Summer Scholars Staff


          Summer Scholars is led by a group of experienced educators, counselors, and theatre experts that strive to create a caring and safe environment for all participants. Most staff members have been past campers and are able to provide students with experienced advice and a listening ear.

Joe Ray Underwood, Camp Director: Joe Ray founded Summer Scholars in 1978 and has worked as the camp director since then. Joe Ray is a retired professor from Mississippi State where he previously acted as the coordinator for the school counseling program. Joe Ray coordinates theatre and music programs for children with the help of the MSU Symphony Association. Joe Ray is an avid musician who specializes in guitar, musical arrangements, and vocal compositions.

Joel Rutherford, Associate Director: Joel Rutherford is a Social Studies teacher and State Assessment Coordinator at Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  He graduated from Tupelo High School and was a Summer Scholars On-Stage camper during his teenage years..  He has been boys’ counselor, music director, and associate director of the program during the past 35 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in History from Michigan State University and teaches history and psychology.     His lifelong love for performing arts is manifested through his assistance with high school musical productions, participation in vocal music, and in his piano accompaniment of performing groups.  He chairs the Awards Committee program and selects recipients of the Summer Scholars Hall of Fame.

Sean Richmond, Associate Director: Sean Richmond was a student at Mississippi State University when he began to work as a boy’s counselor at Summer Scholars in 1991. He has worked as a school administrator for various districts around the country. He currently works as an administrator in the Florida Polk County School System. Sean is a leader for the staff at Summer Scholars and is also the owner of Sean’s House of Cola where he provides sno-cone and candy support for staff and campers alike!

Leah R. Wright, Head Counselor: Leah has been working at Summer Scholars since 2005. She has worked a variety of jobs at camp but immediately found her niche in counseling that led her to get a Masters in Clinical Counseling from Mississippi State University. Leah works hard to ensure that parents and campers feel safe and comfortable over the course of camp. She currently lives in Hoover, AL, with her husband and two furry children.

Lauren Hughes, Director of Operations: Lauren Hughes is the Summer Scholars Co-Director of Operations. She has a degree in Sociology from The University of Mississippi and is currently working on her Masters in Higher Education. Lauren began as a camper during the summer of 2009 and is happy to help provide the Onstage experience to current campers!

Joe Evans: Script Advisor and Production Manager: Joe Evans, holds two B.S. degrees, one in Music Education and one in Educational Psychology. He also holds a M.S. Degree in College Counseling from Mississippi State University. Joe is a veteran producer of dramas and musicals. He has produced several shows with Starkville Academy, the Starkville Public School District, and the Vicksburg Public School District. He also has been involved in several productions with the Starkville Community Theatre. Joe spent an entire summer during his university years to work summer stock with Theatre West Virginia. He has worked as a fight choreographer for several theaters across the state of Mississippi. Joe is a former camper and has been associated with the Summer Scholars program since 1983.   Joe is a musical consultant and frequent actor in productions of the Starkville Community Theatre and the Theatre Program of the MSU Department of Communication.

John Bateman, Script Coordinator: John W. Bateman was the first person in his family to leave the fly-over states in more than 200 years. It didn't last. John writes and looks for stories in the Deep South. His work has appeared in The SFWP Quarterly, OneNewEngland, Glitterwolf Magazine, Huffington Post, TIMBER, Nately's, as well as on the silver screen. He has a secret addiction to glitter and, contrary his southern roots, does NOT like sweet tea. John is a recipient of a 2018 Emerging Filmmaker Grant from the Mississippi Film Alliance. His first novel, Who Killed Buster Sparkle?, was released June 12, 2019, by Unsolicited Press. He'd really like for you to buy a copy so that his mother isn't his only fan.

Kris Lee, Director: T.K. Lee (Kris) is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Southeastern Theatre Conference, and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, among others. In addition to award-winning plays, his poetry has been critically acclaimed and along with his short fiction, published and anthologized internationally. He currently is on faculty in the MFA Program at the Mississippi University for Women.

Louis Codling, Assistant Director: Louis Codling has been a part of camp since 2009 when he was a camper and then became part of the drama staff along with a position as lead writer. He is the first Theatre Education graduate from Mississippi and has an endorsement in English. During the year he works as a middle and high school Theatre teacher at Lafayette County Schools. Before teaching he worked professionally as an actor. He enjoys writing and exercise, but his main passion is theatre. He is very excited for his new role in camp and hopes to make camp as enjoyable as possible.

Callie Ellis, Music Director: Callie Ellis is the Director of Music for Summer Scholars On-Stage and also coordinates the music composition track during Writers’ Camp. She is in charge of the music staff, scheduling and teaching vocal lessons, and practical applications of music in the pit performers track during Production Camp. Callie is the current choral director at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville and is completing her Masters of Music Education and Mississippi State University. Her goal at Summer Scholars it to give students a place to learn about themselves, each other, and the art of performance.

Jonette Shurden, Dance Instructor: Jonette has been the main dance instructor and choreographer of Summer Scholars for the last few years. She is responsible for ensemble and individual dance numbers during the show. Jonette serves as General Manager for 929 Coffee Bar and teaches for APEX Dance Company. You can also find her working on musical choreography for local productions at MSU, Starkville High, Starkville Community Theater, and she can occasionally be seen performing on the SCT stage.

Patrick McFadyen, Technical Director: Patrick is in charge of the bustling technical world behind the scenes of the Summer Scholars production. He has assisted with all aspects of backstage work for camp in his years as a camper and technical instructor. Patrick was the Shop Foreman in McComas for four years where he constructed sets for plays and manned the lighting design. Patrick has been responsible for lighting control during over 20 stage productions in his theatrecareer.


Amy Fortenberry, Costumer: