Jonathan Marchal headshot

Jonathan Marchal

Director of Education

Jonathan joined the Youth Education program at its inception in 2005 and began serving as the Director of Education early in 2020. He holds a master’s degree in park, recreation and tourism management, a bachelor’s of arts in ecology and an associate of applied science in recreation and wildlife management. Previously, Jonathan worked for the National Park Service, North Carolina State Parks, Trout Unlimited and several Boy Scout summer camps. A certified Environmental Educator and Eagle Scout, Jonathan has been recognized by the North Carolina Science Teachers Association for his exceptional service to science education. He has also served on the board of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina as President, and received the organization’s Outstanding Newcomer award for his service.

One of my favorite summer moments is participants return year after year. We’re now working with high school volunteers who began coming to the Arboretum for programs as second graders and even have former campers work with us as staff. I’m very proud we’re able to offer experiences that families look forward to year after year.

Michelle Pearce headshot

Michelle Pearce

Outdoor Wonders and Learning (OWL) Coordinator

Michelle brings a wealth of experience in outdoor and environmental education to the Arboretum’s Youth Education team. She has delivered nature and outdoor recreation programs for the past twelve years, including work at Blue Jay Point County Park, Green River Preserve and YMCA Camp Thunderbird. Michelle earned a bachelor’s of science in biology, is a certified North Carolina Environmental Educator and has recently completed her Master’s degree in Science Education. She has served as President on the board of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina and is currently an ad hoc chair for their Equity and Inclusion work. Her enthusiasm for the outdoors and plants and animals is contagious, and she encourages everyone around her to be excited about the outdoors.

I LOVE getting kids outside and getting them excited about a bug or mushroom or animal scat. My belief is, if you’re not getting dirty, then you’re not having FUN!

Trudie Henninger headshot

Trudie Henninger

Outreach Education Manager

With more than ten years of experience taking students outside to track box turtles, identify wild edibles, and get covered in mud for the ultimate outdoor hide-and-go-seek, Trudie is committed to cultivating meaningful experiences outdoors for youth and adults alike. Trudie recently completed their Masters in Leadership for Sustainability with a focus on equity in education from the University of Vermont. They also visit schools to lead teachers and students in doing science in their schoolyard as part of our Project EXPLORE program! Trudie believes that  everyone has ideas to share, connections to make, and curiosity to grow. If she’s not at the Arboretum or a nearby school, you can find her with binoculars watching the birds and sipping on some sassafras tea. Trudie is looking forward to meeting you on the trail and learning more about you!

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child’s eyes light up with excitement after discovering a bug and that they actually like it!

Libbie Dobbs-Alexander headshot

Libbie Dobbs-Alexander

ecoEXPLORE Coordinator

Libbie grew up visiting her local arboretum near Cleveland, Ohio where her mom worked as an environmental educator. Libbie began her career in the environmental field by working for a wildlife rehab center and education center in northern Wisconsin while completing her bachelor’s of arts in environmental studies. Libbie then completed AmeriCorps service in Mobile, Alabama where she did environmental work and public outreach. After AmeriCorps, Libbie moved to New Hampshire to pursue a master’s degree in environmental studies and her master’s capstone project consisted of designing a place-based environmental education programs in an after school program in Boston. Through this experience, Libbie became passionate about empowering urban youth to discover nature within their own neighborhoods.

I am passionate about connecting with nature, and it is so fulfilling to help children enjoy and appreciate the natural world. I love helping kids get dirty while exploring the forest, and when I see a child become excited about a tree, bird, or bug I know it’s a been a good day!

Rich Preyer headshot

Rich Preyer

OAK Co-Coordinator, Evaluation Specialist

Rich hails from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he grew up fly fishing, backpacking, and playing outside. Through college and beyond, he has worked conservation jobs, led backpacking trips, and taught environmental education across the US. Most recently, he graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Antioch University, focusing on place-based learning and environmental education. He worked at the Arboretum in 2014 and could not be more excited to be back!

