Meet The Team

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Co-Founder

Mugdha Yeolekar, Ph.D.

Mugdha is a scholar of world religions and cultures. She currently teaches world religions in the context of everyday life practices at California State University, Fullerton. She believes that introducing children to global cultures from early childhood is the only way to create inter-culturally competent future generation. Recently her essay about intercultural communication between toddlers (“Toddlers and Teas: Inter-religious Play” (with Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier) was published in a book titled Inter-religious Friendship.  Mugdha has  experience teaching for over ten years.

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Co-Founder

Komal Shah Kapoor, Ph.D.

An educator with an entrepreneurial mindset. Komal is a practicing anthropologist, and a marketing communication expert. She is the founder of Speaker Post, a networking platform that connects guest speakers with educators. She is also the author of International Day, an illustrated children’s book in the series, Raising Culture-Curious Kids, which exposes children to global cultures via traditional dresses and country facts. Komal teaches applied communication at UCLA-X, California State University, Dominguez Hills and Pepperdine. 

Friends of Culture Journeys

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Laura Hirshfield

Educator, Non Violence expert

Laura Hirshfield is an education professional who has been serving communities in various capacities for the last 16 years.  Prior to moving to Los Angeles, Laura was an English teacher in Boston; In 2011, her passion for fusing education with nonviolence was sparked after a transformative fellowship at Cal Poly Pomona’s Ahimsa Center; from there, she co-founded a program for teachers to spend 3 weeks in India studying this practice, and she continues to reflect daily on how living a life of nonviolence can create a more just and loving world.

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Karen Reynolds

Principal, Short Avenue Elementary School, Los Angeles

Karen Reynolds is passionate about education and thrilled to to be the principal at Short Avenue Elementary School.  She has achieved over 33 years as an educator for LAUSD. Ms. Reynolds earned a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA and a Masters/Administrative Credential from CSUN. She believes strongly in a inquiry based curriculum that develops children who are thinkers and caring citizens.

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Nirinjan Khalsa, Ph.D.

Educator, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles

Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa works at Loyola Marymount University as an Instructor of Indian Religions and as the acting Director of the Master's of Yoga Studies program.  She was born a Sikh and has studied the jori (traditional Sikh percussion) with thirteenth generation exponent Bhai Baldeep Singh since 2000.  She enjoys playing the jori at Gurdwaras (Sikh temples),  kirtan chant nights, and yoga classes, teaching students, and being a mother to her two daughters.

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Swati Mukherjee

Educator, Creative Writing

Swati Mukherjee guides elementary school children in several subjects including math and creative writing. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, she was an elementary school teacher in Massachusetts for eight years. She has also taught physics at a college affiliated with Kolkata University. As an educator, she brings her expertise in creative writing to Culture Journeys.

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Virginia Minami

LAUSD Educator and Lead, Koshin Taiko, Los Angeles

California native Ms. Minami is a LAUSD educator and a performer-teacher of taiko. She has been trained in taiko drumming  for over 30 years and currently leads Koshin Taiko, a Los Angeles-based Japanese Taiko drumming ensemble known for its engaging, intense, and powerful performances. Ms. Minami's performances have been acclaimed by many including the LA Marathon, Ocean Charter elementary, and Japanese Spring Celebration at Bella Terra. 

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Sukhada Deshpande

Founder, Colortual Creations

An avid artist, an aspiring illustrator and a web designer, Sukhada has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and certification in Design Communication Arts UCLA-X. Her recent work in design, branding and illustrations can be seen at www.colortual.com

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Sej Saraiya

Documentary & Cultural Conservation Photographer 

Sej Saraiya is a documentary and cultural-conservation photographer who has spent the last several years documenting indigenous cultures around the world. Since 2009, she has  traveled to the deep interiors of Asia and the Americas, capturing portraits that tell stories of cultures on the brink of extinction. In 2014, she started shooting her on-going series “Faces of the Indigenous” living with the tribes to understand and document their rapidly fading wisdom. For these photographs, she was recognized as an Ambassador for the 7th Annual Garifuna Indigenous International Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA. Her photographs have been exhibited both in America and India and hang in the homes of private collectors in Belgium, South Africa, Switzerland, Australia, India, Canada and the United States. 

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Nisha Bhatia

Founder, Festivity

Nisha Bhatia is the founder of Festivity. In her regular job, she works as a Management consultant with PwC in their Supply Chain & Operations practice. Born & brought up in India, Nisha has a Masters in Engineering Management from USC and a MBA from UCLA. She is also the Vice Chairperson on the board of Children & Families Inc.  Nisha is passionate about cultural exposure and demonstrated learning via activities for children. A resident of Redondo Beach, Nisha is the mother of a 5 year old and an almost 1 year old.

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Wan Yeung

Music Scholar & Chinese Instruments Expert

Wan Yeung began playing the pipa at the age of 12 while growing up in Hong Kong. In addition to being the Hong Kong champion of Student Chinese Instrumentalists in 2006 and Student Pipa Soloists in 2007, he won a gold medal at the 2010 International Chinese Instrument Competition. While Wan has focused on traditional Chinese music, he is also well versed in contemporary and experimental music where he combines Chinese sounds with different genres of music. After receiving his B. Music degree from the University of California, Irvine, Wan completed his M.A. degree in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University, where he researched Cantonese music and operatic songs in Hong Kong. Currently a doctoral candidate at UCLA, his research project investigates the sustainability of Cantonese opera in Hong Kong during a global pandemic. 

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Ashish Sharma

Public Arts Commissioner & Artist

Currently, the Public Arts Commissioner for the city of Redondo Beach and the

Communications Director for the Redondo Beach Art Group, Ashish has been on a journey of making one sketch daily of ‘Ganesha’ (the Indian elephant-faced god) since 1st Jan 1991 in various alphabets of various languages. as a Creative Alphabet Ganesh artist, she is in the World Book of Records, and the Limca Book of Records. She also holds the 2020 Universal Records Forum World Record and is a published author. Learn more about her on her website.

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Rebecca Johnson

Principal, Playa Vista Elementary School, Los Angeles

Bio coming soon

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Manak Khamvongsa

Thai Culture & Music Expert

Manak Khamvongsa is a guitar teacher, martial arts instructor and world music enthusiast. Originally from Northeast Thailand, Manak now lives in Los Angeles and has been a professional musician and teacher for over 20 years. Manak has served as chairs for the Music Teachers Association of CA and the Arts and Literacy Festival of Santa Clarita.  He runs yearly ukulele camps and organizes student outreach concerts at local senior homes.  He currently performs with the Guitar Orchestra of College of the Canyons; the Gamelan group "Burat Wangi" at California Institute of the Arts, and sitar with Los Angeles International Music Academy. His other hobbies include travel, languages and cuisine of the world!

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Indy Rishi Singh

Founder, Mystic Science

Indy Rishi Singh is an education therapist and social innovator. He balances a background of science and medicine with a deep practice of mindfulness and creativity. Indy is on the board of a revolutionary orphanage in Varanasi, India that rehabilitates and empowers children with yoga, philosophy and Ayurveda. Learn more about him and his work at https://linktr.ee/mysticscience 

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Grace Bader

Nurse & Homeschool Educator

Grace Bader's family hails from an island called Mindanao in Philippines. Grace is a nurse and a homeschool educator with so much to share about her own cultural journey as being both of Filipino and European descent. Her stories are fascinating, involving sights, sounds, tastes, customs, culture, celebrations that the Filipino culture has to offer!

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Sai Patil

Professional Dancer & Teacher

Sai Patil is a lifelong dancer and teacher in various forms of Indian classical, folk and Bollywood dance.  She currently works as a consumer strategy advisor in Manhattan Beach, California.

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Manikyavalli Rao

Creative Artist and Teacher

A multi-disciplinary artist, Mrs. Rao has 30 years of experience in teaching

core school subjects. She includes art history into her curriculum in her

online teaching art lessons for all age groups, kids to adults. She is also an avid crafter, makes jewelry, personalized gifts, clutches and more. You can find her creations for sale on Etsy.com: ManikyaValliDesigns