Mission and History

Discovery Southeast deepens our connection with nature through education and exploration.

We introduce children and families to the outdoors, providing the foundation for lifelong interests, skills, and exploration. We promote a better understanding of ourselves, the natural world, and our place in it.


In the late 1980’s, successful guiding companies provided outstanding education and recreation for visitors traveling to Southeast. Local folks, however, had limited opportunities to learn about their natural “backyard.” Evolving from the aspirations of owners and guides associated with Alaska Discovery Inc., including Ken Leghorn, KJ Metcalfe, Chuck Homer, John Sisk, Scott Brylinski, Richard Carstensen, and Steve Merli, the Alaska Discovery Foundation, Inc. was started to address the needs oflocal citizens for community programs in natural history, outdoor education, and land use ethics. The organization was incorporated in Juneau in 1989 as a 501 ( c )(3) non-profit education organization, now known as Discovery Southeast.

Beginning in one classroom at Harborview Elementary School, Discovery Southeast pioneered programs to engage Alaska children and teachers with their natural home and foster a sense of stewardship for the nature of Southeast Alaska. Today, this year-around program, Nature Studies, is presented in all Juneau elementary schools, and occasionally in other Southeast communities — a total of twelve hours each year for well over 1000 children.

Other programs have broadened Discovery Southeast’s impact.  Since our early years middle school students have been involved in the study and restoration of local streams. Discovery Canoe Camps and Conservation Leadership Expeditions brought predominately Alaska Native youth from Angoon and other villages to the wilds of Admiralty Island during week-long wilderness canoe trips. Discovery Southeast also has a long tradition of programs for adults and teachers, and has developed several natural science curricula for use in the schools.

In 1997, Discovery Southeast was recognized by the U.S. Forest Service and America Outdoors with the National Wilderness Education Award for excellence in outdoor education. Orion Afield magazine profiled this organization in fall 1999 and wrote:

An environmental education program could lose itself in this expansive land. But far from being lost, the ten-year-old Discovery Foundation has found its niche by creating connections among community agencies, students, school systems, teachers, native youths, and most importantly, the natural landscape that surrounds them all.

Former Juneau School District Superintendent, Mary Rubideau voiced her support:

The Discovery Foundation naturalists bring both excitement and expertise to our classrooms and field studies. The community has also gained by preparing its future citizens with a deeper knowledge of the Juneau ecosystem and a sense of stewardship for the local and regional environment.

Today, after more than 25 years, Nature Studies continues to foster a relationship with nature in all local children.  Our enrichment activities have expanded dramatically, but they continue to parallel our roots.  You can browse our after schools, summer camps, in-service days, teacher trainings, and more on our programs page.


Lead Naturalist

Richard CarstensenOne of the founders of Discovery Southeast, Richard is coauthor of The Nature of Southeast Alaska (1992), The Enduring Forests (1996), Book of the Tongass (1999), The coastal Forests and Mountains Ecoregion (2007, Audubon/TNC),and Salmon in the Trees (2010).

From 1996 to 2004 he was field leader of the Landmark Trees Project, documenting Alaska’s finest remaining large-tree forests. In 2005 he teamed with Bob Christensen to begin the Ground-Truthing Project, becoming the “eyes and ears in the woods” for the Southeast Alaskan conservation community and a voice for resilient forestry. Richard is currently transitioning from Tongass-wide studies to a more local emphasis on City and Borough of Juneau watersheds, the 10,000-year history of people in our region, and applying these interests to place-based education for Juneau schools. For a tiny fraction of Richard’s writing and research, check our Publications page, where you can read his newsletter features and view a handful of the research projects he’s worked on.

Read a feature about Richard from Orion magazine (page 1, page 2).

Lead Naturalist

Steve MerliSteve has been leading local elementary schoolers through the woods for Discovery Southeast since 1991. The head naturalist at Glacier Valley Elementary School’s Nature Studies program, he grew up in New Jersey, earned a degree in environmental education and a certification to teach high school biology and Earth science, moved to southeast Alaska in 1981, and has been ever since. He has won the Jerry Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education. For a glimpse into the mind of a veteran Nature Studies facilitator, readSteve’s piece about going “Off Trail” from Discovery Southeast’s Fall 2001 newsletter. Also check out “Night Walk” from the Spring 2000 issue.

Executive DirectorShawn Eisele

Shawn Eisele’s enjoyment of the outdoors began with mornings exploring Wisconsin marshes, duck hunting with his dad. Shawn followed that interest by taking many wilderness trips of his own, as well as leading them for organizations including NOLS, Wilderness Ventures, and the Boy Scouts. He spent a few years managing urban children’s and family centers before coming to Juneau to practice environmental law, and was on the Discovery Southeast Board for several years before becoming Executive Director. He appreciates being involved with Discovery Southeast because his own connection to nature at an early age was so formative for him, and because it’s fulfilling to watch kids learn to be at ease and enjoy themselves outdoors. He connects with nature by skiing as often as there is snow, and by jet skiing around Southeast Alaska when there’s not.  You can reach Shawn at executivedirector@discoverysoutheast.org.

Education Coordinator


Kelly was raised in Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. She grew up collecting rocks and perfecting the art of picking up a crab without getting pinched. With a degree in Environmental Studies and a Masters in Teaching she has spent much of her adult life playing, learning, and teaching kids. She has been with Discovery since 2015 working as the education coordinator. Before joining Discovery Southeast, Kelly was a classroom teacher in the Juneau School District, and Director of Education Technology for the State of Alaska. In her free time she loves snowboarding, fishing, and exploring with her family.



Laurie Clough has been living, hiking, and exploring in Juneau all her life. She taught music at Juneau schools for 29 years, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and now is reveling in her three part time jobs with Discovery Southeast taking students outdoors, with Gastineau Guiding, taking tourists outdoors, and with the Douglas United Methodist Church playing music. When time and money permit, she is exploring the big world, but always looks forward to coming home to Juneau, the best place on earth!

Program Coordinator

Maia WolfMaia was raised on an island in Washington’s Puget Sound, and spent most of her childhood either playing cello or hiking, paddling, exploring, and scrambling around the Pacific Northwest. She moved to Juneau two years ago after earning her degree in Environmental Studies at Hawaii Pacific University, and is excited to be spending her time experiencing the unique magic found in the temperate rainforest.


Tim BlustTim occupies himself with fishing and the cabin life, and can’t be troubled to draft a bio.


Liz GiffordAfter receiving her bachelors degree in anthropology and environmental studies, Liz moved to Alaska to combine her love of the outdoors with her passion for education. She obtained her Outdoor Leadership Skills certificate from the University of Alaska, Southeast, where her favorite class was, by far, Expedition Sea Kayaking.  So, when offered a job with the U.S Forest Service as a kayak/wilderness ranger she jumped at the chance and spent three seasons in an “office” of glacially carved fjords in the Tracy Arm/Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area. Six years ago Liz received her Masters of Arts in Teaching and spent a few years in the classroom teaching middle school language arts and social studies.  For two summers she connected her love of education with her love of kayaking by teaching a month long college level sea kayaking course focusing on the ecology and natural history of the Tongass National Forest. Currently, Liz is a year round kayak guide and yoga instructor in Antarctica, the Canadian Arctic, Greenland and the Norwegian Arctic.


Tom started working as a kayak guide for Alaska Discovery in 2003.Tom SQ He is currently in his fourth year as a naturalist for Discovery Southeast, currently acting as the lead naturalist in the Nature Studies program at Gastineau Elementary School and also helping guide the Bears of Admiralty Island Teacher Expedition. He has guided for adults in Pack Creek, Katmai, Glacier Bay, and western Alaska, and uses the abundance of bear experience he’s gained on these trips to deliver the bear education program for all fifth grade classrooms in the Juneau School District. Tom has leads Discovery Days.


MKGahlMegan ran with a pack of kids in Southeast Ohio who spent their summers playing in water, catching critters, and finding fossils. And really not much has changed since then, except now some of the water is frozen and as a field ecologist she often gets paid to do it! Megan has also taught ecology in a diversity of settings as an environmental educator, college professor, and wilderness guide in Maine and Alaska. Always vying to be outside as much as possible, she and her family are always on the lookout for the perfect rock throwing beach or wilderness napping spot.


Burton SQScott has been with Discovery Southeast since 2003.  In addition to a variety of special projects, he has led both Nature Studies and the Early Dismissal Mondays program at Gastineau elementary school and currently helps facilitate Discovery Days and other programs. He grew up in southern California flipping rocks and looking for snakes and scorpions. A BA in Economics and Japanese led him to Japan as an ESL instructor, where he learned to love teaching. He is currently working on an MFA in creative writing, and would like to help children write about nature. If he isn’t outside, he’s probably playing music with his bluegrass band, writing, or working on his car.


Amy Nye SQ

Amy Ventured to Alaska nearly ten years ago as a sea kayak guide after working with numerous nature studies programs worldwide. As a zoologist with a passion for teaching, Amy strives to share her understanding and enthusiasm for nature in hopes that through education we will appreciate and protect our precious planet. Amy joined the Discovery Southeast team four years ago and has enjoyed the opportunity to create positive experiences for students and connect them to their unique natural world. In her free time, she’s often outside collecting berries and other delicious wild edibles, or peacefully kayaking among whales and sea lions!


Bob - SQBob has been working with Discovery Southeast for about ten years as a Teacher Expeditions guide and technology consultant. He’s made his home at a remote wilderness cabin in Icy Strait since 1997. For the past 15 years, he has worked with a wide range of state and federal resource agencies, conservation groups, community groups, and private developers on fish and wildlife studies, wilderness guiding, and construction projects throughout Southeast Alaska. He is the sole proprietor of Living Systems Design and the co-founder of SEAWEAD, a nonprofit ecological research and education organization based in Gustavus, Alaska. Bob’s favorite things to do are ocean kayaking, hunting, fishing, mapping bear trails and listening to people tell their stories.


Kathy Hocker - SQKathy began working for Discovery Southeast in 1995.  She has been a naturalist at both Mendenhall River and the Juneau Community Charter School, and has done special projects with most of the other schools in town, in addition to adult workshops. Kathy has been involved with a number of Discovery Southeast publications, including the Discovery Guides, the Streamwalker\’s Companion and several curricula. Now, she is a freelance writer and illustrator, and teaches classes in nature drawing to children and adults.  To get a glimpse of some of Kathy’s work and research, check our Publications page, where she’s contributed many illustrations and features to the newsletters.



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Sarah joined the board in 2015.  Growing up in Juneau, Sarah benefited from Discovery Southeast’s presence in schools and joined the Discovery Board in 2015 to help ensure the program continues to get kids outside to learn and play. Sarah enjoys camping, making her own camping gear and long distance sea kayaking.

Vice President

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Jamie joined the board in 2014 and chairs the Strategic Planning Committee.  Jamie is delighted to serve on the Board of Discovery Southeast, as he believes that a meaningful connection to nature is at the heart of a healthy child, healthy adult and healthy society. Jamie has lived in Juneau for 13 years and enjoys hiking the mountains, sailing the seas and watching the wildlife that surrounds his adopted home.


Dana joined the board in 2015 and serves as Treasurer. He is a long time outdoor enthusiast and Discovery Southeast supporter who believes that kindling a fascination with nature is fundamental to our future success as a species. Also, being involved with such a dynamic organization makes him smile a lot.


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Sierra joined the board in 2014 and chairs the Fundraising Committee. Being born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, it’s been a lifelong realization that the beauty and accessibility of our home is a privilege, not a right. And a discovery southeast alumna herself, Sierra knows that allowing kids to truly experience and appreciate their magnificent home is an absolute treat. She’s psyched to be part of something so wonderful!

hekkersMike joined the board in 2013 and chairs the Executive Committee.  His son has enjoyed various DSE camps the last several years.  Mike has always been inspired by the awesome wild places we have in Alaska, as a natural history guide in Denali N.P. for three years, as an instructor of environmental science at UAS for six years and manager of the mass balance program for the Mendenhall Glacier, and currently as Conservation Specialist for the Southeast Alaska Land Trust.  He’s volunteered on other local boards and enjoys the waters, forests, snow, and glaciers of our region.

claygoodClay joined the board in 2011 after retiring from teaching science here in Juneau. He grew up fishing, hunting, and camping in southeast. He believes that, “studies need inspiration to more fully engage in formal learning. Nature helps provide that inspiration.” His interests include music, alpine sports, boating, and biking.

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Becca joined the board in 2013.  Becca has a passion for community involvement in Becca joined the board in 2013.  Becca has a passion for community involvement in education
that creates real-world opportunities for students to engage in learning. Becca has her MA in Secondary Science Education and BA in Environmental Science from Columbia University. She started her career teaching middle-school science at an inner-city public school. She moved from NYC to Juneau to reconnect with the outdoors, and currently works for the Juneau Economic Development Council as the STEM Program Manager and is theFIRST Robotics Affiliate Partner for Alaska.

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Kaitlyn joined the Discovery Southeast board in summer 2013 and chairs the Board Development Committee. She grew up in Juneau discovering her backyard with Nature Studies in elementary school. As a naturalist for many years with DSE, she enjoyed sharing the magical spark that nature provides with Juneau’s youth. She currently works as a registered nurse at Bartlett Regional Hospital. In her free time, she loves backcountry skiing, traveling, and watching the life that surrounds the ebb and flow of the tide out her window.

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Brock joined the Discovery Board in 2009. Along with an educational background in geosciences, environmental policy, and education, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and professional naturalist, having worked as a guide for twenty years.

Elisabeth HauserElisabeth joined the board in 2015. As a Discovery Southeast alumna, a former Discovery Southeast assistant naturalist, and now a classroom teacher in the Juneau School District, she values and embraces the message that Discovery Southeast conveys both in her own life and in her classroom. Elisabeth is excited to be a part of an organization that shares her passion & common goal of getting children outside, exploring, and connecting with our wild backyard.

Volunteer or Work with Us

Work with us.

Discovery Southeast is accepting applications for a Lead Naturalist.  The full position description is here.

We are also actively hiring Retail Clerks for our new bookstore at the Mendenhall Glacier.  The full retail clerk description is here.

If you are interested in other organizational or naturalist employment, we always appreciate hearing from experienced educators with a passion for nature and the outdoors.  Please contact us with any inquiries.


We’d love your involvement, and there are so many ways:

  1. Help out occasionally at our new Mendenhall Glacier bookstore
  2. Lead a class
  3. Assist with a program
  4. Help out with some office tasks
  5. Volunteer at our spring banquet and auction
  6. Serve on our board or an advisory committee

Please, sign up through this form to get started – or just contact us.


Give us a shout!  You’re welcome to use this form, or reach out directly:

(907) 463-1500
PO Box 21867, Juneau, AK 99802

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