Rachel Bergren is joining the Get Outdoors Nevada team on February 8, 2021!
Rachel Bergren (She/Her/Hers) comes to Get Outdoors Nevada with more than two decades of experience in the field of environmental and conservation education and non-profit leadership. Rachel considers herself a “nature nerd” and has dedicated her career to inspiring others to connect with and care for wildlife and wild places. Rachel is thrilled to be joining Get Outdoors Nevada, whose mission and core work is so perfectly aligned with her personal passions and professional goals.
In her most recent post, Rachel served as Chief Programs Officer for The Marine Mammal Center (Sausalito, California), the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation, scientific research, and education facility. As CPO, Rachel was responsible for strategic alignment of the Center’s mission-based programs, including Veterinary Medicine & Science, Response and Field Operations, and Learning & Community. Rachel first joined The Marine Mammal Center as Director of Education & Guest Experience in 2013.
Before to heading to California, Rachel served as Vice President of Education at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois (2008-2013). Prior to that, she spent 11+ years at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium filling many roles in education and conservation at Shedd Aquarium, including leading the organization’s sustainability program.
Rachel received a Master of Science degree in Biology from Western Illinois University in 2005 and a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology from Texas A&M University in 1995 (Galveston). She also completed a graduate certificate in Zoo and Aquarium Management and has served in many leadership roles for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the International Zoo and Aquarium Educators Association (IZE).
Rachel’s husband, Ben, moved to Las Vegas in October 2019 when he accepted a new role as Senior Pastor at Community Lutheran Church; Rachel is excited to join him as a full-time resident of Nevada! Rachel and Ben are parents to three awesome young adults (Molly, Carlson, and Max) and an elderly, beloved dog (Katie). The Bergrens reside in Henderson.
Director of Programs
Aaron Leifheit (He/Him/His), a central Illinois native, grew up exploring the forests of Illinois and was lucky to have a family that took yearly camping trips ‘Out West.’ These experiences helped him develop a passion for protecting nature and sharing outdoor places with others.
During college at the University of Illinois, Aaron was nominated for Teaching Assistant of the year, and won the River Management Societies’ yearly award for student research. After graduating with a degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Aaron relocated in 2005 to Boulder City to work as Environmental Education AmeriCorps with the National Park Service at Lake Mead.
After volunteering, Aaron spent 6 years with the Red Rock Canyon Interpretive Association as an Environmental Education Specialist, where he managed interpretive programs for at risk youth, led astronomy night hikes, and created the Mojave in Motion classroom science program.
In 2013, Aaron joined Get Outdoors Nevada as the Education Program Director, where he leads an amazing and talented team that strengthens community through nature and science programs. In addition to working on efforts such as Meet Your Mojave, Next Generation Science Standards, Mojave Max, and Families in Nature, Aaron also facilitates the CHOLLA workgroup and conducts Certified Interpretive Guide trainings.
Aaron loves learning, and spends his personal time tinkering with a variety of projects, such as making Kombucha and cutting boards, collecting silver age comic books, old novels and Grateful Dead shows, and of course hiking, backpacking, and exploring beautiful Southern Nevada.
Education Program Director
Shelly Kopinski (She/Her/Hers) has called the Silver State her home for over 25 years and has chosen to raise her family here. Nevada’s outdoor resources have provided a unique and beautiful space that has allowed her three boys and two large dogs to grow and explore. Even though Shelly loves to travel, she always makes it back home to Nevada!
Shelly began her tenure with Get Outdoors Nevada (GON) as an AmeriCorps volunteer in 2014 where she began her career in interpretation and was able to utilize her love of the outdoors while expanding her knowledge of southern Nevada. Shelly received her B.S. in Natural Resources from Oregon State University and began working for GON full-time in 2015, became Education Program Manager in 2016, and Education Program Director in 2018.
Working for GON has intensified Shelly’s connection to her community and she enjoys the opportunity to replicate that through educational programming. Providing new experiences, perspectives, opportunities, and resources to youth outdoors enables her to introduce a natural world without limits!
