Meet our staff
Bay Area, California
Beth directs the Institute’s strategic vision, managing the organization’s program development, fundraising, and marketing efforts. Or in her words, she “herds cats, turns the manure in the compost, cultivates the garden for more visitors, and comes up with poor analogies.”
Favorite organism and why: The domesticated mutt (dog). Genetically, dogs have more adaptation markers than nearly any other species, allowing this one species to look incredibly varied. But the real reason is because they are our most common connection to the animal world. People love them as their own children, which is how Beth hopes we could relate to all living creatures.
Comfort food: Used to be chocolate, wait, it’s still chocolate. Dark, organic, fairly traded.
Favorite quote: “I do think that women could make politics irrelevant; by a kind of spontaneous cooperative action the like of which we have never seen; which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure or viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy — when what it really is, is very subtle forms of interrelation that do not follow some hierarchical pattern which is fundamentally patriarchal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity, yet I think it’s women who are going to have to break this spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.” -Germaine Greer
Erin’s job is to make sure that everyone knows just how cool biomimicry is. As the communications manager, she handles communications strategy, media relations, social media, multimedia content creation and website development.
History: Erin’s meandering career path has included stints producing films, managing patient experience projects at safety-net health clinics, coordinating National Institutes of Health-funded clinical and education grants, conducting drug recidivism outcomes research and working as a journalist. The threads that bind all of these experiences together? A love of learning, sharing information, and working with revolutionaries who want to make the world a better place. She earned a master’s degree in sociology and policy studies at Lehigh University and her undergraduate degree in journalism from Penn State University.
Favorite organism and why: Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the yeast that’s key to making bread, wine and beer. Who needs anything else, really?
Favorite book: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Hidden talent: Playing a mean game of badminton.
AskNature Technical Specialist
Scott is responsible for the in-house technical maintenance of AskNature, including bug fixes and enhancements, as well as contributing to the larger evolution of this invaluable resource.
History: Scott is currently earning a bachelor’s in computer science at the University of Montana. He has experience working with natural user interfaces and artificial intelligence that has culminated in a devotion to making computers more useful than harmful for society.
Favorite organism and why: Tarsiers. They look like something out of Avatar, but can turn their heads 180-degrees like an owl and jump out of trees to catch birds.
Favorite book: The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley
Favorite quote: “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe.” – Carl Sagan
Gretchen Hooker, MID
Gretchen is a member of the management team for the Global Biomimicry Design Challenge and develops content for biomimicry education resources.
History: Gretchen is a designer and unapologetic ‘nature nerd’ driven by her commitment to design as a tool for positive change and by her awe and reverence for living systems. Before joining the Institute, she was the founding director of the Sustainability Center at Montana State University and served as a writer and editor for sustainable design exhibitions and online media. Gretchen holds a master’s degree in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design and is a certified Biomimicry Specialist.
Favorite organism and why: Merino Sheep – producer of nature’s perfect fiber!
Favorite book: A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
Hidden talent: Packing a lot of function into a small space.
Angela manages the financial details of the Biomimicry Institute’s amazing projects and is also the assistant to the executive director.
History: Before the Biomimicry Institute, Angela managed the finances for several other local non-profits such as Buffalo Field Campaign, Wind River Bear Institute, and Cold, Mountain Cold Rivers. She also worked as an accountant at Lambros Real Estate. Her past life was spent roaming Montana’s Glacier Country as a bear conflict specialist.
Favorite organism and why: Bears. They get to sleep through winter, through child birth, and can smell chocolate a mile away.
Comfort food: Chocolate….chocolate and more chocolate.
Individual Giving & Outreach Manager
Diana sees fundraising as an opportunity to bring together organizations and people who share common values and want to use their resources to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.
History: Prior to joining the staff of the Biomimicry Institute, she worked for Earthjustice; the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security; Redefining Progress; and Greenpeace. Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Diana earned a B.A. at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she studied art, and later returned to Hawaii, where she co-founded a modern dance company.
Favorite composer: Gustav Mahler
Favorite quote: “I’d rather be an evangelist, a storyteller, an educator, a translator, a table-pounder, a guy on his soap box, a woman with a megaphone, a candidate for change.” – Sasha Dichte
AskNature Content Coordinator
Jeanette expands and curates AskNature content with the help of a collaborative community of students, scientists, and educators interested in biomimicry.
