Meet the Staff

Shaver’s Creek Nature Names

What’s with the “nature names” below? At Shaver’s Creek, many of our staff members adopt a secondary “nature name.” These monikers are meant to be fun and are usually used during programs with kids, such as during Summer Camp and Outdoor School.

Penn State College Affiliation

Shaver’s Creek is part of Penn State Outreach, but we have teaching agreements with many colleges and departments across Penn State. Some staff members also serve as faculty for the recreation, park, and tourism management program in the College of Health and Human Development or the School of Forest Resources in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Graduate Assistants

Madison BotchMadison Botch

Graduate Assistant

Past SEED student, intern, and seasonal educator, Madison is no stranger to Shaver’s Creek! Having meandered her way through many different roles for the past few years, she landed in her current graduate assistant position in August 2019. Madison is a Ph.D. candidate in the curriculum and instruction program, with a focus in science education. She graduated from Penn State in 2018 with her bachelor’s degree in recreation, park, and tourism management under the environmental interpretation option. Outside of Shaver’s Creek, Madison has previously worked with some of Central Pennsylvania’s other environmental education entities, such as Millbrook Marsh Nature Center and The Arboretum at Penn State. Madison loves to continually learn and grow as an educator and is excited to begin this new graduate-school journey with a place that is near and dear to her heart. In whatever free time she is able to find, Madison enjoys drinking coffee, birding with great friends, and fostering her 4-year-old daughter’s love of the natural world.
Nature Name: Kestrel

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Amy EldredgeImage of Amy Eldredge

Graduate Assistant

As a kid, Amy grew to love the great outdoors through exploring the woods of Pennsylvania. A native of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, she participated as a camper in Shaver’s Creek Outdoor School, which helped guide her on a career path in environmental stewardship and education. After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College in 2014 with majors in animal behavior and studio art, she interned at Bald Head Island Conservancy in North Carolina where she became the director of education. In 2018 she moved to Maui to work for the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary as the volunteer coordinator to promote ocean conservation and awareness of the impacts of how we interact with our environment. These experiences have confirmed her desire to pursue higher education to connect people more effectively to nature. Amy is excited to be back in her home state to pursue both a master’s and Ph.D. in recreation, park, and tourism management under the guidance of Dr. Danielle Lawson, exploring the indirect impacts of environmental programs, including intergenerational learning and the influence of a program over multiple years. She will also be a member of the Shaver’s Creek team, working with Ellen Will and Jennifer Emigh, where her primary focus will be assisting with the Shaver’s Creek Outdoor School. In her free time, Amy enjoys taking nature walks with a camera and binoculars in hand, reading on rainy days, and painting landscapes from her travels.

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Emily HayneEmily Hayne

Graduate Assistant

While teaching a community garden education program in her Minnesota hometown, Emily observed then held onto the joy that emerges when young people engage with nature. Since then, Emily has taught children of all ages in the prairies and oak savannahs of northern Indiana as well as the lakes, bogs, and hemlock forests of northern Wisconsin. Emily earned her B.A. in environmental studies in 2014 and her M.A. in environmental education in 2019. As a third year Ph.D. student, Emily is pursuing the recreation, park, and tourism management and human dimensions of natural resources and the environment (RPTM-HDNRE) dual-degree. Emily is in the Nature Connections Lab led by Dr. Danielle Lawson and studies how adults develop relationships with other people, nature, and place, and the impact those relationships have on individual and community well-being.

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Ezra Houston

Graduate Assistant

Ezra grew up in State College and received his bachelor’s degree in forest resource management from Penn State. During his time as an undergraduate student, Ezra took courses such as agroforestry, which spurred his interest in non-timber forest products. He also had the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research on Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis), which is a native plant and non-timber forest product. After graduating in 2020, he worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) as part of the inventory and monitoring section, where he gained field experience identifying native plants and collecting data.

Now, he is excited to start his master’s degree studying non-timber forest products under the guidance of Eric Burkhart. While he is especially interested in plants, Ezra’s other interests include camping, hiking, gardening, cooking, and weightlifting.