Jenna Kesgen headshot

Jenna Kesgen

Creative Education Coordinator

A western North Carolina native, Jenna has a deep appreciation for nature, which inspires her to share her enthusiasm and knowledge of the outdoors with others. Jenna taught environmental education as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, urban ecology in New York City and academically in Upward Bound Math and Science at Western Carolina University, and environmental science at UNC Asheville. She received her undergraduate degree in environmental studies and her master’s of science degree in environmental education at Southern Oregon University. Previously, she was a middle school science teacher. She is currently working on her Digital Video Certification through AB Tech.

Having been a classroom teacher I really enjoy the opportunity to spend so much time teaching in an outdoor setting. It’s a great way to relay and reinforce concepts students learn in their standard course of study.

Joshua Perkins headshot

Joshua Perkins

Environmental Education Specialist, OAK Instructor

Joshua is an advocate in educating others about the characteristics and benefits of the environment and how people should cherish the environment in which they live in. Joshua attained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Education from Warren Wilson College located in Swannanoa, Asheville. Besides serving as a CTNC AmeriCorps member for the NC Arboretum, Joshua has also served in AmeriCorps as an assistant teacher and counselor engaging and ensuring well-being of youth members through core and artistic classes. He has also served in CitiSquare AmeriCorps: Food on the Move as a Community Server where he traveled around East Dallas and provided free nutritious meals along with engaging with youth of diverse cultures and backgrounds in summer activities. These activities focused in taking advantage of the outdoor environments while gaining an appreciation of the outdoor environments with which the children thrive in.

I am constantly seeking knowledge and skills that will enable me to become a more positive and influential environmental educator within the community. I believe individuals must gain an understanding the environment in which they live in. Doing so will allow one to develop a respect of an environment that deserves respect.

Joanna Orozco headshot

Joanna Orozco

ecoEXPLORE Creative Specialist

Joanna is native to south Texas where she graduated with her Bachelors in Animal Biology and Chemistry from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Her passion for ecology and conservation grew alongside her involvement with the environmental education and outreach organizations during her undergrad. She began as a volunteer for vet clinics, the wildlife rehabilitation center at the Texas State Aquarium, and the Western North Carolina Nature Center under the Educational Herpetology department. She moved to Asheville in 2018 to work for American Conservation Experience (an Americorps partner) doing trail work and invasive species removal at numerous National Parks along the east coast. Joanna then worked as an instructor for Mountain Trail Outdoor School teaching a variety of ecology courses and outdoor programs.

I love teaching kids because of their innate sense of curiosity and spark. Creating positive outdoor experiences and ‘A-HA’ moments towards nature are the most rewarding for me.

Andrew Dundas headshot

Andrew Dundas

Creative Environmental Education Specialist

A recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Andrew studied Media and Journalism with the hope of using documentary media to inspire a love for the natural world and a sense of curiosity in viewers. Choosing to pursue a career in media production, Andrew hopes he can amplify the voices of other educators and reach audiences that might otherwise be missed. He has served in multiple education positions, including at the WNC Nature Center and Kidzu Children’s Museum, as well as in science communications at the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies.

I grew up going to zoo classes and watching nature documentaries. Those experiences gave me a sense of wonder for the world that has never faded. The main goal of my career is simply to create work that has the same inspirational effect on someone else.

Meghan McDevitt headshot

Meghan McDevitt

ecoEXPLORE Specialist

Meghan grew up in a small town outside of Philadelphia where she spent countless hours in the woods and streams of her backyard. This admiration for the outdoors led her to Clemson University, and she graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental and Natural Resources. During this time, she assisted with teaching at a local high school and worked as a gardener at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens. Over the past few years, Meghan has worked in environmental education across the United States, from the shores of North Carolina at the Bald Head Island Conservancy to the mountains of Jackson, Wyoming with the Teton Raptor Center. She returned to western North Carolina to share her passion for the environment with this amazing community and has lived in the Asheville area for the past two years now. Meghan is super excited to join the North Carolina Arboretum team, specifically with the EcoExplore program.

