- 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
- 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.
A Los Angeles-based independent filmmaker and photographer, Andy has worked on media projects throughout the world. He received his degree in film with a minor in cultural anthropology from the University of Central Florida, and spent a year at Hunter College in New York City studying photography. He has worked with brands like Sony and Facebook, and has produced documentaries on topics ranging from the impact of land mines on children in Nicaragua to the documentation of modern Maya culture in Guatemala. He recently launched a project to teach photography to Colombia’s Misak community so they can document and preserve their own culture.
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 began his career working in youth environmental education and biodiversity conservation in Hawaii, and then broadened his focus to other tropical ecosystems, developing conservation and media projects in places like the Philippines and Peru. Chris is currently earning his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, studying rare Hawaiian insects and the plants they feed on. As a National Geographic Young Explorer grantee, Chris has researched and shed light on lesser-known and threatened organisms by combining photography, creative multimedia, and scientific discovery, with the ultimate goal of enhancing conservation efforts.
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.
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.
During her undergraduate studies at UC-Berkeley, Nathalie focused on ecology and spent a year abroad in Chile, where she gained a unique perspective on biogeography—a topic still at the heart of her research interests. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Colorado, Boulder, researching the geographic limits of an alpine plant to better understand how alpine ecosystems respond to climate change and other human disturbances. Each year she spends several months conducting research at the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.
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.
After finishing his undergraduate studies, Ricky moved to Shanghai for two years, where he documented the city’s nascent jazz scene, as well as China’s burgeoning cities and their effect on migrants, expatriates, locals, and minorities. While there, Ricky backpacked little-traveled portions of the Silk Road between Pakistan and China, staying with Kyrgyz nomads along the way. When he returned to the U.S., he began work on a film centered on the Mosuo people, and received a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant for the project. Over three years, he recorded Mosuo life at a watershed moment, as modern China encroached upon the shores of the Himalayan home of China’s last matriarchal society. Ricky now works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker in Los Angeles and Beijing.
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.
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.