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Kirk Lawson headshot of kirk lawson

Graduate Assistant 

Kirk earned his B.S. in biology at the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a focus on pre-med studies. Then, he earned his M.S. in biology with a focus on physiology and psychopharmacology. He conducted clinical research for his master’s thesis examining the effects of ADHD pharmaceuticals on bone density. After this, he took the MCAT and interviewed for medical school, but decided he was more interested in traditional plant medicine. Kirk then earned a graduate certificate in pharmaceutical chemistry, with a focus on natural product research/drug discovery, from the University of Florida. Now, he is very excited to start his Ph.D. at Penn State in the College of Agricultural Sciences with advisers Dr. Eric Burkhart (Forest Resources) and Dr. Josh Lambert (Food Science). Kirk is part of the newly formed SNIPS cohort — Soils, Plants, and Consumers Network (SPCN) — involved with studying the intersection of medicinal and food crops with human consumers. He will initially be studying ramps and ginseng and other Appalachian/New England medicinal/food plants. He hopes to carry out his dissertation research on the medicinal plants of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, which he has been studying independently for the past 3 years.

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Megan Martin

Graduate Assistant

Megan is an M.Ed. student studying curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on science education at Penn State. Originally from Michigan, Megan grew up collecting rocks on the shore of Lake Huron. Naturally, she completed her bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from Michigan State University in 2015. She worked as an environmental geologist in Colorado and as a technician in a certified groundwater testing laboratory. After finishing her first year of graduate study at Penn State with the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, she is excited to transition into education to learn how to share her enthusiasm for science and nature with others. In her free time, Megan enjoys running, reading science fiction novels, going to the local farmers market, and traveling. She has even taken a one-year trip around the US in a travel trailer with her husband and two cats.
Nature Name: Copper

Emily Olsenheadshot of emily olsen

Graduate Assistant

Emily is a Ph.D. candidate at Penn State, studying curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in science education. Her research interests are at the intersection of climate anxiety and environmental education. Emily is an adventurous, friendly, outgoing person who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, spending her childhood around Puget Sound in Washington and her young adulthood in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. She holds a B.S. in biology from Portland State University and an M.S. in environmental education and an M.A. in teaching, both from Southern Oregon University. She loves to share her passions with others and to help foster connections between the people and the world around them. She has held environmental education positions with Tualatin Hills Parks and Recreation District, Crater Lake National Park, and the Multnomah Education Service Districts Outdoor School Program among others in Oregon. Most recently, she has held an environmental education position with The Arboretum at Penn State in addition to her work as a Ph.D. candidate. Hiking and anything involving the water are her favorite outdoor activities, as well as reading and watching movies when indoors.
Nature Name: Sequoia

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Will RobertsonWill Robertson

Graduate Assistant

Growing up, Will spent every ounce of his free time in the local woodlots, catching frogs, snakes, turtles, and salamanders. Over the years, his passion for wildlife has grown and his explorations have become more ambitious. Will graduated from Middlebury College in May of 2021 with a degree in conservation biology and is excited to be pursuing a master’s in wildlife and fisheries science here at Penn State. At Middlebury, he was an athlete on the track team, specializing in the 400m dash. In the fall of 2019, Will spent a semester abroad in South Africa, where he got to see elephants, black mambas, lions, and more! For many years, he spent his summers working as the nature director at Buck Hill Falls Camp Club, teaching kids ages 3–12 about the local flora and fauna. In his free time, Will pursues, photographs, and films wildlife and enjoys making educational videos. Will is passionate about the role of media in conservation and hopes to inspire an audience through his videography.

Faculty and Staff

Jennifer AndersonJennifer Anderson

Program Director

Jen coordinates the public workshops and OLLI programs at Shaver’s Creek. In addition, she teaches BiSci003, an environmental science class at Penn State. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science from Westminster College in 1996 and a master’s degree in environment and community from Antioch University Seattle in 2001. She is originally from Port Allegany, in north-central Pennsylvania. She and her sons (Isaac, Henry, and Luke) and dogs (Tioga and Penny) now make their home in Pine Grove Mills. Her interests include exploring, reading, bike riding, kayaking, making jewelry, and spending time with friends and family.
Nature Name: Prism

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Lexi ArnoldLexi Arnold smiling among green tree leaves

Outdoor School Program Assistant 

Lexi is the program assistant for outdoor school. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania and completed her bachelor’s degree in recreation, park, and tourism management at Penn State in 2019. As a student, Lexi was very involved at the Center. From Outdoor School to festivals, to summer camp, to SEED semester, to summer camp; she took any opportunity she could to be at Shaver’s Creek. After college, she lived in Colorado and California for a few years working in outdoor education and the service industry. She is stoked to be back at Shaver’s Creek and is passionate about creating a safe, inclusive community for all people to learn, grow, and connect with each other and the outdoors. In her free time, she loves all things outdoor recreation, cooking, watching live music, and spending time with loved ones.

Nature Name: Pine

Andrew BechdelAndrew Bechdel standing on a suspension bridge in a forest

Summer Camp Program Assistant 

After spending the spring season with Shaver’s Creek as the Tussey Mountain migration counter, counting Golden Eagles, Andrew decided to come down from the mountain and join the summer camp leadership team. As an undergrad at Lock Haven University, he majored in recreation management with a minor in environmental studies. His passion for nature and environmental education led him to work as a traveling day camp director, an AmeriCorps environmental educator, and a trails assistant for the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership. Now, he is excited to help campers grow and connect with the natural world and encourage a lifelong passion for exploration and inquiry. In his free time, Andrew loves to go birding, rock climbing, hiking, and mushroom hunting and get lost in a good book.

Nature Name: Aquila

Eric Burkhart, Ph.D.Eric Burkhart

Associate Teaching Professor
Appalachian Botany and Ethnobotany
Program Director

Dr. Eric Burkhart is a botanist who specializes in ethnobotany, non-timber forest products, and plant conservation in his teaching, research, and educational outreach endeavors. He holds degrees in ethnobotany (B.A., Idaho State University), horticulture (M.S., Penn State), and forest resources (Ph.D., Penn State) and is currently Appalachian Botany and Ethnobotany program director for Shaver’s Creek and faculty instructor for the Penn State Ecosystem Science and Management Department. His research program in Pennsylvania is focused on developing sustainable wild stewardship and agroforestry production systems for specialty forest products, including American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and ramps (Allium tricoccum).
Nature Name: Panax

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More about Eric and his work 

Ellie Chapman

Administrative Assistant

Ellie has worked at Penn State for 19 years. Her first five years were with Cooperative Extension, where she worked in grant and contract accounting. She then moved to the Paul Robeson Cultural Center in the role of office manager. Before working at Penn State, she worked for Easter Seals of Central Pennsylvania. Ellie has four children, three of whom are Penn State graduates! In her free time, she enjoys gardening and all crafts and loves to re-upholster furniture.
Nature Name: Sunflower

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Rachel ColeRachel Cole

AURORA Program Coordinator

Rachel graduated from Penn State in May 2023 with degrees in secondary education and mathematics. She has worked with AURORA since 2019 in various roles. Rachel believes strongly in the impact outdoor orientation programs like AURORA have on students’ personal growth and academic achievement and is beyond grateful to further this impact in her position as the AURORA program coordinator. She loves spending time outside — hiking, biking, caving, and more. When she has to be inside, Rachel enjoys discovering new Rubik’s cube algorithms and learning to play different instruments. Rachel would describe herself as a glass-half-full kind of person, a lifelong learner, and a storyteller. 
Nature Name: Sprout

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Shannan DavidowShannan Davidow

Wildlife Programs 

As Shaver’s Creek’s herpetarium coordinator, Shannan ensures a high quality of daily care for the reptiles and amphibians who call Shaver’s Creek home. Shannan’s passion for wildlife started when she enrolled in Juniata College’s wildlife conservation program and conducted research on map turtles of the Juniata River. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2018, Shannan joined the wildlife education team as a lead animal ambassador, where she developed a love for mentoring emerging professionals in their journey to an animal care career. After earning her Professional Animal Trainer certification in 2021, her passion for animal training grew — she particularly appreciates the daily opportunity to give the animals a voice through training sessions.

In her current position, Shannan loves taking the time to connect people to the animals at Shaver’s Creek. Her favorite moments include helping visitors to overcome their fears of snakes and invertebrates. She also has a particularly close bond with Matilda, the Black Vulture, who reveals her alluring personality alongside Shannan during training sessions.

Shannan loves to spend time hiking, herping, and walking her dogs. As an avid reptile and invertebrate enthusiast, she cares for 4 snakes and 3 tarantulas of her own at home!
Nature Name: Firefly

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Chris DiehlChris Diehl

Grounds and Facilities Technician

Chris came to Shaver’s Creek in 2018 after working for Penn State for over ten years. He assists with all things grounds and facilities related. When he’s not working, you might find Chris riding motorcycles and enjoying the outdoors!
Nature Name: Mephitus

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Jennifer EmighJennifer Emigh

Assistant Teaching Professor, AURORA Director

Jen is an assistant teaching professor in the College of Health and Human Development and teaches courses in outdoor leadership for the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) and Kinesiology departments while also overseeing the adventure recreation pathway within the RPTM outdoor recreation option. She is also the director of the AURORA Outdoor Orientation Programs at Penn State, which aid students with their transition to college through backpacking expeditions before the semester starts.

