Our Faculty

Faculty of Wildlands Studies programs come from around the world, and hold either a PhD or MS degree, with many years of experience in research and environmental sciences. Our hiring practice for instructors adheres to that of Western Washington University and meets the hiring requirements for faculty teaching upper-division coursework. Many of Wildlands Studies faculty are college professors who direct field study work, others are researchers who want to help broaden students' exposure to wildlife and environmental issues. All are concerned about the impact of development and growth on our natural environment. Our instructors are backcountry field guides as well as academicians, and are certified in first aid and CPR. Many of our project staff hold a Wilderness First Responder certification as well. All projects have a minimum of two Wildlands Studies staff members, and often three or four. There is always a lead Instructor, often a second instructor or a logistics coordinator, and/or a teaching assistant. Read on to learn more about the background, experience and passion of our lead instructors.

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Raymon Edward (Ed) Boles

PhD in Environmental Science, Jackson State University, 1999
Ed is a tropical aquatic ecologist and currently serves as provost of Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, where he has lived and worked since 1988. Ed helped build the University of Belize undergraduate degree program in natural resource management. His research interests lie in ecological sustainability, specifically the protection of riparian forests and streams which serve as the primary filter systems of the landscape, control erosion, and provide important wildlife corridors. Ed’s PhD research focused on the macro and microfauna of freshwater river systems. He has taught our Belize Program since 2016.

Ed's Program:

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M. Troy Burnett

PhD in Geography, UC Los Angeles, 2005
Troy is an assistant professor of geography at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. He has taught numerous courses on environmental geography. His research interests involve natural resource conflicts, conservation and the role of wildlife corridors in mitigating the impacts of climate change and human habitat alteration. Troy has lived and worked in the Canadian Rockies since 2005 and taught our Banff Program since 2013.

Troy's Program:

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Charles Chris Carpenter

PhD in Biological Ecology, UC Davis, 1991
Chris is a conservation scientist who has conducted field studies and led natural history expeditions in Asia for over twenty years. His main academic focus is the ecology and geodynamics of mountain environments. He is also interested in the marine world, environmental control of species richness, and strategies for habitat conservation. He lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and teaches part of the year at Payap University. Chris has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 1990 and has taught in China, India and Southeast Asia. He currently leads our Thailand and Nepal programs.

Chris' Programs:

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Nicole L. Crane

MS in Marine Science, SF State University, Moss Landing, 1991;
MA in Science Education, UC Santa Cruz, 2003

Nicole is a senior conservation scientist with the Oceanic Society and a faculty member in the biology department at Cabrillo College. Her research interests lie in coral reef ecology, marine conservation and science education. Nicole also works with local communities in the Pacific and Caribbean to develop collaborative reef management plans, including marine protected areas. She teaches university courses in plant biology, marine biology, ecology and environmental science. She has taught our Big Sur Program since 1997.

Nicole's Program:

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Adam Dillon

MS in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech, 2005;
PhD Candidate in Ecology, Colorado State University

Adam is a wildlife ecologist and conservation scientist whose research interests lie in carnivore conservation, island ecology, population dynamics and invasive species. His MS research focused on the population trends and density of ocelots in the rainforests of Belize, and his PhD research focuses on the population ecology of island foxes and island spotted skunks on the California Channel Islands. Adam has been teaching for Wildlands Studies since 2003 and has taught in Belize, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, and on Santa Cruz Island. He currently leads our California Channel Islands Program.

Adam's Program:

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Geoffrey R. Gallice

PhD in Entomology, University of Florida, 2015
Geoff is a tropical biologist whose scientific research interests lie in the ecology and evolution of butterflies. In particular, he is interested in the clearwing butterflies, a group whose biology is fascinating, and which serves as a model for diverse studies in ecology and evolution in the tropics. He is also active in applied conservation research, and is currently leading a project to explore the threat posed by road construction to biodiversity conservation in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. His research has taken him throughout Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Malawi, Zambia and Malaysia. Geoff has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 2012 and currently leads our Peru and Ecuador programs.

