where he earned his master of music degree at Northwestern University. His primary instructors have been Carlton McCreery and Hans Jensen. Additionally, he has studied at the Music Academy of the West, the Kent/Blossom Festival, Encore School for Strings, Brevard Music Center, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and with teachers including Richard Aaron, Stephen Geber, Alan Stepansky, Jonathan Pegis and Richard Hirschl. In the summer of 2006, Nordlund was the teaching assistant for Hans Jensen at the Meadowmount School of Music. Nordlund has been a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, along with the Illinois Philharmonic, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra and Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra. In addition, he has performed with the symphony orchestras of Fort Wayne (Indiana), Elmhurst (Illinois), and Tupelo (Mississippi). He has been a substitute player with the Chicago, Milwaukee, Charleston and Alabama symphony orchestras. As a soloist, Nordlund has performed with the Huntsville Symphony and twice with the Huxford Symphony as two-time winner of the University of Alabama’s concerto and aria competition.
John Robertson teaches piano and theory at the Academy of the Arts. He holds a bachelor of music in piano performance (Bob Jones University, 2011) and a master’s degree in piano performance and pedagogy (Samford University, 2014). His teachers have included Kathi Lamb, Nancy Wingard, David Lehman, Amanda Penick, Ronald Shinn and Kenon Renfrow. Robertson also serves on the music faculty at Judson College, teaching piano, music theory, piano literature and piano pedagogy. He has performed as a collaborative pianist throughout the midwest and southeast and has served as staff accompanist at Bob Jones University, Samford University, Birmingham-Southern College and the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Robertson served as music director for the Opera Birmingham Home for the Holidays Concert in December 2011, and as an accompanist for the Opera Birmingham Opera Competition in May 2012. For the past two years, he has also served as a staff accompanist for the Vann Vocal Institute in Montgomery, Alabama.
Nathan Howard graduated from Samford University with a bachelors in Saxophone Performance in 2015 Magna Cum Laude. At Samford he performed saxophone in the wind ensemble, jazz band, and saxophone quartet while playing flute and clarinet in the orchestra. He was a two time winner of Samford's Concerto competition and is a member of Pi Kappa Lambda. Nathan is comfortable playing and teaching everything from classical, to jazz, to rock, and actively performs in the south-eastern United States with The Black Jacket Symphony, Superjazz, the Cloud 9 Orchestra, the Sultans of Swing, and his own jazz combo. His major teachers include, Sallie White, Brian Viliunas, and Barbara Harrington.
Becky Thornton has been teaching piano since 1993. In 1996, she began teaching for the Samford University Preparatory Department and accompanying for Samford University. She has taught private piano, theory and camp lessons. Previously, she taught private piano and theory at Birmingham-Southern College Conservatory; Europäische Bibleseminar in Rudersberg, Germany; and private and class piano at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. Thornton studied private piano with William DeVan at Birmingham-Southern for one year. She has a bachelor of arts in applied piano from Lee University, where she studied with Phillip Thomas, and a master of music in accompanying from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she studied with Stephen Dubberly. While at Lee, she performed for three consecutive years in the honors recitals for her division and received the Lee University Music Department Award. She also received an honorable mention at the TMTA collegiate competition her senior year. Thornton is a member of Alabama Music Teachers Association (past adjudicator), Music Teachers National Association, Birmingham Music Teachers Association, Metro Music Forum and Birmingham Music Teachers Association (past chair of solo festival).
Jessica Wilbanks has taught private piano lessons, theory, and preschool piano at the Academy of the Arts for the past eight years and is a licensed Kindermusik educator. She earned a bachelor of music in piano pedagogy and performance from the University of Montevallo where she graduated magna cum laude, studying with Cynthia McRae. Wilbanks is a member of the Birmingham Music Teachers Association and Music Teachers National Association. In the fall of 2015, she will begin work on a MM in Piano Performance and Pedagogy at Samford University and will continue piano studies with Dr. Ron Shinn.
Rebecca Worthington is an active performer and teacher in the greater Birmingham area. She has appeared on stage and in concert across the southeast in productions with Opera Birmingham, Birmingham Music Club and Bob Jones University Opera Association. In concert, Worthington has performed soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah and Schubert’s Mass in G. As a vocal instructor, she has successfully prepared many students for college and theatre auditions with former students currently studying vocal performance, commercial music, music education and theatre at Belmont University, Samford University, Mississippi College and the University of Southern Mississippi. Worthington is a National Association of Teachers of Singing member and holds degrees in vocal performance and church music from Bob Jones University. In addition to teaching in the Academy of the Arts, Worthington also serves on the music staff at Shades Mountain Baptist Church.