Ryan Olson, Executive Director
Ryan Olson
Executive Director

Ryan joined Muddy Sneakers in January 2012 after spending the previous four years in Charleston, SC as the Assistant Director of Land Protection for the SC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Ryan received his B.A. from The University of the South in Sewanee, TN and his J.D from the Charleston School of Law in Charleston, SC. Throughout his educational and professional career, Ryan has worked in and on behalf of the environment and specifically his legal studies focused on environmental, property and land use law. He credits his summer camp experiences at local camp Gwynn Valley and later Colorado Outward Bound as the two most transformational periods of his life and now revels in the opportunity to provide similar experiential opportunities to public school students in the Carolinas. A believer that we all need more “Ah Ha” moments in our lives, Ryan sees Muddy Sneakers as a leader in the “nature deficit disorder/no child left inside” movement and feels the disconnect between the world’s youth and the natural world needs to be one of the primary focuses of the modern environmental movement. An avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast, Ryan spent time in New Zealand, Hawaii, Mexico and Colorado before returning to the southeast. His other interests include music/film/literature, surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, camping and traveling with his family in their VW bus, Lolo. Ryan and his wife Maria, along with their three daughters Anderson, Clara and Ida, live in Pisgah Forest, NC.

Ruby Compton, WNC Program Director
Ruby Compton
WNC Program Director

Ruby’s naturalist training started with many childhood hours sitting in a dogwood tree in her front yard. Her studies took her indoors long enough to earn a B.S. in Recording Industry Management from Middle Tennessee State University with Minors in Entrepreneurship and Electro-Acoustics. Ruby’s program management experience includes several years in summer camp administration at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan in Nashville, TN and Green River Preserve in Cedar Mountain, NC. Ruby credits her four years at Nature’s Classroom Atop Lookout Mountain with being where she discovered how environmental education could enhance traditional classroom experiences, benefit interpersonal relationships between her students, and offer a viable career opportunity for those who want to teach outdoors. Though Ruby teaches only occasionally in the field these days, she can be found presenting at camp and EE conferences and podcasting about staff training, classroom management, and community building. A mountain girl at heart, Ruby lives in Penrose, NC on the outskirts of Dupont State Forest and enjoys the outdoor pursuits offered in WNC including trail running, hiking, paddling, mountain biking, backpacking, and porch sitting. And if you find Ruby snooping around off-trail, she is probably geocaching.

Elise Tellez, Piedmont Program Director
Elise Tellez
Piedmont Program Director

Elise grew up in Dallas, TX but now calls the beautiful town of Salisbury, NC her home. At a very young age, Elise was drawn to science and was often found in a mud pile in the backyard or bringing all kinds of critters into the house. As an adult, she is still often found practicing this same behavior. She attended the University of Dallas and studied Biology and Environmental Sciences. During college, she spent much time volunteering with Parks and Rec and researching all kinds of things from birds in Costa Rica to nuisance algae in the Great Lakes. It was all of her time spent outdoors during her studies that solidified her desire to find a career that would allow her to continue just that. After college she began her career in environmental education at the wonderful Don Lee Center right along the Neuse River in North Carolina. It was there that Elise became hooked on environmental education and discovered that a connection to the natural world enhances education and empowers students of all ages. From there, she moved on to work at the Alabama 4-H Science School where she spent a number of years teaching outdoors, caring for reptiles and birds of prey and serving as their Education and Assistant Animal Care Specialist. Elise is beyond excited to be back in NC and working with a rad organization like Muddy Sneakers. In her free time, she can be found crafting, paddling, hiking, backpacking, listening to podcasts, or hanging in the hammock right along side her sweet dog Bella.

