Ser Anderson (they/them)
Ser grew up exploring the natural areas in and around Missoula—from Bancroft Pond and Lewis & Clark Elementary School’s Outdoor Classroom to Mt. Sentinel, Pattee Canyon, and the Rattlesnake—and spending time at their family’s cabin on Flathead Lake. Always fond of native plants and birds, they honed their naturalist skills while earning a B.A. in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. They have continued to develop and share their naturalist skills in a variety of seasonal positions with MNHC, Montana Conservation Corps, Flathead Lake State Park, and Ecology Project International’s Yellowstone Program. They are passionate about citizen science and have participated in monitoring projects with Montana Audubon, Glacier National Park, and Wolverine Watchers. They enjoy bird watching, identifying plants, ultimate frisbee, writing, reading, hiking, cross-country skiing, photography, swimming and rowing at Flathead Lake, berry picking, and cooking.
Kellen Beck (she/her)
Marketing & Events Coordinator
Kellen grew up in the Northwoods of Bemidji, Minnesota, where she cultivated her love of the outdoors, fishing, camping, and hiking among the beautiful paper birch trees and melodic love songs of the Common Loon. She moved to Missoula thirteen years ago and completed her B.A. in Print Journalism at the University of Montana. Over her years in Missoula, Kellen has worked in the service industry, wearing many hats, most recently working at Conflux Brewing Company as a manager and the event coordinator. Always passionate about conservation work, Kellen began as a field volunteer with the Owl Research Institute three years ago. Her volunteering involved catching and banding countless owls throughout western Montana. After years of persistence and dedication, she was hired on as ORI’s social media coordinator. In Kellen’s spare time she can be found hiking through the mountains with her two dogs, Sage and Theo, and her husband, Dean. She loves reading, writing, birding, and, above all, gardening.
Alyssa Cornell-Chavez (she/her)
Alyssa grew up in Livingston, Montana’s windiest city. Although one must avoid being swept away by the wind, Alyssa still loved to explore outside. Hikes to Pine Creek Falls, bike rides with her family into the valley, and summers filled with floating and fishing on the Yellowstone River cultivated her love for nature. In 2012 she moved to Arizona, where she held a collections internship with the Arizona Historical Society Museum and received her B.A. in History and M.A. in Public History from Arizona State University. After five years, the mountains were calling and she and her husband, Josh, moved to Missoula. In December 2022 Alyssa graduated from George Washington University with a Graduate Certificate in Collections Management and Care. She is currently serving as the Montana representative for the Mountain-Plains Museums Association of Registrars and Collections Managers Network (RC-MPMA). Outside of museum collections, Alyssa enjoys reading, drawing, volleyball, track and field, rafting, hunting, Dungeons and Dragons, and playing with her dog, Copper.
Allison De Jong (she/her)
Communications Coordinator & Editor, Montana Naturalist and Field Notes
Allison spent her childhood in Iowa, where she climbed trees, splashed in streams and puddles, and explored the wildish green spaces scattered throughout her hometown. In between outdoor explorations, she spent most of her time reading and writing, which eventually led to a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Dordt College. Allison has always been passionate about volunteering and doing work that gives back, spending several summers in high school and college volunteering for service projects in both the U.S. and abroad. After college, she spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Chicago, then canvassed for environmental issues with North Carolina PIRG, which inspired her to pursue an M.S. in Environmental Writing at the University of Montana. Living in Missoula has given her an even deeper appreciation for the natural world, and she and her husband, Greg, and son, Rowan, get out into Montana’s beautiful wild places as often as they can. Allison has been with MNHC since 2009, thrilled to work at an organization whose mission is to connect people of all ages with their place, and to get to combine her love of nature with her love of writing.
Thurston Elfstrom (he/him)
Thurston spent 20 years developing digital experiences for the Montana Office of Tourism prior to joining the team at the Montana Natural History Center in 2015. Thurston grew up in western Montana and spent his early years exploring area streams, ponds, and trails, as well as collecting geological specimens. He earned a degree in Anthropology from Montana State University in 1993. After college, Thurston taught archaeological field school at First Peoples Buffalo Jump and worked in cultural resource management archaeology before coming to work at the State of Montana. Returning to Missoula in 2008 he coincidentally uncovered his passion for the community, philanthropy, and fundraising. In their free time, Thurston and his wife, Suzanne, like to take in live music and travel the state to experience its varied and rich cultural heritage and natural history.
