Jodi Rodwell – Executive Director
Jodi came to Denali in 1995 to work for a summer and has remained here ever since. She has a BS in geology from Montana State University and began her career at the Denali Education Center teaching about the Denali Fault Zone. She loves living in this wonderful community with her husband and daughter, who keeps her “old” parents young! In winter, she enjoys skiing on the dog mushing trails and playing pick-up hockey on a local pond.
Jill Boelsma – Operations Director
Jill changed her life when she moved to Alaska in 1999. It only got better when she began working at the Denali Education Center in 2004. She lives with her husband Carl and a rescued German shepherd in view of Denali National Park in a home they constructed with the help of friends and family. Her favorite things include the return of daylight, singing avian migrants, and emerging plants in the spring, endless summer days, the tapestry of the autumn tundra, and the quiet of winter that allows plenty of time for stargazing, dinners with friends, visits with family, and keeping the woodstove stoked. She enjoys travel and exploring the world with an open, inquisitive mind and a pair of binoculars.
Hannah Noel – Program Director
Hannah came to Alaska in 2010 from the midwest- Iowa specifically. It may sound cheesy, but when she first set foot in Alaska she was overcome by a deep sense of belonging. She quickly fell in love with the vast landscapes and breathtaking wild-ness. It took her and her husband Chris three summers of seasonal living before they decided to sink their roots in Alaskan soil. In their spare time, they enjoy running around after their son, going for hikes, working in their greenhouse, catching up with friends, and soaking up the midnight sun. Every day they fall more in love with this wild place that they are lucky to call home.
Katie Pankow – Program Manager
This is Katie’s third summer in Alaska, second season in Denali, first year as a full-time resident, and every day she falls more head-over-heels in love with this incredible place. Hailing from the Sunshine State, Katie is delighted to find that she enjoys the long Alaskan winters, especially when she can spot aurora shimmering overhead. Katie is an avid hiker, a wannabe chef, a huge bird nerd, a book devourer, and maker of strange faces.
Dave Kuecha – Maintenance Manager
Originally from Florida, Dave is now a long-time Alaskan resident. Dave is no stranger to the Denali Education Center campus as he served as our maintenance manager for six years before taking a two-year hiatus to work for an Alaska Native corporation. Dave has 35 years of experience as an ASE auto and truck-certified mechanic and has aviation repair/maintenance experience. Skilled in carpentry, electrical, and plumbing, he says he has the best job maintaining this wonderful place, nestled in this great land!
Lauren Bruns – Facilities Manager
Lauren is originally from Washington state where she earned her degree in Environmental Studies between training horses. She first ended up in Alaska due to a coin flip and after many back-and-forth trips (perhaps encouraged by a rugged Alaskan mountain man), finally decided to trade riding horses for riding snow machines and make Alaska home. Lauren is eager to try anything that involves recreating outdoors, then retiring inside to bake bread and dabble in arts and crafts. She is often found during the summer in her little vegetable garden or walking the dog to the beaver pond for a swim; and in the winter taking her snowmachine out to catch the sunset or cross-country skiing by moonlight.
Eli Harris – Head Chef
Born and raised in Alaska, Eli’s roots originate in the heart of Denali. Eli grew up on a bluff overlooking the Nenana River and has young memories of helping carve the logs used to begin building the structures on the campus of the Denali Education Center. He began his kitchen career in Denali where he first found his passion and curiosity for cooking. For the last ten years Eli has enjoyed living with his wife Katie and their dog Cassidy in Asheville, NC where he has grown his knowledge and love of southern Appalachian foods and ingredients. When Eli is not in the kitchen, you may find him out in the creeks of Alaska trout or salmon fishing and grinning ear to ear. He is enjoying being back home in Alaska and doing what he loves, cooking good food and seeing people come together for meals as a community.
James Palmer – Campus Cook
James will tell you he grew up in the woods in Virginia. When his two kids were grown, he decided to attend the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Charlotte, where he found his passion and calling as a chef and baker. Often using the ingredients he finds available to him in nature, you could say that he aspires to be a truly sustainable chef and subsistence hunter. James has spent the last few years cooking in Hawaii, but we sense that he’s found a home here in Alaska, as many of us do.
Jared Kent – Campus Cook
Originally, from Ohio, Jared is the prototypical wandering chef. He attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte and since then, found himself cooking across the Carolinas, in Georgia, Southeast Asia, Bermuda, and Australia. From food trucks to five-star hotels, Jared has worked in all kinds of different kitchens in his 10-year chef career. On days off, you’ll often find him talking to his girlfriend and two very spoiled cats back home in Ohio. As a nature lover, he greatly enjoys living in the Denali area and providing delicious fuel for guests so they can explore this incredible part of the world.