Perry Hodgkins Jones, Development Office
Perry Hodgkins Jones
Development Officer

Perry was raised in New Jersey and grew up in the fields, streams, and green hills of Vermont on the weekends and holidays with her family. She credits her childhood experiences exploring and playing outside, both at home and at camp in the Colorado Rockies, as the root of her lifelong passion for environmental advocacy, education, and engagement. After graduating from Wellesley College with a B.A. in International Relations, she moved to New York City and began to work in the fundraising world of non-profits. UJA-Federation of New York gave her a great foundation in both the planned giving and endowments realm and working with major donors. She moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, where she married Richmond Jones and received her M.A. in Theology and the Environment from the University of the South. Perry and Richmond then spent two years in Macon, Georgia, where she worked as Vice President for Warka Water, an award-winning international start-up non-profit. She has also been very involved in environmental work with the Episcopal Church at an international, national, and local level for the past several years. Though they only recently moved to Western North Carolina in 2017, it instantly felt like home. When she’s not spreading news of Muddy Sneakers’ work to supporters near and far, you can find Perry fly-fishing, hiking, trail-running, star-gazing, playing her banjo, reading, cooking with Richmond, or painting somewhere with a view.

Lee Choubane, WNC Field Instructor
Lee Choubane
Camp Muddy Sneakers Summer Director - WNC

Lee acquired a love for science and the outdoors at a young age. Originally from north Florida, her family vacations to Western North Carolina inspired her to attend high school in Franconia, New Hampshire where her love for the mountains was enhanced by her new found love for snow. She attended the White Mountain School whose curriculum widely involved environmental education and lots of time playing in the outdoors. In between the school years, she worked her first job on an organic farm where her love for natural systems and growing vegetables soared. After high school she moved to North Carolina to attend Brevard College. Following her first year, she decided to fill her passion for learning and farming in a more untraditional way. Through the WWOOF program she found a small organic farm in the Andes of Argentina where she learned about different dynamic farming and building methods. She also learned about the history and culture while hitchhiking over the Andes into Chile and down into Patagonia. On her return to the states, she moved to Crested Butte, Colorado where she searched for the best powder stashes and worked as a jewelry maker and a dog handler. She returned to Brevard, North Carolina in 2012 and has worked as a fishing guide for a local outfitter and trek manager for Cherokee Creek Boys School. She is delighted to take her love of science, the outdoors, and children and bring them together while serving as a Camp Muddy Sneakers Summer Director. In her spare time, she cares for her son Sawyer, hikes, gardens, canoes, fly fishes, and if she’s lucky, snowboards!

Anna Ewing
WNC Administrative Assistant

Anna grew up in the Midwest and found her love of the outdoors running through cornfields. Growing up, her grandparents gave her many books about traveling, the world, and the environment. She rarely went a day without a book in her hand. Her love for learning and reading drew her to study archaeology at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse where she got her BA in Archaeology and Anthropology. Though the cornfields were exciting to explore, the mountains were calling and Anna moved to Brevard for summer 2017. She worked as a counselor and rock climbing instructor for Green River Preserve and continued working as an outdoor educator for the fall program at Camp High Rocks for Boys. When she’s not in the office, you can most likely find her behind a camera or reading a book in her hammock in the forest.

Field Instructors

Molly Gillespie, WNC Assistant Program Director and WNC Field Instructor
Molly Gillespie
WNC Assistant Program Director, WNC Field Instructor

Molly was born and raised in Spokane, WA and spent much of her youth exploring the amazing natural world of the Great Northwest. In 1998, Molly earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology from Santa Clara University in California. After graduating, Molly’s love for wild places led her to Alaska where her curiosity of the unique plants and animals of the Boreal Forest and Arctic Tundra began her humble training of becoming a naturalist.
Molly continues to go to Alaska every year, where she lives and works near Denali National Park as a Wilderness Guide, Educator,Naturalist, and Outdoor Retailer for half of the year. She is grateful to work with amazing people that care deeply for wild places and who are active and influential environmentalists.
Molly first visited WNC in 1999 and worked as a substitute teacher and a teacher’s aide throughout Henderson County for 7 years during the winters. She discovered Mountain Trail Outdoor School where she worked as Environmental Educator for 3 years. When Muddy Sneakers first began, Molly was excited to find a program which combined her love of the natural world with her love of teaching elementary students. She has been with Muddy Sneakers ever since, and appreciates the opportunity to get kids outdoors, expose them to nature, and teach science in an experiential ways.
When she’s not living in the Alaska Range, Molly lives in Northern Greenville County, SC, against the Blue Wall Escarpment. She loves the richness of the Appalachian Cove Forests, and discovers something new on every waterfall hike, wildflower hunt, or river trip she takes.
Molly lives with her husband, Jeff, and their furry dog, Pancho, who accompanies them everywhere! Molly loves canoeing, gardening, campfires, fresh air, wild places, and listening to the natural world.

