Leadership Team

Photo by Alex Jordan

Meet The Team

T’Noya Thompson

T’Noya Thompson

BOARD CHAIR & ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST

Having been born and raised in the Bahamas fostered a deep connection to the ocean that inspired T’Noya’s career path from an early age. T’Noya is now the Environmental Education Specialist at the North American Association for Environmental Education. Here, she works with various partners on eeWORKS, eeBLUE, and is developing an evaluation portal for Duke University.

Additionally, T’Noya serves as a Community Learning Leader for Miami University’s Project Dragonfly’s Global Field Program and has been recognized as an Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leader. T’Noya is also a member of the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation’s governing council, the Science Partnerships Committee; she serves as the Vice-Chair for the Public Participation and Education Committee for the Galveston Bay Estuary Program; and she is on the Advisory Council for A Rocha USA.

T’Noya holds a B.S. in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston and an M.A. in Biology from Miami University through Project Dragonfly’s Global Field Program. She is passionate about wildlife, environmental education, and supporting conservation and equity through community engagement. In her spare time, she enjoys growing in her faith, spending time with her wonderful family, meeting new people, and exploring when traveling.

Meghann McDonald

Meghann McDonald

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

As is a marine ecologist and educator, Meghann has led place-based field science courses in Mexico, Australia, and throughout the Carribean. She is an avid scientific diver and SCUBA instructor. Meghann has a long history in Bahía de los Angeles: she has been coming to the Vermilion Sea Field Station since she was a baby. She has participated in countless field courses and research expeditions, and has logged thousands of nautical miles navigating the waters of the Midriff Island Area.

Meghann holds a Bachelors in Marine and Coastal Ecology from California State University – Monterey Bay, a Masters in Biology from Miami University, and is a Wilderness First Responder. As the Executive Director of the Vermilion Sea Institute, Meghann strives to build partnerships and cross-cultural connections that aim to protect and enhance the ecosystems of the Gulf of California while expanding programming at the Vermilion Sea Field Station.

Lane McDonald

Lane McDonald

FOUNDING DIRECTOR

Lane has a double master’s degree from UCLA and was a college biology instructor for thirty-eight years specializing in marine biology and human ecology. He created and taught field programs in Baja California from 1974 to 1998, and also taken classes to the Virgin Islands, Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, New Zealand, and tropical Australia.

Rafael Galvan Villavicencio

Rafael Galvan Villavicencio

DIRECTOR OF RANCHO SAN GREGORIO

Rafael is a holistic wellness practitioner specializing in healthy lifestyle changes and naturopathic treatments. Rafael’s family has lived at Rancho San Gregorio, in the majestic Valle de los Cirios, for over a century. Today, Rafael operates a holistic wellness clinic out of his family’s historic home. In his practice, he leans on his formal training as well as on the art of healing passed down from his grandmother, a curandera.

R. Eduardo Galván Aviña

R. Eduardo Galván Aviña

FIELD EXPERIENCE ENGINEER

Eduardo spent his childhood exploring the urban hillsides around his family’s home in Tijuana and traversing the ridges surrounding his ancestor’s historic Rancho San Gregorio. He has extensive experience leading groups of college students and citizen scientists in Baja to both Rancho San Gregorio and Vermilion Sea Field Station and takes pride in cultivating soul-filling, adventurous experiences. Eduardo studied architecture and civil engineering at the Instituto Tecnológico de Tijuana and is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. When he is not leading groups in Baja, Eduardo works as a civil engineer and is developing his new brand “Born to Baja” (#borntobaja).

Alejandro Galvan Aviña

Alejandro Galvan Aviña

ECOTOURISM SPECIALIST

A Baja California native, Alex has been immersed in natural history programs since childhood. For the past seven years, he has worked primarily with international tourists throughout Mexico including Mexico City and Xcaret, Cancun. Alex holds a degree in Tourism Management from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, and he is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. His pride and joy for all things Mexican are exemplified by his online personality, “Enano Adventures.” As “Enano,” Alex has exclaimed the beauty and accessibility of Mexican culture, artifacts, and experiences to his thousands of followers. VSI consistently benefits from Alex’s positivity, insight, artistic prowess, and his persistent search for new and meaningful experiences.

Brendan McGrath

Brendan McGrath

AVENTUREROS DIRECTOR & HOSPITALITY SPECIALIST

Brendan combines his career in hospitality and a lifetime of outdoor adventures working as a hospitality specialist. He was trained to be a chef at a young age at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park and later attained a degree in Hotel Management from UNLV, concurrently working as a freelance personal assistant and caterer to TV and movie productions as well as touring bands and live events. As a chef, Brendan spent a decade in San Diego developing and executing his menus in both cutting edge and rustic kitchens.

Brendan holds an AOS in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America and a Bachelor’s of Science in Hospitality Management from UNLV. He is also a certified Wilderness First Responder from Wilderness Medical Associates.

Katie Dell

Katie Dell

COMMUNITY OUTREACH COORDINATOR

Katie Dell is a middle school science teacher and department chair for Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland. She first came to Baja as a graduate student in 2014 and now tries to return every year to spend her summers reconnecting to her favorite place- Baja! Her academic research focuses on racial and gender equity in science and environmental education. She is a certified lifeguard, open water diver and has received extensive training in first aid, CPR, and wilderness first aid. Katie spends her free time outside with family, friends, and her pitbull mix, Luna, hiking, kayaking, and taking pictures in the Great Outdoors. Katie leads field courses for VSI and works as our Community Outreach Coordinator. In this role, she helps VSI build capacity around diversity, equity, and inclusion as an international organization committed to welcoming visitors, volunteers, and partners from all walks of life.

Katie holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Towson University and a Master’s in Biology from Miami University, Global Field Program. She is has a Wilderness First Aid Certification.

MJ Munsey

MJ Munsey

STARS TO SEA PROGRAM COORDINATOR

Meet MJ, the Vermilion Sea Institute’s Program Coordinator! (although she really prefers to be called the ‘Fun Facilitator’). Her role is to enhance the field experience by organizing logistics and learning for the Stars to Sea program and leaders. MJ hails from mystical Sonoran Desert where her connection, love, and respect for the outdoors began. Starting out as a participant on a Stars to Sea trip-she instantly fell in love with the magic of Baja and went on to lead 6 trips of her own as well as volunteer for an entire summer in Bahia de los Angeles. Along with her outdoor field experience in Baja, she is CPR, lifeguard, and wilderness first responder certified. When she’s not facilitating programs for VSI you can find her scuba diving, hiking, reading, kayaking, snowboarding, baking, or relaxing with her Baja rescue dog – Nalu.

Dillon Chi

Dillon Chi

THAT TECH GUY

Dillon has spent the better part of the last decade volunteering for organizations in social service organizations that engage youth through art, programming, education, and life science. He is currently pursuing a degree in Interaction Design at the ArtCenter College of Design. His minors are in Business and Designmatters. His focus is on utilizing technology to educate and make families healthier, through user experience research and service design.

Dillon has always been intrigued by the ability to convey messages through clever design using non-verbal communication. Interaction Design is the discipline that turns this into a science.

Courtney Baxter

Courtney Baxter

COMMUNICATIONS & MULTIMEDIA SPECIALIST

Courtney is VSI’s communication maven, working on projects such as the new website or various photo and video creations. She does similar work for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, using her communications skills to help preserve a different body of water – the Puget Sound. In her spare time, she really doesn’t do much different. She’s an avid photographer and digital storyteller with an eye for conservation communications. She has been enchanted by Baja ever since her first trip in 2011, which she holds closely to her heart as it was the trip that gave her “sea legs” to travel around the world.

Courtney holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Behavior & Physiology from Arizona State University and a Master’s in Zoology from Miami University’s Global Field Program. 

Romina Preciado

Romina Preciado

AVENTUREROS COORDINATOR

A passionate marine scientist and community advocate, Romina joined the Aventureros Program to inspire the local youth of Bahía de Los Ángeles to protect their natural resources. MSc. Romina Preciado graduated from her Erasmus Mundus masters’ program in 2018 where she conducted a thesis project in Skálfandi Bay, Iceland analizing white-beaked dolphins’ distribution and site fidelity in the bay. In early 2019 she worked in collaboration with LSIESP/PRIMMA where she assisted with their ongoing research with photo-ID and weekly surveys of gray whales and other marine mammals in Laguna San Ignacio and participated in BBC’s Blue Planet Live episode on gray whales. Later that year she joined the efforts of the Rescate de Lobos Marinos (Sea Lion Rescue) project in La Paz, BCS, where they aimed to create a positive impact in our oceans by doing sea lion disentanglement campaigns in several reproductive islands around the Sea of Cortes and the Mexican Pacific.

Heidi Malizia

Heidi Malizia

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGER

Heidi is a marine biologist mixed with social media guru. She works as as a contractor conducting cetacean research from land, air and sea platforms for part of the year, and the other half she spends exploring her creative side doing graphic design and social media management for small businesses. After participating in the Stars to Sea program two years in a row, Heidi was excited to join our team to combine her two passions to help spread awareness of the mission of VSI, our conservation and community engagement efforts, and the amazing species we see here in Bahia through Facebook and Instagram. Be sure to check out what she is posting!

Heidi holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from University of Missouri,  and a Tech Skills and Design Skills Course Certification.

Kelsie Fowler

Kelsie Fowler

SCIENCE EDUCATION AND RESEARCH CURRICULUM PARTNER

Kelsie is our science education research partner from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is a PhD student in Curriculum and Instruction, Science Education and teaches several of the science methods courses for the Teacher Education Program. Additionally, Kelsie works on a team of researchers who partner with Seattle Public Schools in an effort to bring more ambitious and equitable science education practices to local elementary students. Outside of these positions, her work focuses on partnering with local communities, schools or organizations to amplify their voices and visions for learning science to help realize social and environmental solutions. 

Kelsie’s favorite aspect of teaching is working with students who have been marginalized by school systems but who come to realize that their ideas and ways of being in the world are immeasurably powerful and valuable. Kelsie’s entire teaching philosophy is that students are the agents of change this world needs now.

Contact

For more information about our programs, facilities, courses, the VSI Fellows Program, or CSFs, please send us an e-mail at info@vermilionseainstitute.org

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