Jerry Keir is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Institute. For the past twenty two years, Keir has taught and directed interdisciplinary research and field studies throughout the Intermountain West, Central Pacific Mexico, and Costa Rica. Keir has extensive experience managing diverse research and monitoring initiatives, as well as leading collaborative conservation projects at a landscape scale. As a skilled fundraiser and project lead, Keir has overseen $100 million in grants and contracts for the Institute. When not running programs or dreaming up new ones, Jerry roams his backyard forest and desert with his spouse of 25 years, Maria, and their daughter Amaya and son Alejandro.
Kevin Dose is the Deputy Director at the GBI. After graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Health from Purdue University (2002), Kevin traveled west to join GBI’s Nevada Conservation Corps program as a Trail Crew Leader stationed at Great Basin National Park. His experience at GBNP had such a profound impact on his life that Kevin continued serving with the NCC as a Crew Leader for the following year, before taking on the role as NCC Crew Coordinator, a position he held for two years.
In the spring of 2010, Kevin returned to serve as Program Director for the NCC, a position he held for the following three years. As Program Director for the NCC, Kevin enjoyed the opportunity to lead and continue developing the program that provided him so much joy and opportunity to make a positive impact on Nevada’s public lands. As GBI’s Deputy Director, Kevin supports all programming at the institute with an emphasis on continuous improvement. Kevin enjoys spending time with his wife Dana and daughter Reya hiking and skiing, but no matter the season, you will more than likely find him outdoors enjoying the Lake Tahoe Basin where he calls home.
Chris Warner has been professionally involved with the national service movement and environmental stewardship for more than two decades. After graduating from Villanova University with a BA in Sociology (1998), Chris coordinated environmental education activities for EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region for two years when he served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer. As an Environmental Management Fellow with EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, Chris supported several multi-jurisdictional committees whose mandate is to establish policies that aim to improve the water quality of Chesapeake Bay and to manage the Program’s congressionally appropriated annual budget. After relocating to the mountain west in 2002, Chris received his MA in Political Science (Environmental Policy) from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2005. Since graduating from UNR, Chris has spent the entirety of his career at Great Basin Institute, collaborating with colleagues to develop and enhance resource management direct service programs. Chris served as the Institute’s first Research Associates Program Director and presently serves as Director of Development. In his current role, Chris is primarily focused on developing federal and state grants and agreements, and conducting government relations and policy development at the national level on behalf of GBI. In July 2011 Chris moved back to the mid-Atlantic with his family. When he isn’t playing with his two daughters, Chris enjoys cooking, gardening and bird-watching with his wife, as well as exploring the mixed conifer and hardwood forests and rolling hillsides of the surrounding farm country that south central Pennsylvania offers.
Associate Director, Terry Christopher, is proud to be from the great state of Texas, just ask him! He was born in Wichita Falls and spent most of his childhood in north Texas. His love of animals and wildlife was ingrained early on, and some of his fondest memories are of running around catching ornate box turtles and horned lizards (horny toads) on the farm. Living in El Paso, Texas for four years and spending three years in northern Alberta, Canada only strengthened his love of the outdoors and vast open spaces. (Those who know Terry find it hard to believe he lived in Canada; he’s way too much like the ectotherms he works with.) Terry attended Texas A&M University and, while at the campus on Galveston Island, he became involved with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a non-profit recovery organization, and the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Head Start program. For four years, he coordinated volunteers to recover whales and dolphins stranded along the Texas coast. Although he loved these programs, his first love was tortoises, and he continues to strive for their conservation.
In 1994, Terry migrated westward to run the Smithsonian Institution’s Desert Tortoise Nutrition program. Over the next 11 years, Terry conducted nutritional research on desert tortoises in Nevada, California, Utah and Arizona. He said he never planned on being a botanist but studying a desert herbivore quickly changed his mind. After a brief stint running a turtle and tortoise conservation center in California, Terry came to GBI as a Research Associate helping to run the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center and coordinating the USFWS Desert Tortoise Line Distance Sampling project. In fall 2008, he stepped into the role of Associate Director, overseeing GBI operations in southern NV. He brought his knowledge of the southwest and strong relationships with project partners in the south to GBI. He continues to run the desert tortoise monitoring program, refusing to give up that which brought him to the west. While in Nevada, he fell in love with his future wife (not only the desert), had three kids, and has made southern Nevada his home.
