Our instructors are some of the best in the field. Attorneys, professors, writers, teachers, research scientists, they all combine teaching experience and an intimate knowledge of course subject matter with the leadership and backcountry skills necessary to provide our students with safe, high-quality learning experiences in wilderness settings. They are also fun, dynamic, and passionate about education and the wilderness they use as classrooms. Our students tell us all the time that our instructors are as important to their WRFI experience as the landscape and the content.
I grew in San Francisco, and although the sun was nice, the mountains were too far away. In 2006, I moved to Seattle to pursue my Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science at the University of Washington and spent my weekends running a ski school at Snoqualmie Pass. After graduating, I took two years off to ski and hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. I then moved to Missoula to work on Master's in forest ecology at the University of Montana. My research has been focused on the effect of fire suppression on tree spatial patterns in Yosemite; essentially, I like studying big trees in big mountains. I lived in Bozeman and worked on a forest restoration project for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition in 2013, which got me really excited about spending another summer in the Yellowstone area. I'm fairly convinced Missoula is the best place on the planet to take advantage of all the perks of being a Missoulian. Climbing, skiing, trail running, and bluegrass shows keep me pretty busy. My favorite adventure partner is my dog Isabel, who you will always find running or skiing alongside me.
Adam earned his Ph.D. from Colorado State University's Natural Resource Department in Human Resources of Natural Resources. He has an M.S. in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, also from CSU, and a B.S. in Behavioral Science from Grand Valley State University. Although much of Adam's recent experience is in Kenya, his interest in human/nature relations has extended to campus sustainability efforts at CSU and in national parks, Peace Corps experience in Africa and on the CSU campus, park rangering in Golden Gate State Park, and being a backcountry trail maintenance leader at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. After a year of teaching in the College of Natural Resources at Utah State University, Adam recently accepted a job in South Sudan as the Wildlife Conservation Society's Community Conservation and Livlihoods Coordintor where he directs all of the socio-economic research and community-based conservation activities in the Boma-Jonglei landscape. Like several other WRFI instructors, Adam has a knack for languages and speaks English, Kiswahili, Hausa, and French. Adam's interest in and experience with human's interaction with the landscape makes him a perfect instructor on the Wild Rockies Summer Semester.
It's always a delight at WRFI when our alumni become instructors. Meagan was a student on WRFI's Baja Peninsula: Coastal Ecology and Culture before finishing her master's degree at the University of Tennessee in 2008. She joined Montana Afoot and Afloat: Human/Land Relations for the first time in 2008 and has now taught it twice. She is also an instructor on Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures. Meagan brings a lot to a WRFI course including academic knowledge and experience in restoration, agriculture, and conservation biology. She is also a Wilderness EMT and has worked for various outdoor education groups. One of our favorite things about Meagan is that she conducted her master's thesis research at Dollywood, Tennessee, where she worked towards the restoration of the American Chestnut through plant breeding, molecular research, and tree planting.
Casey has been a great addition to the WRFI instructor pool, joining WRFI in the summer of 2009. She has a BA in environmental studies and conservation biology from Prescott College and has worked extensively in the field of environmental and outdoor education. Casey earned her master's degree in the spring of 2010 from Colorado State University in Wildlife Ecology. Her thesis work, conducted largely in Grand Teton National Park, made her a perfect candidate for kicking off WRFI's summer semester course in the Yellowstone to Yukon ecoregion. Casey will begin work on her PhD in biology in the fall of 2011 at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Her reserach will focus on resilience and adaptation of wildlife to anthropogenic disturbances such as roads and climate change. From serving as a mountaineering instructor with Outward Bound to working as an ecological consultant, Casey's wide array of experiences inspire students and add depth to her teaching. Casey teaches on our Wild Rockies Summer Semester.
Pat Burke began instructing for WRFI in the summer of 2007 and brings a unique combination of education and experience to each course he teaches. Pat began his education with a B.A. in Philosophy from UC-San Diego, and continued with a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Montana. He then attained an M.S. in Forest Ecology at the University of Montana and is currently working towards an M.A. in Philosophy, also at UM. He has worked as a restoration ecologist on projects around the west including superfund sites, mine reclamation sites, national park natural disaster sites, and highway revegetation projects. He is also the author and co-author of numerous publications. Pat’s ability to review science while maintaining an ethical awareness allows him to fulfill WRFI’s mission of teaching critical thinking about social and environmental issues. Pat teaches Restoration Ecology in Greater Yellowstone, Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures, and Montana Afoot and Afloat: Human/Land Relations.