Geoff's Programs:

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Daniel J. Hagaman

MS in Environment and Resources, University of Wisconsin, 2006
Daniel is an anthropologist and naturalist with over fifteen years of experience working on conservation and environmental education projects in diverse international and U.S. locations. His research interests lie in ornithology and sustainable resource management of protected areas and wilderness. He has conducted research on the Polylepis forests of the Andes mountains and worked on conservation and education projects in Bolivia. Daniel has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 2009 and has taught in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, New Zealand and Alaska. He currently leads our Chile Program.

Daniel's Program:

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Thanit Kunkhajornphan

MS in Environmental Management, Mahidol University, 1996
Thanit is a cultural ecologist whose research interests include conservation and sustainability. She consults for Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and has worked throughout Southeast Asia with research organizations to develop effective survey methods and indigenous communities to design culturally appropriate teaching materials. Thanit has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 1998 and has taught in Thailand, China, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Thanit currently teaches our Thailand Program.

Thanit's Program:

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Benita Carmen Laird-Hopkins

MSc in Ecology, Lancaster University, United Kingdom, 2016 
Benita is an ecologist whose research focused on how changes in tree diversity affects litter decomposition, soil respiration and insect community composition. Her interests also include marine ecosystems, and conservation and restoration ecology. Benita has worked in multiple tropical locations, from Thailand to Panama to Guam. She has spent considerable time in Cuba, living on a farm and traveling throughout the country learning about the native wildlife and culture. Benita has taught field courses in Panama and the United Kingdom and will be leading the Cuba Program starting in 2019. 

Benita's Program:

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Chris Smith

MSc in Wildlife Biology, Humboldt State University, 2015
Chris is a wildlife biologist and educator. His master's research in Kenya focused on how shade and sun coffee can be used to promote bird diversity and ecosystem services. Over the last ten years, Chris has had the opportunity to work around the world with everything from baboons in Namibia and saker falcons in Mongolia to wolves in Idaho and tropical birds in the Peruvian Amazon. Chris has taught for environmental field courses for several years, and enjoys opening students' eyes to the wildlife around them and teaching how to study and interact with these amazing organisms. Chris leads our Australia Program.


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Alejandra Vargas

DVM, National University, Costa Rica, 2003;
PhD candidate in Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University

Alejandra is a veterinarian and marine mammal researcher from Costa Rica. She is currently completing her doctoral research in South Africa on the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin as an indicator species for marine protected area effectiveness. Alejandra established our Australia and South Africa programs in 2012 and currently teaches the South Africa Program.

Alejandra's Program:

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Jennifer Verdolin

PhD in Ecology and Evolution, Stony Brook University, 2008
Jennifer Verdolin is a behavioral ecologist and science communicator dedicated to solving real-world conservation concerns. Her research interests focus on social behavior, individual differences in behavior, and the role behavior plays in conservation and management of species. She has studied prairie dogs, mouse lemurs, capuchin monkeys and sea turtles. Jennifer currently holds a joint appointment as lecturer at the University of Redlands in California and adjunct professor at Duke University in North Carolina. In addition to teaching, Jennifer is committed to outreach and science communication and she does this through popular science writing, radio and television. Jennifer leads our Iceland Program.

Jennifer's Program:


Veronica Yovovich

PhD in Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz, 2016
Veronica is a carnivore biologist whose research interests lie in mountain lion ecology. She has worked on a number of field projects, from the Australian outback to cloud forests of Costa Rica, and from studying marmots at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab to tracking wolves in Yellowstone and Arizona. Her PhD research focused on examining mountain lions and the structure of their communities of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Veronica has led the Yellowstone Program since 2012.

Veronica's Program:

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Matthew Zylstra

PhD in Conservation Ecology/Transdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Sustainability, Stellenbosch University, 2014
Matt is a conservation ecologist with experience in facilitating action research approaches for collaborative landscape restoration and stewardship in South Africa and Australia. His research interests lie in coastal-marine ecosystems, naturalist mentoring and community-focused outreach. Matt’s PhD research drew on integral ecology, psychology and education to explore how meaningful nature experience supports transformative learning for sustainability. Matt has been teaching with Wildlands Studies since 2009 and has taught in Australia, South Africa, Tasmania and New Zealand. Matt currently leads our South Africa and New Zealand programs.

