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Staff

Beth Stein, Executive Director

Beth (she/her) has worked with Nearby Nature since 1994, serving in a variety of capacities, from Programs Director to Executive Director. In addition to managing our group’s finances and community outreach, Beth coordinates our School Nature Walks program, teaches at our Wonder Keepers Preschool, writes grants, plans special events, and creates our newsletters. She has also been known to dress up as Frannie the Frog! Her favorite role at Nearby Nature is probably that of a programs storyteller and she believes that if you can tell a good story, you can do anything! Beth has a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Environmental Studies from Williams College. When she’s not working at Nearby Nature, you’ll find Beth most happy hiking in the woods, biking around town, canoeing down the Willamette, shopping at the farmers market, or hanging out with family and friends.

Grace Chollar-Webb, Garden & Programs Manager

Grace (she/her) joined the Nearby Nature team at the beginning of 2019 as our Education Coordinator and now serves as our Garden and Programs Manager. In addition to managing youth programs overall, she teaches a variety of them herself. Starting in late 2020, Grace also took on the creative task of caring for and further developing our Edible Schoolyard Garden and Learnscape. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2012 with a degree in Environmental Education, Grace taught classes on a small organic farm, led sea kayak tours in the Monterey Bay, and managed nature based programs for Avery House Nature Center in Corvallis. As of February 2023, Grace is also the happy mom of baby Bonny! Unless she’s cooking or baking, you will find Grace outside hiking with her dogs and Bonny, gardening, swimming in the ocean or a river, or learning about ethnobotany.

Wil Orr, Park Host & Restoration Coordinator

Wil (he/him) joined our staff in the Spring of 2020, and brings to his work a diverse range of professional and personal skills and interests. He has experienced the woods as a wildland firefighter, restored natural areas as a landscape technician, facilitated recreational tree climbs with the City of Eugene’s Outdoor Program, developed a sense of sustainability through years as a recycler, and studied arboriculture while working in tree care. After earning a degree in Computer Network Operations and certificates in Network Security and Web Development, he spent a few years as an IT specialist at a local software company. His fascination with the outdoors, a desire to keep and restore natural areas, and a strong passion for sharing nature with people drew Wil to our organization. When he’s not working at Nearby Nature, you will find him hiking local trails, riding and maintaining bicycles, or playing music with friends. As of 2023, you may also see him introducing new climbers to his favorite local trees through Tree Climbing Eugene, an organization he and his wife Nichole founded in 2023.

Sophia Zandi, Preschool Programs Coordinator & Instructor

Sophia Zandi (she/they) joined Nearby Nature in the Fall of 2023 as our Preschool Programs Coordinator as well as a general Programs Instructor. During the school year, she is our Wonder Keepers Preschool Lead Instructor. Sophia brings to Nearby Nature early childhood education experience working in a Montessori preschool, teaching preschool nature camps for Whole Earth Nature School, and doing youth programs at farm schools. Originally from the Southwest, Sophia graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio with a B.A in Environmental Studies and Comparative Literature, with Highest Honors for her ecocritical thesis on Ancient Greek myths. In addition to spending time with preschoolers, Sophia has worked as a wetland conservationist, an organic vegetable farmer, and an artist’s assistant. A woman of many nicknames, she was officially dubbed “The Fairy Queen of the Gardens” by Taos Land Trust and was known fondly as “Spider” by kids in her past nature camps! When she’s not teaching at Nearby Nature, you can find her storytelling, foraging for berries, crafting, singing on a bike ride, watercoloring, or reading a book under a big tree.

 

Part Time Staff/Summer Educators

Bear Scamman, Instructor

Bear (he/him) joined our staff in 2017 as an Assistant Park Host to help with the myriad of tasks that come along with caring for our Learnscape and Alton Baker Park. Since that time, Bear has also taught Summer Daycamps, No School Days, Nature Quests, and Nature School programs. He currently serves as our site Lead for the Alton Baker Park Walks program, which he first helped out with in 2016 as a Volunteer Nature Guide. Bear originally hails from faraway Maine, where his family has lived for 11 generations!

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Caden Erskine, Instructor & Program Assistant

Caden (he/him) first joined Nearby Nature as a volunteer in the Winter of 2023 and became an intern in the Spring-Summer of 2023. In those roles, he assisted with everything from youth programs to Learnscape maintenance projects. As of the end of 2023, Caden is an official staffer and teaches No School Day programs and assists with Wonder Keepers and Natural Neighbors. Caden grew up in the Seattle area and moved to Eugene in 2021 to study Political Science at the University of Oregon. Through his studies and experiences at Nearby Nature, Caden has realized the importance of outdoor education for community prosperity and health. In his free time Caden enjoys skateboarding, BMX biking, cooking, car camping, and taking road trips.