Jen earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation and park management from Penn State in 2001 and a master’s degree in environmental studies from Antioch University New England in 2007. She honed her skills as director of corporate leadership trainings at University of New Hampshire’s Browne Center prior to returning to Penn State in 2010 for what she calls her “dream job.”

Jen’s passion in life has become helping people live an authentic life by learning more about themselves and how to lead in all walks of life. While she focuses her time mainly with student leaders, she is passionate about supporting anyone as they find their inner leader. She also enjoys spending time pursuing outdoor adventures with her son, road tripping in their camper van, and waiting for snow to fly so they can hit the slopes.

Nature Name: Samara

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Dom FeolaDom Feola

Marketing and Engagement Program Assistant

Dom graduated from Penn State in 2022 with a degree in advertising and public relations. His passion for the natural world was sparked by his service with AmeriCorps, where he spent summers rebuilding trails in Oregon, backpacking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and planting trees in Washington. Through it all, he’s loved learning how deeply and emotionally people connect with the outdoors. He’s excited to return home and help Shaver’s Creek foster deep and meaningful relationships with our community. You can find him taking photos, writing blog posts, developing social content, and helping to promote all that Shaver’s Creek has to offer. Outside of work, he enjoys camping, hiking, going for runs, and making art.

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Autumn GrahamAutumn Graham

BISCI Educational Coordinator

Autumn graduated from Penn State in the spring of 2022 with a B.A. in journalism. She was a teaching assistant for biological sciences, wilderness literature, and introductory chemistry at Penn State. Additionally, she served as a camp counselor for Shaver’s Creek Outdoor School, where she enjoyed seeing the eyes of the young explorers light up as they participated in outdoor programming centered around developing ecological consciousness. Through these various experiences, Autumn developed a passion for mentorship. This year, Autumn is working under the guidance of Jen Anderson (Shaver’s Creek program director and biology instructor). In this position, she looks forward to continuing to expand her knowledge of environmental science to expand environmental awareness to people of all ages through reflection and mindfulness. In her free time, you can find Autumn singing, reading, writing, caring for her plants, and wandering around Shaver’s Creek. If you see her, feel free to say hello!
Nature Name: Breeze

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Patti GrayPatti Gray standing at the front door of the Shaver's Creek visitor center

Visitor Services Program Coordinator

Patti can be found welcoming visitors, both first timers and frequent guests, to the Shaver’s Creek Visitor Center. She is also the manager of the Weidemann Bookstore. Patti enjoys chatting with visitors and sharing her growing knowledge of the resident animals, particularly the snakes.

Patti and her husband Brian have lived in the State College area for over thirty years. They have three children, Hannah, Lucas, and Nicholas, with whom they enjoy spending time outdoors and kayaking. Patti enjoys bird watching in the backyard, riding her bike, traveling, and spending time walking her dogs, Firkin and Finley.
Nature Name: Heron

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Lisa Hayes

Marketing and Engagement Program Director 

Lisa Hayes enjoying a hot beverage at a table with a view of mountains in the distance.

Lisa’s love of nature began from a very early age; she spent countless hours of her childhood running through the woods, creating forts from fallen branches, wreaths of monkey vines, and daisy chains. A previous Outdoor School camper — tents not cabins — Lisa has long held Shaver’s Creek in special regard. She is thrilled and honored to be entrusted to share the stories and amplify all Shaver’s Creek offers at our beautiful location in Stone Valley. Through photography, videography, and content creation, she provides strategic support to the various programs and events that Shaver’s Creek offers. Bringing a diverse set of skills and experience gleaned from living and traveling all around the country, she works to ensure strong connections and engagement with the University community, surrounding communities, and beyond. 