Ben Nelson, WNC Field Instructor
Ben Nelson
WNC Assistant Program Director, WNC Field Instructor

Ben is a native of the Southwest Virginia but has spent significant time in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains beginning at a young age. Many childhood summers spent at Green River Preserve (GRP) summer camp in Cedar Mountain, NC profoundly shaped his environmental awareness and firmly grounded his sense of place. After graduating from Davidson College, he spent a year travelling through Ireland and west Africa on a Watson Fellowship studying the connections between Appalachian fiddle/banjo music and the traditional music of Ireland and Senegambia. Back in the states, Ben returned to the southern Appalachians to work for Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in Hendersonville, NC. Land conservation eventually led him back to Green River Preserve, where he discovered environmental education, what he considers his true vocation. At GRP, Ben worked as a mentor and expedition leader and through that work, became connected with Muddy Sneakers where he humbly and joyfully has continued his passion for introducing children to environmental/experiential education. Exploring and teaching about the Appalachian landscape has led him to also care deeply for the people and cultures that inhabit it, and to express that respect Ben immerses himself in playing the fiddle and the banjo; calling square dances; and collecting the stories of Appalachian elders.

Cynthia Peedin, Piedmont Assistant Program Director
Cynthia Peedin
Piedmont Assistant Program Director, Piedmont Field Instructor

As a native of North Carolina, Cynthia spent most of her childhood outside playing in the woods, fields, and beaches not far from her home, igniting her love for the outdoors. Cynthia received her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology degree from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. After graduating, she joined AmeriCorps as an environmental educator in the Maine Conservation Corps where she honed her naturalist and educating skills. Cynthia continued to work as an environmental educator in Maine for the next four years. At the same time, she pursued her Masters of Science degree in Ecological Teaching and Learning at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. Upon graduation, Cynthia moved to Thompson Island, located in the Boston Harbor, to work as an Outward Bound field instructor. There she worked with Boston Public School students and helped them discover the wonder and freedom of exploring the natural world. Now, Cynthia is excited to be back in her home state and be a part of the Muddy Sneakers team, working to expand into the Piedmont region. Cynthia is eager to join the Salisbury community and explore the beautiful NC Piedmont region with her small furry sidekick, Jackson.

Dawn Anderson, Piedmont Field Instructor
Dawn Anderson
Piedmont Field Instructor

Dawn grew up watching birds and exploring the woods around her home in central Illinois. As a girl scout she became an avid camper and learned to feel truly “at home” in the wild outdoors. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Kaskaskia program at Western Illinois University, majoring in Political Science and Communications, she worked as a writer for a Biblical research organization in Ohio. In the mid-1990s she and her husband moved to North Carolina with their three young daughters, and she earned her teaching certification and Master of Arts in Teaching at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dawn has taught both Language Arts and Science to middle schoolers for 17 years. She has led students on Adopt-A-Stream projects, built and maintained outdoor classrooms, and coordinated a schoolyard garden. Elated to transition from the regular classroom to Muddy Sneakers, Dawn loves teaching Science in an outdoor setting and helping young people connect with the natural world. When not traipsing through the woods, she enjoys growing native plants and journaling about the many critters that visit her certified backyard wildlife habitat. She has a special interest in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, and has been known in some circles by the nickname “Bugsy.”

Than Axtell, WNC Field Instructor
Than Axtell
WNC Field Instructor

Than hails from Virginia, but he spent his childhood summers at his grandfather’s cabin on the Cullasaja River near Highlands, NC. Left to roam wild, he fished for trout, stalked fence lizards, and snacked on wild berries, unaware that those early explorations would stir a lifelong passion for mountain ecosystems.

While seeking his Bachelor of Science degree from Northwestern University, Than worked as a state park ranger for two summers along the York River. After graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University, Than and his wife moved to Spruce Pine, where he began his environmental career with the nonprofit group Appalachian Voices.

Over the last 20 years, Than has helped survey old-growth forests, traveled North America as a magazine staff writer, and instructed hundreds of students how to fly-fish as a guide for Davidson River Outfitters. After his son’s Muddy Sneakers experience five years ago, Than decided to get certified as a Blue Ridge Naturalist in hopes of finding work in an outdoor classroom.

He’s thrilled that his first year on our staff comes as his 10-year-old daughter begins her own Muddy Sneakers journey!

Jace Besold, WNC Field Instructor
Jace Besold
WNC Field Instructor

Jace grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Escaping the desert heat through the relief of the surrounding sky islands, he developed a love for backpacking and rock climbing in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Since moving to Western North Carolina in 2013, Jace has been utilizing his experiences in the outdoors to inspire a desire in youth to connect with the natural world. For the past 3 summers, he has been leading an outdoor adventure program at Green River Preserve based in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here he worked with teenagers while exploring rock climbing, backpacking, and various primitive and traditional uses for local flora. Jace is currently studying at Blue Ridge Community College in between Muddy Sneakers expeditions with hopes set on transferring to Appalachian State University to pursue a degree in Environmental Science.

Eric Bowen, Piedmont Field Instructor
Eric Bowen
Piedmont Field Instructor

Eric grew up in Mooresville and Hickory, North Carolina. In Hickory he collected salamanders and crawdads behind his house for years before he joined the Boy Scouts and started going on monthly backpacking trips in Appalachia. He finished high school at the statewide public magnet boarding school, North Carolina School of Science of Math, in Durham, NC, where he took his first course in Ecology. Then he majored in Natural Resources at NC State University with minors in Agroecology and German. He apprenticed at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, and co-taught their “DiscoverAg!” program to 3rd graders helping them meet NC science objectives. He then taught for a season at High Trails Outdoor Education Center in Florissant, CO before going on to get his M.Sc. in Ecology at Colorado State University. At CSU Eric wrote a thesis investigating how grazing affects soil carbon over time. Eric loves to cook, fix things, and cruise around downtown Salisbury with his 3 year old daughter in their Bakfiets-style cargo bike. They are based in Salisbury, NC.

Dana Bradley, WNC Field Instructor
Dana Bradley
WNC Field Instructor

Dana Bradley was born in Liberty, South Carolina and grew up playing in the woods and looking for interesting spiders and other insects. She has a deep appreciation for the natural world and always knew she wanted to work outdoors. She graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and worked as a herpetofauna technician in Alabama and research technician in Mississippi before settling in North Carolina in 2014. After moving here, she spent 2 years in AmeriCorps Project Conserve serving as the Trails Coordinator in Rutherford County and enjoyed her time improving local trails. She is happy to now be a part of the Muddy Sneakers team and be able to teach others about science and nature. In her spare time, she can be found hiking, kayaking, and exploring all the beauty that North Carolina has to offer. Dana also works as the Outdoor Programs Director for Rutherford Outdoor Coalition (ROC), a local non-profit dedicated to improving outdoor recreation in Rutherford County, where she leads group hikes, river floats, and various outdoor programs for all ages.

