Gulch Staff

Visiting Scholars In addition to our full-time instructors, visiting scholars join us each year to enhance your experience by sharing their expertise.

Visiting Scholars
In addition to our full-time instructors, visiting scholars join us each year to enhance your experience by sharing their expertise.   READ MORE 



We recruit staff nationally and positions are highly competitive: in a recent year, we drew 80 applications for three staff positions. 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 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 an 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

Tori Baker-White, Program Director

Tori joined The Gulch community shortly after receiving her BA in Environmental Studies and Sociology at Bates College. While teaching elementary school in Gallup, she earned her MA in Elementary Education. Tori spent 4 years teaching elementary school and seven seasons leading expeditions as staff at Cottonwood Gulch. When she was ready to take a break from teaching in the classroom, she joined the year-round team to help bring trekkers to The Gulch. Tori loves to play outside and spends time doing everything from skiing and climbing to backpacking and sea kayaking to trail running and mountain biking and she loves to share her passion and enjoyment of the outdoors with others.  She also holds a WEMT Certification.


Matt Baker-White, Program Director

Matt started with the Gulch in 2013 as the climbing instructor and has since held roles including group leader, cook, adventure specialist, and associate director.  He has served on volunteer search-and-rescue teams, worked as a park ranger, and ski patrolled.  Matt was a classroom teacher for four years in elementary settings with a focus on alternative and project-based learning in New Mexico and Maine.  He holds an Masters of Education with a focus in special education and brings a passion for working with all youth from a diversity of backgrounds in the Southwest.  He currently holds a BICP Level 1 certification for mountain biking, has been through the AMGA SPI program, and holds a WFR Certification.

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 wood block 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 back yard. He has worked on the ocean as a sea kayak guide, in the woods as a wilderness therapy instructor, and 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 bachelors 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.

Monica Stert, Associate Director (Special Programs)

Monica became a member of The Gulch community shortly after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She began as a cook for the Mountain Desert Trek of 2016, and has worn many hats throughout the past four years, including cooking on the road, leading treks, working with classroom expeditions during spring and fall, and researching growing opportunities for The Gulch behind the scenes. Most recently, Monica has launched the pilot years of our Youth Conservation Corps and our Students in Wilderness Initiative. In the quiet moments in between, Monica enjoys climbing rocks, learning about data analytics, conservation, and sustainability, and trail running with her pup, Hazel.

Ben Holt – Marketing and Enrollment Coordinator

Hello Gulch family! My name is Ben Holt and I’m in my first year with Cottonwood Gulch in the new Marketing Coordinator position! I’m originally from Cincinnati, Ohio and received my Bachelor’s degree in Geology from Ohio State University in 2016. I then moved out to New Mexico to get my Master’s of Science in Geology at the University of New Mexico, which I completed at the end of 2018. After trying on an industry job for a short while, I transitioned to working with the Gulch as program staff in Fall of 2019. At the Gulch, I realized my passion for the outdoors and public outreach / education which I’ve been happily pursuing in this new leadership role. Now I manage our marketing materials, organize outreach events, assist with enrollment, and lead treks in the field. I’m so excited to continue to grow in this position, help push the Gulch forward, and learn more about this amazing community in the 2020 season!

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, I 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.

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