- About Our Program
- Why Travel With Us
- Our Trips
- Nat Geo Experts
- Trip Leaders
- Q&A with Trip Leader Regina Yopak
- Q&A with Trip Leader Gaston Lacombe
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ross Weinberg
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nathalie Chardon
- Q&A with Trip Leader Chris Johns
- Q&A with Trip Leader Steve Byrne
- An Interview with William Lu
- An Interview with Jamie Alfieri
- An Interview with Simone Levine
- An Interview with Tasha Van Zandt
- Q&A with Trip Leader Ricky Qi
- Q&A with Trip Leader Claire Bangser
- Q&A with Trip Leader Nicole Büttner
- School Groups
Mentoring the Next Generation of Explorers
Heading up each program is a team of talented, dynamic trip leaders who have extensive experience in the field — and love working with students. With no more than nine students to every leader, we’ll have the freedom to break into small teams and explore your interests.
Below, meet some of our outstanding trip leaders who accompanied students in the field last summer.
Alex was an Animal Science major and a Natural Resources minor at Cornell, with a special emphasis on wildlife and habitat preservation. After graduating, she spent a year working with Environment America, an environmental advocacy organization. Currently, Alex is pursuing a M.S. degree in Ecology and Evolution, as well as a M.Ed. in Science Education with a focus on urban ecology and the use of technology in science education. Alex works with the university’s Learning Sciences Research Institute, developing science education programs that engage middle school students in investigations of backyard wildlife diversity and behavior using camera traps.
Avi worked as a lawyer before turning his hand to travel and writing. Since then, his short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies; he has contributed writing to Lonely Planet’s literary anthology and BBC Travel; and while completing his master’s degree, he completed a draft of his first novel. Also a passionate educator, Avi spent a year as director of English reading and writing programs at Trinity Yard School in western Ghana. Avi’s extensive travels include volunteering at an orphanage in Bali, leading a conservation- and sustainability-focused expedition through Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, and surfing the Pacific coastlines of Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
A conservation biologist, photographer, and educator, Brett has worked and traveled extensively through Asia, Oceania, the Americas and the Middle East. In 2014, Brett received a Rapid Ocean Conservation grant from the Waitt Foundation to spend several months in Fiji producing the multimedia project, “Kia Over There,” highlighting traditional Fijian fishermen and the environmental challenges they face. Previously, he has worked as a marine science instructor for the Mission Bay Aquatic Center and a staff photographer for the Joshua Wilderness Institute. Brett holds certifications as a PADI divemaster, Wilderness First Responder and American Red Cross Waterfront Lifeguard.
Chris is a National Geographic grantee raising awareness about some of the planet’s most rare and endangered plant and insect species. Chris’s doctoral work focuses on the evolutionary history and conservation status of a group of rare, endangered micromoths found in the rain forests of the Hawaiian Islands. In addition to science, he uses wildlife photography, documentary videography, and graphic design as tools to raise awareness about the world’s imperiled tropical ecosystems and those people working to save them. Chris has implemented biodiversity conservation measures in Maui, taught ecology to local children in the Philippines, and tested the potential of emerging technologies to engage local people in forest research in Yunnan, China.
Claire focused her university studies on the intersection of cross-cultural education and visual storytelling. She is now a freelance filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist based in New Orleans. Her city-wide social media portrait project NOLAbeings has been featured in national media such as TIME and WIRED, and resulted in her being voted one of New Orleans Magazine’s “People to Watch in 2014.” Prior to moving to New Orleans, Claire wrote a book entitled Ride Somewhere Far about her three-month bicycle tour along the Pacific Coast, and spent four months on a National Geographic expedition photographing and filming traditional beekeeping practices in eastern Turkey.
Originally from Canada and currently based in Washington, D.C., Gaston has traveled to 53 countries, lived in Latvia for 12 years, and was an artist-in-residence in Antarctica for two months. Gaston received graduate and master’s degrees in History from the University of Ottawa, and went on to receive a photography certificate from the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts. He currently works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker. Gaston’s work is focused on documentary, conservation, and travel projects and has been published or commissioned by National Geographic, the Smithsonian Institute, National Parks Magazine, The New Yorker, WWF Magazine, and others.
Originally from Miami, James is a Los Angeles-based freelance photographer and filmmaker. James’ photographs have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal, and he has worked with brands like Apple, Airbnb, and Japan Airlines. In the course of his travels, James has backpacked through Europe, climbed volcanoes in Nicaragua, followed the Andes mountain range from Colombia to southern Patagonia, and traced the length of the Mekong River while exploring ancient Khmer ruins in Southeast Asia. He is currently working on a personal project on the journey of the Colombian diaspora abroad and issues of identity and assimilation. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
This fall, Jamie Alfieri will begin work on his Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology—but before he starts his program, he’ll be leading two student expeditions: to Ecuador and the Galápagos and Patagonia. Jamie has studied ecosystems across the globe, from the Costa Rican cloud forest to European agricultural regions and the wetlands of America’s Atlantic coastline. A National Science Foundation fellow, he also has experience creating active learning experiences for STEM students.
Jana is a freelance photojournalist who has contributed to a variety of publications worldwide, including Reuters. She has traveled and lived in more than 30 countries, and her work has focused on natural disasters, poverty, and war. She dedicates most of her time to international reporting and storytelling, and also collaborates with nonprofit organizations in Africa and Asia to document humanitarian efforts. Most recently, she has been working in Nepal, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Jana’s photography has won numerous awards, including World Press Photo, National Geographic’s 2010 Photo Contest, Czech Press Photo, and China Press Photo.
