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Hometown: Cleveland, OH
How do you describe Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to someone who has not heard about it?
We are an organization that partners people who love and care about the outdoors with opportunities to help protect the areas where they play. We serve as a match maker between the science and outdoor communities.
What spurred you to create Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation?
An intense desire to make a difference while I play and experience the outdoors. I also have a working understanding of how limited our knowledge of the planet is and how many decisions are made with that limited knowledge. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I felt guilty for being outside as much as I was without contributing. During that trek, I had this moment where I was as low as I had been. I was in Pennsylvania, it was raining, and my ankles were really cut up from falling on rocks. Even at that moment, I knew I wanted to be outside and continue to spend time in the outdoors, but needed to make a difference. It was seven years after that when I really had the idea to get it launched. After walking the length of the Andes, I was awarded the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2008 and that opened a lot of doors and helped make the organization possible.
What are some of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’s current projects?
Last year, we had 850 people go out on expeditions around the world. We are on all seven continents and continue to grow. We just launched a program called Landmark to protect American Prairie Reserve. We have 72 volunteers per year who will collect a broad set of wildlife data and help the American Prairie Reserve management team make better decisions on a really important conservation effort. It is like being a part of founding Yellowstone in the 1800s.
We are also working on a microplastics project right now. When I was in Colorado, I became attached to the Colorado Ocean Coalition based in Boulder. In the past years, I have learned how disturbed our oceans are. We are working to have 500 volunteers collect ocean water samples this year, and what we have found so far is unbelievable. 99 percent of water samples have plastic in them with an average of 17 pieces of plastic per sample. It is so important for people to understand that ocean conservation is super important in the mountains. The plastics we are finding are entering water ways from places as far from the oceans as Colorado. The plastics we are finding are from your fleece jackets, from your face washes that have plastics in them, and from broken down items that are larger like plastic bags.
Tomorrow I am taking a group of seventh graders on a wolverine tracking expedition. We will set up a camp for three days and teach them how to identify wolverine tracks and collect DNA.
What are your roles as the Executive Director?
I am responsible for making Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation run – everything from managing staff to overseeing programming and deciding the direction of the organization to fundraising and living the mission by getting out to explore. I am also a National Geographic Explorer, so I get to have a dual role and have them at my back. I wear so many hats and get to do so many things, be it guiding or meeting with donors to raising money or developing a sustainable business model.
What did you do after graduation from CU-Boulder?
I was a ski instructor at Eldora, and then I moved up to Breckenridge where I worked as a raft guide and as a ski tech. I lived a ski bum lifestyle, which was supplemented for a while by teaching preschool. Then I worked at the Trailhead Wilderness School for a few years with at risk youth. After that, I became the first person to hike the length of the Andes, south of the equator, which took more than 22 months and covered 7,800 miles. In 2008, I was awarded the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award for that trek, which opened doors for me. I then got another degree in Ecology and Evolution and started tracking wildlife - that’s when I realized all of the fun and beneficial things I was doing could translate into so much more if I got lots of people to mobilize around data collection.
How do you think your CU-Boulder experience shaped you?
I learned about my deep passion of the outdoors at CU-Boulder. Whether that was going up to the mountains on the weekends to ski or climbing the Flatirons, I developed a deep, deep love of the mountains. I think I also developed an ability to think critically. I learned not to accept things at face value, and to discover that the world is not what we see at a first glimpse. My degree from CU-Boulder taught me to look deeper and to look at the interactions that people have with the world and other people. It gave me the ability to think of myself as an agent of change and someone who could make a difference. The people of CU-Boulder were also a big influence. I had a professor, Ted Young, for several courses. He really became a mentor and I looked up to him a lot, because he has multiple degrees but continues to be curious. The people were really inspiring, both professors and peers, which is something really great about CU-Boulder.
What advice do you have for students who are currently considering college?
Experience all of the university and take advantage of all of your time there, which includes social, academics, clubs and really just exploring who you are. Explore the direction that you want your life to go. Going to a place like CU-Boulder provides you every opportunity to become you!