Ashley joins WRFI with a range of experience working in the outdoors. She has a BS in Environmental Studies from Prescott College and is finishing an MS from the University of Montana focusing on water conservation issues and watershed health in the intermountain region. Her love for the western landscapes has brought her to work and play in many beautiful areas. Some of her experience includes working as a field instructor for Outward Bound, managing a watershed non-profit in central Oregon, and working as a scientist and field technician and educator. Ashley spends her time fishing and playing on the river, running, skiing, and climbing. Ashley teaches the Wild Rockies Summer Semester.
Natalie hails from Detroit, Michigan but fell in love with Alaska and has been living, working, and exploring in its mountains, forests, fjords, and seashores for the last decade. She lives in Anchorage Alaska where she teaches classes at Alaska Pacific University, works as a biologist on various wildlife projects throughout the state, coaches a cross country ski team to pass the long winter months, and escapes to the desert every year for the chance to spend some time drying off in canyon country. She earned her Bachelor's degree in biology and environmental science from Central Michigan University, taught at Idaho State University, and earned her PhD in biology from the University of New Mexico where she studied weasels on the islands of the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. She loves every opportunity to teach outside, and is very excited to have the opportunity to be an instructor for WRFI. Natalie teaches Alaskan Rainforest:Ecology and Policy of the Tongass and Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures for WRFI.
Chelsea is a geologist and is passionate about our dynamic earth. She grew up at the foot of the folded Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia and her interests in geology deepened while living in New Zealand. She graduated with a B.S. in Geology from Virginia Tech then moved to the Pacific Northwest to pursue various positions in science, including geologist for the Oregon Department of Transportation, leading high school students on the Pacific Northwest Trail and instructing elementary students at a small outdoor school in the North Cascades. She earned her M.S. in Geology at the University of Montana where she taught geology labs and summer field camp. She worked on the National Geothermal Data System for the Virginia Geological Survey and served as a Geologist-in-the-Park volunteer in Yellowstone National Park. Overall, it was her teaching experiences that reinforced her desire to pursue field instruction. Chelsea's travels tend to take her to volcanically active areas such as New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Alaska, and much of the Western United States. She currently works from home for Mountain Press Publishing Company as a cartographer and geology editor for the "Roadside Geology" guide book series. Chelsea has taught on Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons and Cultures, Montana Afoot and Afloat: Human/Land Relations, and Restoration Ecology in Greater Yellowstone. Chelsea is currently taking time off from field instruction since starting a family, but plans to continue instructing in the future. Chelsea lives in Moscow, Idaho with her daughter and husband, a fellow geologist.
Matthew first arrived in Montana more than 10 years ago by bicycle, and upon moving here he became an environmental journalist. Now, in instructing WRFI’s Cycle the Rockies course, he’s back in the saddle and teaching what he often reports on – energy and climate change. A longtime reporter for the Missoula Independent, Matthew’s work has won several awards, including, in 2012, a first-place prize from the Society of Environmental Journalists and selection as a fellow for Knight Science Journalism at MIT’s Energy and Climate Boot Camp. He currently works in the University of Montana’s School of Journalism directing a project that delivers science news to papers and radio stations in rural, and especially Native American, communities across the state. He holds an M.S. in environmental studies from the University of Montana and a B.A. from Allegheny College.
Jeff first came to WRFI in 2006 as WRFI's Recruitment and Development Coordinator. Providing much-needed guidance and creative flair, Jeff, amongst other things, recreated the WRFI website into the one you see today. Now an instructor, Jeff brings intimate knowledge of transboundary issues on our Wild Rockies Summer Semester.Jeff is the founder of Bristlecone Communications, a full-service communications consultancy. A widely published writer, Jeff has been honored with several awards, including Story of the Year from the Associated Collgiate Press, numerous nominations for magazine feature writing at the western Canadian and national levels, and grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for his book about the mythical Great Plains grizzly bear.
As a doctoral student at the University of Colorado- Boulder, Adam focuses on environmental philosophy and is particularly interested in what makes a wild animal wild. His other academic interests include novel ecosystems, re-wilding, resilience, the ethics of conservation and restoration, urban ecology, wild food, and the human environment. Adam is also a filmmaker. His films span six continents and, so far, have screened in eleven festivals across eight countries. In Spring of 2012, his work was featured in the "1000 Days at the Space for Life" biodiversity exhibition in Montreal. When not filming or studying, Adam enjoys foraging, exploring, and canoeing through ice flows, just as the ice gets soft. WRFI is thrilled for Adam to contribute his varied experience and expertise to our courses. Adam teaches Environmental Ethics: Global Climate Change and Visions for a Sustainable Future.
Ben Irey graduated from the University of Montana's College of Forestry and Conservation in 2000, with a degree in Resource Conservation and a minor in Wilderness Studies. He spent the following decade working for the U.S. Forest Service as a Wilderness ranger in the Absoroka-Beartooth, Bob Marshall, Rattlesnake and Welcome Creek Wilderness areas of Montana. In 2009, he returned to the College of Forestry and Conservation to work on a master's degree exploring the role of ecosystem services in National Forest management. When not working for WRFI, he works as an environmental social scientist at the Ecosystem Research Group. He has taught field courses for the Wilderness Institute and hosted Wilderness interns during his summers with the Forest Service. He is a founding member of the traveling Bentgrass Poetry Troupe, putting on readings and workshops in rural Montana communities. Ben teaches Montana Afoot and Afloat.
Ben grew exploring Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, and although currently claims home and residence in Kelly Wyoming, considers Western Montana to be one of the best places on Earth. Undergraduate studies in humanities (Fort Lewis College) and graduate studies in science education, as well as environment and natural resources (Teton Science Schools and the University of Wyoming) provide Ben with a unique skill set covering many disciplines. He currently instructs the Montana Afoot and Afloat course. When he is not teaching for WRFI or for the Teton Science Schools, he is most often found climbing and skiing the peaks of the Tetons, exploring canyons of the desert southwest, returning to his favorite places in the Bitterroot mountains, pedaling a bicycle, or chasing beautiful light through the lens of a camera.
Danny earned his Master’s in Geography from the University of Minnesota. His studies brought him to the mountains of Montana, examining the effects of mountain pine beetle outbreaks on high elevation ecosystems. Danny has worked on research projects throughout the West studying climate change and wildfire and spent some amazing summers working and instructing with the Southwest Conservation Corps. Danny has recently lived and worked at two Zen Centers in California gardening, pruning apple trees, and enjoying living in community. Danny earned his B.A. from the University of Minnesota in Geography and Anthropology. You will likely find Danny with his hands in the dirt or boots on his feet.
Peter moved to Montana from the great state of Oregon 12 years ago to guide backpacking trips in and around the Bob Marshall Wilderness for a summer and never looked back. His love for wild places later led him to work as a whitewater river guide, first in Alaska and then in Montana and Idaho. For the last two years he was the operations manager for Idaho’s largest commercial outfitter and taught natural history interpretation techniques to guides. He’s also coached high school track and cross country and refereed high school basketball. Prior to joining WRFI, Peter taught college field courses in Montana and Central America on such topics as Wilderness conservation, sustainable development and conservation biology. He is currently a PhD student in the College of Forestry at the University of Montana where his research focuses on the human dimensions of ecological restoration and wildlife management. He earned an MS in environmental studies from the University of Montana and a B.A. in English from Whitworth University. When he’s not researching, teaching or writing about the American West, he enjoys running, telemark skiing, fly fishing, hunting, birding, reading and following the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
Nancy earned her Master’s of Environmental Studies degree at the University of Montana in 2012, where she focused on Environmental Writing and taught undergraduate courses exploring the nexus among community, environment, and writing. Originally from Ohio, Nancy has been drawn to the mountains ever since college when she led backpacking, climbing, and canoeing excursions for Ohio University’s Outdoor Pursuits Program. After college, Nancy lived and worked in Chilean Patagonia for four years, coordinating an environmental and English education program for a small non-profit organization and steeping herself in the remote mountain culture. An avid gardener herself, Nancy has 2 years’ experience managing the Montana Healthy Food and Communities initiative at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, a program aimed at increasing locally-grown food in schools, hospitals, and other institutions. Most of the year you can find Nancy in Futaleufú, Chile, working part-time for the bilingual environmental publication, Patagon Journal, teaching yoga, and running a backpacker’s hostel with her partner and their 3 legged dog.
Dave graduated from Evergreen State College with a degree in Environmental Studies, then earned his M.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana. Dave has instructed and guided for many outdoor education programs since 1990. He has traveled and taught in South and Central America, Nepal, Africa, Alaska, New Zealand, and Canada. Dave loves teaching at the college level and offers WRFI students a wealth of knowledge about resource issues, environmental education, and ecology. He is currently seeking a PhD in Forestry and Conservation at the Univerity of Montana. When not otherwise occupied Dave is often found skiing, mountain biking, taking photos, or reading High Country News. Dave began teaching for WRFI in 2001. He has taught Alaskan Rainforest, Baja Peninsula, Continental Divide, Colorado Plateau, and Montana Afoot and Afloat. He has initiated and instructed two more courses: Conservation & Community in the Yellowstone to Yukon Region and Cycle the Rockies. Dave has served on the WRFI Board since 2004.
At St. Lawrence University, Katie earned a bachelor degree in Global Studies--examining development and globalization through the lenses of culture, economics, and the environment. During three undergraduate study abroad experiences, she learned firsthand the value of experiential education. Having explored critical environmental issues during those studies abroad, Katie went on to investigate similar controversies brewing in the American West. Working as a wilderness ranger, environmental educator, and on wildlife studies in California, Texas, Alberta, Oklahoma, and Montana, she endeavors to find common ground among disparate stakeholders. Through her Master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana, Katie worked with the National Park Service on climate change adaptation issues in designated wilderness. She directed the University of Montana’s Forum for Living with Appropriate Technology and volunteered as a UNICEF observer at the UN Climate Talks in Durban, South Africa. She continues to write about wilderness, climate change, and natural history in an effort to build relationships between people and between people and the land. As part of Katie's position as WRFI's Field Education Coordaintor she teaches WRFI's spring, summer and fall semesters as well as the Environmental Ethics course.
Levi grew up along the James River in coastal Virginia. Experiencing the wild nature of this once prolific estuary provided the foundations for his passions in natural history. At the age of nineteen, he ventured to Missoula, Montana, for the start of a new journey. Upon arrival, he was quickly immersed into the lifestyle, culture, and studies that occur at the convergence of the Clark Fork, Bitterroot, and Blackfoot Rivers. After being nestled in the Valley for four years, Levi embarked upon work in expeditionary education and ecology up and down the western coasts from Alaska to Argentina. This also included several winters of exploration in the wilds of the Chihuahuan Desert and Florida’s “river of grass.” Levi has instructed for the Outward Bound School, The National Outdoor Leadership School and other organizations. Levi received a M.S. Botany, Field Naturalist Program from the University of Vermont where he collaborated with Trout Unlimited to create a streambank restoration plan and stewardship group for Oregon's Fall River watershed. When not in the backcountry, Levi enjoys gardening, baking, and taking photographs. He teaches WRFI’s Wild Rockies Summer Semester and Montana Afoot and Afloat.
Shawn Olson hails from the Pacific Northwest, where she received a BA in Environmental Studies from The Evergreen State College. Since then, she’s roved the West, spending several seasons as an environmental educator in Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains and as a wilderness therapy guide in the deserts of south-central Utah. She is currently enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Colorado, where she studies the politics and ideological polarizations that lead to conflicts over public lands in the American West, specifically relating to renewable energy development. Shawn is the co-author of two books: Defending Wild Washington: A Citizen’s Action Guide (Mountaineers Books, 2004) and Community and Copper in a Wild Land (Wrangell Mountains Center & National Park Service, 2005). Shawn teaches the Wild Rockies Summer Semester.
Joshua joined WRFI in the fall of 2008. Joshua received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Wilderness Studies from the Evergreen State College, and earned an M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning through the Audubon Expedition Institute at Lesley University. Joshua’s work has alternated between field biology, service based conservation education, wilderness leadership, and guiding, with most of that work located in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. He recently developed and directed a land stewardship program in Vermont and is involved in community-based folk education projects that explore human relationships to place and story. Joshua teaches Montana Afoot & Afloat and the Wild Rockies Summer Semester.
As a southwestern transplant hailing from the east coast, Daisy has served as an Ethnic Studies, Sociology, and Native American Studies educator at Northern Arizona University since 2008. Daisy's research interests focus on Contemporary Indigenous Human Rights and Environmental Justice. She attended the University of New Hampshire and University of California in Santa Cruz and was awarded degrees in Cultural Anthropology with minors in Psychology and American Studies prior to completing her M.Ed and Ethnic Studies Graduate Certificate. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Northern Arizona University. Upon completion, she intends to utilize her fancy new title to implement decolonial pedagogies on a global scale. When not confined to the walls of an institutional classroom, Purdy serves as a field instructor for secondary and tertiary students and pursues international travel. She has held an amphibious position with WRFI since 2013 serving in both land-based and water-based instructional capacities.
Kirsten Rudestam spent her adolescence running up the creek-beds and climbing the sage-brush trails within California's Los Padres mountains. She has since worked and traveled in India, Guatemala, Canada and the American West as an environmental educator, naturalist
Dan teaches in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana where he focuses on issues of globalization, Latin America, community participation in ecological restoration, and environmental ethics and theology. Dan’s undergraduate degree is in geology from Carleton College, which also included three summers teaching geology field camp in the Tobacco Root Mountains of southwest Montana, and three summers working and climbing in Glacier Park. He has graduate degrees in theology and ethics from Union Theological Seminary in New York, and spent 10 years teaching in a Religion and Philosophy Program at Drake University in Iowa before moving to Montana just in time for the fires of 2000. Dan grew up on the West Coast and in Colorado, and spent most of his adult life trying to find a way to get back to the West from Minnesota, New York and Iowa. He’s been teaching at the University of Montana since 2002, and now that he’s back in Montana, he hopes to never move again. He lives with his partner, Pat Burke, and Pat’s two kids, in Missoula.
Craig currently works as an adjunct professor for the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana. His current teaching responsibilities include freshwater ecology, lake ecology, and Montana wildlife. Craig's research focuses on freshwater biology, particularly the movement of mercury through aquatic food webs. He earned his B.S. in biology at the University of Michigan. After completing his M.S. in zoology at the University of Maine, Craig received his Ph.D. in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana. Craig teaches Restoration Ecology and Montana Afoot & Afloat.
Bethany is WRFI's Outreach Manager as well as an instructor. Charged with letting the world know about WRFI, Bethany can be found on college campuses across the country meeting with students, professors, and advisors. When not travelling for WRFI, she is in Missoula at WRFI Central, designing marketing plans, organizing fundraisers, and trying to figure out ways to get back into the field. After years of instructing for WRFI, she is excited to continue with the organization from a new standpoint. Bethany graduated from Colorado College in 2000 with a degree in environmental history, and completed her Master's degree from the University of Montana's environmental studies program in May 2005. She currently is an adjunct professor at the University of Montana in both the environmental studies department and the Davidson Honors College. She's thrilled to have instructed Alaskan Rainforest: Ecology and Policy of the Tongass, Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons & Cultures, Restoration Ecology and Montana Afoot & Afloat.
Brandt has instructed WRFI courses since 2004, including: Alaskan Rainforest: Ecology & Policy of the Tongass, Boundary Waters: Wilderness Land & Lakes, Colorado Plateau: Desert Canyons & Cultures, Montana Afoot & Afloat: Human/Land Relations, and Wild Rockies Summer Semester. He assisted on Baja Peninsula: Coastal Ecology & Culture and served on WRFI’s Safety Committee. Raised in Minnesota and Colorado’s high country, Brandt devoted many years to alpine skiing before pursuing his interests in law and environmental ethics. He holds a BA in philosophy, a Juris Doctorate, and taught philosophy at Colorado Mountain College from 1999 to 2008. Brandt travels extensively and enjoys wildness study and recreation. He is currently taking time off from full-time field education while pursuing a career transition but plans to continue instructing for WRFI down the road.