The Gem Academy Team

Jim Hershey

Founder / Executive Director

For the last decade Jim has specialized exclusively in therapeutic work with overweight teens and young adults, with an emphasis on immersion programs, long term treatment and aftercare. He has amassed over 5000 hours of direct client work in this specialty putting Jim in a small, exclusive group of clinicians in the world. As a member of the Obesity Action Coalition Jim is a constant advocate and educator regarding the causes of obesity and effective interventions.

His work in this field began in 2007. This was after 4 years as a clinician working with college athletes in the field of sport psychology.  Jim moved from Phoenix Arizona to Fresno California to take a position at the world’s first boarding school for overweight teens. During his tenure he held the roles of therapist, clinical consultant, and program director and clinical director.

Among his peers he was known for his tireless determination and commitment to the kids and their families. Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in a person’s life are the day they were born,  and the day they find out why.”

Shorty after Jim began his career at the boarding school his “why” was realized. “There was a level of bravery, sacrifice and hope that I would see every day in the kids.  It made you want to be the absolute best you could be for them. With everything they were bringing to the fight, they deserved every bit of that”

Jim’s dedication to the students and their families allowed him to build long standing relationships. Through Jim’s investment and continued involvement with his students and families, Jim recognized the need for a far more comprehensive support structure for recently transitioned students. This became the catalyst for Gem Academy as a long term solution for adolescent obesity.

Gem was born over a decade long process of evaluation of prior experience, refined practice, the latest health research and new research into areas of achievement, performance, habit formation and character. But the most critical influence into building Gem has been the shared personal experiences of hundreds of students over the last ten years. Sharing their successes and challenges has created a better understanding of what is critically needed to support these students for the long run.

Through his professional and educational pursuits Jim has had diverse and eclectic experiences as a tradesman, working musician, on-air radio personality, and collegiate athlete and captain.

Jim is a Wisconsin native but has been a resident of the Phoenix area for 11 of the last 15 years. He and his wife have a four and a half year old little boy and a 18 month old baby girl.



Ashley Norwood MA, LAC

Lead Clinician


Ashley Norwood, MA, LAC is a licensed associate counselor who has experience working with teens, adults, and first responders. Ashley specializes in trauma of varying degrees such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and single incident trauma. Ashley has been practicing in the field for 3 years and is currently working on her independent licensure. She is trained in EMDR and is receiving further training in this specialty to help strengthen her skills.

Ashley received her degree from Argosy University in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a background in criminal justice, “I have always been drawn to helping others.” Ashley’s compassionate style allows clients to open up while being challenged to incorporate new concepts to create lasting change. Helping to relieve emotional distress, Ashley assists in getting to the root of the problem that has resulted in depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues.

Ashley has been consistently recognized for her dedication, professionalism and selflessness in every role she has held professionally. Outside of the office Ashley enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and 3 dogs!


Emily Hodge BS, MBA, CPT

Program Director


Emily Hodge is a Certified Personal Trainer and adolescent health professional, born and raised in the great state of Arizona. Emily received a degree in Recreation Management from Arizona State University and a Master’s of Business Administration from Tiffin University. Her career pursuits have been split between the fields of sports management, wellness coaching, and entrepreneurship. These wide-spread interests have led to numerous leadership roles throughout the country. Most notable was her position as Director of Programs and Partnerships for a nonprofit in Richmond, VA called Sportable. There she cultivated strong community relationships and coordinated over 120 volunteers to coach and manage 12 different adaptive sports programs. Another notable chapter is when Emily’s love for the sport of lacrosse redirected her to pursue a career in collegiate athletics. With that she became the first-ever Arizona native to be the Head Coach of a NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse program (North Carolina Wesleyan College). 

After gathering a vast array of unique experiences Emily realized the one constant in her professional journey was her passion for working with teens. In 2015 she created her own business, My Coach EM (and,  which offered educational workshops, fitness programs, and life coaching services to teen girls. “My true passion is coaching teens towards balance and supporting them to create an active healthy lifestyle that is sustainable for the rest of their lives”. She found great success with her small business however the location wasn’t ideal. In early 2019 it was time for Emily to make her way back home, and with what had felt like fate, Emily discovered Gem Academy. Gem Academy’s mission so closely aligned with Emily’s entrepreneurial endeavors that working at Gem became the perfect opportunity for Emily to continue pursuing her passion in adolescent health; this time alongside a dynamic team of professionals who share the same common goal.

After living in seven states in ten years Emily is thrilled to be back in her home state, now with a husband and two dogs. She is looking forward to spending quality time with her family and will soon enough find the nearest lacrosse field.


Lauren Sandras BS

Nutrition & Culinary Director


Dawn Thomas M.Ed

Academic Director


Dawn brings a heartfelt passion for education to the Academic Director position of Gem Academy. As a licensed principal she has over eight years of experience being part of school administrative teams. Her career started as an English Specialist, having the opportunity to train and model effective strategies for teachers to increase student achievement. In 2007, she assisted in the opening of a brand new K-6 school in as an Assistant Principal. In the last 7 years, she’s attained analytical data-mining expertise, while simultaneously helping to improve school-wide accountability through the coaching, mentoring and supporting of teachers, administration and staff both in both the online and brick and mortar environments. As an administrator, curriculum and instruction specialist/director and English Specialist, she has illustrated the ability to lead a team successfully, but also to work as an integral member to achieve profound outcomes!

She chose the Gem Academy team first and foremost for the mission rooted in the wholeness of each individual girl that attends Gem Academy by teaching them skills to last a lifetime. Secondly, she wanted to bring extensive experience with online academic delivery, curriculum and learning management systems specific for online learning. Finally, her passion in education is teaching, guiding, counseling and mentoring all students, teachers, and staff who have a desire to achieve greatness and overcome the bumps in the road that will lead to each individual’s success.

When she is away from Gem Dawn enjoys spending time with family, reading and photography.


Stacie MacArthur

Clinical Director


Stacie MacArthur, M.Ed, LPC, CCTS is a Licensed Professional Counselor and an AZ Board Certified Clinical Supervisor who has experience working with concerns like anxiety, depression, loss & grief, self-esteem issues, identity development, and adolescent/emerging adult counseling. Over the past 15 years Stacie has developed a strong focus on trauma work, incorporating neurophysiology as a large component of her practice. She is a Certified Clinical Trauma Specialist with the International Association of Trauma Professionals.

Stacie built her career working in both agency and private practice settings where she provided individual and group counseling as well as Equine Assisted Therapy. She moved into the role of Clinical Director at Johnson & Wales University (Charlotte, NC) and subsequently the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health center here in Phoenix. Because Stacie’s first love is working directly with clients using a holistic and comprehensive approach, she joined the dynamic team at GEM Academy in early 2018.

When not working Stacie enjoys running, hiking, reading, and spending time with family & friends.