Kellie Voss – Talkeetna Campus Coordinator
Kellie headed north for Talkeetna in the summer of 2021 just because it seemed like the right place to be. It turns out that it was, and she began with Denali Education Center in early 2022. Prior to finding her place and her people, she spent time adventuring in various parts of the world and dabbled in multiple trades along the way including massage therapy, youth ministry, baking, farming, and customer service. The sense of “at-home” she’s found in Talkeetna is one to be savored and she’s hoping to make it the longest adventure yet. The love of her life and best adventure partner is her dog Ben, pictured here!
Ashley Hearn – Program Coordinator
Ashley grew up listening to her grandfather’s stories about his experiences in Alaska and is excited to create some memories during her own Alaskan adventure this summer. She’s originally from North Carolina and has spent the last decade living in the Washington, D.C. area working with youth in the foster care system and supporting the military connected community. She’ll return to D.C. in the fall to begin a job with the U.S. State Department. In the meantime, she’s loving every minute of her time in Denali: hiking the trails, soaking up the midnight sun, watching the wildlife, and napping in the tundra moss.
Billy Rotondo – Program Coordinator
Billy Rotondo was born and raised in Rhode Island but has most recently been calling Colorado home. He got his Bachelor’s in history from Bryant University and is currently working on obtaining a Graduate certificate in Conservation Actions from Colorado State University. Billy had come to Alaska in 2018 to work as a hiking guide in Ketchikan and since then, he had been itching to come back. He was especially excited to see interior Alaska and wrestle some grizzly bears. When he’s not out wrestling grizzly bears, Billy enjoys being out in nature rafting, hiking, kayaking, camping, cross country skiing or just watching wildlife. He also likes to write, befriend the moose living next door to him and spend time with his quirky new DEC family.
Dominique Altomari – Events Coordinator
Dominique hails from the Empire State and just recently graduated from Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio with her degree in Sustainability Sciences and Biology. A week after graduating she packed up her life and was on several planes up here to Alaska to live out a childhood Disney Brother Bear fantasy dream (and found quickly that Alaska is even more beautiful in real life). Dom is so beyond grateful to be here living her dreams and is looking forward to many more summers (and maybe even winters) here in Alaska!
Daniel Isaza – Lead Hospitality
Daniel Isaza was born in Colombia and raised in L.A. He served 6 years in the MarineCorps and graduated from Cal State Long Beach in California with his degree in recreational therapy. Daniel has an adventurous spirit and is always looking for new experiences, so he found himself in Alaska for this summer. He’s constantly searching for experiences that take him out of his comfort zone, so being from the city, all of this is completely new to him and he is so grateful to be a part of the team here at DEC. In his spare time he enjoys hiking and admiring the Alaskan wildlife.
WeeBee Aschenbrenner – Group Leader
WeeBee has lived in Denali since 1997 and is a Jane of all trades, master of none. After a long career with the National Park Service, WeeBee is proud to join the Denali Education Center and share her passion for Alaska as a Road Scholar trip leader or to change your linens and serve a meal as a member of the facilities staff.
Lori Moore – Group Leader
Lori may not have been born in Alaska but she got here as fast as she could! Over the past 18 years, she has worked as a park ranger, copy maker, bus driver, arts and crafts leader, and grad student. She is now an elementary school teacher and loves keeping busy with year-round outdoor activities and learning new things. She looks forward to spending her summers riding the rails with Road Scholar groups and meeting new people!
Nate knows and loves Alaska. A passion for Denali caught him early. He was born and raised on his parent’s homestead in Trapper Creek on the south side of the Alaska Range. His dad was a long-time Denali State Park ranger and his brother, a climbing guide on Denali. Nate worked as a Denali National Park ranger, mainly as a backcountry ranger, for 11 seasons. He has also served as a teacher-ranger and worked in interpretation for Washington State Parks. He met his wife, who was also a Denali Ranger, at the park, and they have a four-year-old son. He holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in Education. Nate is currently a history teacher and athletic director in Patagonia, Arizona, but he returns each summer to share his love of Alaska with young and old.
Darrell Johnston – Group Leader
Darrell started coming up to Alaska in 2012. He grew up in Southern Iowa and is an actor|musician|composer. Darrell loves talking about Alaska, playing guitar, and golfing. Darrell is an Artistic Director of the Denali Film Festival, an annual film festival held in the Charles Sheldon Center August 11 & 12. Darrell is also a filmmaker and actor and his films can be seen on Public Television and Oscar and Emmy nominated websites. Darrell got his MFA from the University of South Carolina and is working towards his JD at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.
Jimmy Sandy – Special Projects Volunteer
Jimmy came to Denali in 1990 “just for the summer” and proceeded to make Alaska his home. He is best known as a founding member of the Denali Cooks, a rock and roll band that is still rocking twenty-plus years later. He has volunteered at the Denali Education Center since 1993, helping out with the construction of the Charles Sheldon Center and with many other projects large and small. Jimmy hatched the original idea for the ever-popular annual auction and continues to bring stellar live music to many DEC events.