Conor Tracey, Program Assistant

Conor (he/they) joined our staff in the Summer of 2023, and primarily helps out with daycamps. Conor grew up in Eugene  and has always been passionate about our local environment and the great outdoors. Over the last few years, Conor has been getting more involved in education and working with children. Now he wants to combine his passions and help share his love of nature with the next generation of Eugeneans. Conor has previously worked at a sleepaway summer camp in Washington called camp Nor’wester. Nowadays, during the school year, Conor works at the Village School in South Eugene as an Educational Assistant.

Emma Brigham, Instructor

Emma (she/her)  joined our staff as a Daycamp Instructor in the Summer of 2022. Emma is by new means new to camps! She has been helping out as a volunteer since she was a teenager. Emma is passionate about human rights and the environment, loves to teach kids about the world around us, and enjoys art of all kinds. Born in Ohio, she has lived in Eugene since she was 10 and loves spending time in nature and with her dog Olive. Emma now attends Western Washington University during the school year and enjoys spending her summers with Nearby Nature.

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Esmé Juenemann, Instructor — picture coming soon!

Esmé (She/They) joined Nearby Nature as a Daycamps Instructor in the summer of 2024. She has been involved with Nearby Nature for a long time, attending camps throughout her childhood and volunteering since she was 13. Born and raised in Eugene, Esmé loves spending time with friends, working on sewing projects, being outside, and listening to music (especially Fleetwood Mac)! Esmé will be entering her second year of college at the University of Oregon this fall, where they are studying to become a forensic chemist. 

Gloria Carbajal, Instructor — picture coming soon!

Gloria (she/her) joined Nearby Nature’s staff in the summer of 2023 as a Spanish-English bilingual Daycamps instructor. Gloria grew up in Austin, Texas where she frequented the botanical gardens and volunteered for native plant and tree plantings throughout the city. During the school year, you’ll find Gloria teaching a class at El Camino del Río/River Road Elementary School, a Spanish immersion program where students learn to be bilingual and biliterate in both English and Spanish. In her spare time, Gloria enjoys going on walks, roller skating with friends, learning Muay Thai, and wandering through natural spaces.

Jesse Hubbe, Instructor & Program Assistant

Jesse (he/him) joined Nearby Nature’s staff in the summer of 2022 as a Spanish-English bilingual Daycamps instructor. Jesse grew up in Eugene and participated in Churchill Hill School’s Rachel Carson Environmental Studies Program, where he became particularly interested in native plants. After high school, Jesse earned a general studies Arts and Associates Transfer Degree at Lane Community College, joined the LCC’s Men’s Basketball Coaching staff, and spent time working with Willamalane guiding field trips and camps at Dorris Ranch. Now, during the school year, you’ll find Jesse at Eugene’s River Road/El Camino del Rio Elementary School , where he works as a Kindergarten Educational Assistant. Jesse also teaches No School Day Adventures! Jesse has participated in multiple local climate and social justice campaigns over the years, and is passionate about local ecology. He is honored to have the opportunity to encourage a positive connection between young people and nature nearby. In his spare time, Jesse loves playing basketball, cooking meals with friends, and gardening.

Karina Rogers, Instructor

Karina (she/her) joined Nearby Nature as a Daycamps intern in the summers of 2018 and 2020, served as a Program Assistant as well as an Instructor for Wonder Keepers and Natural Neighbors from 2021-23, and taught Daycamps in 2023. Karina graduated from the University of Oregon in 2022 with her Master of Education in Curriculum and Teacher Education. She enjoys traveling, and has had the opportunity to study abroad in Ireland and volunteer in Nepal. In her free time, Karina enjoys hiking, mountain biking, snowboarding, and really anything that involves the outdoors. Karina grew up in Eugene and is passionate about working with and serving children in Lane County. She currently works as a professional mentor for an organization called Friends of the Children, where she works to impact generational change for children and families in Lane County who face the greatest obstacles.

Margery Price, Instructor

Margery (she/her) joined Nearby Nature as a Daycamps assistant in the summer of 2020 and started teaching Daycamps herself in 2022. Since 2022, Margery has also been an Instructor for our Natural Neighbors After School program and No School Day Adventures. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in geology from the UO in 2022 and is now working on her Master’s Degree studying pumice and graywater recycling. Outside her studies in Eugene, Margery works as a scientist for the US Geological Survey, does geoscience field work in Yellowstone National Park, and travels to schools on the Oregon Coast to lead geology lessons and field trips. When she’s not teaching or doing research, Margery loves surfing, playing guitar, watching or playing soccer, and geeking out about rocks with her friends.

