Audubon Center Staff
| Darcie Vallant Center Director
Darcie began working for Montana Audubon in April of 2010. She has extensive experience in environmental education and conservation. Darcie studied Wildlife Conservation as an undergraduate and then received a Master’s in Conservation and Biodiversity Biology from the University of Leeds, England. She taught 8th-12th grade science in a suburb of Boston. Realizing that she belonged in an outdoor classroom, she joined Columbus Parks and Recreation in Ohio as a Center Director, and over five years she developed and implemented environmental and adventure programming for the community. Her next adventure, lead her to Nantucket, MA to work as the Education Director for a science and education non-profit, the Maria Mitchell Association. There she once again developed a slew of successful hands-on and place based science educational programs. New to the West, Darcie spends her time exploring Montana and surrounding states hiking, camping and birding.
|Heather (Ristow) Bilden Education Director
Heather began working with Montana Audubon in Billings in August of 2008 with the goal of pursuing her life-long love of the natural world and desire to share it with students of all ages. She previously taught natural history and outdoor education during a yearlong graduate residency in environmental education at the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming. Prior to that experience, she spent several seasons studying the ecology of forest carnivores and birds in Yellowstone National Park, the Beartooth Mountains, Lochsa River Valley, and elsewhere around the west. Heather received a B.A. in Biology with a concentration in environmental studies from Carleton College, and recently earned her teaching license for 5 – 12 biology. She graduated with a Master of Education from Montana State University in Billings in April of 2012. Heather devotes her free time to exploring Montana’s diverse ecosystems by foot, bike, and ski, and also enjoys growing, harvesting, and cooking her own food.
|Mihail Kennedy Land Stewardship Coordinator
Mihail is our newest full time staff member, starting in July of 2011. He was born and raised in Billings. Mihail is responsible for managing all restoration efforts on the 54 acres of land located at the Center. In addition, he works closely with the Education Director to develop stewardship projects for all ages. He coordinates trains and recruits the restoration volunteers, is responsible for equipment maintenance and repair, overseeing the restoration budget and maintaining the irrigation system. He graduated with honors from Montana State University with a BA in Environmental Studies. He spent the past 9 years working for Zoo Montana where he held positions such as: grounds manager, reptile curator and educator.
|Carol Ward Teacher Naturalist & Volunteer Coordinator
Carol joined the ACEC team in 2005. She has a B.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan. She has worked as an interpretive Naturalist for several federal land management agencies, as a water education specialist for the University of Nevada and as an educator for Billings YMCA and Zoo Montana.
|Becca Mathias - Big Sky Watershed Corps Member
Becca is working for Montana Audubon through the Big Sky Watershed Corps and moved to Billings from Northwest Ohio. Becca has her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a Marine Specialization from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Before relocating to Montana, Becca worked for the University of Southern Mississippi’s Marine Education Center in Ocean Springs, Mississippi as a Marine Educator. When she’s not at work, Becca enjoys playing softball and volleyball, hiking, biking and painting.
|Norman Schoenthal – Restoration Manager and Founder of the Field Lab
Norm is a retired, honored Professor Emeritus of Natural History at Montana State University (Eastern Montana College)where he taught for 34 years. After retiring, Norm travelled to Fiji where he volunteered for the Peace Corps helping to develop environmental education curriculum for the Ministry of Education. Upon his return to Montana in 1997, he began to work on his vision of a educational center that could be use by local teacher as a resource and a place to teach ecology. In addition, he dreamed of reclaiming the 27 acre gravel pit, of which the center is located, into a demonstration of south central Montana habitats. In 1997 he founded the Steering Committee which included dedicated local teachers who worked with YRPA and Montana Audubon to design the Norm Schoenthal Field Lab which was completed in 2009. His perseverance and drive are major forces that have forged the ACEC into the prime educational facility it is today. You can still find Norm managing the restoration work at the ACEC daily.
| Mattie Clark – Teacher Naturalist
Mattie, a Billings native, joined the ACEC in November 2011 as an Americorps member with the Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC). Upon completion of her term of service with BSWC, she stayed on as a part-time Teacher Naturalist. Much of her own education took place out at Norm’s Island and at the ACEC, making this an exciting opportunity for her. After graduating with honors in May 2011 from MSU-Billings with a BA in English and an Environmental Studies minor, she helped to bring watershed lessons and activities into classrooms and the community. She is now attending graduate school at MSU-Billings to receive her teaching license and a Master in Education. In her own time she enjoys collecting natural objects, taking walks, reading and cooking.
|Karen Marts – Teacher Naturalist
After volunteering at the Audubon Conservation Education Center for a couple of years, Karen began working as a Teacher Naturalist in the fall of 2010. Karen received a B.A. in Biology from Luther College, a M.S. in Environmental Science from Washington State University, and most recently earned her teaching license in Biology from Montana State University-Billings. Karen is excited to share her enthusiasm and curiosity about nature with all the children at the ACEC.
|Cat Lynch – Teacher Naturalist
Cat Lynch began helping out with education programs at the ACEC in 2008. She is a Naturalist and an avid outdoor enthusiast who began fighting wild fires in 1979 with the USFS while she studied Forestry, Fire Science and Ecology. Cat later focused her studies toward a career in Emergency Medical Services that included wilderness rescue, technical rescue and swift water rescue. After moving to Montana from Arizona in 1991 she was able to return to her first love of teaching science to children of all ages and has been doing so for the past 20 years. Cat’s hobbies include canoeing, kayaking and rafting, hiking, backpacking into the wilderness and gardening.
|Sarah Chatwood – Teacher Naturalist
Sarah Chatwood began teaching programs at the Audubon Center in 2008. During the completion of her BS in Education, Sarah discovered the world of informal education through an internship at ZooMontana. She knew then that outdoor science education was where her heart was. After a bit of time teaching formally in San Diego, CA Sarah returned to Montana and informal teaching. Sarah has been “sneeking” learning into outdoor rambles, games, art projects and experiments for 15 years. Being outside and appreciating all that the world has to offer is a passion that Sarah passes on to her own children and the students that she teaches.
Neal Gunnels – Teacher NaturalistNeal joined the Audubon Center staff in May 2013 as a member of CampusCorps, a program of AmeriCorps. He recently earned his teaching license in elementary education from MSU-Billings. During the summer he helped to coordinate camps, and brought his own love of fishing to the myriad of programs offered by the Center. After completion of his CampusCorps term, Neal has stayed on as a part-time Teacher Naturalist. He also works at Friendship House of Christian Service where he coordinates and teaches afterschool programs for at-risk youth.