While working toward her MFA at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Jill spent nine months documenting Himalayan life in Nepal, Northern India, Kashmir, Bhutan, and Tibet for her master’s thesis. Jill later attended the prestigious Missouri Photo Workshop and was a freelance photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She is now a freelance photographer and photography instructor, and is a contributing photographer for National Geographic Traveler guidebooks. In her free time, Jill works on independent stories profiling unique characters, from families living in Manila’s cemeteries due to overcrowding to the last remaining matchmaker in Ireland.
Justin is a Utah-based photographer passionate about exploring cultures, people, and the outdoors through his camera. He traveled to Central America several times as a photographer and photo editor for Operation Smile, and to India to photograph the Lepcha people in the Sikkim region. He has worked as a staff photographer for the Greenspun Media Group and the World Golf Tour, as photo director for a Utah Hospital Task Force response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, and taught photography workshops in the national parks as part of Canon’s Photography in the Parks program. Justin has worked as a kayak guide, herded sheep in New Zealand while hitchhiking the entire country, and traveled extensively in Europe.
Lizzie has studied the marine biology of Belize, researched microbats in the rain forests of Australia, and traveled to the stratosphere as a NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador. During graduate school, she focused on informal and conservation education while taking classes at the Bronx Zoo. Since graduating, Lizzie has taught first through eighth grade science classes in New York City. As a teacher, she has developed spring break programs focused on climate change and biodiversity in New Zealand, the national park system of Belize, and music in Botswana. Currently, Lizzie is a conservation educator at the Central Park Zoo.
During her undergraduate studies, Nathalie discovered that she could combine her love of the outdoors with a research focus in montane and alpine ecology. While studying abroad, she gained a unique perspective on biogeography—a topic still at the heart of her research interests. Nathalie now spends her time in the Rocky Mountains and European Alps researching the effects of climate change and other human disturbances on alpine ecosystems for her dissertation. Previously, Nathalie held a yearlong research residency at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Switzerland and worked as a U.S. Forest Service botany technician.
Born and raised in Germany, Nicole is a biologist, nature guide, and conservationist based in Ecuador. For her master’s thesis, she researched the ecology of hummingbird pollination in the neotropical rainforests of Mindo, Ecuador, where she also lived and worked as a bird guide. Nicole has participated in bird-monitoring programs in Brazil, Peru and England, and for over two years, she studied the behavioral ecology of Banded Ground-Cuckoos, one of Ecuador’s rarest bird species. In 2008, Nicole bought 15 hectares of rainforest near Mindo and established the private conservation project, Un poco del Chocó. She now lives in her nature reserve, where she teaches tropical ecology courses to undergraduate students, supervises the research work of graduate students, and supports local conservation efforts and environmental education workshops.
Prior to pursuing her Ph.D. in Ocean Engineering at the University of Rhode Island, Regina worked as a research SCUBA diver studying volatile estuarine and surf zone dynamics for the Coastal & Ocean Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Regina’s doctoral work focuses on computer vision and biophysical interactions, and she recently spent time in Antarctica collecting data on Antarctic krill. For the past four years she has been sailing aboard the E/V Nautilus as a lead navigator for ROVs Hercules and Argus.
Ross is a documentary filmmaker and photographer who currently calls Los Angeles, California, and Vienna, Austria, home. After graduating from Boston University, he moved to L.A., where he has developed scripted television shows sold to FX and E! and produced a feature film starring Jessica Biel and Chris Evans. His photography and film work has taken him to the gold mines of Guyana, fashion week in New York City, and the receding glaciers of Antarctica. Ross has traveled to all seven continents and has “swum” in all five oceans—though “plunged” might be the better term.
An experiential educator, photographer, yoga teacher, and group facilitator, Simone Levine is a jack of many trades, but her strongest passion lies in facilitating cross-cultural exchange opportunities for young explorers. She is the founder of Intrepid Gap, an organization that plans “gap year” experiences for students taking time off between high school and college. Simone is a veteran of National Geographic Student Expeditions, having led trips since 2012. This summer, she’ll be leading our Bali Expedition.
While at Wittenberg University, Steve studied abroad for a year in Buenos Aires, where he honed his Spanish language skills, studied economic history, and traveled in Patagonia. He then moved to Yosemite Valley where he learned to rock climb and ski as he explored and photographed the technical peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Steve now runs his own photography and print business, specializing in landscape, surf, and adventure photography. He has managed high school exchange programs in Latin America and Europe, and his photography has been published by Surfline, The Inertia, National Geographic Travel, the San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED Media.
Tasha Van Zandt is a filmmaker and photographer who has traveled on assignment to more than 75 countries. Her projects have included documenting Buddhist monks on the Thai-Myanmar border, researching the effects of coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef, and traversing the Negev desert on camelback to remote Bedouin villages. She is currently directing a feature-length documentary about climate change in Antarctica. Tasha will be leading our Tanzania Expedition and Tokyo Photo Workshop this summer.
Born in Taiwan, William Liu earned a master’s degree in digital media from Valparaiso University, and then relocated to Macau to work as a cinematographer. Here, he collaborates with various Chinese marketing and video production companies, including the video podcasting team at Apple’s Shanghai Campus—a position that has given him the opportunity to support CEO Tim Cook during his visits to China. This summer marks the fifth year that William will serve as the photography instructor on our China Expedition.