Educator Preparation Institute (EPI)

Teacher Preparation and Re-Certification

About Us

Ellen CostelloEllen Costello, M.Ed., Manager, Teacher Preparation

Ellen grew up in a family of readers and went to kindergarten at four since she loved school so much, she couldn't wait until she was five! She has lived in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and Florida along her journey in education. She obtained a M.Ed. degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Reading from Trinity Washington University and a B.A. in Psychology from Fairfield University. (She did an alternative teacher certification program, too!) Ellen worked in public K-12 literacy education in Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida from 1998 - 2015. Previously, she was also a Sr. Instructional Assistant in the Writing Center (West Campus), an adjunct professor of Developmental Reading, and an associate professor in the Educator Preparation Institute program at Valencia College. Ellen loves her job as the manager of teacher preparation at Valencia because she is able to work with, support, and guide educators in achieving their goals. Her own education continues in the Ed.D. Curriculum and Instruction program at UCF, and Ellen is still passionate about reading and appreciates talking about all kinds of books.



Rhonda AtkinsonDr. Rhonda Atkinson, EPI Instructor

Rhonda is proud to say that she is from the great state of Arkansas. She was on the faculty at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge for about 20 years and at Central Missouri State University (CMSU) for about 7 years. She started teaching at Valencia in Fall of 2006 and she teaches undergraduate education courses as well as courses for the Educator Preparation Institute. Rhonda has an undergraduate degree in Elementary, Special, and Early Childhood Education from the University of Central Arkansas and a Master's degree in Learning Disabilities. Her Ph.D. is in Educational Curriculum and Instruction (reading emphasis) from LSU. Although she has taught undergraduate and graduate education students, most of her higher education experience concerns the development of reading and learning strategies in first-year students. This provides her with an excellent background for teaching education courses because she has had broad experiences in a number of content areas. Rhonda enjoys curriculum development and instructional design. In her spare moments in the past, she has written several college textbooks in reading, study skills, and student success and worked on a variety of other writing projects (e.g. workplace learning in industrial construction trades, ESL health curriculum for low-literate adults, after-school program on museums in Louisiana for middle school students.) She has also developed FTCE prep materials for REA publishing. Rhonda enjoys going to the theme parks and is a part-time cast member on the Education Team for the Seas with Nemo and Friends at EPCOT. She has two major goals for for EPI students, she says, "First, I want to provide you with the knowledge you need to become a certified teacher in Florida. Second, I want to help you develop the knowledge and expertise you need to face your students with complete confidence."


Cassandra BarnhillCassandra Barnhill, EPI Instructor

Cassandra began working at Valencia College in 2007 and loves teaching for the Educator Preparation Institute program. She stated, "It is such a rewarding experience to share my love and knowledge of teaching with future educators." After attending Valencia for an Associate in Arts degree, she attended the University of Central Florida and graduated in 2000 with a Bachelors of Art degree in Psychology. Cassandra began teaching in Osceola County in 2002 as she continued her education and received a Master of Science degree in Reading from Nova Southeastern University in 2006. Her teaching experience includes a variety of levels in elementary, middle, and high school, always with a focus on reading. She is happily married and has two peaceful little dogs. Cassandra loves to read, garden, quilt, and travel.






Lisa BugdenDr. Lisa Bugden, EPI Instructor

Lisa F. Bugden is an Associate Faculty Member for Valencia College (VCC). She also holds a Digital Professor Certification from VCC which aids her in teaching fully online, hybrid and web-enhanced courses. Lisa teaches several courses for the EPI Program, three education courses and the Student Success course for VCC. Previously, she was an experienced special education teacher who taught for eight years at the middle and high school levels. Lisa completed a Bachelors of Science degree in Exceptional Student Education, Specialization in Emotionally Handicap, in 1997 and a Masters of Education in Varying Exceptionalities in 1998 at the University of Central Florida (UCF). In December, 2007, Lisa received her Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership also from UCF. Since 2000, Lisa has also taught teacher certification and recertification courses as an Adjunct Instructor for Florida Southern College at the Orlando, Florida campus and most recently she has taught EDU 325 Classroom Organization and Management and EDU 209 Human Development and Learning in a workshop format. Additionally, Lisa taught courses in special education for UCF and will be teaching EDG 4410 Instructional Strategies and Classroom Management for the fall term. Lisa joined the Educator Preparation Institute at Valencia College as an Instructor shortly after its inception in the fall of 2006. In 2007, she was a member of the EPI Course Redesign Team where the seven hybrid course and two online field experiences were standardized for the program. In 2008, Lisa worked to convert six of the seven hybrid courses to fully online for EPI Online Course Development Project. Lisa also facilitates a professional development course for VCC called Facilitating Online Learning. She has served on two Quality Matters reviews at VCC and is currently serving on a dissertation committee for a student at Capella University.


Deborah MullinsDeborah Mullins, EPI Instructor

I started with the EPI program in August of 2007 and really enjoy the different groups of people I teach within each course. I really like hearing about the experiences of the new teachers starting in the classroom. You truly want to get started on the right foot and be the best for the sake of your students. It is a great feeling to share information and provide the instruction that is needed to help you be successful in your new career. Plus, I get to hear new ideas that I can try in my own classroom! I was in the Navy for over 13 years and always knew I would teach when I left the military because I feel like I was just born to help others. I graduated from the University of Central Florida in December 2000 with a Master's in Art degree in Varying Exceptionalities, and I have been teaching for Orange County Public Schools for the last 20 years at the high school level. In 2003, I earned my Certificate in Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida, and I hope to someday open my own school. I have also taught at Florida Southern College for 17 1/2 years in the Education Department teaching the re-certification courses. I have one daughter that graduated from Valencia in 2009 with an AA and AS degree in Criminal Justice and has just about completed her Hospitality and Tourism Management Degree. She is currently employed as Uniformed Security for Orange County Public Schools. I have two adorable mini-dachshunds, and I enjoy traveling, reading, being a foster parent for Orange County Animal Services, being a ScareActor for Halloween Horror Nights and Bead Captain for Mardi Gras at Universal Studios and listening to music.


Josh MurdockJoshua Murdock, EPI Instructor

Josh Murdock grew up in Central Florida attending Seminole Community College after high school. With over 12 years of higher education experience, he strives to provide excellent educational services to the students at Valencia College. He is the Manager of Learning Support Services supervising the Communications, Math, Testing, and Tutoring Centers on West Campus. In addition, he is an adjunct professor for the Educator Preparation Institute (EPI) Technology course and Student Success professor. He holds a Master of Arts in both Educational Leadership for Higher Education and Instructional Technology from the University of Central Florida, with a graduate certificate in E-learning. He is a millennial who not only loves surfing the internet, but surfing the waves every chance he gets.





Paula da SilvaDr. Paula da Silva, EPI Instructor

Originally from Brazil, Paula moved to the United States in the late 1990s to obtain a Master's in Education. Upon graduating from Harvard's Graduate School of Education, she worked in various roles ranging from teaching assistant to school founder and administrator. She then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa, where she earned a certification in Positive Behavior Supports, now known as Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). As part of Florida's PBIS project, housed at USF, Paula assisted schools and districts in Florida in building systems capacity for implementing a multi-tiered approach to social, emotional, and behavioral support. During her 10 years at USF, she also taught and supervised undergraduate students. She has been at Valencia since 2016 and is very excited to support students on their educational journey!