Dr. Lynn Zimmerman is the Director of Research at GBI and specializes in physiological ecology and conservation biology, particularly including habitat requirements, environmental resources, and ecophysiological consequences of environmental modifications. Her formative years were spent observing local habitats from tree height and roaming the fields and forests of western New York, wanderings that eventually led to the Mojave Desert and studies of the thermal and nutritional ecology of herbivorous reptiles for a Ph.D. in Biology. Lynn’s first experience with hypothermia was on the summit of Long’s Peak in the Colorado Rockies, and brushes with hyperthermia have accompanied reptile sampling in the deserts of southern California and Nevada. She enjoys testing her thermal tolerance limits while backpacking, hiking, snow shoeing, running and biking. Lynn has an abiding fondness and respect for animals, and is happiest when among them in their natural habitats. Dr. Zimmerman taught and conducted research on animal physiological ecology for 25 years before joining GBI in 2007. In the Research Associate program, Lynn is principally involved in oversight and implementation of projects involving wildlife monitoring and habitat assessment. She has served as Principle Investigator on a rangeland studies related to fire disturbance in the Great Basin and the Desert Southwest that improves understanding of adaptive management practices. She has been involved with AIM since its inception at GBI in 2011 to support aspects including design, training, data management, and reporting.
Scott Scherbinski’s career in Conservation Corps work began when he served as Crew Leader and Field Operations Manager for Northwest Youth Corps & Youth Corps of Southern Arizona. More recently, Scott held a position as a Biologist and Outreach Specialist for the National Park Service, building partnerships to work toward the recovery of the endangered California Condor. Scott holds a BS in Biology from Western Illinois University. Scott brings his passion for conservation and youth development to his leadership role as NCC Program Director.
Lisa Russo graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2017, majoring in Animal Science and Natural Resources with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation. After spending her early career in the equine industry, Lisa confirmed her passion for wildlife through a summer research project on white rhino behavior in South Africa as well as several internships at animal care facilities. In March of 2018, she moved to Reno, Nevada to serve as an environmental educator with GBI’s AmeriCorps program and share her enthusiasm for nature with the local youth. She continued working with GBI as a Program Assistant and then moved into the role of AmeriCorps Program Coordinator later that same year. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, horseback riding, and volunteering at the Nevada Humane Society.
Ahmad comes from our neighboring state of California with life experiences across the state, from San Diego to San Francisco. He earned a degree in Accounting and Finance from California State University at East Bay in 2000. He has extensive experience managing funds for midsize companies and offers GBI a unique perspective in assessing fiscal strategies and optimizing accounting operations. Ahmad enjoys time with his two daughters, Ariel and Ava, while exploring the vast natural and cultural learning opportunities in our region. He is new to Reno, and eagerly pursues his passions for healthy living, active sports, and his love for the outdoors here in the Great Basin.
Marc Oxoby was born and raised in Northern California. He labored extensively over books to acquire a PhD in English from the University of Nevada Reno, where he currently teaches in the Core Humanities Program. Marc provides analytical overview of programmatic scope while also supporting document deliverables. His hobbies include music, comics, craft beer, and rare film, and he (and he alone) considers himself a connoisseur of fine joke telling. Marc is happily married with three kids and a pile of dogs.
Cassandra Hughes was born and raised in Reno Nevada. She graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation in 2015. Since graduating, she has worked for a few state agencies doing various kinds of seasonal field work. Cassandra worked for the Nevada Department of Agriculture in the Entomology Section, Nevada Department of Wildlife in the Game Division, and a couple seasons with Nevada Division of State Parks. Her journey with GBI started in 2017 as a Nevada Conservation Corps restoration crew member, and shortly after that season ended, she continued with the Great Basin Institute as an Ecological Monitoring Program technician for AIM and then did another season as a crew lead. She started her current position as the Recruitment and Compliance Coordinator for the Nevada Conservation Corps in December 2019. In her free time, Cassandra enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, going on adventures and seeing new things, Latin dancing particularly Cuban salsa, and spending time with friends and family. She enjoys working for the Great Basin Institute because she believes the institute’s mission, enjoys the culture, and knows she is making a difference.
Alissa Gardner (Demmer)
Alissa Gardner (Demmer) grew up in the Twin Cities, earning her B.S. in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Minnesota in 2009. She truly fell hard for the wild outdoors while working in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming as an AmeriCorps trail crew member in 2010. She has great appreciation for nature and all it provides, which led her back to school to complete her M.Ed. in Environmental Education in 2014. After wrapping up grad school, Alissa headed to Nevada and took on a position as a Research Associate with GBI in the Spring Mountains. Since then, she has held training and volunteer coordinator positions in Southern NV related to conservation and environmental work. Outside of her work with GBI, Alissa adores hiking, yoga, learning about nature-based therapeutics, her incredible family, partner and two very affectionate senior cats.
Kenny Polte is originally from Boston, MA, He moved West after graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in environmental science. Pursuing a love of the outdoors, he began his career as a crew member and then a crew leader with the Utah Conservation Corps. Kenny joined GBI as a field supervisor for the Nevada Conservation Corps leading crews in Las Vegas, NV and Shoshone, CA in 2017 and 2018. He now works at the Reno office coordinating training, education, and field support for chainsaw crews. Kenny spends his free time exploring wild places and especially loves to hike, climb, and ski the mountains around Lake Tahoe.
Mila Bock joins GBI with over a decade of diverse experience working in Conservation and Natural Resource Management. With an undergraduate degree in Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University, Mila began her career eradicating invasive species and monitoring the recovery of ecosystems in Alaska and Yosemite National Park. Her passion for protecting and restoring western landscapes led her to work for the Nature Conservancy in Colorado and Nevada, and attain a Masters in Environmental Management from Western Colorado University. Confronted by the pressing need to improve the health and management of California’s forests, Mila shifted her focus to forestry. After working with forest Collaboratives on projects in Northern California and working with GBI on a timber marking crew, Mila joined GBI staff as the Forestry Program Coordinator in the winter of 2020. She is inspired by the partnerships and work GBI and the US Forest Service has accomplished, and is excited to support the program as it continues to grow and better serve California’s forests. In her free time, Mila enjoys cooking, participating in the plethora of outdoor activities available in the Tahoe Basin, spending time with her dog and partner and daydreaming about opportunities for more international travel.
Jessica Droke is the Cultural Resources Program Manager at GBI. Jessica began her career in archaeology at the University of Tennessee: Knoxville (2014), where she trained as a bioarchaeologist and participated in fieldwork throughout the Tennessee River Valley. She later pursued a Master’s degree in Anthropology at the University of Indianapolis (2017), where she focused on regional trends in diet among hunter-gatherer populations in the Middle Paleolithic. While in Indiana, Jessica had the opportunity to participate on a number of cultural resource management projects across the state and region including: survey and excavation of historic pioneering homesteads, antebellum cemetery excavations, and an assortment of pre-contact sites and collections from the Midwest. After completing her Master’s degree and a stint working at a Tribal Archaeological Monitor with the Osage Nation (Pawhuska, OK), Jessica started her Ph.D. work at the University of Wyoming, where her dissertation explores broader trends in hunter-gatherer social organization and subsistence in deep human evolutionary time. More recently, Jessica worked as GBI Research Associate at Death Valley National Park doing compliance archaeology on a large-scale NEPA project prior to taking on the role of Program Manager. She is passionate about growing the Cultural Resources Program at GBI, and excited to help facilitate new opportunities to support project partner needs and facilitate training and development of the next generation of cultural resource managers. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her 2 dogs and partner, working on her dissertation, hiking, backpacking, and kayaking in the Lake Tahoe area and beyond.
Alejandro Keir studies conservation biology and evolutionary ecology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Born in the mountains of central Mexico, and raised locally on Mount Rose, Alejandro is an avid fly fisherman, mountain biker, and snowboarder, and his passion for the outdoors keeps his heart centered on the landscape. While serving as ecological restoration coordinator for Galena Creek Field Institute, he enjoys connecting teachers and students to the forest, and working to support the recovery of our local watershed.
Aurora Pinkey-Drobnis is a passionate educator, an adventurer, and a conservation steward. She graduated in 2012 with a B.A. in Geoscience. She has worked for a variety of conservation organizations and public land agencies in some of the most special places in the U.S. including Nevada, Oregon, California, Idaho, and Montana. She feels a deep connection to wild spaces because of their ability to challenge and inspire us to be our best. Through her experiences she has found that conservation cultivates resilience, allowing us to make meaningful connections to both the landscape and each other. In her free time Aurora can be found walking, climbing, or biking long distances in sunshine and snow.
Vince LaPlante is an established trail builder having constructed some of the most complex multi-use trail systems in the intermountain west. Before joining GBI in 2013, he worked over two decades with the U.S. Forest Service and four years with the National Park Service, inventorying, designing, and constructing some of the most scenic trails in the Western United States. As Trails Coordinator for the Nevada Conservation Corps he finds satisfaction in teaching the next generation of trail builders how to construct recreational trails in a sustainable and durable manner. When not at work, you can find Vince enjoying the remote backcountry of the Sierra Nevadas.
Tyler Merrill was born and raised in Maryland. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources Management from West Virginia University in 2013 and a master’s degree in Natural Resources Science & Management from the University of Minnesota in 2017. He fell in love with trail work and corps life while working for the Wisconsin Conservation Corps during the summer of 2011, and what began as “doing trail work to pass the time between years of school” quickly became “going to school to pass the time between seasons of trail work”. He went on to work several more seasons with WisCorps, two seasons with Conservation Corps Minnesota & Iowa, and two seasons with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (Colorado) before coming to work at GBI. Tyler spends his free time hiking, hunting, reading, exercising, and teaching himself new things.