Education Program Manager
Cheresa Taing (She/Her/Hers), native-born to Las Vegas, is the Education Program Manager for Get Outdoors Nevada and has worked in interpretation since 2015. Cheresa earned her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) and is a Certified Interpretive Guide with the National Association for Interpretation.
Cheresa feels deeply connected to the outdoors - especially to the Mojave Desert - and has always been passionate about protecting it. A deep-rooted affinity towards environmentalism empowered her to share her love for plants and animals in the form of education. Through her management of the Native Habitat Program and Microgrant Program, Cheresa’s ambition is to work with the community to create viable wildlife habitat while connecting people of all backgrounds to Nevada’s great outdoors.
In her free time, Cheresa enjoys being active outdoors, visiting art galleries, and traveling. She serves as a volunteer for Sierra Club’s Inspiring Outdoor Connections, where she co-leads nature outings for urban youth. Cheresa hopes to inspire local youth to become the next leaders of environmental stewardship.
Education Program Coordinator
Donovan Guzman (He/Him/His) joined the Get Outdoors Nevada team in August 2018 as an Education Program Coordinator. Before joining the organization, Donovan participated in an educational outreach program titled “Rebel Science Camp,” overseen by UNLV’s College of Sciences. As a Rebel Science Camp student leader, Donovan led fifth-grade students through a series of hands-on activities encompassing fields of geology, hydrology, chemistry, and climate change. From this experience Donovan discovered his passion for teaching and helping young students discover and apply their curiosity for geoscience.
In his role at Get Outdoors Nevada, Donovan conducts Mojave Max presentations in elementary school settings and work with at-risk groups in afterschool programs. He will teach students about desert tortoise biology and habitat and inform students about the importance of protecting Nevada’s public lands. In his new role Donovan has the wonderful opportunity to apply his passion for teaching and present programs that motivate young individuals to protect and enjoy Nevada’s public lands.
Donovan graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) in 2019 with a degree in Earth and Environmental Science. Donovan aspires to pass on his knowledge to create a public concerned about the quality of the Earth, its resources, and ways to protect it for future generations. In the future, Donovan would like to continue his education to become an environmental lawyer or an elementary school teacher.
Donovan is driven to educate young students and help them discover the same passion he has for geoscience.
Education Program Coordinator
Roslyn Villa (She/Her/Hers) was born and raised in Las Vegas, though her love and appreciation for the outdoors grew as as she traveled to Mexico in her childhood. After receiving her Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Nevada, Reno, she spent half a year in San Ramon, Costa Rica, where she worked to educate youth and adults on sustainable waste.
With the desire to make a difference in the community she grew up in, she spent the next three years teaching Earth and Environmental Science for the Clark County School District. During the time she spent as a teacher, she realized the strong impact the outdoors had on the personal wellbeing of her students. In her work, she hopes to inspire the younger generations a desire for a sustainable lifestyle and overall appreciation for the environment.
Education Program Coordinator
Venus Cruz’s (She/Her/Hers) fascination with the outdoors began in her early years, where she was surrounded by the lush environments of Hawaii. The abundant accessibilities to rainforests and mountains helped cultivate her healthy spirit for exploration. Her determination for this continued as she relocated to Las Vegas, extending her curiosity for the outdoors to her new surroundings.
Venus realized her passion for teaching in high school, where she was inspired by the moving, dedicated pedagogy of her band directors. She was able to begin to experience instructing with these principals firsthand during her stay at the City of Henderson, where she applied these skills while working with groups of children in the local summer programs. Upon entering university, she began her career in the geoscience field, where she has been able to combine her pursuits for geology with the innovation of her fresh, different approaches to science, gathered from her musical upbringing and other involvements. As an Education Program Coordinator at Get Outdoors Nevada (GON), Venus is able to help further expand resources and accessibilities for science to our local schools and communities under the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Native Habitat programs.
Currently, Venus is pursuing her B.S. in geology at UNLV while minoring in chemistry. Upon graduation, she plans to study hydrogeology at graduate school and then pursue her Ph.D. and work in higher education academia. In her free time, Venus can be found duck-watching, drawing portraits, or learning a new piece of music.
Volunteer Program Director
Almendra Johnson (She/Her/Hers) and her family relocated from southern California in 2007. She immediately fell for the great weather and vast amount of outdoor spaces the city had to offer. She and her boys are always at a park, on a trail, or packing up for a camping trip!
Almendra graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Arts Degree in Sociology. She feels connected to her city and is always looking for ways to volunteer locally. She has served the Vegas Scouting community as a leader for eight years. She pursues philanthropic work as a member of the Women’s Giving Circle of Las Vegas and as an Ambassador for Nevada Community Foundation.
Working with Get Outdoors Nevada perfectly matches Almendra’s love for the city’s outdoor spaces. Almendra has worked with both the education and volunteer programs, initially splitting her time between the two. Some days, she was leading volunteers on trail clean ups on the weekends. Other days, she was exploring environmental topics with students around the valley during the week. Almendra is now GON's Volunteer Program Director. She is always excited to share her love of our amazing desert with others.
Volunteer Program Coordinator
Vanessa Buensalida (She/Her/Hers), originally from California, moved to Las Vegas in 2004. She currently has her Associates Degree in Business Administration and is working to obtain her Bachelors Degree through ASU's Online program.
In her free time she enjoys going to the gym, doing yoga, trying new and yummy foods, and taking naps. Vanessa enjoys connecting with the outdoors by rock climbing and hiking. She has a passion for philanthropy and volunteer work, and hopes to make an impact within the community as well as globally through different philanthropic endeavors.
Mihaela Genova (She/Her/Hers) was born in Bulgaria and relocated to Las Vegas at a young age. She always felt a strong connection to animals and outdoor spaces, prompting her to turn her passion into a career by pursuing a bachelor's degree in Earth and Environmental Science with a minor in Political Science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Her time at the university sparked a passion for paleontology. She loves learning about the Earth’s past, as well as previous climate change events, and how we can apply this knowledge to today's climate situation. She volunteers at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum where she has prepared numerous fossils for further research. She hopes to one day pursue a PhD in paleontology and become a museum curator or research professor.
In her free time, she loves to spend time with her dogs and go on long hikes where she can explore the beauty of the Mojave Desert. While she prides herself on being a desert creature, she also enjoys spending countless hours at the beach. She loves to learn about new ways we can help our environment thrive and hopes to be able to influence younger generations to take care of our planet and all its other inhabitants. Mihaela works with both the Volunteer and Education teams at Get Outdoors Nevada.
Jeanne Tinsman (She/Her/Hers) grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, and has been captivated by birds from the beginning. She has a degree in biology from Shippensburg State College.
Her early career began with a stint at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania, seasonal jobs including counting migrating raptors in Veracruz, Mexico, and banding birds in Louisiana. Jeanne’s path continued west, where she worked with the California Condor Program, the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies, finally landing with Get Outdoors Nevada in August 2017. Jeanne maintains strong interests in all things outdoors, including birds, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies and wildflowers.
Dr. Nancy E. Brune
Kenny Guinn Center for Policy Priorities
Dr. Nancy E. Brune is the Executive Director of the Guinn Center, a statewide policy research center providing independent, data-driven analysis on issues of tax and fiscal policy, education, economic development, and natural resource security. She serves as a Senior Fellow at the UNLV Boyd School of Law.
In 2016, President Obama appointed Brune to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She is the author of over 75 peer-reviewed journal articles, reports, essays, blogs, and op-ed pieces on various topics. Brune received her Ph.D., Master of Philosophy and Master of Arts degrees from Yale University and her Master of Public Policy and B.A. degrees from Harvard University. Prior to joining the Guinn Center, she was a Senior Policy Analyst at Sandia National Laboratories. Brune has consulted for the Harvard School of Public Health, JPMorgan Chase, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the World Bank.