Lisa enjoys traveling and exploring, spending time outdoors, live music, various artistic endeavors, gardening, reading, spending time with family, a good cup of coffee, and learning new things.
Nature Name: Meadow Lark

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Nikki HouckNikki Houck

Office Manager

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Jon KauffmanJon Kauffman

Assistant Program Director

Jon promotes conservation through citizen science projects such as Project Nestwatch, Monarch Watch, Winter Raptor Surveys, and seasonal hawk watches. In the spring, Jon partners with the State College Bird Club to help coordinate the Tussey Mountain Hawk Watch, a major flyway for Golden Eagles. While majoring in wildlife and fisheries science at Penn State, he became aware of the great volunteer opportunities Shaver’s Creek has to offer. Since then, he has been a work-study student and raptor center intern, and has assisted with public programs at Shaver’s Creek. He has served as a hawk-watcher for nearby Tussey Mountain and has also traveled and worked with other organizations such as Cape May Bird Observatory and Intermountain Bird Observatory in Idaho. Jon has a passion for canoeing the Juniata River, native plants, exploring new habitats, and connecting people to the avian world.
Nature Name: Timberdoodle

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Drew LehnerdDrew Lehnerd

AURORA Assistant Program Director

Drew works to ensure that AURORA’s operations and staff development run smoothly. He believes strongly in the power of outdoor recreation as a community-building and leadership-development tool and makes that belief a reality each day with AURORA. Drew also instructs wilderness medicine and CPR courses in the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management Department. He earned a B.S. in Human Geography from Penn State in 2012. Drew is a Leave No Trace Master Educator, SOLO Wilderness First Responder, and an AASI certified snowboard instructor. He also enjoys riding bicycles, reading, and learning new things.
Nature Name: Larkspur

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Matt MarsdenMatt Marsden

Outdoor School and Discovery Camp Assistant Director

Matt has been helping to direct Outdoor SchoolDiscovery Camp, and Kids Corner. He graduated in 2006 from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in environmental interpretation and in 2016 from Slippery Rock University with an M.S. in park and resource management. He likes all things outdoors and enjoys living in Alexandria, PA.
Nature Name: Cardinal

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Lucy R. McClain, Ph.D.Lucy R. McClain

Associate Teaching Professor

Lucy is an associate teaching professor and the graduate assistant program director at Shaver’s Creek. She teaches environmental education and sustainability courses in both Penn State’s Curriculum and Instruction (Science Education) department and Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management (RPTM) department. She also co-chairs the Outreach Sustainability Council, which consists of a team of 16 council members representing each Outreach working unit.

Lucy is also involved with several grant-funded research projects with Penn State’s College of Education. Trained in the learning sciences, she studies how families learn in non-formal educational settings — including outdoor spaces and nature centers — using both non-mobile and mobile devices as learning tools.

She enjoys spending time in the outdoors with her two sons, Conary and Eamon, her husband, Casey, and their dog, Scout. Lucy is also an avid sports fan and jumps at the chance to knock around a soccer ball.
Nature Name: Malachite

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More about Lucy and her work

Laurie McLaughlinLaurie McLaughlin

Program Director; Instructor

Laurie works to support the people and community at Shaver’s Creek through connection and growth opportunities. Her role as a program director is to coordinate the SEED Semester, oversee and direct the Maple Harvest Festival, and teach Penn State courses that support these efforts. Laurie’s classes include RPTM 230: Teambuilding Facilitation, AEE 297: Interpreting Maple Sugaring for Families, and PSU 14: First Year Seminar. Laurie has a passion for teaching experientially, working with interns and students and helping them to learn about how they can make a positive impact on our planet.

Laurie has been affiliated with Shaver’s Creek since 1993. She earned her bachelor’s degree in outdoor and environmental education from Penn State in 1988, and her master’s degree in experiential education from the University of Colorado in 1992. Before returning to Shaver’s Creek, Laurie spent time in Vermont, Maine, Ohio and Colorado working for outdoor education programs, facilitating teambuilding and ropes course adventures, and helping people to learn about themselves and others.

Laurie lives in the woods of central Pennsylvania and loves to spend time exploring, hiking, birding, biking, and canoeing with her family and friends. Baking pies and cookies is high on the interest list as well ,and Laurie will never turn down a game night with friends. Laurie is also passionate about travel, which includes adventures with her husband Mark to see their grown boys, Brian and Sean, in cool places around the country!
Nature Name: Loon

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Mark McLaughlinMark McLaughlin


Mark teaches First Aid and Safety courses and the Discovery Trip class and is a member of multiple Penn State Outreach committees. He is responsible for cultivating the resources necessary to make Shaver’s Creek successful. Mark received a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology, with a minor in forestry, from the University of Vermont in 1985 and a master’s degree in environmental education from Montclair State University in 1988. Mark likes birding, baseball, fishing, reading, and spending lots of time with his family — Laurie, Brian, and Sean.
Nature Name: Goshawk

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Tesha OmeisTesha Omeis

Summer Camp Program Director

Tesha is the program director for all things summer camp related.