Charles Zimmerman headshot

Charles Zimmerman

ecoEXPLORE Specialist

A native to New York City, Charles first developed a passion for nature through walks in Central Park and visits to the American Museum of Natural History. After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Environmental Science from Grinnell College in Iowa, Charles spent 10 years supporting botanical research, directing citizen science projects, and managing public outreach at the New York Botanical Garden. Before moving to North Carolina, Charles has led teen backpacking trips and conducted botanical fieldwork in the Southern Appalachians. In his spare time, Charles enjoys hiking, submitting photos to iNaturalist, and creating realistic sculptures of flowers and plants out of paper.

Kristin Anderson headshot

Kristin Anderson

Project EXPLORE Specialist

Originally from New Jersey, Kristin has always loved spending time outside looking at all of the plants, animals, rocks, and fungi she could find.  She moved to Asheville in 2013 and has fallen ever more deeply in love with the mountains and all of the organisms that call them home.  She earned her B.S. in Environmental Studies from University of North Carolina at Asheville while volunteering with WNC Nature Center and Appalachian Wildlife Refuge.  While serving as the first Student Board Member of Blue Ridge Audubon (formerly known as the Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society), she helped establish and was the founding President of UNCA Audubon, one of the first student-run campus chapters affiliated with the National Audubon Society.  Kristin has also been an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member serving as a Citizen Science Educator at the N.C. Arboretum.

Shannon Bodeau headshot

Shannon Bodeau

Project EXPLORE Specialist

After growing up in the San Francisco Bay area of California, Shannon was drawn to the Blue Ridge Mountains by the incredible plants and animals that call this region home. Shannon attended the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where they obtained a B.S. in biology with a second major in studio art. During their time at UNCA, they served as a herpetology research assistant, as co-director of UNCA’s Student Environmental Center, and as the first UNCA McCullough Fellow to carry out a visual arts based sustainability education project. This is Shannon also served a second year in AmeriCorps at The N.C. Arboretum in 2020-2021, after spending the 2019-2020 year serving as an environmental educator at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, TN.

“I believe that we all have a connection to nature, we just need to find it. Sometimes we can do that through art, sometimes through science, and a lot of the time through play!”

Rebekkah LaBlue headshot

Rebekkah LaBlue

Environmental Education Specialist

Rebekkah grew up with Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Loons on coastal Long Island, though has called Asheville and Appalachian ecosystems home for 14 years. She earned her bachelor’s in biology and creative writing, as well as a certificate in publishing, from the University of North Carolina Wilmington—where she also spent two years researching Least Terns and working as an ornithology collections assistant. She previously volunteered at the Arboretum with environmental education—after attending its programs herself—and in the summers, has taught writing and biology to gifted youth through Johns Hopkins. When she’s not out birding or in the field banding, she’s at work on a collection of poems about both of these, and more generally, the necessary meeting of science and the arts.

Karen D. Chapman headshot

Karen D. Chapman

Environmental Education Specialist

Karen has served on the youth education team for over ten years. During the academic year she works as an assistant teacher at W.D. Williams Elementary School and is working on her dance certification with 5Rythms Global Organization. Karen holds a masters degree in art therapy and a North Carolina teaching license. Her work has included experiences in Outward Bound and several public school systems. Apart from sharing the outdoors with young people, she enjoys hiking, listening to music and exploring the beauty of the mountains.

Everyday is different. Every group is different. The one thing they all have in common is that a kid gets to experience nature in a way they probably never have before. And I just love seeing the switch that happens when students go from feeling like nature’s not for them to wanting to tell everyone they know what they just learned about it!

Benjamin Bafaloukos

AmeriCorps Environmental Educator

Born and raised outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ben is a member of The Arboretum’s AmeriCorps Project Conserve program. He graduated from NC State University in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Sciences and a focus in wildlife conservation. While studying in Raleigh, Ben had the opportunity to work at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, where his introduction to environmental education would leave a lasting impact on his career trajectory. Always eager to learn more about animals, plants, rocks, and the rest of the natural world, Ben has a passion for conservation issues, especially species extinctions and the loss of biodiversity around the globe. In his free time, you may catch Ben hiking, photographing wildlife, writing, or blending science and art to raise money for conservation efforts through his small business.

As a kid I had my nose buried in countless animal encyclopedias, amazed at all the diversity I could find there. When I realized that many of these species were in trouble, it became my personal mission to inspire a love for nature in anyone who will listen.