The product of a Mexican father and an English mother, Brune was raised in a household that emphasized public service. Brune serves as Vice Chair of the Knowledge Fund Advisory Council, (an initiative of GOED), as well as the Chair of the Institutional Advisory Council of the College of Southern Nevada. She was appointed by Governor Sandoval to sit on the English Mastery Council and the Jobs for America’s Graduates-Nevada board of directors. She is a member of the Nevada Children’s Commission and the Clark County Department of Social Services Citizens Advisory Committee. Brune is on the board of Southern Nevada Public Television, Get Outdoors Nevada, and Goodwill Industries of Southern Nevada.
As the President of IMI and with 15 years spent growing businesses, Justin possesses a unique collection of marketing, strategy and leadership skills.
In addition to serving as a Board member for Get Outdoors Nevada, he is a 2015 Grad of Leadership Las Vegas and a veteran Wish Granter for the Make a Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada.
Justin hails from Boston and attended Cornell University. He lives on the Westside and is proud parent of twins Parker & Reed and Harley the Pug.
Simpson Coulter Studio
Board Chair, Sean Coulter, AIA is principal and design director at Simpson Coulter | STUDIO. His leadership brings over 25 years of experience on large-scale projects for various public and private entities. Sean attended Louisiana Tech University and obtained both a B. Architecture and B. Art degree, which inspires his intensive approach to design. His oversight of the design team at Simpson Coulter | STUDIO infuses this unique background into the creative process ensuring that clients receive a holistic design that successfully balances functionality, innovation, and craft in its execution. His diverse professional portfolio has established him as an expert in his field, and his leadership in these typologies has resulted in multiple award-winning projects that have propelled the firm’s standing as experts within their community.
Sean believes that architecture and community-building are intertwined and strives to offer his expertise past the boundaries of his immediate professional environment. He has served as president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Las Vegas and Nevada State Chapters and was awarded the AIA Nevada Service Award in 2010 for his contributions to the profession. He has been an adjunct professor and juror for UNLV’s School of Architecture and has served as a professional advisor for Clark High School and the Las Vegas Academy. He also encourages his staff to volunteer and provide mentorships that students and young architects rely on for future success within the field. In his spare time, Sean enjoys photography, biking, and nurturing his unhealthy obsession with Star Wars.
John Curran is the Senior Vice President of Development for Dapper Companies, a real estate development firm that specializes in retail and office projects throughout Las Vegas. Prior to that, he served as the Real Estate Portfolio Manager for Downtown Project, the $350 million private redevelopment effort founded by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh.
John received a B.A. in Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to complete a Masters of City Planning at Penn Design. After eight years on the East Coast, he ultimately missed the mountains and sunshine of his hometown of Las Vegas, and returned in 2013. He also serves as the Chair of the City of Las Vegas Arts Commission and is active with the Urban Land Institute. Outside of work, he can usually be found skiing, hiking, biking or playing softball.
Opa Group and Latin Chamber of Commerce
Peter Guzman, President of the Opa Group, is an accomplished small business owner, real estate investor and developer. Having lived most of his life in Nevada, his work has been recognized nationally by major real estate organizations with over $600 million in sales. Guzman has advised and worked to transition many publicly-traded companies as well as privately-held companies in all facets of business from real estate to contract procurement. Mr. Guzman has been recognized by numerous senators and congressmen for his creative and impactful contributions to public policy around affordable housing that increase minority home ownership and business entrepreneurship.
As President of The Latin Chamber of Commerce, Peter Guzman leads the Hispanic Chamber which has provided services for the community for over 40 years and continues to grow its dynamic membership. “The Latin Chamber of Commerce is a beacon of light for the business community and a beacon of hope for those in need of assistance in the Southern Nevada community.”
