Mission and History

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

Discovery Southeast was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 1989, under the legal name “Alaska Discovery Foundation, Inc.” (EIN 92-0128339). For over 30 years since, 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 senior author of The nature of Southeast Alaska (3rd edition, 2014), and coauthor of: The enduring forests (1996), Book of the Tongass (1999), The coastal Forests and Mountains Ecoregion (2007, Audubon/TNC), and Salmon in the trees (2010). For Discovery Southeast he’s written many publications including Natural history of Juneau trails (2013) and, with Cathy Connor, Reading Southeast Alaska’s landscape (2013).

An Alaskan since 1977, Richard spent his first 12 years studying the delta of As’xée (Eagle River). From 1989 to 92, he piloted Discovery Southeast’s Nature Studies program (grades 3 to 5), now expanded to all Juneau schools. From 1996 to 2004 he led the Landmark Trees Project, documenting Alaska’s finest remaining large-tree forests. In 2005, with Bob Christensen he launched the Ground-truthing Project, ‘eyes and ears in the woods’ for the Southeast conservation community, and a voice for resilient forestry. Since 2010, he’s divided his time between Tongass-wide studies and more local emphasis on Áak’w & T’aakú Aaní (known to some as the City and Borough of Juneau). For the past decade, in partnership with Sealaska Heritage Institute and Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Richard has melded Discovery Southeast’s natural history expertise with those organizations’ cultural programs, together promoting place-based, culturally responsive education throughout our northern rainforest ecoregion.

Alaska Conservation Foundation gave Carstensen its 2017 Award for Excellence in Environmental Education. In May, 2019, Richard received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska Southeast. His work can be found at Discovery Southeast’s ‘sister-website’ JuneauNature.

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, externed in the Northern District of California with then-judge and now justice Martin Jenkins, and came to Juneau, Alaska for a clerkship with the Alaska Supreme Court.  While practicing environmental law in Juneau with Earthjustice he had the good fortune to get acquainted with Discovery Southeast as a board member, and then took a leap back into non-profit management to work with the wonderful naturalists and families of Discovery Southeast.  He appreciates the mission because his own connection to nature at an early age was so formative for him, and because it’s so 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

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.

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.

Lead Naturalist

Liz Gifford moved to Juneau almost 20 years ago to combine her love of the outdoors with her passion for education. After receiving her bachelors degree in anthropology and environmental studies, 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. Ten years ago Liz received her Masters of Arts in Teaching and spent six years in the classroom teaching middle school language arts and social studies.  For two subsequent 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. Over her many and varied years of teaching Liz found both she and her students thrived in an outdoor classroom so she has made teaching and expedition guiding her year round passion. As well as being a naturalist for Discovery Southeast, Liz is a photographer and sea kayak guide in Antarctica, Greenland and Glacier Bay.  Her favorite southern hemisphere animal is the Gentoo penguin and her favorite northern hemisphere animal is the Humpback whale.


Tracy grew up in Michigan, where the creek that ran through the woods in her backyard was her favorite place to play and imagine. Her love for place-based education began in Detroit, where she worked at an elementary school modeled after the vision of Detroit activists James and Grace Lee Boggs. She earned her Environmental Science and Creative Writing degrees from the University of Michigan in 2018, and spent that summer with her hands in the dirt at the University’s botanical garden, organizing nature play activities for families. In 2019, she became an intern with Discovery Southeast through a partnership with the Alaska Conservation Foundation. Like many before her, one summer in Juneau quickly became a year as she made her home here, falling in love with beachcombing the shores and bushwacking through the forest, especially with Juneau’s curious kids in tow. Tracy believes that a love of place translates to a love of self, and is excited to guide people to find that connection with nature, in themselves, and to each other.


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.


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.


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.


Vice President

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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.

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 are not actively hiring right now.  However, we often hire education and naturalist positions for our programs with elementary-age children, and retail positions for our bookstore and giftshop at the Mendenhall Glacier.  You are always welcome to send a resume and general employment inquiry to info@discoverysoutheast.org.  Thank you.


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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