Matt's Programs:


Leslie Arutunian

is the director of Wildlands Studies. An alumnus of both the Hawaii Project in 1988 and the Baja Mexico Project in 1990, Leslie remained active and engaged with Wildlands Studies until she took over leadership in 2008. Leslie has focused on increasing the project offerings of Wildlands Studies, formalizing our safety and risk management practices, enhancing the academic course offering, and improving our external communication (our website continues to expand with new information and we are very active on Facebook!). Prior to taking over Wildlands Studies, Leslie spent thirteen years working in various senior administrative positions in higher education, helping start three new universities, including California State University Monterey Bay, and Zayad University in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Leslie’s interests lie in experiential and environmental education with a keen focus on the outdoors as a medium for personal empowerment. After living abroad and traveling to more than forty countries, Leslie believes that travel, time spent in new cultures, and exposure to fascinating ecosystems can’t help but teach new perspective, increase awareness and improve confidence—all skills needed for environmental stewards of the twenty-first century. Leslie is now joined by her daughter Violet, who although still very young, has the makings of a wonderful outdoorswoman.


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Sylvia Zito

is our office coordinator and manages many of our day-to-day interactions with students, parents and advisors. Prior to joining Wildlands Studies in 2012, Sylvia worked for twenty-five years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she managed the Language Department and the Language Quarter Abroad. She has traveled extensively, and is an avid hiker and mushroom hunter. Sylvia loves to discuss the diverse locations of our projects with students, and help them prepare for a life-changing, academically dynamic, invigorating field based learning experience.

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Laura Pomeroy

is our campus visit coordinator. She began her life as an army brat and lived in Europe and many parts of the U.S. before settling in Monterey, California. Laura spent more than twenty years working in a wide variety of office situations, mostly public service, and supplemented her love of the outdoors by serving as a docent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where she expanded her knowledge of marine biology. You can ask Laura just about anything about marine life in the Monterey Bay! Laura came to Wildlands Studies in 2010 to help us grow our campus relationships and now serves as the primary point of contact for faculty and campus advisors when planning our campus visits. Laura values the unique outdoor opportunities offered by Wildlands Studies and believes that our enthusiastic students are the future leaders who will help solve the myriad of environmental problems that threaten the health of our planet.

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Gabe Andrews

is our field studies advisor, and comes to us after finishing his masters in the Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning Program at the University of Vermont. His dedication to conservation and adventure stretch back to his first backpacking trip in Glacier National Park in third grade. Since then, he has protected sea turtles in Costa Rica, monitored penguins in New Zealand, and raised colonies of honeybees in South Carolina, Vermont and Georgia. With experience teaching elementary children about nature, and undergraduates about ecology, Gabe brings a love of education (and turtles) to Wildlands Studies. Gabe believes Wildlands Studies offers students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves to understand something that they will grow to love and yearn to protect. 

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Allison Dolan

is our Field Studies Advisor and was part of our New Zealand program in 2013. Allison holds a BS from Northern Arizona University in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Climate Change and Globalization. Having worked as an air quality consultant, Allison has a serious interest in the need to improve visible emissions monitoring techniques. More recently, Allison has shifted her focus to teaching environmental stewardship and inspiring people to protect the flora and fauna they love. Allison credits her career motivation and success to the meaningful experience she encountered on the New Zealand program. Allison believes the programs offered by Wildlands Studies can expand ones’ understanding of the natural world, as well as unlock new opportunities to working in and improving the environment.

Program Alumni:

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Tristen Thron

is our Field Studies Advisor and participated in the Australia program in 2015 as a freshman.  He grew up in rural Humboldt County and has been backpacking since he was five years old. A graduate of UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Environmental Studies, Tristen chaired the environmental group Coastal Fund which allocated over $330,000 a year towards projects that preserve, protect and enhance the Santa Barbara coastal environment.  He plans on attending graduate school in the future to pursue a career in water resource management. Tristen believes that Wildlands Studies was the defining moment of his university experience and set him on the path to a successful college career. His desire to get involved with Wildlands was fueled by the wish to share his experience with other students.

Program Alumni: