We recruit staff nationally and positions are highly competitive. On average, well over half of our staff are returning instructors, and we see it as a testament to the quality of our programs that staff return year after year.
As a minimum, all staff members hold a Wilderness First Aid certification, and at least one member of each backpacking group holds an advanced certification: Wilderness First Responder or EMT. The minimum age for staff is 21 and each year our staff is made up of a variety of people, from enthusiastic educators in their 20s to experienced and equally energetic educators in their 70s. We perform background checks on all staff, and we strive to create a comfortable and trustworthy environment for all trekkers and families.
Our senior staff and group leaders are experienced outdoor educators, and many of them are classroom teachers during the school year, bringing with them a wealth of educational creativity and a passion for sharing their love of the outdoors with our trekkers.
Our staff team can be divided into two main categories:
These instructors are outdoor educators who are responsible for leading and educating a particular group. They live and work with that group day and night, hiking, backpacking, and exploring the southwest alongside the Trekkers. Each group has a group leader, a group cook, and from one to three program staff, who bring expertise in any variety of subjects: science, anthropology, archaeology, art, and backcountry skills, to name a few.
These instructors are hired for their expertise in a particular field. Each summer we hire from one to three educators in the following areas: archaeologists, artists, naturalists, farmers, and rock climbers. Specialists work with all groups, sharing their fascinating wealth of knowledge and good humor with trekkers. Many kids discover a new found interest by working side-by-side with our specialists.
If you are interested in applying for a staff position, please visit our prospective staff page.
Our Administrative Staff
Jordan first came to Cottonwood Gulch In 2007, as a road cook for the Prairie Trek. He quickly recognized Cottonwood Gulch as an organization full of intelligent, curious, and quirky people, and since then his love for the Gulch has only grown. Jordan has held multiple roles within the organization and was honored to step into the role of Executive Director in 2020. Outside of the Gulch, he has served as the Conservation Program Manager for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Albuquerque, worked on an urban organic farm in Wisconsin, and trained in outdoor skills at the National Outdoor Leadership School. He keeps bees, tends a garden, loves to write, and spends plenty of time exploring New Mexico’s abundant public lands. Jordan holds a BA from Pomona College, and a Masters degree in Geography and Environmental Studies (if you’d like to have a conversation about how different people and communities think about “nature”–quite relevant to the Gulch experience–Jordan is a willing participant) from the University of New Mexico. He lives in Albuquerque with his wife, Ellen, who teaches third grade and takes her students outside whenever possible, and their lovely daughter.
Lezle Williams was born in Dayton, Ohio, but has been living in the west ever since college graduation. She has an an MFA from Miami University and is an accomplished artist and former gallery owner. Her passions are animals, traveling, art, reading, and film. She has been keeping Cottonwood Gulch organized since 2008. When not talking with trekkers, parents, and staff, she sometimes joins us at Basecamp to teach trekkers how to create relief prints or to work in clay.
Tim started in education when, as a student from The UK, he was a counselor at a YMCA camp on Vancouver Island, Canada. It was a transformative experience and the beginning of a life committed to mentoring young people from around the world. For fifteen years Tim worked with the United World College movement in Canada, China and northern New Mexico, serving both as an administrator and teacher of International Baccalaureate Theatre. For the last fifteen years Tim has served as a consultant at Philmont Scout Ranch, where he oversees the training of 120+ historical interpreters. He holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from New Mexico Highlands University and teaching licenses in both New Mexico and British Columbia. Tim loves to cook, hike, garden, read and act. He is married to Melissa (for thirty years, this October) and they have three children: Ruaidhri (Rory), Rex and Harriet and three dogs: Otto, Farley Mowat and Millie.
Director of Education
,Naina Panthaki was born and raised in Albuquerque, receiving her BS in Elementary Education, with a focus in Math and Science, from UNM. She has been a local Albuquerque teacher for the last seven years teaching math, science, gardening, and engineering classes in Title I schools. Naina started working with the Gulch as a classroom teacher taking her students on regular outdoor adventures, growing the program each year. For the last three years, she worked with the Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) Program taking her 8th-grade students deeper into a year long wilderness experience. Starting in 2018, Naina worked with the Gulch’s summer treks, specifically the Paleo Trek, as program staff, cook, and group leader. She has one fabulous daughter, Layla who is a middle schooler and avid Gulch summer trekker. Both Naina and her daughter love to sing, dance, laugh loudly, and spend time in nature.
Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) Program Manager
Olivia grew up in Denver and the southern coast of Spain. She was always encouraged to go outside and spent her childhood playing in the foothills of the Rockies and in the cork forests and beaches of Andalucía. A lover of all animals, Olivia has continued to enjoy exploring the outdoors through backpacking, climbing, cycling, scuba, and swimming in any body of (clean) water she can find! After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Environmental Planning and Design, Olivia accepted an apprenticeship with Yjastros, the American Flamenco Repertory Company. She worked with several farms during this time, developing a love for local food systems. She became a corps member of the company in 2018, performing throughout New Mexico, and the same year, joined the collective Spanish Broom Flamenco- an independent artistic collaborative focused on Flamenco performance. Her love for the outdoors motivated her to continue searching for a way to bring working with the environment into her daily life. In 2020, she was accepted as 2020 Exploring Equitable Education Outdoors Fellow. Through this work, she was introduced to Cottonwood Gulch and was given the opportunity to apply for a position later in the year. She joined the Gulch in September of 2020, and is so excited to work with kids outdoors!
SIWI Lead Field Educator
Excited to return to her home state of New Mexico, Marissa joins Cottonwood Gulch having spent the last four years exploring the North Cascades and Olympic mountains of Washington state while working for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger. Marissa holds a masters degree in Environmental Education, Non-Profit Management & Northwest Natural History from Western Washington University and the North Cascades Institute. She is excited to continue her quest of life long learning by blending her love for ecology, natural history and photography in hopes to instill curiosity and wonder for the natural world in students. When not working as a field educator, Marissa is likely eating pizza, out climbing mountains or cruising around the desert on her bike.
SIWI Lead Field Educator
Tanner grew up in the forests and tidelands of the Pacific Northwest and spent most of his early years stumbling through nettles and scraping his knees on the rocky shores of the Oregon Coast. He worked with food in various capacities for many years, as a cook, server, farmer, and garden educator before deciding to go back to school. At Western Washington University, Tanner took part in a residency-based M.Ed program in North Cascades National Park, where he also earned certificates in Northwest Natural History and Nonprofit Administration and Management. He spends his free time undertaking big kitchen projects, making brooms, birding, hiking, gardening, and generally poking around in riparian areas.
Andrew was born in Papua New Guinea but called Pennsylvania home for about 15 years before falling in love with the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where he spent a few years leading canoe trips, running a high ropes course, and eating cheese curds. He’s now beyond excited to call New Mexico home! His educational background in engineering has equipped him with a broad set of skills to repair, maintain, and optimize all of the operational systems at Cottonwood Gulch. When he’s not fixing Gulch trucks, Andrew loves repairing and riding motorcycles, restoring old machinery, exploring the desert on his bicycle, and collecting way more books than he could ever read in a lifetime.
Enrollment and Outreach Coordinator
Habron was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spent his formative years in Austin, Texas, but now calls Bentonville, Arkansas, Home. Habron recently graduated from the University of Arkansas in May of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He is also a member of the Sierra Club and has been an environmental advocate for his entire life.
Habron has led a variety of outdoor educational programs all over the country and has found great fulfillment in creating life-changing experiences in the outdoors and building relationships with people of all kinds. His favorite activities to do outdoors are mountain biking and backpacking.