Board Members


Gustavo Requena Santos

President, Membership Chair

Gustavo grew up in close contact with the Brazilian Rainforest, a fascination that years later motivated him to become a field biologist by the Universidade Estadual de Campinas. His passion for nature and science compelled him to do fieldwork in the familiar forests around his hometown, and also in the Brazilian savannah, in the Amazon, and in the Tropical Forests of Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. In 2012, he obtained his PhD in Ecology from the Universidade de São Paulo. As an academic, Gustavo strongly advocates for the importance of science literacy and critical thinking for advancements in education and social transformation. In 2017, he moved to Connecticut and decided to transition from academia to the non-profit sector, particularly using outdoor education to promote science literacy, where audiences of all ages and backgrounds experience the scientific method by doing science themselves. He has worked with the non-profits New Haven Land Trust and Solar Youth. Gustavo and his partner Stephen live in Hamden, love hiking and camping, and have been exploring CT outdoors on weekend trips across the state.


Jessica LaPolt

Executive Director

Jessica is a Connecticut native who enjoyed exploring the woods and streams of her hometown with her little sister while growing up. Her family would often go hiking, camping, biking, and white water rafting, which only continued to foster her love of nature. By the time it came to selecting a major in college, Jessica knew she had to go for Environmental Studies. Graduating with her Bachelor's Degree, she worked as a preschool teacher for several years before realizing she needed to get back to environmental education. Her passion for the planet and habitat sustainability is what help her land at Nature's Classroom, and later on, at the CT Audubon, where she taught as an informal naturalist for a few years. By teaching environmental education, Jessica was fulfilling her dream of providing meaningful education to youth while also instilling an appreciation of the natural world.

Currently, you can find Jessica at Riverside Reptiles Education Center; a zoo filled to the brim with reptiles and amphibians. It is here, where she is helping the efforts of habitat sustainability and providing insight into some of nature's most misunderstood creatures to the public. In her free time, Jessica enjoys spending time with her family, especially her newly 7-month old son who will be 1 year old in June. She also enjoys gaming, hiking, reading, and continuing to learn about various teaching methods and ways to improve herself. Jessica believes in two things: that there is always something new to learn in your field and, "a person's a person, no matter how small." -Dr. Seuss 


Chelsey Hobby


Love of nature started at an early age for this native New Yorker with family camping and Kayak trips across New England. Her love of nature guided her to SUNY Morrisville where she earned her AAS in Natural Resource Conservation. After graduation she transitioned to administrative work in the non-profit sector, where, for the past 23 years, she has worked in different areas of the Finance Department for multiple non-profits.  Chelsey holds a BA in Business Management with a minor in HR from Post University.  She currently serves as the Director of Finance and HR at the New Canaan Nature Center.  In her spare time you can find her camping, kayaking, canoeing and hiking across NY State with her daughter, Scarlet. 


Laura Cisneros

Conference Co-Chair

Laura (she/her/ella) is an Assistant Extension Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment & Institute of the Environment at UConn. Laura is a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She received a B.S. in Zoology at Michigan State University, and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. Laura’s Ph.D. research explored how human land use and forest fragmentation affect bat communities in Costa Rica. Currently, Laura directs UConn’s Natural Resources Conservation Academy, through which she develops and implements place-based, environmental action programs that integrate technology used by professionals and support intergenerational (e.g., teen & adult teams) community conservation projects. Her recent efforts with the NRCA are geared towards making NRCA programs more culturally relevant, and using equitable, inclusive, and authentic community engagement practices. Her associated research efforts center on understanding how environmental action programs and community science impact capacity to address environmental issues. In 2021, Laura was selected to be a CEE-Change Fellow with the North American Association for Environmental Education. Growing up, Laura did not consider herself an “outdoorsy” person, until she was in college. In fact, Laura’s first-time camping was after undergrad during her first field research job in Manu National Park, Peru. Now, she enjoys being on the move, whether it be long distant running, biking, hiking or camping. She also dubs herself a “mammalogy nerd”, and loves looking for animal tracks, identifying skulls, and bat acoustic monitoring. 


Victoria “Torey” Dake


Torey is a blossoming naturalist and environmental educator. Many trips to museums and parks as a child inspired her to pursue a career in public education and animal care. She graduated from Colby-Sawyer College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Sciences, with her focus on terrestrial ecology, animal behavior, and sustainability. After graduation, she discovered her passion for volunteering and has made it a core part of her life. She has volunteered at Camp Care Therapeutic Riding, Mystic Aquarium, and (most recently) The Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY. She is a member of the International Marine Animal Trainer's Association (IMATA) and National Association for Interpretation (NAI) and a Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG). In her spare time, Torey can be found walking trails with her dog, Riker, taking in the scenery while snowshoeing or paddle boarding, or researching new recipe ideas to test out.


Nicole Freidenfelds


Nicole Freidenfelds is a Visiting Assistant Extension Educator in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at UConn. She earned a B.S. in Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University and a M.S. in Natural Resources at the University of New Hampshire. In her previous role as a professional scientist, Nicole’s research mainly focused on studying the behavior, ecology and evolution of amphibians and reptiles. Later, while teaching public high school science for several years, she developed a genuine joy of working with youth. Currently, as program coordinator for UConn’s Natural Resources Conservation Academy, Nicole oversees a wide range of unique and exciting local environmental projects being conducted by teen-adult teams throughout the state. She tries to spend as much of her free time outdoors as possible – hiking, fishing, hunting, and exploring.


Kimberly Hughs


Kim is the Co-Director of a non-profit in West Hartford, root2RISE, where she works to ensure all children have access to meaningful and inclusive outdoor learning experiences. She also teaches environmental education classes at Westmoor Park, a local farm and education center, and has worked for many years to develop school programs focused on sustainability and stewardship of the land - our common ground and common purpose.   Kim gratefully acknowledges the wisdom of the indigenous peoples from their enduring connection to this land as the thread that weaves all the pieces of her work together.


Doris Johnson


As Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Program within the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), Doris has developed and implemented statewide environmental awareness programs and projects for youth of all ages. She is passionate about producing future environmental stewards and dedicates much of her time and efforts to environmental education and justice. Doris is the recipient of COEEA’s 2021 Excellence in Environmental Stewardship award and 2008 Inclusive Environmental Educator award.


Justin Kaput


Justin grew up in a small town in north central Connecticut where tractor jams related to the annual harvest of broadleaf tobacco were an annual problem.  A lifelong lover of nature, he spent his childhood days wandering through the fields, swamps, and forests behind his family’s home. This passion for nature led to a degree in wildlife ecology from the University of Maine and field work in various locations including the chaparral of Southern California and the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest. He continued this focus by earning a master’s degree from the University of Illinois in environmental science with a focus on developing stewardship value in youth. Justin’s passion for sharing nature with others lead him to a career in education where he teaches high school and college level environmental science with a focus on ecological resilience and restoration ecology. He has made it his life’s work to foster ecological stewardship values in young people.  He was selected as a 2018 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and traveled to Antarctica with National Geographic and returned to work as a naturalist in the coastal rainforest of southeast Alaska. In 2021 he was selected by the NAAEE as a CEE Change Fellow and is currently working with his students to host multi school multi day youth climate empowerment events. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his family, playing and listening to music, and exploring this beautiful planet.


Evelyn Kubik


Evelyn Kubik is an Environmental Educator at the Ansonia Nature Center. They graduated from Towson University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and went on to do several seasons of field research, most notably working on a bluebird study in Montana. However, as much as Evelyn enjoyed the solitude of climbing up mountains at sunrise, they realized that what they really wanted was to be able to share their passion for nature with others and work to promote good environmental stewardship. Thus, they returned to Connecticut to become an environmental educator. When not hiking in the woods, Evelyn enjoys drawing, reading, and board games.


Susan Robinson


Susan Robinson is an Environmental Analyst for the State of Connecticut’s Department of Energy & Environmental Protection where she works as an environmental educator and museum curator at the Kellogg Environmental Center & Osborne Homestead Museum. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Earth & Environmental Sciences at Wesleyan University and Master’s degree in Environmental Policy at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. She grew up in South Carolina where she helped her parents plant trees and vegetables in their yard and played outside at her grandparents’. She started down the path of outdoor and environmental education with the National Park Service at the Presidio of San Francisco in California. She loves going to zumba and salsa classes, walking, reading, and watching DC/Marvel movies.


Bethany Sheffer


Bethany is the Naturalist and Volunteer Coordinator for Sharon Audubon, located in Sharon, CT. It is her first time in New England after accepting the position in 2020 after having worked as an environmental educator in western North Carolina and in her native Michigan. She holds a master’s degree in Public Administration (emphasis on nonprofit leadership) from Grand Valley State University and is a certified environmental educator and beekeeper through the state of North Carolina. Her enchantment with the natural world began as a child growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and reemerged as an adult while traveling throughout Central and South America after college. These days, you can find her backpacking throughout New England’s gorgeous ranges, birding with friends and colleagues, or dancing in her kitchen with her three cockatiels.



THANK YOU to outgoing 2021 Board members:

  • Francesca Cristofaro Williams

  • Bill Flynn

  • Heather Kordula

  • Abby Peklo

  • Sarah Wilby

Please visit our contact page to connect with any of our current board members.