Alyssa Giffin (she/her)
Alyssa grew up in Stevensville, Montana, where she enjoyed camping, hiking, and rafting with her family, and found a love for nature. She began her academic career in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana. Throughout college she continued to explore Montana, as well as the West Coast and various countries abroad, where she constantly sought out wild and untouched spaces. Alyssa is very excited to be back at MNHC where she has enjoyed teaching our youth about nature and rediscovering her love for nature because of them.
Drew Lefebvre (she/her)
Museum Programs Coordinator
Drew grew up in the hemlock forests of southern Maine and attended college in Boston, where she studied Linguistics and Philosophy. In 2009 she moved to Montana for a season of trailwork and has been here ever since, building her skills as an educator and naturalist. She holds an M.S. in Environmental Education from the University of Montana and has led a variety of adult education programs, including citizen science, trailwork crews, and natural history courses. She enjoys guiding students toward a deeper understanding of the outdoor areas and ecosystems that are right on our doorstep. In her free time, you can find her exploring the natural world through hiking, backpacking, gardening, reading, and birding.
Pat Little (he/him)
Development & Operations Coordinator
Pat grew up in England and came to the U.S.A. in 1980 pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering. One day he got tired of working for large companies, quit his job, and started volunteering at The Nature Conservancy. Eighteen months later they hired him as their first IT Manager, and he worked for them, in Seattle, for eleven years. In 1994 he took a hawk ID class, which opened his eyes to the world of birds and changed his life. Pat has spent many falls since then sitting in cold drafty blinds on mountain ridges trying to trap and band hawks. Pat and his wife moved to Missoula in 2009. They took the Montana Natural History Center’s Master Naturalist class together a few years ago. Pat has learned a lot from attending various nature classes over the years, and he is thrilled to be able to work for an organization that provides nature education. Pat also serves on the board of the Five Valleys Audubon Society, and he is hoping to get some flickers to use the nest box in his back yard if he can keep the squirrels out.
Jenah Mead (she/her)
Jenah is an educator with over a decade of teaching experience. After finding her calling while guiding tours at a wildlife sanctuary, Jenah moved to Missoula to study at the University of Montana. Jenah has a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies with a focus on Environmental Education. Jenah has been involved with MNHC since 2014 when she joined us as a volunteer and later as an intern. When she’s not teaching, Jenah is often found making art or chasing her son, Sam, through creeks and trails with her husband, Billy. She is also passionate about volunteering, birding, and losing herself in a great book.
Christine Morris (she/her)
Community Programs Coordinator
Christine has a B.A. from Stanford University in Anthropology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she focused on Environmental Education. Her previous experience includes work as an Interpretive Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park, middle school science curriculum writer for Rice University’s digital textbook, STEMscopes, and as the Environmental Education Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of Seattle and King County, Washington. Christine spends as much time as possible recreating and wandering outside with her husband and son.
Stephanie Murphy (she/her)
Andrea Panagakis (she/her)
School Programs Manager
Andrea’s life has always revolved around science and nature. Raised in upstate New York on beautiful Oneida Lake, she received her B.S. in biology from Cornell University. Upon returning from a year abroad in France, she fell in love with teaching and completed a master’s degree in secondary science education at Teachers College, Columbia University. During her twenty-year tenure as a high school biology teacher in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, she chaperoned trips to Honduras and Mexico to conduct biodiversity surveys and study reef ecology. In addition to her tropical travels, she volunteered for Glacier National Park’s High Country Citizen Science Program, where she became captivated by the alpine environment and its species. This prompted her to embark upon graduate coursework at the University of Montana and a master’s degree in biology at Université Laval in Québec. Andrea’s research on the life history of mountain goats in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta deepened her understanding of scientific processes as well as her appreciation for the challenge and fulfillment of learning. It also happily led her back to the Treasure State, where she integrated western and traditional ecological ways of knowing the natural world as an instructor at the Salish Kootenai College STEM Academy. In her new role at MNHC, she is excited to share her commitment to connecting people with nature by cultivating new generations of environmental stewards through experiential, place-based education. When she’s not in the office/classroom, she’s a four-season explorer with a passion for all things outdoors: trail running, wildlife viewing, surfing, swimming, cross-country skiing, cycling, and hiking.
Anka Rashed (she/her)
Museum Associate Educator
Having grown up in the dense urban landscape of Hong Kong, Anka spent the first few years of her life satisfying her yearning towards nature and wildlife mostly through books and David Attenborough documentaries. After moving to Illinois for university in 2015, she was finally able to get outdoors and explore, leading her to discover how much she feels at home there. Despite studying robotics, after graduating she decided to pursue her love for the natural world instead, which brought her to Montana. In her free time Anka enjoys numerous activities – mainly working on her musical project, The Dawn Patrol, as well as climbing and just about any other activities outdoors. She also likes to spend time furthering her knowledge, both regarding the natural world and in various other areas.
Jennifer Robinson (she/her)
Director of Education
Jennifer grew up in the Sacramento Valley of California and spent her summers hiking, camping, and exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Her love for the outdoors led her to work with youth in outdoor settings, and Jennifer spent many years volunteering and working as a naturalist at outdoor science schools, summer camps, and as an Interpretive Ranger at national parks in Alaska and California. She earned a B.S. in Environmental Education and Interpretation from Humboldt State University and continued on to earn multiple teaching licenses to blend her passion for education in and out of the classroom. After college Jennifer spent six years working as an educator and Program Director for science education and the non-profit world. Jennifer is now taking her passion of blending formal and informal education into nonprofit leadership and recently earned her Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at the University of Montana in Missoula. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys cooking meals with friends, going on hikes or walks with her dog Indy, and getting to know the community.
Mark Schleicher (he/him)
Mark grew up in Minnesota where he discovered and explored his love for nature during frequent family trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness along with annual cross-country camping trips. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison he started his development career at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, which now includes stops at the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the University of Montana Foundation. Mark and his wife, Holly, moved to Montana in 2004 and now have two sons, Cedar and Leo, who are great exploration partners in the the mountains, rivers, and lakes of Montana.
Ashley Sinclair (she/her)
Museum Associate & Volunteer Coordinator
Ashley was born in Billings, but was raised for most of her life in Bozeman, Montana. She has gained a lot of her knowledge and experiences not only growing up in Montana’s beautiful habitats, but also through volunteering and work with organizations and businesses such as Big Boys Toys Outdoor Equipment Rental, the National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, and more! Her passions for the outdoors, science, and education led her to pursue a BS in Wildlife Biology and certificate in Global Leadership at the University of Montana, which she received in the spring of 2021. While living in Missoula, she has been involved with Missoula’s youth and the community, educating them about wildlife conservation and natural history through MNHC, as well as the Boys and Girls Club of Missoula County. Her favorite ways to past the time include snowshoeing, backpacking, river floating, hiking, gardening, crafting, watching tv/movies, and cooking. She is so excited to help the Missoula community through MNHC and continue learning how to be a natural steward.
Emma Swartz (she/her)
Emma grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where she learned to love being outside. She earned a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Ecology and Environmental Science at Marian University in Indianapolis while competing as a professional cyclist. After graduating, Emma headed to Mount Rainier National Park, where she led citizen science research on toads and developed a passion for science communication. Mountain biking and skiing then brought Emma to Montana and she’s so glad she’s here! She has enjoyed connecting and learning about Montana through non-profit work at Ecology Project International, Wild Montana, Families First Learning Lab, and most recently Home ReSource, where she taught zero-waste initiatives to 5th graders. Emma is excited to reconnect with her naturalist skills and explore the natural world with students in her new role as a Visiting Naturalist in the Schools Teaching Naturalist. In her free time, Emma can be found coaching the local junior mountain bike and nordic ski teams in Missoula, reading, and learning Spanish.
Elena Ulev (she/her)
Elena grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and has loved nature from a very young age. She obtained a B.S. degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Missouri-Columbia and moved to Missoula in 1999. Early in her career she worked as a field biologist and technical science writer for the U.S. Forest Service. In 2020 she became a Master Naturalist and Certified Interpretive Guide and discovered a new passion—teaching people about nature, specifically ornithology and botany. Elena currently teaches classes at the Lifelong Learning Center and MOLLI as well as teaching the Master Naturalist program in the Bitterroot Valley and Glacier National Park. She recently created a new business: Blue Heron Nature Tours. In her free time she enjoys camping, growing her own food, and paddleboarding with her two daughters, Ella and Lucy, and her husband, Seth. She and her family are currently keeping busy building a tiny off-the-grid cabin themselves in the Seeley-Swan Valley.
