NAU Wyss Scholars bios
Congratulations to all of the NAU Wyss Scholars!
Miranda Perrone (2017) Accordion Closed
Despite growing up amidst the forested lakes of Wisconsin, family trips to the otherworldly canyons of the Southwest and craggy peaks of the Rockies quickly turned Miranda into a budding Western conservationist. She began her work in this field at sixteen, and my history of commitment now includes extensive outdoor education, agricultural, volunteer, and academic work. Leading expeditions with NOLS in Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona, teaching a rigorous curriculum of environmental ethics, leadership, environmental science, and interpersonal as well as technical skills has formed a significant portion of this work. Miranda chose to pursue a graduate degree in Environmental Science and Policy at NAU in order to continue to develop skills needed to work meaningfully on the front lines of conservation in the western United States. She plans to bring technical and creative skills to bear on interdisciplinary conservation issues by using GIS to build visual bridges leading to effective management policies and using the written word both to raise awareness of conservation issues and to unify and engage those fighting the good fight.
After having worked, traveled, and studied extensively in all corners of the globe, there is one thing of which she is certain: the landscapes of the West are utterly unique, sublime, and desperately in need of protection.
Patrick Shin (2017) Accordion Closed
Patrick grew up surrounded by the cacti and desert shrubs in Tucson, Arizona and moved to Flagstaff to attend NAU. He quickly became aware of the importance of responsibly managing and protecting everything the environment provides which motivated him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in forestry. Patrick then worked with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources as a Silviculture forester. In his 3 years as a forester, he assisted in planting over 1.5 million seedlings, helped to control several invasive species, and also worked as a wildland firefighter. After spending a few years working in land management, he saw how useful geospatial tools were. Patrick aims to use remote sensing and geospatial technologies to assist land management decisions and policy development. These tools offer managers the opportunity to efficiently quantify their resources, make informed decisions, and monitor potential impacts. They can also be used as a great communication tool to policymakers and the public. By better understanding and applying these technologies, Patrick would like to help manage land and conserve the environment for future generations. His current research in graduate school is with the application of UAV and aerial remote sensing to forest management. Specifically, he uses 3-dimensional data to measure forest structure and evaluate the effects of local forest fuel reduction treatments. After graduation, he hopes to help land managers apply such technologies to provide accurate and comprehensive information to conserve and manage public land.
Aaron Mrotek (2017) Accordion Closed
Aaron Mrotek earned his undergraduate degree in Journalism and Marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He worked in the advertising industry as an account executive for three years before deciding to pursue a lifelong passion in environmental conservation. In 2014, Aaron joined the Arizona Conservation Corps in Tucson as an AmeriCorps volunteer and shortly thereafter began leading crews in conservation projects from invasive species removal to riparian restoration to re-vegetation projects. While in Tucson, Aaron also worked with the Watershed Management Group where he created a series of short educational videos about shallow groundwater and assisted with community outreach about local water issues. He also did volunteer work in the field with the Coronado National Forest hydrologist. Aaron joined Northern Arizona University’s Climate Science and Solutions program to continue to develop as a leader in environmental conservation and policy. Aaron was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI. He plays futbol competitively and spends his free time roaming the forests, deserts and mountains of the Southwest. Aaron aspires to work in a transformative role in federal land management. He is inspired by the collaborative process between scientists, ranchers, recreationalists, cultural leaders, and other stakeholders to help guide the management of the great lands of the American West. Along the way, Aaron wishes to gain experience with a conservation NGO and hopes to augment his experiences in conservation public service internationally.
Renee Sanders (2017) Accordion Closed
After first setting eyes on Arizona on a vacation, Renee uprooted from her home state of West Virginia to pursue her career goals, enrolling in a Parks and Recreation Management bachelor’s degree program where she broadened her knowledge of environmental issues of the American West. Renee interned with a wildlife organization that focused on rehabilitating wildlife endemic to the Sonoran Desert, reinforcing the significance of protected areas for wildlife that live in places that increasingly experience human encroachment. At NAU Renee honed her skills as an interdisciplinary student to more effectively communicate and create meaningful change for public lands and wildlife in the Intermountain West. Her personal interests have led me to conduct research on the perceptions held by college students toward wilderness and the social and ecological effects of land use change. As land is increasingly altered from its natural state in the Intermountain West, it is crucial to discover the effects on residents living in communities experiencing land use change, as well as the ecosystem services, available natural resources, and wildlife assemblages that are altered in a changed landscape.
Charles Mogen (2016) Accordion Closed
Although Charles was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, he developed an immense love for the dramatic and varied landscapes of the western United States as a child during family visits to his grandparents in the desert of New Mexico, and his uncle on the high plains of South Dakota. While majoring in Environmental Science as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia he began exploring the complex ecologic, hydrologic, economic, and political issues that western landscapes currently face. He chose to enroll in the interdisciplinary Environmental Science & Policy Masters program at NAU because of the the unparalleled opportunity it affords. Living on the Colorado Plateau provides easy access to some of the most threatened ecosystems in the west, and the opportunity to work with and learn from the managers that are currently in charge of tackling the numerous problems they face. Charles is interested in how both past and future changes in regional climate have, and will, affect ecosystems throughout the western United States. His research explores how past climate changes have affected both vegetation and fire regimes in southern Colorado by using paleoecologic proxies. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health are crucial as the accelerated pace of global climate change increasingly threatens regional ecosystems, and understanding how and why changes have occurred in the past will greatly benefit both land managers, stakeholders, and policy makers alike.
Kristina Young (2016) Accordion Closed
Kristina works with the Grand Canyon Trust and the Utah Forest Program. There, she has been involved with writing alternative conservation-focused management plans for the Manti-La Sal National Forest and the Grand Staircase Escalante-Monument, and has written reports about the importance of grazing exclosures for the La Sal Sustainability Collaboration. Over the next year, she will compile and publish a dataset examining the impacts of grazing on soil resources within the previous boundaries of Grand Staircase Escalante-Monument. With the US Geological Survey, Kristina has conducted two research experiments on Bureau of Land Management lands outside of Moab, Utah examining the importance of biological soil crust to plant biomass in grazed ecosystems. Additionally, she is compiling studies about biocrust in the Western US, asking what environmental factors retard biocrust recovery and how land managers can address those factors. For her science outreach work, Kristina was awarded the BYU Charles Redd Center for Western Studies Public Programming Award, a $2,000 award aimed at increasing public programing about the American West. Over the last year, Kristina has given talks to the BLM, the Colorado Plateau Native Plant Program, and the Canyonlands Research Center about the importance of biocrust to Colorado Plateau ecosystems, and recently co-authored a paper about ecological restoration on the Colorado Plateau in the journal Restoration Ecology. Over the coming year, Kristina will be working with an all-female team of artists, illustrators, and scientists to publish a book about biological soil crusts – its natural history, functions, and importance to Colorado Plateau ecosystems.
Molly McCormick (2016) Accordion Closed
In May 2017, Molly McCormick graduated with an M.S. and completed her research-based master’s thesis, entitled, “Heterogeneous planting design supports rich and abundant pollinator communities to minimize use of restoration resources in arid lands.” In 2017, Molly co-coordinated the Verde Native Seed Cooperative with the goal of increasing native plant material availability for restoration in the region, and diversifying agricultural production and reducing water use on farms in the region. The group received funding from USFS region 3 and BLM, hired a tribal youth seed collection crew for summer 2017, and began field production of native grasses for seed. In April, Molly was hired as the coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey’s Restoration and Monitoring Program for the Southwest (RAMPS). She is currently working with land managers and restoration practitioners to increase the efficiency of restoration efforts on the Colorado Plateau, and in the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.
Ryan Lima (2015) Accordion Closed
Ryan completed his Masters in Environmental Science and Policy in the spring of 2016, focusing on springs and watershed services in Grand Canyon. After publishing this work in the Journal Land Use Policy in early 2017, Ryan has turned his attention to monitoring sediment storage in Colorado River sandbars. Sediment dynamics play a critical role in the aquatic ecology of Grand Canyon, and mitigating the sediment-trapping impacts of dams is key to conservation sensitive species and restoring ecosystem function. Ryan is currently pursuing a PhD in remote sensing and fluvial geomorphology, using, oblique images from remote cameras to understand short-term changes in sediment storage in Grand Canyon.
Matthew Millar (2015) Accordion Closed
After graduating from the Environmental Science and Policy program at NAU, Matt has been working on the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). This project is a voter-approved measure that secured $10M of funding for forest thinning treatments. The treatments are occurring in two key watersheds important to the City of Flagstaff. As the FWPP Operations Specialist, Matt has been helping to coordinate and manage restoration thinning across the FWPP project area with the goal of reducing the risk of high severity wildfire, mitigating post-fire flooding impacts, and protecting important watershed ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat and water resources. These thinning projects are primarily funded by the City of Flagstaff, but they are occurring across multiple jurisdictions on City, State, and Federal lands. Matt has also been participating in various workshops and conferences in an effort to share how FWPP might serve as a model for other communities threatened by high severity wildfire.