Carlton Burke, WNC Field Instructor
Carlton Burke
WNC Field Instructor

Naturalist and educator Carlton Burke lives in Mills River, NC where he operates an educational service called “Carolina Mountain Naturalists” which specializes in presenting live animal and nature programs and displays for area schools, summer camps, and many other organizations. Carlton was also on staff for over 25 years as the Curator of Exhibits at the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, NC. He is also a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator and can be heard each Saturday morning co-hosting NATURE NEWS, a local, hour-long radio program, featuring news from the natural world around the western NC region.

Kathryn Burns, Piedmont Field Instructor
Kathryn Burns
Piedmont Field Instructor

With a Bachlor’s of Arts in Anthropology from University of Hawaii, Manoa, Kathryn’s outdoor career began through Archaeological field work in the Pacific Islands. Here she was formally introduced to the scientific concepts of human interaction with the environment. Now as a naturalist, she is passionate about exploring more and sharing all the amazing interactions she has learned about in the outdoors, as well as giving students the opportunity to grow up experiencing the freedom the outdoors offer in the same way she did–through running, exploring, pretending, and experimenting!

Deborah Davis
WNC Field Instructor

Deborah has a BA in elementary education as well as a Masters in guidance counseling from Clemson University. She grew up exploring the mountains and creeks of western NC on her grandparent’s farm in Madison County, so it was a natural fit for her to make the move from classroom teacher to Muddy Sneakers field instructor. After teaching science for 21 years in the Greenville SC area, Deborah would tell you that she has found her dream job because Muddy Sneakers allows her to combine her passion for the outdoors with her expertise in teaching science. As a science teacher, she led school trips on the barrier islands of SC, the Everglades in Florida, and in the mountains of WNC. In her final years of teaching, she implemented the Trout in the Classroom program which led her to putting more emphasis on teaching environmental education in her 6th grade classes. Eventually, Deborah developed a program called Taking It Outside which provided the opportunity to take all 90 of her students on science expeditions to a local nature park. As Deborah watched her students interact with nature and the impact of using experiential education to teach science, she realized it was time to make a change. Therefore, she moved to Brevard, NC and pursued a position with Muddy Sneakers. When not teaching with Muddy Sneakers, she can be found, hiking with her golden retriever, paddling, or taking art classes.

Nancy Gamble, WNC Field Instructor
Nancy Gamble
WNC Field Instructor

Nancy holds a BS in Chemistry from Rutgers University and a Masters in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Education from Antioch University New England. With a deep commitment to environmental protection and sustainability, she served as a program manager in the energy efficiency arena in New England for 7 years. However, happy memories of a childhood spent discovering the forests and fields of western New Jersey prompted her to seek opportunities where she could foster the same experiences in children. After working with several environmental education organizations in Vermont, Nancy moved to the Charlotte area, where she taught environmental science in private schools before settling in the Asheville area and signing on with Muddy Sneakers. She is thrilled to be impacting children’s lives by helping them build a stronger connection with nature. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, camping, kayaking, and taking long walks with her dog. When she can’t be outside, she enjoys silk painting, sewing, and baking.

Barb Knight, Piedmont Field Instructor
Barb Knight
Piedmont Field Instructor

Barb started her interest and “training” in the environment as a child growing up in New England. Her dad in particular was always digging in the dirt and growing an annual harvest of fresh veggies and she was his side kick. Her family vacations included many memorable camping trips throughout the East Coast, from the coast of Cape Hatteras, the Smokey Mountains, the Adirondacks, the White Mountains, and up to Prince Edward Island, Canada. As an adolescent she rode bicycles throughout New England on several long distance journeys. Barb started her college studies at Plattsburgh State University, NY in Environmental Sciences and ultimately completed her BA at Boise State University. Post graduation she spent a year in Spain teaching English. Once back to the US, she settled in New Hampshire and began a career working in Human Resources training and development. Her down time was always spent outside: she completed the Master Gardener program, summited many of the 4,000+ White Mountain peaks, and explored the many mountain bike trails as well as ski areas in New England. She moved to Charlotte, NC in 2004 and continued in the same profession along with her passion for the outdoors. Barb has completed programs offered by HAWK (Habitat and Wildlife Keepers) and the Master Naturalist program, and she is currently working at completing her NC Environmental Educator Certification. Barb is also employed by the NC Wildlife Federation’s Great Outdoor University (GOU) Program and volunteers with Trips for Kids Charlotte (TFKC).

