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. 

Leadership

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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.

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Hannah Black
Mountain School Coordinator
Hannah Black grew up in Seattle and credits the region with her curiosity and love of crafting and natural history. She pursued a B.S. in environmental science and an M.A. in environmental communication at Stanford University. Over the last decade, Hannah's passion for experiential education brought her to jobs across the American West including peering into the depths of the Grand Canyon and tromping through snow in the Tetons. The regional scope, integration of science and art, strong community, and prolific quantities of moss, lichen, and fungus are what drew Hannah to the North Cascades Institute. In her free time Hannah enjoys cooking, writing letters, trail running and all types of skiing. Her guilty pleasure is glitter.

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MK Kirkpatrick-Waite
Mountain School Coordinator
Originally from California, MK recently moved to Washington in September of 2020. Growing up, she would visit family in Washington, and fell in love with the mountain ranges stretching across the horizon. She has been wanting to move to Washington ever since, and finally made it! While residing in California you could find MK navigating through redwood forests with students, or kayaking in the Monterey Bay. Getting to know the Pacific Northwest has been an incredible experience so far, and she's looking forward to continuing with the Institute as the Mountain School Coordinator! MK likes to spend her free time going on nature walks, biking, kayaking, and cooking up some delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes. 

Instructors

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Grace Aey 
Grace is originally from Youngstown, Ohio, however, she most recently came from Yellowstone National Park where she worked for the National Park Service with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC). She is a  recent graduate from Slippery Rock University where she studied Parks & Resource Management. Grace’s past work experience has been primarily at summer camps and working in Yellowstone with YCC, focusing on the age group of 10-18 years old. This is her first time in the state of Washington and she could not be more excited to be working in such a diverse ecosystem that is so new to her! 

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Sarah Hersee
Sarah grew up in Western New York exploring local state parks, tromping through her grandparent's wooded property and endlessly chasing waterfalls. After graduating with a BS in Childhood Education, she chose to pursue outdoor education as a way to combine her two passions: youth empowerment and the great outdoors. Prior to North Cascades Institute, Sarah worked in various roles with the United States Forest Service, Montana Conservation Corps, and Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards. Outside of work, you may find Sarah hiking, reading, kayaking, or chatting around a campfire with friends.

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Theodore Hoss
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.

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Sydney Kahl 
Sydney was raised playing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and on the lakes and rivers of Maine. She attended St. Lawrence University to study Environmental Studies and Outdoor Studies. After graduating she spent time working for the Chewonki Foundation in Maine as an Educator for their Outdoor Classroom. She first came to Washington during summer 2021, when the North Cascades piqued her interest and she started guiding backpacking trips. Now, she is excited about diving deeper into learning about the flora, fauna, history, and landscape of the North Cascades. In her free time, you can find her skiing, whitewater canoeing, climbing rocks or looking at maps.

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Al Kahn
Al is beyond stoked to be one of our Mountain School Instructors this year! While they’ve been moving around the country (and the world) for as long as they’ve been alive, it’s Michigan’s upper peninsula that they call home. After earning a degree in Environmental Sustainability from Michigan State University and working in outreach for the MI Sierra Club, Al switched gears and became a sea kayak guide which eventually landed them in the San Juan Islands. There, they fell in love with getting to share the endless beauty of the PNW with others, something they cannot wait to keep doing at Mountain School! When not wandering the trails around the NCI campus, Al can be found baking scones, taking on big messy art projects, and practicing the banjo. 

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Genevieve Keckemet 
Genevieve was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, and spent her summers growing up on Lopez Island exploring the beaches and lagoons. On the islands and in the Cascades, she finds peace and joy—and likes to share those spaces with others whenever possible. She attended Western Washington University where she studied environmental education and geography. While at Western she discovered how transformative education outside of a classroom setting can be and looks forward to engaging with students in those outdoor spaces. Genevieve looks forward to fostering curiosity and wonder with the students who attend Mountain School this fall. In her free time she enjoys being around family, skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, road-tripping to new places and sitting outside watching the world go by. 

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Elisha Klco
Elisha grew up in Western Washington, centering around the greater Seattle area and Whidbey Island. Before joining the Institute, has 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.

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Amanda Leemann
Amanda was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated college from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point with a degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation. Here at the Insitute, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to help connect kids to the outdoors. Amanda has worked as an environmental educator in Missouri, Wisconsin, and Homer, Alaska. She has never been to the Pacific Northwest and is incredibly excited to be here, learn and connect with this place, and share it with others. Some of Amanda's personal interests include birding, hiking, singing, knitting, drawing, reading, and having deep conversations!

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Alexander “Poz” Pozarycki 
Alexander grew up in Portland, Oregon. He fell in love with the North Cascades through long backpacking trips which led to a serendipitous encounter with NCI. While in college, he became a Mountain School Intern which motivated him to pursue a career in environmental education. After completing a degree at The Evergreen State College, he worked as an educator in Oregon, California, and Hawaii. Coming back to the Institute 7 years later as a Mountain School Instructor feels like coming home! 

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Taylor Woolsey
Taylor grew up in California, spending summers in the ocean and running wild in the High Sierras. She fell deeply in love with the Pacific Northwest while attending the University of Oregon and it seems the further north she travels up this coast, the more she feels at home. Taylor is thrilled to be back learning and teaching as a program instructor with North Cascades Institute, and to hopefully help instill curiosity and wonder for this incredible pocket of the world. Taylor loves a good bout of karaoke, dancing around, exploring forests, writing, being in or on the water, squeezing lemons or limes on everything, and any kind of meaningful cultural exchange.