Erin Saunders (2014) Accordion Closed
After receiving the Wyss Scholars award in spring 2014, Erin completed another summer of field research, collecting foraging, drinking and roosting information on reproductive female bats in a post-wildfire landscape. She also hosted a week long Bat Blitz where 50+ volunteers came from around the state and country to help us collect data. Since last summer, Erin has attended 5 national conferences, presenting a poster at each conference on her research. Recently Erin accepted a position with the Forest Service to begin in June— she will move to Colorado Springs, CO to start her internship there as a Wildlife Biologist.
Chelsea Silva (2014) Accordion Closed
For the past year, Chelsea has served as co-president of the Environmental Sciences and Policy Graduate Student Organization (ESPGSO) at NAU. She has also been interning with a local non-profit organization, the Friends of the Rio de Flag (the Friends). The Friends focuses on promoting awareness of and education about our local Rio de Flag watershed. Through her internship position, Chelsea is developing an Adopt-the-Rio program which will unite local schools with local organizations to become dual stewards of one section of the Rio de Flag (the main channel) or nearby tributaries within the watershed. Stewards will commit to conducting two clean ups per year along their stretch of the Rio/tributary. Chelsea also led a stream clean up and workshop focused on watershed health in collaboration with the City of Flagstaff during the City’s Earth Day event. Chelsea plans on defending her thesis and completing her ES&P course of study by the end of 2015.
Elias Toon (2014) Accordion Closed
Over the past year, Elias has continued to develop his primary research into public private partnerships on National Forests. Elias completed his Wyss summer internship with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) in Missoula, Montana. There, he helped further his own research, as well as research for the NFF, into economic models and stakeholder involvement on National Forest watershed restoration projects. Through his internship experience, Elias made invaluable contacts and help refocus and define his thesis topic to best fit and inform the current political and non-profit landscape. The Wyss scholars program was critical to his experience as it allowed Elias to work for an organization without requiring funding from the host organization. In the coming year, Elias plans on finishing his thesis and completing his degree program by the end of 2015.
Audrey Kruse (2013) Accordion Closed
While in the ES&P graduate program, Audrey’s research examined arthropods on tamarisk as the tamarisk leaf beetle defoliated the trees along the San Juan River, UT. She incorporated citizen scientists into her research by teaching high school and university students about riparian ecology and in turn, the students participated in collecting arthropods and other abiotic data while on river trips. With the help of the Wyss summer internship support, Audrey was the Experiential Education Coordinator for three unique, environmental conservation field-based programs, assisting diverse groups of students with an arthropod light-trapping citizen science project for the US Geological Survey on the Colorado River and teaching riparian ecology classes, both on campus and during extended field trips.
Collin Haffey (2013) Accordion Closed
In the fall of 2014, Collin accepted an ecologist position with the Jemez Mountains Field Station, a NPS and USGS collaborative based at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico. There he works closely with land managers and scientists to develop research questions that are relevant to conservation management and study the continued effects of landscape-level changes caused by human land use and climate change. He hopes to continue his public outreach efforts on conservation science issues and solutions in order to develop a strong sense of place, with an eye toward adapting to the future in a way that preserves ecosystem function and community sustainability. Last fall Collin participated in an artist in residence program focused on conservation on the Colorado Plateau. The project, Uplift, was funded, in part, by the Entrada Institute in Torrey, Utah. He worked on the project with artist Kate Aitchison and fellow Wyss scholar Cari Kimball. Additionally, Collin and two other Wyss scholars, Cari Kimball and Sasha Stortz have begun to develop a conservation group called Raucous Conservation designed to support those who work in the conservation “middle” between science, land management, and Western communities. The group serves as a platform for those dedicated and creative people to share ideas, work together on projects, and meet in a social and professional setting. They have used their Wyss funds to start the group and hope to recruit Wyss scholars as some of the founding members.
Cassy Rivas (2012) Accordion Closed
Cassy completed her ES&P degree in May 2014 and since then she has returned to her position as a biologist with Robert A. Booher Consulting. She has now worked there for a total of two years. Her job consists of mitigating the impacts of oil exploration on the conservation of special status species in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Before graduating, she completed her Wyss internship with The Grand Canyon Trust, where she developed spatial data for use in conservation projects in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
Katie Sauerbrey (2012) Accordion Closed
After graduating from NAU in the fall of 2013 Katie temporarily moved east to the longleaf pines of North Carolina to work for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) on a prescribed fire crew restoring longleaf pine forests and associated habitats. Four months later she took a permanent position as a fuels specialist back in the southwest working for the North Kaibab Ranger District (NKRD) of the Kaibab National Forest. There she helped plan and implement fuels reduction projects on the NKRD, as well as on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. In October 2014 Katie was selected to be an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow working for TNC as a Conservation Planner back in the sandhills of North Carolina. She continues to follow her passion for forest restoration through the use of prescribed fire by helping plan and implement burns. She also works on land protection issues for TNC by assisting in land acquisition, environmental assessments, easement monitoring, and much more. At TNC Katie has found she can balance her love for fire management with a science-based management approach, and continues to seek knowledge about the new ecosystem type and conservation options for her region.
Sasha Stortz (2012) Accordion Closed
For her thesis, Sasha researched the impacts and effectiveness of stakeholder participation in collaborative planning processes. She also was the president of the Environmental Science and Policy graduate student organization, helped coordinate a forum policy development around a Restoration Lands system, and participated in two of the Public Land Foundation’s Student Congresses on western public lands. Since graduating from NAU in May 2014, she has worked as a Senior Research Associate for NAU’s Landscape Conservation Initiative, where she coordinates multi-stakeholder collaborative planning processes supported by the use of participatory Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These include a landscape assessment for the Grand Canyon region, and a collaboratively developed proposed action for forest restoration on the Kaibab Plateau. Sasha also instructs an environmental science course as part of NAU’s Grand Canyon Semester and leads experiential education programming with National Geographic Student Expeditions to Tanzania, the Grand Canyon, and Puget Sound. This year Sasha co-founded Raucous Conservation, a community platform to support and inspire people working at the science-policy interface with two other Wyss Scholars. When not working on conversation issues, Sasha mountain bikes, backpacks, and plays her violin.
Amber Wilson (2012) Accordion Closed
In the winter of 2013, Amber was hired as Wyoming Outdoor Council’s Environmental Quality Advocate. Her position focuses on state and federal actions—primarily related to energy development—that could impact air and water quality and public health. She recently worked with Governor Mead’s office, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and representatives of the oil and gas industry during the development of Wyoming’s baseline groundwater testing rule, which went into effect March 1, 2014. Her next big undertaking will be advocating for a rule-review to scale back Wyoming’s flaring problem. Amber also serves on the founding board of a new conservation non-profit called Western Sense and co-founded the Lander Running Club—two endeavors she’s pursuing with Wyss Scholar Evan Reimondo.
Wes Swaffar (2011) Accordion Closed
Since graduating from Northern Arizona University in May 2012 with a Masters Degree in Environmental Science and Policy and a Wyss Scholars award, Wes has been involved in forest restoration on public lands. Shortly after graduating, Wes returned to Missoula, Montana, where he works for the National Forest Foundation as Senior Manager of Ecosystem Services. In this role, Wes manages three conservation programs focused on reforestation and watershed restoration. Managing both fundraising and conservation program oversight for these programs, Wes raises at least $500,000 annually and invests these funds to large-scale restoration projects on National Forests across the country. Wes is also involved in the local Missoula community through serving on the board of Rattlesnake Creek Watershed Group and the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project. Wes also tries to stay active in the Wyss Scholars network, and in 2014, organized the annual Wyss Scholars gathering in western Montana. When not working, Wes enjoys exploring local public lands. His favorite activities are hunting, fishing, skiing and harvesting berries and mushrooms.
Bill Hoblitzell (2011) Accordion Closed
Bill graduated from NAU’s ES&P program in Winter 2013 and is a Project Manager with Lotic Hydrological, a consulting service that provides technical expertise, water resource engineering services and a firm commitment to scientific problem solving when engaged in both field data collection and complex quantitative analysis. Lotic helps clients implement strategies that protect diverse water uses, while maintaining high levels of environmental quality and contributing to the long-term stewardship of our regional water resources. In his capacity with Lotic Hydrological, Bill works with many NGOs including the Roaring Fork Conservancy and Eagle River Watershed Council. He also works on projects for local governments (town, county) and quasi-governmental entities like drinking water providers. Bill’s work addresses multiple water resource-related areas: clean water act issues such as water quality investigation, planning, and restoration on 303d-list streams; CO state water policy; stormwater monitoring; and large-scale watershed assessments in central Colorado.
Jessica Gist (2009) Accordion Closed
Jessica has continued working for the Arizona Game & Fish Department since her Wyss internship in 2009. Currently, she is the Habitat Specialist for the Department’s Flagstaff Region, a role that seamlessly blends ecology and conservation policy to improve wildlife habitat across northern Arizona. Working closely with federal, state, and local government agencies, researchers, and NGOs, Jessica employs science-based planning and active management to benefit pine and mixed conifer forests, savannah and grasslands, wetlands and stream habitats. Her professional interests include wildlife connectivity, open space planning, restoration effects monitoring, and watchable wildlife.