Desert Institute Instructors

robins-image-taken-by-david-muench-small ROBIN BALCH  Recently retired school counselor and prior co-owner of a skydiving school with her husband. She is a Desert Institute “lead” volunteer and loves being around people.  She has hiked several portions of the Pacific Crest Trail and is a Forest Service Fire Lookout at Black Mt. Fire Tower in Idyllwild, CA.  She loves the outdoors, hiking and backpacking and has been mentored by the best learning the ins and outs of backpacking.  She has had experience of being caught in unexpected hail, snow and rain and learned how to pack light and smart.
Donald Chambers DON CHAMBERS has been hiking, climbing and taking pictures in Joshua Tree and throughout the west for 45 years. His early interest in the outdoors led him to an MS in Geography. He was a naturalist in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest for the USFS, taught geology of the National Parks at Valley College and Cal Poly, and for the last 36 years has been the manager of consulting services at ESRI.
  JIM CORNETT has been studying desert fan palm oases for 25 years with more than three dozen technical papers published on palm oasis ecology. For 30 years he was Curator and Director of Natural Sciences at the Palm Springs Desert Museum. He holds B.A. and M.S. degrees in biology and lives in Palm Springs, California.
  CARYN DAVIDSON completed her yoga teacher training at the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA. The philosophy of White Lotus is to draw from the deep traditions of yoga while remaining non-dogmatic and open to the influences of the different contexts in which yoga is practiced. Caryn is also an NPS Ranger at Joshua Tree National Park.
CHRISTIAN DELICH, B.S. Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Resources.  In 2011, Christian accepted his first term position with the National Park Service at Joshua Tree National Park.  Since then, Christian has spent his time crawling around the famed Wonderland of Rocks while honing skills as an amateur geologist.
JEREMY FREEMAN conducted his undergraduate studies in anthropology at Heidelberg College and his graduate studies anthropology at Ball State University.  He has worked as a professional archaeologist for 17 years for cultural resource management firms, museums, universities, federal agencies, and non-profit research institutes throughout the U.S.  He has taught classes at the collegiate level at Ball State University, Heidelberg College, and Owens Community College as well as classes for youth programs.  He is currently working for the Great Basin Institute which is a partner organization with Joshua Tree National Park where he works in the Science and Resource Stewardship division.
CRAIG FUCILE, B.A., Physical Geography, teaches photography for University of California, Riverside Extension. A longtime instructor,  Fucile has taught numerous photography workshops in western landscapes that he enjoys photographing including: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Eastern Mojave, Owens Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Anza-Borrego, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.
ALESSANDRO GRIPPO, Ph.D. (Geological Sciences, University of Southern California) has done research and taught geology, oceanography, stratigraphy, environmental geology and field classes at Santa Monica College and several California State University campuses. Alessandro has a keen interest for the geology of the American southwest and loves been out there exploring, learning, and sharing his passion for Earth and its history.
WILLIAM HAYES, PhD, Zoology and Physiology, Professor of Biology, Loma Linda University. Hayes specializes in the ecology of venoms and venomous animals, behavioral ecology and conservation of lizards, and behavioral ecology, taxonomy, and conservation of birds. He has published numerous works, taught and organized conferences and workshops, and has given multiple television contributions. Hayes currently teaches classes in behavioral ecology, herpetology, ornithology, and conservation.
MARK JORGENSEN has been intrigued by desert bighorn sheep since he was 11 years old and has spent five decades studying and pursuing them throughout their range. He became a State Park Ranger for California State Parks after four summers studying desert bighorn for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. He went on to become the last Park Naturalist for California State Parks at Anza-Borrego, as well as a Resource Ecologist, and he finished his 36-year park career as the Superintendent of Anza-Borrego. He is the author of the book “Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon”.
  PAM KERSEY, EdD, MSN, RN is the Dean of Science, Math and Engineering at Cuyamaca College in San Diego. She is an archaeological site steward, volunteers for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree and has also volunteered as a camp nurse. She has completed three marathon hikes for children’s cancer fundraising. She has camped, backpacked, and hiked for many years including summits over 14,000 feet 5 times. She has taught hiking classes for women, and enjoys helping others learn how to safely appreciate camping and hiking
KATHY KLOPFENSTEIN has been making pine needle baskets for over 20 years. She is well versed in many basketry techniques having taken classes from over 25 different teachers. Her pine needle basketry has won awards at the San Bernardino County Fair, Del Mar Fair, and California State Fair and has been exhibited at numerous venues in southern California. Kathi is a member of Chaparral Artists, Morongo Basin Cultural Arts Council, Misti Washington Gourd and Basket Guild, Los Angeles Basketry Guild, Bay Area Basketmakers, and Columbia Basin Basketry Guild. She has taught basketry for private groups in southern California and has participated in the MBCAC Hwy 62 Art Tours for 9 years. 
LEW KINGMAN is a retired fire fighter and worked for the Palm Springs Desert Museum as a hike leader for 8 years. He volunteers with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue for 25 years and Joshua Tree National Park as an archaeological site steward and a “lead” field class leader for the Desert Institute.
TOR LACEY, M.S., Geology, is a tenured instructor at Cerritos College teaching Physical Geology, Introduction to Earth Science, Geology of the Western National Parks and Monuments, Natural History of Southern California and Field Methods of the Earth Sciences.
KURT LEUSCHNER, M.S., Wildlife Ecology, Professor of Natural Resources, College of the Desert. Leuschner’s specialties include ornithology, entomology, and desert ecology. He has led hundreds of field trips both locally and as far afield as Africa. He teaches natural history courses for the Bureau of Land Management, UCR Extension, the Desert Institute, the Living Desert, California State Parks, Riverside County Parks, and many other conservation organizations
DANIEL McCARTHY, M.S., Anthropology, has worked at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino National Forest and throughout Southern California compiling photographic inventories of the rock art of this region. Formerly he was the Director of the Cultural Resources Management Department for four years with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and spent 18 years on the San Bernardino National Forest as archaeologist and Tribal Relations Program Manager. His research interests include desert archaeology, Native American uses of plants, aboriginal trail systems, material culture of the Cahuilla and Serrano Indians and rock art.
DENNIS MAMMANA, M.S., Astronomy, has delivered the wonder and mystery of the cosmos to audiences for over three decades. A nationally syndicated newspaper columnist with Creators Syndicate and author of six books on popular astronomy, Mammana is also an accomplished night sky photographer and invited member of TWAN—an international team of the most highly acclaimed sky photographers on the planet.
  TANIA MARIEN has an Interdisciplinary Studies Master’s degree in Biology & Student Learning and a professional certificate in Free-Choice Learning. She served as full-time editor, educator, and bookseller at ArtPlantae, an educational resource connecting artists, naturalists, and educators pursuing interests in botany, botanical art and environmental education. In this role, she led programs and introduced audiences to plants and botanical illustration at environmental education events, botanical gardens, museums, private gardens and STEM events. Now working on other interpretive projects, she continues to connect artists, naturalists, and educators as part-time editor of the ArtPlantae blog.
MICHAEL MURILLO, M.A., Fine Arts, California State University Long Beach.  He was a full time art instructor at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree when he retired about 7 years ago. Though he has taught a wide variety of art courses, drawing and painting are his two favorites. He has always found how students look at things to be an important part of how they record what they see. He believes in teaching to look and build visual skills to be as important as building drawing skills.
RALPH NORDSTROM has had several careers in education, along the way teaching the full gamut from pre-school to adult, and handicapped to gifted. Branching into photographic workshops was a very natural path for him.  His philosophy on workshops is simple: They are successful when the attendees return home with a few great photographs and feeling that they have expanded what he likes to call their “Creative Vocabulary”, that is, their ability to express themselves through their photography.
TANYA PETROVNA was the visionary founder, chef, CEO of the all plant-based eatery, Native Foods Café. It all began in Palm Springs, California in 1994 and though she has not been with her company since 2012, her loyal patrons still stay in touch, visit her classes and follow her adventures!  Chef Tanya currently resides in Palm Springs, California where she teaches Iyengar yoga, writes, saves cats, dogs and elephants, and is working on the next big thing.
KEVIN POWELL was intrigued at an early age by the quiet complexity of this desert playground. Local author and photographer, Kevin Powell has spent forty four years hiking, rock climbing, photographing and exploring within Joshua Tree National Park. His book, Classic Day Hikes of Joshua Tree Park, is available at the Visitor Centers.
TED REEVES, B.A., Geology, taught sciences at Chaffey High School for 37 years. He is presently teaching for University of the Pacific and believes that a relevant Natural History class requires an outdoor experience. In 2000, he received the National Association of Geology Teachers Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award.
STEFANIE RITTER was awarded an M. S. degree from the Technical University in Braunschweig, Germany, specializing in zoology, botany, and genetics. She has taught Biology at Copper Mountain College and presently holds the position of Museum Coordinator for the Hi-Desert Nature Museum where she is responsible for all educational programs. Ritter has also taught geography, ecology, and botany for National University at the Twentynine Palms Campus.
DIANA SHAY-DIEHL, M.Ed., has over 25 years of teaching experience from kindergarten to graduate level college education courses. Her love of using photography to capture the nuances of life has been a life-long adventure beginning with formal training in black and white film processing and continuing into digital work that uses alternative printing methods, such as cyanotypes, platinum, palladium, and digital film negative and polaroid transfers, all learned and practiced in Italy, all over California, and the Pacific Northwest.
JIM SMART developed an interest in photography some fifty years ago when he took a high school course and made a pinhole camera, shot with a Speed Graflex, and took surfing photographs in Hermosa Beach with a 35mm Pentax. Jim teaches university courses in Communication Studies and English, including basic and college-level English courses, journalism, journalistic photography and online journalism.
  CANDICE WEBER,   M.A., is an adjunct professor of natural resources at College of the Desert, teaching courses in Conservation and G.I.S. and leading students abroad to the cloud forests of Costa Rica.  She majored in environmental studies and has extensive experience working with animals of all kinds (wild and domestic), including many years as a zookeeper and animal trainer at the Living Desert, the Long Beach Aquarium, and other marine parks.  For the past 14 years she has resided in the Coachella Valley and now considers the desert her home.
ELIZABETH WYATT, writer, artist, and educator holds a B.A. in English from Southern Methodist University, and Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts degrees in poetry and English from the University of California at Irvine. She has practiced yoga since 2003 and currently teaches yoga in the hi-desert, in addition to serving as English instructor and Basic Skills Coordinator at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree.