Mission and History

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

Incorporated in 1989 as the “Alaska Discovery Foundation, Inc.” (EIN 92-0128339), for over 30 years we’ve introduced 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 Director

A Sand County Almanac is an amazingly effective bedtime story for a 5 year old, which is how Shawn Eisele, as a 5 year old, was introduced to the field of nature education.  It was soon followed by many mornings duck and goose hunting with his dad in Wisconsin marshes. Shawn continued that passion for the outdoors into adulthood as a guide and instructor for organizations including NOLS, Wilderness Ventures, and Scouting.  He was also active in children’s and community centers, including The Sue Duncan Children’s Center on Chicago’s South Side.  Based on that experience with social causes, Shawn went to law school at UC Berkeley, and came to Juneau, Alaska for a clerkship with the Alaska Supreme Court.  He practiced environmental law in Juneau with Earthjustice for several years thereafter, and was on Discovery Southeast’s board of directors before taking a leap back into non-profit management to work with the wonderful naturalists and families of Discovery Southeast.  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 gardening when there’s not.  You can reach Shawn at executivedirector@discoverysoutheast.org.

Program Coordinator

Bess grew up on the central coast of California where jumping in waves in the chilly Pacific ocean til her feet were numb was one of her favorite pastimes. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She began teaching kids after college for an outdoor education company called Naturalists at Large, where she worked for many years. After falling in love with outdoor education, she worked at summer camps, as a sea kayak guide, and moved to Juneau for a naturalist guiding position at Gastineau Guiding in 2015. She and her husband decided to try out an Alaskan winter while teaching, and worked with the Juneau School District as a Para-Educator. She began working at Discovery Southeast in the summers in 2016 and is now the Program Coordinator for both summer and school programs. She absolutely loves living, working, and playing in Juneau and is starting to think she may be on her way to becoming one of those “just never left” Juneau-ites


Claire grew up in Northwest Washington, learning that with the right gear, a rainy day can be just as fun as a sunny one. Her love of outdoor education began during college when she spent her summers working at a camp as a counselor and naturalist on Vashon Island. After graduating from the University of Washington, she took off to Tennessee then New Hampshire as an AmeriCorps member to serve in those communities as an Environmental Educator. But after being gone for more than a year, the Pacific Northwest called her back. She returned to Seattle and spent her time doing environmental restoration in the Puget Sound area, an experience that truly reminded her that it is our relationship to place that drives us to take care of it. Currently, Claire loves exploring the outdoors with Juneau’s kids and creating a space where they continue to grow positive connections with the outdoors and with each other.

Lead Naturalist

Janalynn Doten-Ferguson finds her center in the outdoors.  Whether she is drinking a cup of tea and staring through the dark up the mountain, exploring a beach with her sweet kids, or hiking a trail with her husband and the dogs, she would almost always rather be outside.  She grew up in the mountains of Montana, spending lots of time in a tiny village here in Southeast Alaska.  After graduating from the University of Montana with a degree in elementary education, she moved permanently to her heart-home of Juneau.  Before too long, she had acquired a dog and a kayak, and was blessed to marry her best friend.  She spent 14 years as a teacher at Glacier Valley, and is delighted to be a Lead Naturalist for Discovery Southeast where she marries her passions for educating young children and being in the outdoors.  She believes deeply that helping children discover the wonders of this world is the way that we will save it.


Sylvia Madaras grew up on a farm in southern Pennsylvania. Although she spent plenty of time in the barn, her true home were always the scrubby woods that lay just beyond the fields. Sylvia arrived in Juneau at the end of the summer of 2017. Brought up north by the peculiar mixture of claustrophobia, intuition, and love of adventure that is common to many east coast defectors, she has come to see Southeast Alaska as her new home. Sylvia has worked as a camp counselor, tutor, substitute teacher and paraeducator, forest technician, and naturalist, among other things. She believes that building a relationship to our local ecosystem is fundamental to building a relationship to ourselves, and is excited to help young people find that connection in the nature that surrounds them. Her favorite pastimes include bushwhacking, diving into a good book, inventing kitchen experiments, and firefighting.

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.


Tim Blust

Tim has kept Discovery Southeast’s finances on track for almost two decades.  While he enjoys ensuring that everything adds up to more Juneau kids outdoors, his true love for numbers comes from counting the blissful days spent with his family at his cabin on Shelter Island.

Lead Naturalist

John Hudson migrated from the Midwest to Juneau for a summer job in 1994 and has been here ever since. John grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in upstate South Carolina spending summers chasing down butterflies and other six-legged critters. His fascination for insects led to co-authorship on several books about dragonflies and aquatic insects in Alaska. John frequents Juneau schools during science nights where young and old alike experience touch tanks crawling with live mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies. John joined Discovery Southeast in the fall of 2017 as a partnership with the Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalistion.  He is currently the lead naturalist at Auke Bay Elementary.



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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.

Naomi grew up in Juneau. She spent her early adulthood exploring the Lower 48 and earning her Masters of Social Work, returning home to raise her children in the place that helped develop her commitment to community and outdoor exploration and preservation. She joined the board with gratitude for the opportunity to give back to the agency that has provided so many unique outdoor learning opportunities for her children. If she’s not baking for an auction or potluck, you’ll find her running with her dog and exploring this wild place with her family and friends.

Allie is an elementary teacher in Juneau who gets her students outside as much as possible.  She grew up in Juneau and has participated in several Discovery Southeast Teacher Expeditions and has worked as a Discovery Southeast summer naturalist.  In 2015, Allie was honored to receive the Discovery Award recognizing excellence in connecting children with nature.  Allie is thrilled to be part of an organization that works to get Juneau children outside and engaged with the natural world.

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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.

Mary Hakala grew up in Juneau where her childhood playground was the Lemon Creek wetlands and muskeg meadows. Mary can often be found hiking along remote shorelines, collecting intriguing rocks, weaving, gardening and living at the family cabin at Point Couverden. She is part of a family commercial fishing business that focuses on Dungeness crab and halibut.  She believes in the important work Discovery Southeast does, and sums it up in her favorite quote, from Rachel Carson: “If I had influence with the good fairy, I would ask that her gift to each child be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.“

Volunteer or Work with Us

Work with us.

We always appreciate inquiries from experienced naturalists and educators.

Additionally, this summer we’ll hire staff for our summer camps, and for our bookstore at the Mendenhall Glacier.  To learn more about seasonal hires for the Mendenhall Glacier Bookstore OR summer camp, please visit our hiring post here.


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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