Read Wagar, Program Assistant

Read (he/him) first joined our crew in the summer of 2010 as a high school volunteer. He enjoyed working with our kids so much that he continued to volunteer throughout high school, college, and beyond. In the summer of 2020, he officially joined our staff and was a critical member of our educational team as well as one of our key COVID health and safety assistants. Today Read works at a preschool year around and helps out when still he can at Nearby Nature. When Read is not at Nearby Nature, he enjoys camping, hiking, swimming, cooking (baking especially), and game nights.

Sam Pickard, Instructor — picture coming soon!

Sam (she/her) joined Nearby Nature to teach 2024 daycamps after her recent move from Ohio to Oregon to be closer to wild spaces! Thanks to her desire to share her love of nature with young people, she has worked in a wide variety of outdoor youth settings, from children’s survival classes to school gardens to ecosystem education programs. The topics she most enjoys teaching about focus on reciprocity, land stewardship, and appreciation of beings that are integral to ecosystems, but often forgotten. In her spare time Sam prefers to not be found, and is usually foraging for teas, reading good books, wandering in the forest, or stopping to look at every small creature or shiny rock along her path.

Thomas Weaver, Instructor

Thomas (he/him) first joined Nearby Nature as a volunteer nature guide in the Fall of 2013. The following summer, he joined our teaching crew and has taught Day Camps, Nature Quests, and No School Days ever since. He’s also been known to moonlight as Milton Moth at the annual Haunted Hike! Born in Virginia and raised in West Virginia, Thomas enjoys hiking, bicycling, old computers, volunteering, and acting in local theater in his spare time. He has an M.A. in Teaching from Pacific University and a B.S. in Environmental Studies with a minor in Geology from the University of Oregon.

Will Sommer, Instructor & Program Assistant

Will (he/him) began his time with Nearby Nature in 2020 as a volunteer for our Nature School programs. He also served an intern for our Daycamps in 2021. As of 2022, Will is an instructor for our Natural Neighbors After School program, No-School Day Adventures, and Daycamps. He also serves as a Program Assistant and Instructor for our Wonder Keepers Preschool. Will graduated from the University of Oregon in 2022 with a degree in Anthropology, a minor in Music, and a certificate in Leadership and Outdoor Pursuits. Originally from the Great Lakes region, Will has worked as an educator and guide for children, adolescents, and young adults throughout the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest for the past five years. Now at home in Eugene, Will is continuing to develop his passion for connecting youth with the outdoors and with one another. In his free time, Will likes to walk, run, bike, read, write, play music, and explore natural places.

Network Charter School Instructors

Wendy McKenzie, NCS Instructor and Administrative Assistant

Wendy (she/her) has been a Network Charter School science teacher since 2003. She has worked with Nearby Nature since 1995 and served for many years as its Park Host, both in Alton Baker Park and at Armitage Park. Wendy has BA in Environmental Studies and Philosophy from the University of Oregon. In Wendy’s NCS classes, students develop a keen appreciation of the natural world as well as a clear understanding of the many threats that currently face it. Hands-on work in nature is a common project for students in her classes, who spend lots of time in NCS’s gardens as well as Nearby Nature’s Learnscape Outdoor Classroom. Wendy is also the original creator of Nearby Nature’s Kinder Critters! Wendy has served for many years as an Administrative Director in our work with the Network Charter School during the school year, and starting in 2022, as an Administrative Assistant for the rest of Nearby Nature.

Billy Hughes, NCS Instructor

Billy Hughes (he/him) has been an instructor with the Network Charter School since 2005. He loves to garden, hike, backpack, kayak, fish, ride his bike, wild craft, and relax in the great outdoors with his family. Nature is literally the “classroom” for all of Billy’s courses. Through his unique approach to PE, students enjoy fishing, playing ultimate frisbee, going on urban hikes, and gardening. Community service is also part of Billy’s recipe for a complete classroom experience, and his students often spend time helping out at Walama Restoration and at Food for Lane County gardens. He has a Permaculture Design Certification and a Permaculture Teachers Certification.

Matthew Palotti, NCS Instructor

Matthew (he/they) started his journey at Network Charter School in 2022. He teaches math, coding, and physical science. After earning his PhD in physics, Matthew spent seven years teaching physics and physical science at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis, Tennessee. He brings the same student-centered, equity-minded approach to education that he used in his college level classes to his work at Network Charter School. Matthew looks forward to incorporating the natural world into all of his classes. When not teaching, Matthew enjoys exploring the wonders of Oregon with his wife, twin daughters, and two dogs.

Ethan Kruger, NCS Instructor

Ethan (he/his) will be joined the Nearby Nature staff in the Fall of 2023 and is a Network Charter School graduate with a Math degree from the University of Oregon. He hopes to instill in his students the desire to learn that he discovered at NCS, and in doing so, help inspire students to consider math less of a chore and more of a hobby. When not teaching NCS classes, Ethan loves spending time outside with his young daughter.