Shannon Lora, WNC Field Instructor
Shannon Lora
WNC Field Instructor

Shannon grew up in Northeast Ohio where she spent her childhood catching fish at her grandparent’s marina and building forts in the woods. Her love for the natural world truly flourished during college where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from Ohio University. She began her college career dabbling in horticulture and providing local, healthy produce to families in Appalachian Ohio. Her passion for conservation deepened when she worked as a wildlife rehabilitator in WA state. After relocating to the WNC mountains to enjoy their abundance and beauty, Shannon has served with Appalachian Wildlife Refuge, as a rock climbing mentor with Our Voice and as an AmeriCorps educator at the WNC Nature Center and the Asheville Museum of Science. When she’s not outside searching for critters, you can typically find Shannon trail running, cooking with veggies from the garden and spending time with her plethora of farm animals!

Ryan Lubbers, WNC Field Instructor
Ryan Lubbers
WNC Field Instructor

Ryan was born and raised in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where he grew to appreciate the natural world. He studied both Biology and Spanish at Xavier University and moved to Costa Rica immediately after graduating. There he has spent years exploring the rainforest and teaching in local schools. He has since lived and worked in a variety of Ecosystems around the U.S. and settled in Western North Carolina in 2002. Ryan has his Masters in Environmental Studies and previously taught Biology and Middle School Science at the Lake Lure Classical Academy. He is currently crafting the next edition to his hiking guidebook for the Hickory Nut Gorge as well as working as a seasonal naturalist for Chimney Rock Park. He enjoys kayaking, river snorkeling and spending time in nature with his fantastic wife and new baby!

Jennifer Peedin, Piedmont Field Instructor
Jennifer Peedin
Piedmont Field Instructor

Growing up in rural North Carolina, Jennifer spent most of her time outdoors.The woods and fields were her source of play, imagination, and joy. She graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a Bachelors of Arts in English and a minor in Environmental Studies. Deciding she wanted to go into the classroom, she earned her NC Secondary English Education licensure from Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC, and she has just recently earned her Masters of Arts in English from Northwestern Louisiana University. She has taught in NC, South Korea, and Texas. In all of her travels, she has sought comfort in the natural world. The mountains and fjords of New Zealand, volcanoes of Indonesia, azure waters of the Philippines, the green tea fields of Japan and Korea, and the blue haze of the Appalachians cultivated wonder, awe, and respect for the great outdoors. Jennifer is excited to show students the magic of the natural world in the hopes they may carry a life long passion for nature and getting their sneakers muddy!

Cindy Ramsay, Piedmont Field Instructor
Cindy Ramsay
Piedmont Field Instructor

Cindy grew up in Alamance County, NC, exploring the woods around her home with her two sisters. She always had a very strong connection with wildlife and the outdoors. In high school and college, she worked at an animal hospital as a veterinary technician and she volunteered at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the NC Zoo in Asheboro. She attended UNC – Greensboro and completed her Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. She spent several years working in diagnostic and research laboratories in microbiology and nanotechnology. After taking a sabbatical with her husband and traveling, she decided to become a teacher and received her Master’s Degree in teaching secondary Science. She taught for 4 years at the high school level in AP Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy and AP Environmental Science. Environmental Science quickly became her passion and her favorite subject to teach. In 2016 Cindy had a daughter, Linnea, and decided to stay home from work for a year. 2017-2018 will be Cindy’s first year with Muddy Sneakers and she is super excited to incorporate her love for nature, children and science into our programing.

Carlisle Rankin, WNC Field Instructor
Carlisle Rankin
WNC Field Instructor

A native of NC, Carlisle was excited to return to the Blue Ridge Mountains after three great years teaching third grade in Nashville, Tennessee. After two years working in fundraising at Asheville School, she began working with Muddy Sneakers in the spring of 2014. Carlisle received her BA in Elementary Education from Centre College and is currently a graduate student in Environmental Education at Montreat College. Her thesis work focus is on developing an integrated science curriculum for community garden programs in public schools.

Carlisle spent summers as a camper and sailing counselor at Camp Seafarer in coastal NC. She was also a farmer and cabin counselor at Gywnn Valley Camp in Brevard. As a high school student at Asheville School, Carlisle further developed her love of the outdoors through their mountaineering program. She is thrilled to be able to meld her teaching and counselor skills into her work with Muddy Sneakers. Carlisle lives in Asheville and enjoys hiking with her dog Nali, gardening, rock climbing, canoeing, and live music.

Nadia Razavi, WNC Field Instructor
Nadia Razavi
WNC Field Instructor

Growing up in Iowa City, Iowa, Nadia discovered an interest in science and wildlife early on. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University where she spend many days in the forests, prairies, and wetlands of Iowa learning about and exploring the natural world. She has worked teaching kayaking in North Carolina and as an instructor and administrator at an outdoor education program in Texas, all the time enjoying helping youth discover and experience their surroundings. Visiting western North Carolina at many points throughout her life, she is so excited to now be living in the mountains teaching science with Muddy Sneakers. Some of her favorite things are forests, thunderstorms, frogs, and sunshine and she spends as much time as she can outside continuing to learn, play, and grow.

Kat Scala, WNC Field Instructor
Kat Scala
WNC Field Instructor

Having an avid outdoorsman as a father exposed Kat to the wonders of nature at a young age. Growing up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, her father often took her and her brother out of the urban jungle in search of wild places. Her sense of adventure directed her to University of South Carolina where she received a BS in Criminal Justice. She combined her love of nature and her newly awarded degree to pursue a career as a Park Ranger for the State of Colorado. While in Colorado Kat was awarded a second BS in Land Use with an emphasis in the Environment and Natural Resources. Kat and her husband, Josh, moved from Colorado to North Carolina where she worked as a Park Ranger for the State of NC. She was a ranger at both South Mountains State Park and Chimney Rock State Park. Kat left state parks in 2008 to stay home with her two sons. She continued to work part-time as an environmental educator for Chimney Rock, LLC and Art in the Afternoon. In 2015, Kat received her Masters Degree in Environmental Education from Montreat College. In her free time, she enjoys chasing her three wild children through the mountains of Western NC and beyond.

Rachel Shopper, WNC Field Instructor
Rachel Shopper
WNC Field Instructor

Rachel grew up in coastal Massachusetts and spent her childhood exploring the local beaches and nature preserves with her dog, Rosie. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in English Literature, she moved to Costa Rica and taught yoga at a retreat center. From there, she went on to complete her permaculture design certification at Finca Bona Fide in Nicaragua. Upon returning to the states in 2012, Rachel moved to Asheville, NC to pursue her permaculture education with a year-long apprenticeship with local designers. It was during this time she began to realize her passion was connecting people with the natural world and all its wonders, and through the outdoors, connecting people with themselves on a deeper level. She attended the Anake Outdoor School at the Wilderness Awareness School in WA in 2014, where she studied naturalist skills, mentorship, primitive skills, and community building. In addition to her work at Muddy Sneakers, she is a field instructor with Forest Floor Wilderness Programs, a local organization that teaches outdoor education using the 8 shields model of nature connection. When she isn’t working with children in nature, Rachel spends her time crafting, contra dancing, wild harvesting, and serving as the associate poetry editor for Orison Press.

Allie Showalter, WNC Field Instructor
Allie Showalter
WNC Field Instructor

Allie is thrilled that she spends many of her days in the forest mentoring 5th graders as they uncover the magic inherent in the topics they study in science and engage with the innumerable mysteries of the natural world. There is nothing that makes her heart sing more than connecting with people doing the good work of creating a culture that is mindful and place-based. She studied naturalism, permaculture and education at The Evergreen State College, University of Vermont and finally earned her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Education at Warren Wilson College right here in Western North Carolina. These days, she focuses her studies on gaining a deeper understanding about the astounding diversity of life in our region; helping other people with their land projects; tracking the patterns of weather and the stars; and ultimately pursuing a lifeway close to the cycles and resources in nature. Allie is a child at heart who loves to practice ancient crafts, grow food, tell stories, sing and roam with curiosity in her beloved Southern Appalachian home.

Bryan Suson, WNC Field Instructor
Bryan Suson
WNC Field Instructor

Growing up in Northern Illinois, Bryan has had an incurable passion about the natural world since childhood. While attaining his B.A. from Lake Forest College in Environmental Studies and Biology, he taught naturalist courses to grade school students and was the head keeper for a diverse reptile collection at a local Wildlife Center. Shortly after graduating in 2005, he moved to Ecuador to assist on various biological projects to gain experience in Tropical biology. Falling in love with the tropics, he started working as a naturalist guide for various lodges throughout the Amazon, worked as a instructor for the Andean Study Program, and started his own guiding business, Biophoria Tours. Bryan also works in the environmental consulting field, with most of his past projects looking at the impacts of wind turbines on the nesting success of birds, most notably, the federally endangered Black-Capped Vireo. He enjoys photography, being active and is looking forward to sharing his passion for the natural world with the students of Muddy Sneakers.

Michelle Ward, Piedmont Field Instructor
Michelle Ward
Piedmont Field Instructor

Michelle is a native of Indiana but moved to Charlotte when she was 11 and considers herself a southerner. She loves living between the mountains and the coast and spends her free time hiking, camping, and traveling.

Michelle earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a minor in African and Afro-American studies. A job as a teacher assistant inspired her to pursue a career in education, so she earned an additional Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education from North Carolina Central University and a Masters in Education from Elon University. After 17 years in public education, Michelle began introducing inner-city children to nature through the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Great Outdoors University, where she realized nothing is more rewarding than watching children develop a connection with nature. She is thrilled to continue to combine her passions for the outdoors and teaching as an educator with Muddy Sneakers.

Kiersten Wilbur, WNC Field Instructor
Kiersten Wilber
WNC Field Instructor

Kiersten formed a connection with the natural world from a young age growing up in the mountains of south-central Alaska. While earning a degree in Environmental Science from Northern Arizona University, Kiersten discovered her passion for teaching. She has since taught for experiential and environmental education programs in her home state of Alaska, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and the mountains of Colorado. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, she worked to promote endangered species conservation through a Junior Rangers program in a Peruvian national park. She is excited to now be putting down roots in Appalachia. When she is not teaching in the outdoors, you can find her playing the banjo or exploring the rivers, rocks, and trails of Western North Carolina.

Shalyn Yost, WNC FIeld Instructor
Shalyn Yost
WNC Field Instructor

Growing up on a farm in Western New York, Shalyn gained a passion for nature and learned the importance to explore new things. She graduated from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a Science Degree in Photography. While owning her own studio, she focused her goals of exploring the outdoor world through photographs. Shalyn returned to school and received a degree in Environmental Science. In 2012 she began working for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as an Assistant Forest Ranger. Here she spent her time exploring different ecosystems within the lakes, forests and rivers. In 2014 she moved to Western North Carolina were she landed a position as a trail guide and naturalist with Chimney Rock State Park. Here she has expanded my knowledge of the Appalachians and a desire to teach about the natural world. This fall Shalyn looks forward to earning her North Carolina Environmental Eduction Certificate. Her passion in life is not just to connect people to the natural world but to inspire them to be life long stewards of our planet.

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