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.
Sarah was born and raised in the land of ten thousand lakes, growing up in Minneapolis, MN. She relocated to Iowa, where she earned her degree in Accounting from Luther College in 2010 and followed with her Masters in Accountancy at Drake University in 2012. Sarah has experience working in many different industries, including private and non-public institutions. She enjoys spending her free time outdoors, hiking and backpacking to new places, never without her two dogs, Thor and Cash.
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.
Jessica was raised in the San-Francisco Bay Area and moved to Reno, NV in 2013 to pursue an undergraduate degree at the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated in 2017 with a degree in Business Administration where she studied finance and economics. Jessica loves the opportunity to apply her financial education at an organization focused on public land conservation and education. She has loved living in the Reno area because of its proximity to the beautiful Lake Tahoe and surrounding national forests. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys trying out new recipes in the kitchen and spending time outdoors with her friends and family.
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.
Sophia King is the Recruitment and Compliance Coordinator for the Research Associate and AmeriCorps Programs at GBI. Originally from Reno, Nevada, she has lived in Brooklyn, NY, Washington State, Santa Cruz, California, and most recently San Francisco. In 2019, she received her M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of San Francisco. Her professional background is dynamic and varied, some highlights of which include working in outdoor recreation, violence prevention, community garden restoration, food pantry coordination, and entertainment programming. A lifelong learner, Sophia is passionate about promoting educational equity and environmental justice and is grateful for the opportunity to pay her education forward in her home community. Outside of work, she sustains herself through spending time outside, learning new things, and fostering creativity in everything she does.
James Maxwell is the Operations Coordinator for the Great Basin Institute. He was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and attended Oregon State University where he acquired his B.S. in Natural Resources in 2010. After college he served as an AmeriCorps Intern and later as a Crew Leader for a year-and-half doing conservation work on public lands throughout Arizona and Utah. From there he went on to work five seasons as a Crew Leader doing wilderness restoration in Yosemite National Park. These experiences allowed him to explore and learn about the wide variety of ecosystems and landscapes that exists throughout the Western United States and has instilled in him a profound appreciation for public lands. James began his position as the Logistics Coordinator for the Great Basin Institute at the start of 2109 where he manages the fleet and equipment for the organization. He takes pride is having the opportunity to facilitate the wide array of environmental projects that GBI is a part of. In his free time he enjoys skiing, climbing, backpacking throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains, playing drums, and traveling with his wife Joleen and dog Georgie.
Laura Azzarello was born and raised in Illinois, in a northern suburb outside of the city of Chicago. She attended college at the University of Illinois where she received her bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Science with a concentration in fish and wildlife conservation. Throughout her studies she completed internships around the world including Hawaii and the Bahamas. Through these experiences, she learned the power of connecting people to nature and just how much she enjoyed doing so. In her role as GBI’s Visitor Centers Senior Coordinator, she hopes to continue her journey as an environmental educator and activist. In her free time, Laura likes to do yoga, play with her cat, Nina, cook, practice photography, and spend as much time in nature as she can.
Sam Bellis was raised in California where she was fortunate enough to explore the mountains, beaches, deserts, rivers, and forests. Deciding deserts were her favorite, Sam went to college in Arizona at Prescott College, where she was able to raft new rivers, backpack through canyons, and bask on the beaches of Sonora, Mexico. During all of this, she studied Environmental Science, learning about the birds, bugs, plants, and atmospheric processes that make a place a place. She also had the opportunity to work as an environmental educator at camps, schools, and after school programs. When she’s not learning and teaching, Sam enjoys birding, painting, embroidering, and petting other people’s dogs (with their permission of course). Sam is hoping to apply her experience and passion for environmental education to make your visitor center experience the best it can be.
Alissa 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.
Carrie Pritchard is the Cultural Resource Program Manager at GBI. Her professional specialties include compliance, resource documentation, heritage management, historic preservation, public education and stewardship, bioarchaeology, and human remains recovery. Carrie was born and raised in Bishop, California but she has lived in and traveled to many other places.
She completed an M.A. in Applied Anthropology from Humboldt State University and a B.A. /B.A. in Anthropology and Ecology from the University of Denver. She has conducted international archaeological field research in Morocco, Peru, Belize, and Poland. Her career in cultural resources management began 10 years ago with the US Forest Service on the Inyo National Forest and she went on to spend 8 years working in private consulting on projects throughout California, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, before joining the team at GBI. As the Cultural Resource Program Manager at GBI, Carrie oversees planning and implementation of cultural resource projects with diverse initiatives throughout the Great Basin and California.
Carrie is also a Level 3 PSIA certified Ski Instructor. In her free time she enjoys traveling, resort skiing, backcountry skiing, hiking, running, yoga, fly fishing, writing, and reading.
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.
Zachery Welch is the Forestry Program Coordinator for the Great Basin Institute. Born and raised in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Zachery came to the University of Nevada, Reno, earn his B.S. in Forest Management and Ecology. Since then, he’s worked in forestry, OHV, restoration, and wildland fire positions across several agencies throughout California, Nevada, and Colorado. His first position with GBI was as the Forestry Crew Lead on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in his hometown of South Lake Tahoe. After a rewarding field season, Zachery decided that he wanted to do more for the organization and accepted his current position. In the winter you can find him skiing the trees, and in the summer you can find his at the top of some mountain or high-alpine lake.
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.
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.
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.
Jessica Sáenz was born and raised in northern Nevada. She took an interest in natural resources management after a semester abroad in Costa Rica during her sophomore year of college. She earned two Bachelor’s degrees from the University of Nevada Reno one in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology and one in Spanish with a minor in Business. Jessica also completed a Master’s Degree in Fisheries Science from Oregon State University studying the population dynamics of desert fishes in western Utah. She has worked across Nevada conducting monitoring and habitat surveys for amphibians, birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and small mammals. She has also worked on riparian and spring restoration projects aimed at improving habitat for endemic desert fishes. In her free time Jessica likes to go hiking, backpacking, skiing, and camping with her husband and dog, Huckleberry.
Huckleberry Danger Pancake is GBI’s most enthusiastic employee. She loves socializing at the office and playing fetch or tug-of-war. When not hard at work at the office, Huckleberry likes spending time outdoors camping, hiking, backpacking, and swimming. Besides her avid devotion to her ball she also loves kids and cheese.
Cassandra Collins is the Coordinator for the Ecological Monitoring Program in Nevada. This role includes the recruitment, training, and coordination of crews across the state’s six BLM districts. Prior to serving in this position, Cassandra was a Crew Lead for two years within Nevada’s Battle Mountain District collecting data for AIM, IIRH, and Ecological Site Verification. Her background is in Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences with a strong interest in soil restoration, and she holds a B.S. in International Soil and Crop Sciences, with a minor in International Development, from Colorado State University 2012
Mindi Lundberg is the Utah Project Manager for the Ecological Monitoring program. She was born and raised in northern Utah. She completed her degree in Conservation and Restoration Ecology with an emphasis in Wildlife Science from Utah State University in 2010. She has been working in the natural resources field in some capacity since 2008, when she got her start at the university’s Plant Ecology Lab. She has held many positions throughout Utah from being a Plant and Wildlife Ecologist for several years with a small environmental consulting company in central Utah to working several seasonal positions with the Utah Department of Wildlife Recourses, Utah State Parks, USU, as well as a few years out of the state with the US Forest Service in Boise, Idaho. She has a strong wildlife background and is a self-proclaimed ‘bird nerd’ and spends a lot of her spare time on her back porch watching them. She also enjoys traveling, refinishing mid-century furniture, and on top of fly fishing recently discovered the joy of bass fishing.
Nicholas Rzyska-Filipek is in his first year at GBI, where he will be assisting with the Aquatic AIM program throughout the western United States. Nick grew up exploring in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado before heading to Western State Colorado University to study ecology, fishing and skiing. After graduating, he working to conserve, manage, and study fish in the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada. During his time working with fish he recognized the import role that healthy streams and riparian vegetation plays in fish populations.
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.
Sean McKenzie earned a B.A. in biology from Williams College in Williamstown, M.A. and a Master’s degree in Land Rehabilitation from Montana State University. His thesis, completed in 2014, addressed biodiversity and ecosystem functions in intensively managed agroecosystems. Sean has applied his expertise in plant identification to provide weed ecology and biological science support to Montana State’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Science, Oregon State University’s Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, and the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. His experience in conducting plant monitoring, surveys, and collections makes him an asset to GBI’s efforts with soils and ecological site identification and verification.