Jerry Keir is the co-founder and Director of the Great Basin Institute. Born and raised among the tall oaks and open fields of northern Illinois, Jerry migrated south for his formal education, earning a BA at the University of Texas in 1990 and an MA at Southwest Texas University in 1993. Between graduate programs, he wandered, lived,and taught throughout Japan and Mexico before returning to the US in 1996 to continue graduate work at the University of Nevada, Reno. While studying experimental field ecology at a Sierra Nevada field station, Jerry met the Institute’s co-founder, Sanjay Pyare, and began developing and implementing environmental field course curricula and service programs for the University, which eventually led to the formation of the Institute.
In 1999, Keir founded the Nevada Conservation Corps, a direct service program funded by AmeriCorps. In 2001, Jerry returned to Mexico to establish an academic field studies along the central pacific coast, the Costalegre. With added Earthwatch Institute funding in 2003, the program engages internationals from around the world in community-based coastal conservation and restoration, a project which now extends to Costa Rica’s National Parks. When not running programs or dreaming up new ones, Jerry enjoys exploring the Great Basin and Lake Tahoe region with his spouse, Maria, and their two children, Alejandro and Amaya.
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.
Lee Davis brings his extensive background in plant ecology and project management to his work as the Director of GBI’s Ecological Monitoring Program. Lee completed his BS in Horticulture from North Carolina State University in 2004 and his Master’s in Environmental and Forest Biology from SUNY-ESF in 2011. Since then, Lee has devoted himself to ecosystem restoration and land management, most recently for Walker Basin Conservancy and for the SageSTEP project out of Utah State University, where he served as the Eastern Region Coordinator. He has spent multiple seasons as a field botanist and ecologist in the Great Basin, working across the nonprofit, academic, and consulting sectors. At GBI, Lee plays a central role in AIM projects, overseeing terrestrial and aquatic monitoring, as well as the development and implementation of technical field methodologies. When not hard at work conserving native species and communities, Lee enjoys fly fishing and fly tying, backpacking and skiing.
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.
Sage Bates is a Nevada local, born and raised in Las Vegas. She grew up learning about the beauty and dangers of the Mojave Desert. Because of these experiences, Sage has a goal to help protect this area. She earned her degree in Communications and Geology at Northern Arizona University. After college, Sage started with GBI as a crew member for the Nevada Conservation Corps. After one season, Sage went through the GBI leadership development program and in Summer 2018 ran her own trail crew. She now works out of the Reno office assisting the Research Associate program with recruitment and compliance.In her spare time, Sage likes to read, watch movies, and try out new recipes. She loves to hike and frequently visits trails in the Reno area that her crew built.
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.
Augustine grew up in Seattle, Washington where she developed an interest in the environment and conservation. She earned her Bachelors of Science from Humboldt State University before relocating to Reno, Nevada to complete a AmeriCorps VISTA year serving a small non-profit. Augustine was excited to join the GBI team in March of 2017.
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.
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.
Chad Kooistra grew up in Michigan and spent many hours experiencing nature at his family’s apple orchard. These experiences inspired him to earn a B.S. in parks and protected area management at Colorado State University in 2005. After working for the US Forest Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, he joined the Nevada Conservation Corps in 2006 working as a crew supervisor and crew coordinator in southern Nevada. Chad earned a M.S. degree at the University of Idaho in 2011 and Ph.D. from Oregon State University in 2016 studying human dimensions of natural resource issues, including wildfires, outdoor recreation, and collaborative land management. While working on several post-doctoral projects at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, Chad joined GBI as a Research Associate in 2016 studying recreational capacity issues at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. He is excited to serve GBI as Director of Research Innovation and Engagement and explore Reno and the Sierra Nevada Mountains with his wife, Sara, and their dog, Fuji.
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.
Sarah Mendoza was born and raised in the suburbs Northern New Jersey. She came to love and appreciate the outdoors while participating in cross country in high school. She graduated from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey with a B.S. in Biology in 2012. Sarah came to the Great Basin Institute in 2015 as a crew member with the Nevada Conservation Corps and instantly fell in love with the work and the NCC’s mission. Sarah continued her time with the NCC through the Leadership Development Program, and as a crew lead then crew supervisor, spent two summers leading a trail crew at Great Basin National Park as well as trail and restoration crews based out of Las Vegas. She is now the Recruitment and Compliance Coordinator for the NCC program. In her free time, Sarah enjoys hiking, backpacking, road tripping, running, and reading works by J.R.R. Tolkien.
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.
Sylvia Leal was raised in Lakeview, Oregon, a small town out in southeastern Oregon’s high desert. She grew up spending a lot of time outside hunting, fishing, and camping with her family, which spurred her interest in natural resources. She started working for the Forest Service right out of high school. She continued working there throughout her time in college, which allowed her to spend her summers out in the woods and her winters making maps. These experiences encouraged her to study Geography and Environmental Studies at University of Oregon. She was excited to start working at GBI in June 2017. When she’s not working, Sylvia enjoys fishing, reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with her family.
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
Lucas Wedge developed a love for the outdoors while hiking and camping with his local Boy Scout troop, where he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. While studying Environmental Science and Natural Resources at the University of Nevada, Reno, he began to focus more heavily on botany and the rangeland ecosystem throughout Nevada.
Lucas started working for GBI in the summer of 2016 as a field technician for the NDOW VHA program and enjoyed it so much he returned the following year to the same position after earning his bachelor’s degree. After serving two consecutive seasons, Lucas became the Assistant Coordinator for the NDOW program in early 2018. He currently assists Jessica Saenz and uses his botany and GIS skills to support the program. In his free time, Lucas enjoys cooking, collecting plants from around Nevada, and snowboarding.
Robert Frank, based in Reno, Nevada, serves as the Nevada Ecological Assistant Project Manager. He received his bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences, with a focus in freshwater aquatic ecology, from Paul Smiths College in 2015, and a Master’s degree in Environmental Management, with a focus in Alpine Ecology and Public Lands Management in 2017 at Western Colorado University. Robert’s work at Western Colorado University focused on studying dust deposition effects on snow pack and alpine plant community dynamics. Robert has considerable field experience as a vegetative specialist, wetland scientist, and ecological monitoring crew member. In his free time he enjoys skiing, backpacking, and fly- fishing.
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.
Tayler DeBrosse works out of Lander, Wyoming as the State AIM Coordinator. She graduated from Ohio University in 2015 with a degree in Plant Biology with a focus in Applied Ecology. In the summer of 2016, Tayler worked as a Research Associate for GBI in Lander as an AIM crew technician. The following year she became a crew lead on the same project. Now in her third year with GBI, Tayler facilitates our efforts in Wyoming including coordination of five Terrestrial and two Aquatic AIM crews. Tayler has a great appreciation for our public lands and appreciates working and recreating on them. In her free time she enjoys climbing, trail running and cooking.
Theresa O’Halloran is the Great Basin Institute’s Aquatic Monitoring Project Manager. In this role, she oversees and coordinates the recruitment, training, and deployment of Aquatic AIM crews in Nevada, California, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Theresa received her BA in Geography from the University of Colorado and her MS in Hydrology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Since 2011, she has worked on a variety of hydrologic and environmental projects relating to stream and aquatic ecology, forest hydrology, water quality, and water resource management. In her free time, Theresa enjoys running, climbing, and skiing.
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.