Mary Poelman graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 2010, majoring in Plant and Environmental Biotechnology. She moved to Henderson, NV to work for the USGS in the Western Ecological Research Center where she fell in love with the Mojave. She eloped from Nevada to earn her Master’s Degree in Rangeland Ecology with a focus in plant genetics from the University of Wyoming in 2016. Upon moving back to the desert, she worked as a plant biologist and managed a microbiology lab before joining GBI to work as their AmeriCorps Program Assistant in the Southern Nevada Office. In her free time she enjoys getting out in the desert to track plant phenology, designing art quilts inspired by the Mojave, writing computer programs, and hanging out with the wildlife biologist husband.
Tucker Herbert is the AmeriCorps Grants Coordinator for GBI. Originally born and raised in Maryland, Tucker migrated West in 2008 to obtain a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Northern Arizona University. After graduating college in 2010, he first began a conservation career serving as an AmeriCorps trail crew member with the Coconino Rural Environmental Corps in Flagstaff, AZ. His experience and excitement for all things corps work related over the following years led him to positions as a crew leader, field supervisor, and program coordinator. Tucker started his new role with the Great Basin Institute in January 2020 after spending the last three years as the Individual Placement Program Director for Arizona Conservation Corps in Tucson. AZ. In his free time Tucker enjoys skiing, backpacking, running, and reading, and is excited to explore all that the Tahoe basin has to offer.
Kaitlin Lubetkin earned her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California, Merced. Her doctoral work focused on plant ecology related to natural resource management, and involved developing methodologies for surveying conifer encroachment into meadows and leading crews to gather data for characterizing meadow habitat and surrounding ecosystems. In addition to teaching a variety of courses at UC Merced, Kaitlin has worked for the US Forest Service conducting amphibian surveys and gathering vegetation data to assess rare plant habitats. Kaitlin joined GBI in 2016, where she first served as an Ecological Field Monitoring Coordinator, overseeing crews employing the AIM data collection strategy. Her proven success with AIM, as well as data management and QA/QC processing, allows for her to succeed at revising and updating ecological site descriptions and reference sheets in priority sage-grouse habitat for the Idaho BLM State Office.
Rick A. Sweitzer, M.S., PhD, University of Nevada, Reno (1990, 1995) is a Wildlife Biologist with over 35 years of research experience, compliance, and teaching experience in the Western United States. Rick has held professional positions at the University of California Davis (Postdoctoral Research, Adjunct teaching), University of Alaska, Fairbanks (Visiting), the University of North Dakota (Assistant and Associate Professor), and the University of California, Berkeley (Research Professional/Associate Professor). Rick first joined The Great Basin Institute in 2013 when he spent several years working on data analyses, and completed multiple important publications on the population biology and conservation-associated aspects of Pacific fisher ecology in the Southern Sierra Nevada, California. In addition to experience with NEPA and Endangered Species Act compliance (Biological Assessments/Evaluations, Management Indicator Species Reports, etc.), Rick has over 50 peer-reviewed publications in science journals including the Journal of Wildlife Management, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Forest Ecology and Management, Oecologia, Journal of Mammalogy, Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, and others.
John Umek, PhD., University of Nevada, Reno (2015) supports GBI water resources program and is Assistant Research Professor with the Desert Research Institute and has 18 years of experience in aquatic ecology, water quality monitoring, and natural resource management. He is experienced with a range of statistical methods, numerical modeling, and working with invasive and endangered aquatic organisms. He has extensive field surveying and water quality monitoring experience. Current and former projects include working on an interdisciplinary NSF project focused on springs biota structure and condition across the Southern Great Basin, impacts to springs overtime in the Eastern Great Basin and Lahontan Cutthroat trout movement in Central Nevada.
Dominic Gentilcore PhD, University of Nevada Las Vegas (2019) practices applied ecology using botany and soil science to help understand, manage, and restore public lands throughout the semi-arid Western US. He has worked with all sectors that operate on public lands including academia, non-profits, governments, and private industry, conducting scientific research and environmental consulting. Project work in NEPA analysis includes planning for transmission lines, mines, solar power plants, roads, oil and gas projects for compliance with environmental regulations, directing surveys, monitoring, and restoration efforts. Specific research focuses on long-term response to fire in creosote and blackbrush shrublands relating it to the shifting transition zone between the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts focused on result-driven projects implemented at landscape-level scales and research with land management applications.
Sean Simpson, MA University of Nevada, Reno, Reno (2010) is the Institute’s Senior Consulting Archeologist and has expertise in NEPA compliance inventories for mining, gas, oil and communication infrastructure on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service public lands across Nevada, Washington and Oregon. Mr. Simpson has performed archaeological inventories and architectural assessments of irrigation and bridge features for the Army Corps of Engineers and has expertise and extensive experience in completing district evaluations of historic mining districts in central and northern Nevada, including Manhattan, Kinsley, Rochester, Yerington, Pine Grove, Rockland, Fairview, and Bell Mountain mining districts.