Guzman participates in a number of boards and community engagements, including the Las Vegas Victims' Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Mob Museum Board, Nevada State College, the Nevada Governor’s appointed Judicial Selection Committee, and vice-chairman of Workforce Connections, overseeing a $25 million annual budget. Guzman is married to a fellow Nevadan who is an executive in the gaming resort industry. They have one daughter and one son. "I believe that true success is only as strong as the family foundation."
Rory Kay is a partner in the Las Vegas office of McDonald Carano LLP. Rory handles all aspects of commercial and complex litigation, including representing clients before the Nevada Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Originally from Nebraska, Rory attended the University of Nebraska for his undergraduate degrees and the University of San Diego School of Law for his juris doctor. For his legal work, Rory has been named a Rising Star by Super Lawyers, one of Nevada’s best appellate lawyers by Best Lawyers, and Legal Elite by the Nevada Business Magazine in employment and labor law, commercial and complex litigation, and appellate law.
His community involvement includes extensive pro bono work through the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada where he represents abused and neglected children placed in foster care. He also represents Nevada’s veterans through the Nevada Attorney General’s Office of Military Legal Assistance.
When not working, Rory enjoys tennis, golf, road and mountain biking throughout Nevada, and hiking with his chocolate lab Marvin.
Board Treasurer, Starla Lacy is the Vice President of Environmental, Safety and Land Resources at NV Energy.
She joined NV Energy in April 2006 as the Environmental Services Director and acquired the Safety and Land Resource program areas in subsequent years. Ms. Lacy has over 25 years of experience in the environmental, safety and natural resource fields with a focus on sustainable business practices. She holds a Master of Science Degree in Environmental Management and an undergraduate degree in Economics.
In addition to her position as Treasurer for Get Outdoors Nevada, Starla also serves as Treasurer for the industry organization Western Energy Supply and Transmission Association (WEST Associates). She was recently appointed to a second term serving on the Governor’s Sagebrush Ecosystem Council and she is also an Industry Council Member on the Governor’s Workforce Development Board.
Raised in the desert of southeastern New Mexico, Starla enjoys the beauty of Nevada’s landscapes by hiking and camping with her husband and their three enthusiastic dogs.
Southwest Gas Corporation
Vice Chair, Kevin Lang (He/Him/His), is the Director of Engineering Services for Southwest Gas Corporation based in Las Vegas. Kevin has been with Southwest Gas since 2003. He has held various engineering and operations positions at the Company’s Southern California division and in the corporate headquarters in Las Vegas. He grew up moving around various parts of the United States and has called Nevada home since 2011.
His current job responsibilities include oversight of natural gas pipeline safety compliance, design standards, environmental programs and compliance, metering and regulation, corrosion control, SCADA systems, communications support, land rights acquisition, pipeline security, and mutual assistance programs. Kevin has a Bachelor of Science degree in Mining and Minerals Engineering from Virginia Tech and is a registered professional engineer in the State of Nevada.
Kevin enjoys his time outdoors with his family and two dogs hiking and exploring Nevada back roads, byways, and trails.
Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Paul Schmitt is the Senior Vice President for The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company and oversees the Mountain West Region including offices in Nevada, Colorado and Texas. He has led Whiting-Turner in Las Vegas for the past 25 years and has grown the company to be one of the largest and most highly-respected construction firms in the State.
In addition, Schmitt has lead Whiting-Turner's efforts in community and philanthropic support. Under his leadership, Whiting-Turner has been active as contributors to several local non-profit organizationas.
Schmitt graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, VA. He resides in Las Vegas with his wife, Sarah, and his two sons. An avid cyclist and outdoors enthusiast, Schmitt serves the local community as a Board Member for Get Outdoors Nevada and as Vice Chairman of the City of Henderson Bicycle Advisory Committee.
Board Secretary Mike Shohet serves as President for Compass Development. Prior to that he served as the Executive Vice President of Real Estate for Nevada HAND, a mission-driven nonprofit organization dedicated to the development, construction, and management of quality affordable housing for low-income Nevadans.
