We recruit staff nationally and positions are highly competitive. On average, well over half of our staff are returning instructors, and we see it as a testament to the quality of our programs that staff return year after year.
As a minimum, all staff members hold a Wilderness First Aid certification, and at least one member of each backpacking group holds an advanced certification: Wilderness First Responder or EMT. The minimum age for staff is 21 (there is also an internship program for 19 and 20-year-olds), and each year our staff is made up of a variety of people, from enthusiastic educators in their 20s to experienced and equally energetic educators in their 70s. We perform background checks on all staff, and we strive to create a comfortable and trustworthy environment for all Trekkers and families.
Our senior staff and group leaders are experienced outdoor educators, and many of them are classroom teachers during the school year, bringing with them a wealth of educational creativity and a passion for sharing their love of the outdoors with our Trekkers. Our staff team can be divided into two main categories:
Group Staff: These instructors are outdoor educators who are responsible for leading and educating a particular group. They live and work with that group day and night, hiking, backpacking, and exploring the Southwest alongside the Trekkers. Each group has a group leader, a group cook, and 1-3 program staff, who bring expertise in any variety of subjects: science, anthropology, archaeology, art, and backcountry skills, to name a few.
Specialists: These instructors are hired for their expertise in a particular field. Each summer we hire 1-3 educators in the following areas: archaeologists, artists, naturalists, farmers, and rock climbers. Specialists work with all groups, sharing their fascinating wealth of knowledge and good humor with Trekkers. Many kids discover a newfound interest by working side-by-side with our specialists.
If you are interested in applying for a staff position, please visit our Prospective Staff Page
Our Administrative Staff
Jordan Stone, Executive Director
Jordan first came to Cottonwood Gulch In 2007, as a road cook for the Prairie Trek. He quickly recognized Cottonwood Gulch as an organization full of intelligent, curious, and quirky people, and since then his love for the Gulch has only grown. Jordan has held multiple roles within the organization, and was honored to step into the role of Executive Director in 2020. Outside of the Gulch, he has served as the Conservation Program Manager for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Albuquerque, worked on an urban organic farm in Wisconsin, and trained in outdoor skills at the National Outdoor Leadership School. He keeps bees, tends a garden, loves to write, and spends plenty of time exploring New Mexico’s abundant public lands. Jordan holds a BA from Pomona College, and a Masters degree in Geography and Environmental Studies (if you’d like to have a conversation about how different people and communities think about “nature”–quite relevant to the Gulch experience–Jordan is a willing participant) from the University of New Mexico. He lives in Albuquerque with his wife, Ellen, who teaches third grade and takes her students outside whenever possible, and their lovely daughter.
Lezle Williams, Office Manager
When you call The Gulch, Lezle is often the first voice you hear. She joined us in 2008 and has been keeping us organized ever since! With an MFA from Miami University, she is an accomplished artist and former gallery owner. When not talking with trekkers, parents, and staff, she sometimes joins us at Base Camp to teach trekkers how to create linoleum cut prints. When you are on the phone with her, take a moment to chat about her woodblock prints and wood engravings.
Austin Kessler – Associate Director (Field Operations)
Austin was born in Portland, Maine, and grew up with the woods and ocean in his backyard. He has worked on the ocean as a sea kayak guide, in the woods as a wilderness therapy instructor, and in the desert as a group leader and food coordinator for Cottonwood gulch. He now manages our recreational permits with the myriad of land managers across the southwest and oversees much of our field operations and logistics. If not out in the field for work, he can be found rock climbing at a local cliff, hand-building custom wood furniture, or baking sourdough bagels. With a bachelor’s in Adventure Education and minors in photography and education, Austin has a diversity of skills to make an outdoor trek exciting, educational, and memorable for any age.
