The 2016-2017 Outdoor Education Program Staff

From left to right: Melanie Costello, Anne Rohn, Caleb Jenks, Tia Willens, Shannon Forney, Alyssa Parker, Kylie Robey, Lori Knoechel, Amy Banner, Sam Allen, and Joshua Hapner.

Seasonal Staff Biographies

Sam Allen (Education Program Specialist)

Sam has a B.S. in Conservation Biology from Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, MI. She started at Taft in August as an Education Program Specialist. Previously, Sam has worked as a State Park Explorer Guide at Harrisville State Park, participated in the Disney College Program as a Cast Member at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and worked at the Howell Nature Center as both an Animal Care Intern in the wildlife park and as an Environmental Educator. Her professional interests include wildlife conservation, especially threatened and endangered species, herpetology, restoration ecology, and forest conservation.

Shannon Forney (Senior Education Program Specialist)

Shannon started her role as a Senior Education Program Specialist in August. She spent the previous school year and summer working as an Education Program Specialist and prior to that was an Outdoor Education Intern. She has also spent several years working as a Dog Groomer with PetSmart. Shannon has a B.S. in Physical Education from NIU. She enjoys teaching and learning about osteology and hide tanning.

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, he operated the nature lodge for two summers at Indian Mound Scout Reservation in Oconomowoc, WI, and spent a summer doing bat research. Most recently, he was interning at Riveredge Nature Center in Newburg, WI, performing aquatic macroinvertebrate research. Caleb’s professional interests include herpetology (especially salamanders), entomology, aquatic ecology, and anything related to bats.

Lori Knoechel (Education Program Specialist)

Prior to starting as an Education Program Specialist at Taft in August, Lori worked as an Educator at Douglas Hart Nature Center in Mattoon, IL. She has a degree in Elementary Education from Eastern Illinois University and is interested in herpetology, botany, teaching, and gardening.

Alyssa Parker (Senior Education Program Specialist)

After working this past summer and last school year as an Education Program Specialist, Alyssa started in the Senior Education Program Specialist role in August. 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.

Kylie Robey (Education Program Specialist)

Kylie returned to Taft in August as an Education Program Specialist. Last school year, she worked as an Outdoor Education Intern until the spring, when she stepped up to the Education Program Specialist role. She has a B.S. in Anthropology from Northern Illinois University. She has previously worked as a Textile Rehousing Intern and Curator Assistant at the Pick Museum of Anthropology at NIU and is interested in archeology and forensics.

Anne Rohn (Education Program Specialist)

Anne earned a B.A. in Biology from Earlham College. Prior to starting as an Education Program Specialist at Taft in August, 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.

Tia Willens (Outdoor Education Intern)

Tia started working at Taft in August as an Outdoor Education Intern. She has previously worked at NIU as an Environmental Studies Outreach Associate and as a Research Assistant. She has also taught at a Montessori School. She has a B.S. in Geology from NIU. She is looking forward to learning more about and sharing her interests in human-environmental interactions, environmental philosophy, environmental planning, and learning theory.

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 OE 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.

Joshua Hapner (Assistant OE Coordinator)

Joshua has worked at several camps before coming to Taft in 2011. These include YMCA Camp Greenkill in New York, 4-H Camp Palmer in Ohio, 4-H Camp Wahsega in Georgia, and South Mountain YMCA Camp in Pennsylvania. He also spent time as an Interpretive Ranger for the NPS in Washington and spent a summer in Missouri doing stream sampling for the MO Department of Natural Resources. He has a M.A. in Natural Resources and Environmental Management from Ball State University and a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Joshua enjoys learning about and sharing his interests in plant and tree identification, nature photography, entomology, and herpetology.

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 OE Coordinator and OE 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.