Program Staff

Students arrive at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center with their school group and are divided into small trail groups with approximately a one-to-five adult/student ratio. Teachers and chaperones are an integral part of Mountain School, participating fully in all activities. North Cascades Institute education staff design lessons, provide leadership and train instructors at Mountain School. Mountain School instructors include North Cascades Institute staff and National Park rangers. 


Eric Buher
Mountain School Manager
Eric grew up in Skagit County, and first encountered North Cascades Institute as a Mountain School student in the late 90’s. He received a B.S. from Western Washington Universy, and taught high school mathematics for 10 years. Seeking to pursue teaching beyond the classroom, Eric returned to the Institute to complete a M.Ed in Environmental Education as a part of our 17th graduate cohort, C17. He has spent the last 3 years working as a Program & Camp Director for the local Boy Scout council. Returning once more to the Institute, Eric is excited to be leading the Mountain School program that continues to impact so many youth. In his free time Eric enjoys swimming, hiking, and reading a good book.

Caitlin "Kestrel" Strikwerda
Mountain School Program Coordinator
Growing up in west Michigan, Caitlin spent a lot of time outdoors camping, hiking, and exploring with her family. This spurred an early love for the outdoors that formed into a career and passion for sharing this love with others. From Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri and more, her teaching experience spans many of the seasons and regions our country has to offer. The North Cascades are the perfect place to continue growing her skills and helping others make acquaintance with the birds, plants, and everything else that makes up our beautiful world.

Mountain School Program Coordinator
Phoenix is a member of the Navajo Nation which resides in Northern Arizona. She wa born for the Manygoats clan of the Zuni Edgewater. Though Phoenix was born in Tuba City, she is a very well experienced traveler and has visited all 50 states, living and working in almost all of them! When she is not immersed in teaching outdoors and sharing her wealth of knowledge in survival skills and outdoor stewardship, she also practices ironwork and welding. Phoenix fell in love with outdoor education when working in the New England states and slowly moved across the country learning and sharing all things of nature and outdoors.

2023 Instructor Team

Victoria Aguilar, she/hers
Environmental Program Instructor 

Victoria was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. She developed a love for nature while growing up surrounded by mountains and deserts. With a degree in Biological Science, she focuses on wildlife ecology and management, scientific collections, and environmental education. She is excited to start her new role, using her experience with nature centers to inspire and educate people about the wonders of nature. She hopes to continue learning from conservation programs to bring back to her community back in Mexico. In her free time, Victoria loves outdoor activities like hiking, nature photography, and camping, as well as spending time with friends, watching movies, and playing board games.

Veronica Banks, she/her
Environmental Program Instructor 

Veronica arrives to the North Cascades from Pennsylvania—the birthplace of Hershey’s Chocolate but not Veronica. Veronica has taught about the creepiest of crawlies at the Philadelphia insectarium. She has also led outdoor educational programs at Fernbrook Farms in New Jersey. During Veronica’s youth, much of her time was spent outdoors collecting bugs and observing their behavior. Now, she enjoys sharing her passion for the natural world with anyone who will listen. You can still find her flipping over logs to look for bugs and rolling around in dirt on any given day.

Sadie Crews-Nelson, she/hers
Environmental Program Instructor 
Sadie grew up exploring the woods and prairies of Wisconsin. Attending Conserve School - a semester-long outdoor immersive education program in high school - she was inspired by the impact of environmental education. She enjoys traveling and finding adventures in places new and old, and since high school has lived in Wisconsin, Vermont, Colorado, Maine, Ohio, and now Washington. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic in 2020. Her experience as a camp counselor has given her enthusiasm for working with kids of all ages and sharing the amazing outdoors. Sadie knows the inspiring and peaceful impacts of nature deeply and will spend her life working in the earth’s service. Outside of work, she enjoys canoeing, climbing on small rocks, petting cats, and reading.

Theodore Hoss, he/him
Lead Program Instructor 
Theo grew up in the mountains of California, moving to Seattle in 2017 to attend the University of Washington. There, he received degrees in Environmental Science and Resource Management and in Biology, also completing a senior project overhauling the Historic Brockman Memorial Tree Tour. Theo has worked as a Wilderness Instructor for Edmonds' Quiet Heart Wilderness School, and has spent 3 summers working for the concessions in Yosemite National Park. He is extremely passionate about forest ecology and the ability of programs like the Institute’s to foster a connection to the outdoors. In his free time he may be found reading, doing art projects, and kayaking or hiking in the great PNW.