Juan M. Muñoz Jiménez, Director of Communications and Marketing
Juan M. Muñoz Jiménez was born in Dayton, Ohio, half-raised in the Midwest and half in his native home of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Kayaking in Puerto Rico with his father was his first real introduction to the outdoors. He created and led many adventures with the Outdoor Resource Center of Wright State University in graduate school, ranging from ice climbing and rock climbing to kayaking and snorkeling. Juan’s love for the outdoors brought him to the Southwest after completing his MBA in marketing and international business. He spends his free time volunteering with Latino Outdoors Albuquerque Chapter or participating in general outdoor tomfoolery.
Marissa Bluestein, SIWI Lead Field Educator
Excited to return to her home state of New Mexico, Marissa joins Cottonwood Gulch having spent the last four years exploring the North Cascades and Olympic mountains of Washington state while working for the National Park Service as a Park Ranger. Marissa holds a masters degree in Environmental Education, Non-Profit Management & Northwest Natural History from Western Washington University and the North Cascades Institute. She is excited to continue her quest of life long learning by blending her love for ecology, natural history and photography in hopes to instill curiosity and wonder for the natural world in students. When not working as a field educator, Marissa is likely eating pizza, out climbing mountains or cruising around the desert on her bike.
Olivia Marín – Students in Wilderness Initiative (SIWI) Program Manager
Olivia grew up in Denver and the southern coast of Spain. She was always encouraged to go outside and spent her childhood playing in the foothills of the Rockies and in the cork forests and beaches of Andalucía. A lover of all animals, Olivia has continued to enjoy exploring the outdoors through backpacking, climbing, cycling, scuba, and swimming in any body of (clean) water she can find! After graduating from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Environmental Planning and Design, Olivia accepted an apprenticeship with Yjastros, the American Flamenco Repertory Company. She worked with several farms during this time, developing a love for local food systems. She became a corps member of the company in 2018, performing throughout New Mexico, and the same year, joined the collective Spanish Broom Flamenco- an independent artistic collaborative focused on Flamenco performance. Her love for the outdoors motivated her to continue searching for a way to bring working with the environment into her daily life. In 2020, she was accepted as 2020 Exploring Equitable Education Outdoors Fellow. Through this work, she was introduced to Cottonwood Gulch and was given the opportunity to apply for a position later in the year. She joined the Gulch in September of 2020, and is so excited to work with kids outdoors!
Marnie Rehn – Bachechi Open Space Caretaker
Donna White – Food Coordinator
My name is Donna White–I am new to the Cottonwood Gulch staff as of February. I have been working in outdoor education since 2002 with various organizations. Before the Gulch, I was a field instructor with Outward Bound Costa Rica. While I have experience in rafting, white water kayaking, sea kayaking, and scuba diving, my passion lies in the mountains…hiking. I am excited to explore the mountains of the Southwest and already have a love for them! I have always been an outdoor girl and am thankful to be able to incorporate my love of nature with my profession. A close second to my love of hiking is my love of food–another reason I am excited to be working with the Gulch. I am the new Food Coordinator as well as a field educator. I worked in the food industry for many years. I was a pastry chef for different restaurants, owned a catering company for 25 years, and most recently worked as head chef for a sorority house at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Although food is also a hobby for me (therapeutic), I also enjoy painting and making jewelry.
Brad Jeffrey – Development Coordinator
I came to the Gulch as a field educator during the fall 2019 season after completing a Ph.D. in Geology at the University of New Mexico. I spent much of my youth exploring the forests, rivers, and lakes of my home state of Wisconsin. I am fascinated and humbled by the endless wilderness, rich culture, and history of New Mexico – and the rocks are great too! My favorite parts of a trek are breakfast, summiting a peak, bonfire, and fitting in an exciting geology lesson or jam session when the opportunity presents itself. I am a passionate educator and appreciate the rewarding moments when one of our trekkers realizes that they love something they learned about a place, or about themselves. In my new role as development coordinator, I am excited to meet the extended Gulch family and community and to help support our outstanding and historic programs through fundraising.