GIVE YOUR CHILD THE LIFELONG GIFT OF CONFIDENCE THROUGH SPEECH AND DEBATE!
Meet the Young Genius Teachers
We pride ourselves on the fact that all of our teachers have received advanced degrees and are currently successful professionals in the Bay Area.
Taisia Dubinina, our Speech Program Director graduated from the University of San Diego, Honor’s Program with a Magna Cum Laude and a dual degree. She is a Heinsohn's family member and fourth generation of educators who has been dedicating her life to education. She was a high achieving student in high school, and received a full scholarship that covered her 4 years at the University of San Diego entirely, where she received a B.A. degree in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies and International Business. During her time at USD Taisia trained with the same professors that taught the Masters of Fine Arts Graduate Theatre Program, which has some notable alumni such as Jim Parsons of the Big Bang Theory. Thus, Taisia's theatre background and training has allowed her to bring Young Genius' speech students to very high competitive success at local and national tournaments. Taisia is a dedicated educator who worked with Minds Matter Organization of New York and San Francisco, where she were guiding students through the college admission process and used her expertise to create Young Genius' HSPT/ISEE tests preparation curriculum.
Dr. Matthew Brandstetter
Dr. Matthew Brandstetter began his speech and debate career in high school, continuing for four years in college while earning 3rd place national honors in extemporaneous speaking and 3rd place national honors in CEDA debate. Dr. Brandstetter founded and sustained the Harker School speech and debate program from 1998 until 2007; he directed the Fairmont debate program from 2011-14, and currently facilitates the Bishop O’Dowd debate programs in parliamentary and public forum debate. Additionally, Dr. Brandstetter directed the Azusa Pacific University debate program, improving its national ranking from 70th to 26th in just six short months. Dr. Brandstetter holds a B.A (University of California, Irvine) in Classics, an M.A. (University of San Francisco) in Organization & Leadership, and an Ed.D (Argosy University) in Educational Leadership. He has also earned a third diamond recognition from the National Speech and Debate Association.
Zahra is a UC Berkeley graduate of Political Science with three years of collegiate debate experience and four years of professional coaching experience. As a debater for Irvine Valley College and UC Berkeley, Zahra won the 2012 U.S. National Championship and the California Community College State Championship in Open Parliamentary Debate. She also won the U.S. Silver Medal in Lincoln-Douglas Debate and U.S. Bronze Medal in Impromptu Speaking. While attending UC Berkeley, Zahra ranked among the top 20 teams at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence and the National Parliamentary Debate Association’s annual tournament.
Throughout her undergraduate degree, Zahra coached both forms of debate at Education Unlimited Inc.’s “Summer Focus” Camp in 2012, the Windward Preparatory School in 2012, the Olive Children’s Foundation in 2014, and Education Unlimited Inc.’s “Public Speaking Institute” in 2016. Furthermore, Zahra worked as a Mission Operations Analyst for Palantir Technologies in 2013, and as an Academic Assistant to UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Professor of Law and Business, Daniel Granholm Mulhern.
In 2016, Zahra received postgraduate offers from the London School of Economics, King’s College London, and University College London for an MSc in Security Studies and a MA in Nuclear Non-Proliferation. Instead of attending a Master’s program, she chose to prepare for law school while teaching what she loves: speech and debate.
Daryl holds her BA in International Business, MA in International Trade Policy, and her JD. Throughout Daryl's career she has researched, written, and spoken on numerous topics to a variety of audiences. She is adept at tailoring content to achieve maximum impact and effectively communicate complex subject matter. During her time in Washington, D.C., Daryl wandered the halls of the Congress and various government agencies as a private sector consultant. There Daryl drafted, negotiated, and finalized legislative text to be introduced by members of Congress.
Daryl participated in Team Policy Debate during her senior year of high school. That year's topic and her experience began her academic and professional journey that continues to this day. Daryl appreciates the opportunities speech and debate opens for students and the valuable skills it endows. Daryl's goal is to cultivate thoughtful and articulate individuals ready to think and address the challenges of the future, all the while having fun and building lasting relationships.
Steven Zhou has been a competitor in speech and debate since middle school, a coach for high school speech and debate for the past year, and a rising corporate trainer for the past few years. In high school, he specialized in Lincoln-Douglas debate and Original Advocacy, cumulating in his participation at the CHSSA State Competition. He has served as a coach and leader, both as the President of speech and debate at one of the top high schools in the country and as the head coach for a team of high school Parliamentary debaters in Southern California. While completing his Bachelors in Psychology and Masters in Religious Studies at Pepperdine University, he was invited to present his research on leadership and cross-cultural communication at a variety of conferences and corporate training sessions, including most notably a presentation to the chief technical officer’s team at Alibaba International Headquarters. Steven is excited to return to the world of competitive speech and debate and train the next generation of students to become leaders both in competition and in their future careers!
Leah Ammon has a BA in both Art History and History from U.C. Berkeley and an MA in interdisciplinary studies (cultural history/critical theory) from N.Y.U. She has worked for over 10 years at premier museums and cultural organizations on both the East and West Coast, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Neue Galerie New York, and Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. In her various roles, she has honed her public speaking, persuasive writing, graphic design, and art direction skills.
In high school, she competed in Impromptu, SPAR, Expository, Original Oratory, and Congressional Debate, and won first place or placed within the top three at numerous local and national tournaments--including the California state competition, where she took third in Oratory and second in Congress. She competed for two years on the Parliamentary Debate team at U.C. Berkeley, and advanced to the national parliamentary debate tournament both years. Throughout college, she also pursued her other passion: working with students. She was a drama teacher for YMCA summer camp, an ESL mentor, a YWCA Big Sister, and, for three summers, an instructor at Lindamood Bell.
Even after her academic career ended, Leah made sure to incorporate public speaking into her life. She was a volunteer docent at the Neue Galerie for five years, leading groups of various sizes through the museum’s exhibitions, and she has been an active member of Saratoga Toastmasters since 2016.
Mariel Cruz holds bachelor degrees in both Political Science and History from Santa Clara University, and planning to continue her education at law school. She is currently the Assistant Debate Coach for the Santa Clara University Debate Team and Young Genius debate coach. In addition, Mariel runs various college and high school debate tournaments throughout the Bay Area. Mariel has experience coaching and teaching high school students, working for schools like Gunn High School and Polytechnic School. She has also taught various debate and speech styles, such as Policy, Parliamentary, Public Forum, and Extemporaneous Speech at Santa Clara’s summer workshop for the last two years. Mariel started competing in policy debate as a freshman at Santa Clara University and continued debating her entire college career. She competed successfully at various regional and national tournaments, earning various awards. Santa Clara University’s Policy Team had been inactive for almost ten years. Mariel worked very hard to keep the policy team active and to bring Santa Clara University its first policy debate awards in almost a decade. She currently coaches Santa Clara University’s Parliamentary Teams, who have been very successful, reaching elimination rounds at various regional and national tournaments. Congratulations to Mariel's Saratoga High School Parliamentary Debate Team which was "Literally only one ballot away from winning the whole tournament!" at the the 2015 California State Tournament.
Mark Pfahnl an aspiring elementary school teacher who is a graduate of Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose. He attended Northeastern University in Boston on a full academic scholarship but decided to transfer to San Jose State University to work toward a credential in the Teacher Preparation program there. He has extensive experience with elementary students in youth programs at the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose and as a volunteer aide in the Sunnyvale School District and has completed coursework in general linguistics, child language acquisition, second language education, and pedagogy. He is excited to use his skills as an educator to guide YG students toward their full expressive potential.