VNS FIELD INSTRUCTORS
Caitlin Clute (she/her)
VNS Field Instructor
Caitlin is over the moon to join the Montana Natural History Center as VNS Spring 2023 Field Instructor! She moved to Montana in 2006 from Chicago, IL, and quickly fell in love with the Rocky Mountains and Montana life. Her life was completely transformed as she began to explore, swim, bike, hike, climb, and walk all the wide open spaces and discover the incredible wilderness Montana had to offer! The skills she gained in the wilderness gave her the courage to tackle other aspects of her life and fostered a great sense of adventure. After working in the world of social work for many years, Caitlin’s adventures took her all over Asia where she travelled and discovered the vast National Park Systems of Asia and taught in China, Cambodia, and India. In 2015, she returned to her beloved state of Montana eager to get back into Montana life and earned her Masters in Education. After teaching first grade here in Missoula, more adventures were calling! So she packed up to discover one of the world’s most renowned landscapes, New Zealand! After two years of epic outdoor adventures, Caitlin is once again back in Missoula and very excited about another chapter in her teaching career.
Malinda Gaudry (she/her)
VNS Field Instructor
Malinda spent her Wisconsin childhood exploring the prairies, woods, and lakes. Her appreciation for the outdoors led her to Lake Forest College, where she earned a B.A. in Sociology & Anthropology. Later she received an Historic Preservation Certificate from the Timberline Campus of Colorado Mountain College. Malinda has worked in a multitude of positions out west with the US Forest Service, including an interpreter at the Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming, a wilderness kayak ranger on the Tracy Arm Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area in Alaska, and as an archaeologist on the GMUG and San Isabel National Forests in Colorado. She will return for her fifth season working with the National Museum of Forest Service History in Missoula, Montana. Family time with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Magnolia and Bridger, are spent walking their dog, Ranger, reading books, and exploring the great outdoors. Malinda is grateful for the opportunity to teach and learn from students about the natural wonders throughout our community.
Kate Mostad (she/her)
VNS Field Instructor
Anka Rashed (she/her)
VNS Field Instructor & Museum Associate Educator
Having grown up in the dense urban landscape of Hong Kong, Anka spent the first few years of her life satisfying her yearning towards nature and wildlife mostly through books and David Attenborough documentaries. After moving to Illinois for university in 2015, she was finally able to get out and start exploring the outdoors, leading her to discover how much she feels at home there. After graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in robotics, she decided to pursue her love for the natural world instead, which brought her to Montana. Outside of naturey things, Anka enjoys climbing, travelling, tinkering with robots, and working on her musical project, The Dawn Patrol.
Erin Vielbig (she/her)
VNS Field Instructor
Erin grew up on a family farm in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. After attending Grand Valley State University, she set off to do trail work for Montana Conservation Corps. After finding value and purpose within the conservation field, she decided to return the following season as a Trail Crew Lead. Her crew cleared trails in the Selway Bitterroot and Frank Church Wilderness areas near Missoula, Montana. Between seasons, Erin worked for a community garden outside of Atlanta, Georgia, where she helped with volunteer days and nature camps for kids. Most recently, Erin was working as a naturalist at Len Foote Hike Inn a few miles off the Appalachian Trail. While working as a naturalist, Erin developed her passion for education and natural landscapes. Erin enjoys floating the Clark Fork, playing euchre, and First Fridays.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Cheryl Carrington (she/her)
Cheryl discovered Montana’s natural beauty in 2020 while visiting family and was captivated by the splendor and peace. She decided to make Missoula her home and is dedicated to becoming part of and contributing to the local community. Growing up in a Chicago urban environment, Cheryl has had a lifelong passion for exploring the outdoors and holds an insatiable curiosity for nature in various environmental settings. She loves to explore Montana with her two adult children, who also relocated to Missoula. Cheryl brings manifold expertise to help navigate and support organizations that share her passion for the natural world. Over the last 25 years, Cheryl personally deployed over $80 million in healthcare products and services throughout five countries. As a strategic executive consultant for various businesses and start-ups, she has specialized in investment acquisition, consultation, and business development for the last seven years. Cheryl holds a Bachelor of Science from Northern Illinois University and 23 hours towards a Masters of Science in Education from the University of Nevada Reno. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Administration program at the University of Montana, graduating in the spring of 2023.