Elisha Klco, she/her
Lead Program Instructor 
Elisha grew up in Western Washington, centering around the greater Seattle area and Whidbey Island. Before joining the Institute, Elisha taught outdoor education since 2015 at Quiet Heart Wilderness School, and also has taught at Mount Rainier Institute. Elisha received a Bachelor of Science from Western Washington University where she studied neuroscience and chemistry. She loves the outdoors and is very passionate about connecting people with the environment around them, and is especially excited about being part of students' journeys toward connecting with the North Cascades. Out in the field, you will find Elisha getting excited about plants, especially their edible and medicinal uses.

Terra Lieser, she/her
Environmental Program Instructor 
Having grown up in the land of 10,000 Lakes in Anoka, Minnesota, Terra spent her childhood fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, biking, hiking and exploring the great outdoors. While getting her BA in Biochemistry and Mathematics along with a minor in Environmental Sustainability, Terra was able to grow her love for teaching and nature through her work as an Assistant Forest School Teacher and her research within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. After spending a year analyzing air quality from locations around the United States, Terra is excited to follow her passion of outdoor education. In her free time, Terra loves reading, drawing, biking, and taking walks in the rain.

Kaylin Lilly, she/they
Environmental Program Instructor
Kaylin is from the mountains of Colorado and has worked in Idaho and at Mt. Baker for the last few years. Her experience comes from a graduate program in Ecopsychology focusing on the intersection of indigenous leadership, mycology, and gender, as well as working in Wilderness Therapy. She is passionate about mindfulness in nature and inspiring reciprocal and personal relationships with the Earth. They have a deep love for mountains and rivers through their love for skiing and whitewater kayaking.

Luke Pearson, he/his
Environmental Program Instructor 
Luke was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, where he taught public education programs at the Louisville Nature Center. He taught courses as an Eagle Scout while completing an undergraduate degree at Berklee College of Music. In between his studies, Luke completed a residency in South Africa where he recorded wildlife sounds in the African Bushveld. He uses these sounds to create works of art and also contributes to media archives for scientific research. Luke went on to study acoustic ecology at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory and wildlife biology at Colorado State University.  His interests include making music and multimedia artwork, which he sometimes uses as a tool for teaching about environmental topics.

Aiyana Mennega, she/her
Environmental Program Instructor 
Aiyana is originally from the Michigan mitten and thanks the Great Lakes for her environmental passions. She's taught environmental courses in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, while moving around in her van with her cat, Cleocatra! She is especially passionate about water quality, stewardship, and sustainable practices. In her free time, Aiyana can be found reading in her hammock, paddle boarding, talking to a tree, or hiking with her cat.

Wyatt Mullen, he/his
Environmental Program Instructor 
Wyatt is a Skagitonian who has been slowly pulled upriver by the tug of glaciers and huckleberries. After a couple years in California where he studied astronomy and taught Spanish, he returned to the heart of the North Cascades as a landscape photographer attempting to record climate change's impacts on the area. As an instructor he loves getting others way too excited about science, whether it's overanalyzing the unique details of a single snowflake or imagining the crushing weight of the ice sheets shaping the surrounding peaks. In his free time, Wyatt runs and skis over mountains because he doesn't mind if the other side of the mountain is all that he can see.

Rowan Thorsland, she/her
Environmental Program Instructor 
Rowan is from the juniper-laced foothills of Colorado and the city of Boston with its old brick and beautiful green ocean. In Boston, she worked at the New England Aquarium as an educator of marine life and climate change and then study Sociology at Ithaca College in New York. For my minor, she studied Outdoor Education with Outward Bound in an immersion semester trip through the backcountry of California and Oregon. Rowan has worked as a camp counselor in Vermont and Oregon specializing in rock climbing and social-emotional growth. She love the remote wilderness, mountains that seem to know things, fascinating ecology, and most of all pine trees covered in fog and snow. In her personal time, she love to snowboard, rollerblade, go to Costco, listen to Julia Jacklin, and swim in the ocean.