Mike has spent 23 years in various roles in the real estate development industry including the last 15 years here in Las Vegas. Mike has a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Queen’s University in Canada and an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Mike is a past president and current board member of the Southern Nevada Chapter of NAIOP, the commercial real estate development association. In 2017, Mike was recognized nationally by NAIOP for his outstanding leadership as a Chapter President. By appointment of the Clark County Commission, he also serves as a member of the Clark County Building Department Enterprise Fund Advisory Committee.
In his leisure time, Mike coaches ski racing for the Brian Head ski team and is an avid mountain biker, rock climber, and hiker. He enjoys sharing all of those experiences with his fiancée, Jen, and kids, Sophie and Ethan.
As the Market Director, Government Affairs for Republic Services, Southwest Area, Jennifer Simich keeps the company connected to its 420,000 single-family residences and 21,000 commercial, industrial and multi-family customers by managing its community relations programs and working with community leaders to make sure their constituent's waste management needs are met. Additionally, Jennifer represents Republic Services at the legislature.
Jennifer is a native Las Vegan and is active in the community. She has served as a board member for the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, the Vegas Young Professionals, the Henderson Boys & Girls Club auction committee and The Blind Center of Nevada Fashion Show Committee. Jennifer also is a founding member of the Las Vegas Chapter of Keep America Beautiful and is on the United Way's Women's Leadership Council and the advisory council for the USO.
Jennifer was named one of the top business executives under the age of 40 by In Business Las Vegas and was also awarded the Athena Award for Young Professional Leadership from the Las Vegas Women's Chamber of Commerce. Jennifer has a bachelor's of science degree in political science from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Rod Taylor has over 30 years of marina experience beginning at Lake Shasta located in Northern California. Rod spent every weekend, holiday and vacation at the lake enjoying the outdoors especially water sports including fishing, boating and skiing. Achieving the status of Certified Marina Manager in October of 2001, Rod is experience in all aspects of marina management and outdoor tourism. Working at Forever Resorts since 1995 Rod is responsible for multiple full-service marinas with wet slips, boat rentals, fueling stations, dry storage, lodging, retail, raft tours, food and beverage.
Involved in business development, project planning and over site, Rod has led projects in marina construction and restoration and worked in partnerships with agencies such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, United States Forest Service, United States Coast Guard, Army Corp of Engineers and State Parks.
Rod sits on the board of directors for the Clean Marinas Program as Past President, a Trustee Board Member on Get Outdoors Nevada and Co-Chairperson n the Lower Water Colorado River Trail Alliance. Rod oversees properties that are certified to ISO 14001, Clean Marina certified. Rod is a member of the International Marina Institute, Marine Recreation Association, Association of Marine Industries, Leave No Trace, United States Green Building Council and America Outdoors.
Southern Nevada Water Authority
Greg Walch is the General Counsel of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD). He is a member of the SNWA and LVVWD Executive Team, overseeing the legal department of both agencies. Greg’s work emphasis is on forging relationships among Colorado River stakeholders to help foster new solutions to supply and demand issues impacting the sustainability of the Colorado River Basin.
Greg received a B.S. in Agricultural Engineering from Iowa State University in 1985, and thereafter worked with Layne Western Company as an engineer designing and overseeing construction of water well systems for industrial and municipal clients. Having tired of math, Greg obtained a law degree in May 1992 from Lewis & Clark Northwestern School of Law, and has since practiced environmental, water, land use, mining, eminent domain and administrative law throughout Nevada. In 1996, Walch co-founded the law firm now known as Cotton, Driggs, Walch, Holley, Woloson & Thompson and is recognized by Chambers USA, Mountain States Super Lawyers, and Martindale Hubbell for his work in environmental and natural resources law.
Walch and his wife Shauna have two sons, Rowan and Quin. Various combinations of family members like to hike, ski, fish, bike, relax, walk the dogs, cook, photograph the outdoors, work in several different community organizations, and generally spend as much time as possible at the family cabin in the mountains.