The 2017-2018 Outdoor Education Program Staff

Back row, from left to right: Caleb Jenks, Amy Banner, Melanie Costello.  Front row, from left to right:  Elsa Litecky, Jacci Cuff, Jessie Augustine-Petersen, Bethany Kautz, Anne Rohn, Alyssa Parker.  Not pictured: Megan Sneyd, Will Sutphin, Katie McBride.

Seasonal Staff Biographies

Jessie Augustine-Petersen (Outdoor Education Intern)

Jessie began at Taft as an outdoor education entern in August.  Prior to that, she has had an internship with The Association for Individual Development in which she worked with adults with varying disabilities.  She volunteered at the Will County Health Department, assisting in emergency management drills and vaccinations, and teaching young kids the importance of environmental health.  She has also worked for Power Contstruction, inspecting job sites to ensure that health and safety standards/regulations are met and implementing safety training in the field.  Jessie is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a B.S. in public health with an emphasis in environmental health.  Her professional interests include water quality management, nature conservation and sustainability, emergency management, and epidemiology.

Megan Sneyd (Outdoor Education Intern)

Megan attended Northern Illinois University, receiving a B.A. in environmental studies. She has worked for NIU's Institute for Environment, Sustainability, and Energy as a communications intern, writing articles for NIU publications as a way to spread information about the NIU Green Team and other environmentally related news to a broader audience. Her professional interests include water ecology and surface water management, invasive species removal, fire ecology, and community outreach.

Jacci Cuff (Education Program Specialist)

Before starting as an education program specialist in August, Jacci served three terms of AmeriCorps at Easter Seals Respite Camp in Wisconsin Dells and spent the previous summer working there.  Jacci has also worked at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center in Wisconsin Dells.  Jacci went to Lawrence University, where she got a B.A. in geology and environmental studies.  Eventually, she would like to return to school to get a Ph.D. in geomorphology, but for now is content with where she is at and looks forward to learning from other people each day. She has also expressed interest in getting a master's in outdoor education, as well as one day being a camp director.  Her interests change constantly and she is really still trying to pinpoint which one to pursue. For now, as a young outdoor education teacher, she looks forward to growing and developing her skill set.

Caleb Jenks (Education Program Specialist)

Caleb has a B.S. in biology from Carthage College in Kenosha, WI. Prior to coming to Taft as an education program specialist in August of 2016, he operated the nature lodge for two summers at Indian Mound Scout Reservation in Oconomowoc, WI, and spent a summer doing bat research. In addition, he interned at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, WI, performing aquatic macroinvertebrate research and spent this past summer as a naturalist at Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center. Caleb’s professional interests include herpetology (especially salamanders), entomology, aquatic ecology, and anything related to bats.

Bethany Kautz (Education Program Specialist)

Bethany went to UW-Steven’s Point for 2 years, majoring in biology and wildlife ecology & management and minoring in wildlife and piano performance.  She then transferred to North Carolina State University where she graduated with a B.S. in fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology with an emphasis in wildlife and a soil science minor.  Prior to starting as an education program specialist at Taft in August, Bethany worked as an educator at Bartlett Nature Center.  She also conducted research on Blanding’s turtles with the DuPage County Forest Preserve and banded geese, wood ducks, and mourning doves for the IDNR in Cook County.  She also had an internship as a wildlife rehabilitator at Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, IL.  Bethany’s professional interests include mammalogy, osteology, and wildlife behavioral studies.

Elsa Litecky (Education Program Specialist)

Elsa has a B.S. in field biology from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. She started at Taft in August as an education program specialist. Previously, Elsa worked at the Minnesota Zoo as an interpretive naturalist 1, River Bend Nature Center as an environmental educator, and for the the Minnesota DNR in a few different roles (including as a smoke chaser and a naturalist). In addition, Elsa has worked with the Minnesota Conservation Federation as the program coordinator for their Conservation Leadership Corps program. Elsa’s professional interests include Native American culture and history (especially Ojibwe and Dakota), outdoor survival skills, tracking, leadership skills (especially developing them in youth), and wildlife that is typically misunderstood - everything from mosquitoes to wolves.

Katie McBride (Education Program Specialist)

Katie attended Rock Valley College where she graduated with an associate degree. She then transferred to Northern Illinois University to finish her bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. While attending NIU she was a part of the Committee for the Preservation of Wildlife, volunteered at Nachusa Grasslands, and started her internship at Taft. She was hired on as an Education Program Specialist the following year. She has worked for Byron Forest Preserve and Nachusa Grasslands as a restoration technician. Katie also worked on a trail crew in Colorado for a season with AmeriCorps. Her interests include native landscaping, prairie restoration/prescribed burns, and outdoor education.

Will Sutphin (Education Program Specialist)

Will started as an education program specialist at Taft in January.  Prior to that he has worked for the Bartlett Nature Center, DuPage County Stormwater Management, and the River Trails Park District.  Will is interested in environmental education and would like to one day teach at the college level.  He has a degree in geography and political science and his master's degree is in geography and environmental resources.

Anne Rohn (Senior Education Program Specialist)

Anne earned a B.A. in biology from Earlham College. Anne started as an education program specialist at Taft in 2016 and is now in the role of senior education program specialist.  Prior to coming to Taft, Anne completed a naturalist fellowship program with Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul, Minnesota. She has also worked as an education intern at Tracy Aviary in Salt Lake City and was crewmember with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota. Her professional interests include ornithology, botany, restoration, and environmental studies.


Permanent Staff Biographies

Amy Banner (Assistant OE Coordinator)

Amy started at Taft as an education program specialist in 2012. Since then, she has worked as a senior education program specialist and then was promoted to assistant outdoor education coordinator. In addition, Amy has worked as a naturalist at Glen Helen Environmental Education Center. She was an Americorps member with the National Civilian Community Corps, working with the Toledo Botanical Garden, Habitat for Humanity, Vinton Weed and Seed, Buley Afterschool Center, and the Flint Housing Association. Amy's professional interests include wildflowers and astronomy. She has a B.A. in historic preservation with a minor in art from Ursuline College.

Alyssa Parker (Assistant OE Coordinator)

Alyssa is starting her third year at Taft as an assistant outdoor education coordinator.  She was a senior education program specialist last year and worked at Taft for the 2015-2016 school year as an education program specialist. Prior to coming to Taft, she worked as a naturalist at San Mateo Outdoor Education in California and an educator at Shangri La Botanical Garden in Texas. She has also worked as a naturalist apprentice for the USDA Forest Service at Land Between the Lakes NRA in Kentucky. Alyssa has a B.S. degree in biology with minors in environmental science and coastal management from Eckerd College. Her professional interests include herpetology, birding by ear, and wildflowers.

Melanie Costello (Campus Director/OE Coordinator)

Melanie earned her M.S.Ed. from NIU in outdoor teacher education and a B.S. in biology/ecology with a minor in chemistry from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She started working at Lorado Taft as a graduate assistant and has since worked as an assistant outdoor education coordinator and outdoor education coordinator, and she has been the campus director since 2012. She has also worked as an educator at Discovery Center Museum in Rockford, IL; she was a youth development educator for University of Illinois Extension; and she has worked as a crew leader/cabin counselor for the Minnesota Conservation Corps. Her professional interests include the benefits of time spent in nature for children, habitat restoration and native landscaping, and STEM education.