Tesha earned her bachelor’s degree in recreation, park, and tourism management from Penn State in 2005 while being a part of the Shaver’s Creek community in a variety of ways. After graduating she lived and worked in seven different states. From the coastal barrier islands in Georgia to the canyons of Alabama and up into the forests of Connecticut, she enjoyed being immersed in the communities of so many different places while educating youth. She then served two years as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America in the Philadelphia area.

During her off time, Tesha enjoys spending time with plants, exploring new places, and journaling. She values a balance of work that contributes to a healthy planet with invested caretakers and time to explore opportunities to grow as an individual. If she had a bumper sticker physically attached to her that conveyed a message about who she is and what she stands for, it would read “reach your potential and help others to do the same.”
Nature Name: Skye

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Chris OrtizChris Ortiz

Associate Director; Program Director, Team Development Center

Chris is the associate director for the Conservation Interpretation team at Shaver’s Creek. He is also the program director for Team Development at Shaver’s Creek and is an instructor for the Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management department at Penn State.  Chris facilitates and teaches team development, leadership, and group dynamics experiences with schools and university groups, corporations, and sports teams that strengthen relationships, motivate growth, and develop leaders. He regularly presents internationally at conferences where he shares innovative programming and activity ideas. Chris co-authored the second edition of the High 5 Guide: Challenge Course Operating Procedures for the Thinking Practitioner as well as the Ubuntu Activity Guide. He has held leadership roles in both the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT).

You can usually find Chris at the local climbing gym or exploring trails by bike or boot. Oh… and he loves chocolate.
Nature Name: Mongoose

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Skylar PetersSkylar sitting under a rock arch

Academic Advisor

Skylar is the Academic Advisor serving Penn State students interested in the Sustainability Leadership Minor, the Outdoor Recreation Management option within the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Management, and all the many classes that Shaver’s Creek delivers for the University. Skylar is a 2014 graduate of Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Agricultural Extension and Education. During her time as an undergraduate she participated in various Shaver’s Creek classes, including as a Learning Group Leader for Outdoor School. In 2016 Skylar graduated from the University of Illinois with a Master of Science Degree in Parks and Recreation Management. She spent 8 years working with Penn State Extension as a 4-H/Youth Development Educator before transitioning into her advising role with RPTM/Shaver’s Creek.

Skylar enjoys everything the natural world has to offer, from hiking, hunting, and fishing to exploring with her family. Anytime she can be traveling to new and diverse outdoor spaces, she will!
Nature Name: Doe

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Joshua PotterJoshua Potter

Associate Director, Operations and Communications

Joshua works to keep Shaver’s Creek a vibrant educational facility to support the Center’s wide range of credit, noncredit, outreach, and research programming. Joshua is responsible for managing strategic communications to support Shaver’s Creek programs, for developing interpretive materials throughout the facility to support the Center’s educational mission, and for overseeing management of facility and grounds. He also manages our bookstore and membership program. Joshua received a bachelor’s degree in integrative arts from Penn State, focusing on multimedia and environmental education. After seven years working as a naturalist and outreach coordinator for Tin Mountain Conservation Center in Conway, New Hampshire, Joshua returned to his native Pennsylvania to join Shaver’s Creek in 2010. He grew up just over the mountain in Pine Grove Mills and has a long association with Shaver’s Creek — as a summer camper from ages 5 to 18, as a volunteer in high school, as a student and teaching assistant while at Penn State, and now as staff! Joshua also enjoys birding, hiking, and spending time outdoors with his wife Sarah, son, Ellory, and daughter, Lucy.
Nature Name: Otus (Megascops)

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Alexa Sarussi

School Programs Director

Alexa directs the programs that enhance and engage school children’s learning at Shaver’s Creek. She grew up in Arizona and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology at Pomona College in Southern California, before moving east and discovering the forest. She has returned to Shaver’s Creek several times since 2014, working as an intern and with summer camp programming. Between her stints at Shaver’s Creek, Alexa led adventure trips for youth in New Hampshire, worked for a study abroad organization in Panama, and taught environmental science at Conserve School in Wisconsin. Alexa loves exploring Central Pennsylvania and beyond, birding, watercoloring, being active outdoors, and learning new skills, like playing the guitar!
Nature Name: Vireo

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Brian SedgwickBrian Sedgwick

Grounds and Facilities Coordinator

Brian is responsible for maintaining the facilities and grounds at Shaver’s Creek and coordinating volunteer groups and work-study students. Brian also assists with a wide variety of programming — from school and youth programs to team building and bird of prey shows. Brian graduated from Penn State in December 2001 with a bachelor’s degree in recreation and park management. For twenty-five years he has been involved in Scouting — becoming a Tiger Cub at age 5, working on staff at Camp Mountain Run, sitting on the Bucktail Council Camping Committee, and being an adviser of Venture Crew 509. His twelve years of summer camp experience includes archery range instructor, director of camp program, and director of the first-year-camper program, before being appointed camp director in 2005. Brian has an uncanny knack for pop culture and historical trivia and enjoys model rocketry, paintball, and hockey. Brian, his wife, Johanna, and son, Logan, enjoy cooking, camping, and hiking whenever possible.
Nature Name: Draco

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Alex SuleskiAlex pointing to something

Wildlife Programs

Alex has worked at Shaver’s Creek since 2021 but transitioned to his role as wildlife program coordinator in 2023. He spends his time organizing and delivering educational programs relating to Shaver’s Creek’s wildlife and conservation messaging. He also works with the ambassador animals and helps students develop skills in program development and delivery. As an educator, Alex strives to provide impactful programming that helps people make connections with our native wildlife and conservation efforts. When he’s not running a program or working with Shaver’s Creek’s ambassador animals, Alex can often be found exploring the trails, fishing, or birding in the area.
Nature Name: Prickly Pear

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Paige SutherlandPaige holding Lenny the American Crow

Wildlife Education and Engagement Program Director

Paige cares for the resident wildlife who call Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center home. She enjoys preparing the ambassador animals for engaging with and educating the Shaver’s Creek community, as well as preparing emerging professionals for impactful careers in wildlife conservation and environmental education. She is passionate about conserving wild beings and places while learning about their unique traits and functions.

Paige started her career in wildlife conservation and care at Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute as an Animal Keeper for the Elephant Trails department. In addition to providing daily husbandry, training, and educational public programming with the resident Asian Elephants, Paige conducted research on the fatal elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV) at the National Herpes Virus Lab. Leaning on the relationships built at her alma mater, George Mason University, she developed and co-advised an undergraduate course called Elephants, Enrichment, and Engineers that supported the engineering students with their capstone projects while exercising their newly developed skills to impact the daily lives of wildlife under human care.

Paige moved to Pennsylvania in conjunction with her matrescence journey and to support her husband’s Ph.D. candidacy at Penn State. She now enjoys raising her daughter between the meadows and mountains of Happy Valley.
Nature Name: Talon

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Brady ThomasBrady Thomas standing at a cave entrance

Conservation Interpeter

Brady is one of two conservation interpreters at Shaver’s Creek. From a young age, Brady developed an interest in and a love for the natural world by going on camping trips with his family and through scouting. His scouting experience led him to work at a summer camp for many years, nurturing his love of teaching — especially in the outdoors. He graduated from Penn State in 2020 with a degree in secondary education social studies. His love of teaching and his desire to share the outdoors with others led him to Shaver’s Creek, where he gets to share all that we have to offer with the public. In his free time, Brady enjoys going on adventures, reading, and taking pictures.
Nature Name: Harrier

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Mike ToolanMike Toolan

Musser Gap Conservation Director

Mike manages the day-to-day activities at Shaver’s Creek’s Musser Gap Greenway property. In this role, he works with volunteers; university faculty, staff, and students; neighboring landowners; community organizations; local nonprofits; and local and state government agencies to manage the site for passive recreation, water quality, interdisciplinary research, student and public education, and ecological resilience. He is passionate about creating ways to protect the unique regional ecology and connect the community to those invaluable natural spaces.

Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and studies forest resource management at Penn State. His work experience includes stints on several farms, habitat restoration projects, and ecological research teams. Mike and his wife live in northern Huntingdon County and enjoy hiking, biking, birdwatching, reading, and a few dozen other activities.
Nature Name: Bud

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Doug WentzelDoug Wentzel

Naturalist and Program Director

Doug coordinates the environmental education internship and birding programs and serves as instructor of Principles of Environmental Interpretation (RPTM 325) and Natural History Interpretation (RPTM 326). Doug received his bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology from Penn State in 1989 and has served four years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He is sanctioned by the National Association for Interpretation as a trainer of Certified Interpretive Guides and is the current president of the State College Bird Club. Doug also serves on the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center advisory committee, the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology advisory board, and The Arboretum at Penn State’s avian outreach committee. He is married to Susan and they have two sons, Dylan and Duncan. His ongoing interest is fostering the awareness of the diversity of life in our own backyards.
Nature Name: Merlin

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Joe WhiteheadJoe Whitehead

Wildlife Programs

A Penn State graduate and former Shaver’s Creek animal care volunteer, Joe spent 11 months as an educator with Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium before returning to Shaver’s Creek as the amphibian and reptile coordinator. While Joe’s primary focus is on caring for and educating about the center’s resident amphibians and reptiles, he is also the primary or assistant trainer for many of the Center’s resident raptors. Most recently, Joe has begun training our resident turtles and snakes to help enrich their lives while showing another side of these animals to our visitors.
Nature Name: Goshawk

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Ellen WillEllen Will

Associate Director; Program Director

Ellen manages the residential Outdoor School program, teaches its companion courses, and assists with the internship program. She believes that camp can change lives and enjoys seeing the interrelationships between the Penn State student leaders and the elementary-aged participants at Outdoor School. Ellen earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies — environmental education from Appalachian State University in 1995, and her master’s degree in environmental education at Slippery Rock University. Her thesis topic was a study of the long-term impact of the Shaver’s Creek internship program (which, by the way, 97% of former interns report was a positive experience and would recommend to a friend). Ellen is a member of the American Camp Association and serves on the PSU Youth Programs Council. Ellen lives in State College with her husband, Thad, and their two sons, Jacob and Nate.
Nature Name: Xylem

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Nolan WilsonNolan Wilson

Wildlife Programs 

Nolan was born in Minneapolis, MN, and eventually moved to State College where they visited Shaver’s Creek often on field trips, finding a deep appreciation for wildlife. Attending Penn State to pursue biology, focusing on ecology, Nolan fully intends to continue their career in environmental education after graduation. When Nolan is not training animals, they’re often found teaching animal care volunteers or giving impromptu snake programs to visitors. If you ever find Nolan during one of your Shaver’s Creek visits, you’re encouraged to ask them any questions you might have about the animals!
Nature Name: Moth

Will WiseWill Wise

Program Director and Instructor

Will’s profile is left as a memorial to our beloved friend and colleague of 15 years. Watch a video meditation and read a tribute in celebration of Will’s memory in a special post.

Will co-directed the Shaver’s Creek Team Development Center. Will was also the director of facilitator development for World in Conversation at Penn State’s University Park campus, where he taught people how to talk about taboo subjects such as race, gender, and long-term conflicts. With more than two decades of experience facilitating team development and group dynamics, Will earned a reputation as a first-rate instructor. Working with groups ranging from corporate entities to adjudicated youth, school students to senior programs, Will helped thousands of people to foster positive communication and self-actualization. He especially loved empowering participants with social skills that can be applied both to within-the-group training and to everyday life. He was certified by the American Canoe Association to teach canoeing and kayaking, and he loved using the outdoors to encourage people to know themselves. He had a degree in forest management from Michigan Technological University, a master’s degree in workforce education from Penn State, and spent five years as the director of Nature’s Classroom, a nontraditional school in New England.
Nature Name: Whip-poor-will

Faculty and Staff Affiliates

Ian MarshallIan Marshall

Faculty Affiliate

A Penn State Altoona professor emeritus of English and environmental studies, Ian is the founder of the Shaver’s Creek Long-term Ecological Reflections Project and editor of Reading Shaver’s Creek: Ecological Reflections from an Appalachian Forest (Penn State University Press, 2018), a collection of essays from the first ten years of the project. Ian co-founded the environmental studies program at Penn State Altoona and is a past president of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. He is the author of four books of literary ecocriticism, among them Story Line: Exploring the Literature of the Appalachian Trail (University Press of Virginia, 1998) and Walden by Haiku (University of Georgia Press, 2009), as well as a collection of poems called Circumambulations (Foot Hills Press, 2018). Since retiring from teaching in 2020, Ian keeps busy hiking, biking, paddling, reading, playing tennis, and writing songs.
Nature Name: Hemlock Stones