Erim Gómez, Ph.D. (he/him)
Erim is a professor in the Wildlife Biology Program housed in the Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Science at the University of Montana. He is a naturalist at heart and thus has eclectic research interests, including the conservation of endangered species, the ecology and sustainability of freshwater ecosystems, and amphibians and freshwater fish. Erim is a first-generation college graduate and proud of his parents’ farm working and immigrant roots. He is devoted to encouraging students from under-represented groups to pursue higher education, particularly in the sciences. He hopes to create applied ecological research while helping diversify the conservation and environmental field. In Erim’s spare time, he loves to hike in beautiful western Montana, take photos of wildlife, float rivers, and Latin dance.
Katie Guffin (she/her)
Katie is a Missoula native who studied Biology at Colorado College and earned her JD and MS at the University of Montana. She taught outdoor environmental education at Exploring New Horizons Outdoor School and San Joaquin Outdoor School in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, and then taught science at Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles. She also enjoyed working as a summer field instructor at the Montana Outdoor Science School and the Gore Range Natural Science School, and spending a legislative season with Montana Trout Unlimited. She works as a civil defense attorney at Bohyer, Erickson, Beaudette & Tranel, P.C. and loves Montana’s wild, open, and accessible places.
Liz is an assistant professor in the Accounting and Finance department at the University of Montana. She engages in empirical, economics-based research emphasizing sustainable reporting, voluntary disclosure, labor, sport, and auditing.
Caroline Kurtz (she/her)
Caroline was born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, and has degrees from Vassar College (B.A., English) and Boston University (M.S., Science Communication). She and her husband, Willis, have lived in Missoula since 1997, and have a daughter, Ella. MNHC became a wonderful home for Caroline soon after arriving in Missoula; she began coordinating MNHC’s Field Notes program around 1998, and created Field Notes Quarterly in 1999, which transitioned into Montana Naturalist magazine in 2004. She managed Field Notes and Montana Naturalist through 2011, and has continued to support MNHC in various ways since then. Natural history centers and museums had been a staple of Caroline’s upbringing in Ohio and the east. She was lucky to find a way to connect with MNHC and its people during the formative years, and loved feeling part of the beginning of what is now such a powerful force and resource for naturalist education and nature appreciation in Missoula and beyond.
Eva-Maria Maggi (she/her)
Eva is a professor, writer, and mule packer. She runs the Wilderness Policy and packing program at the University of Montana and teaches international security remotely at the University of Arizona. Her research on Europe and the Middle East was published in several academic journals and as the book The Will of Change in 2015, and her new book on outfitter and conservationist Smoke Elser’s adventures in the Montana wilderness is coming out soon. An avid mule packer, Master Naturalist, and Certified Interpretive Guide, Eva enjoys traveling and interpreting the backcountry for guests and her family.
Ed Monnig (he/him)
Edward Monnig has worked as an ecologist for the US Forest Service and held a variety of positions in the agency including District Ranger on the Kootenai National Forest and Forest Supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. He enjoys a variety of backcountry activities activities including skiing, backpacking and hiking, whitewater boating, hunting, and just aimless wandering in our wildlands. After retiring from the Forest Service, Ed and his wife Jackie returned to Montana where they had raised their two sons who promise more frequent visits now that Ed and Jackie are back in Missoula.
Ashley works for Willow Creek Capital Management following a 20-year career in education. She holds an MA from Stanford University and a MEd from the University of Montana. Her BA is in French and Anthropology from Skidmore College in upstate New York. Ashley and her husband have two daughters, and they can often be found at events in downtown Missoula. As a family, they enjoy skiing, spending time in the outdoors of Montana, and cooking. Ashley also plays ice hockey in the Missoula adult league, coaches her daughter’s soccer team, and loves to read. Their household includes three cats, six chickens, and a leopard gecko.