History: Jeanette started looking at biology through a physics lens in college and was immediately hooked. Since then, she’s studied and published papers on how hagfish slime clogs fish gills, how lobsters use their swimming appendages like little jet packs, and how flexible fish bend their bodies as they swim through the water. Along the way, she learned to appreciate the inspiration that nature offers every day. Jeanette holds a PhD in biology from Harvard University.
Favorite organism and why: Hagfish — They are more than meets the eye! Hagfish get a bad rap for their unappealing looks, but they are the undisputed champions of slime.
River, lake, or ocean? A lake with a canoe and preferably some moose.
Favorite quote: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
Bay Area, California
As the Operations Manager, Courteny is helping the Biomimicry Institute navigate the brave new world of officeless operations. Courteny is filling the need for a jack of all trades from event planning, software systems set-up, personnel maintenance and occasional cat herding.
History: With an undergraduate degree in biology and an MBA in sustainable systems from Pinchot University, Courteny has spent most of her time in the food and farming world supporting high integrity enterprises keep their business going and growing. Most recently, Courteny worked with a Bay Area startup that worked to provide professional tools to Slow Money and grow food and farming enterprises in local communities by matching them with experienced entrepreneurs on the Good Food Web.
Favorite organism and why: Yeast! As a home brewer and winemaker, I’m obliged to recognize this little one’s greatness.
River, lake, or ocean? River, especially if there’s a canoe involved.
Jennifer Schill, LEED Green Associate
AskNature Content Manager
Fort Collins, Colorado
Jen guides all AskNature content and manages community programs to engage scientists, innovators, educators, students, and others in AskNature. She also informs ongoing innovation and improvements to AskNature.
History: Jen’s work experience spans education, project management, communications, marketing, and fundraising. Prior to joining the Biomimicry Institute, Jen worked at the U.S. Green Building Council, where she led development of a digital library of green building best practices and created LEED education. She has also worn many hats at a land trust and watershed protection organization; worked in an aquatic entomology lab; and provided consulting services to various conservation nonprofits. She holds a degree in biology.
Favorite organism and why: Dragonfly. It’s a beautiful reminder of the importance of healthy rivers and streams—and is one of the coolest insects out there.
River, lake, or ocean? A river that’s calm enough for wading. Bonus if it’s also deep enough for swimming.
Hidden talent: Throwing a good cheese and chocolate fondue party.
Megan Schuknecht, MSc
Director of Design Challenges
Megan directs our design challenge offerings, with a special emphasis on using design challenges to help faculty and administrators incorporate biomimicry tools and concepts into university and college classrooms, curricula, and degree programs.
History: Prior to restructuring, Megan served as the Director of University Education for the Biomimicry Institute. Before joining the Biomimicry Institute, Megan worked and taught for a variety of sustainability and social justice non-profits and educational organizations. She also worked as a biologist at the design table with the Biomimicry Guild, helping global companies look to nature for inspiration to develop sustainable and innovative technologies.
Favorite organism and why: Honeybees. Megan has been fascinated by bee biology and behavior ever since serving as a beekeeping extensionist with Peace Corps Paraguay.
Favorite book: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Hidden talent: Having all of her colleagues’ Google calendars displayed at once – and being able to make sense of them.
Director of AskNature
Ethan is passionate about cultivating great ideas, talented people, and symbiotic relationships to grow and develop products and services that will help make the act of asking nature’s advice a normal part of everyday inventing.
History: Ethan has collaborated on numerous award-winning products, services, and media for clients and employers in the outdoor recreation and environmental conservation industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial design and has received extensive training in sustainable development, LEED, biology, and biomimicry. His professional background spans product design and development, web design and development, graphic design, photography, writing, business strategy, expedition planning, and creative direction.
Favorite organism and why: Pacific salmon fry are born in shallow streams and navigate to the ocean as young smolt. After years at sea, adults return to their streams to spawn and die, contributing an array of ocean-sourced nutrients to animals and microbes who consume their bodies. Rather than directing all of these nutrients towards their own young, salmon have evolved to nourish entire communities, effectively creating stable and resilient conditions in which successive generations of eggs and fry can predictably thrive.
Favorite activities: Whether carving turns through untracked powder, planting paddle strokes through boiling rapids, or earning his keep on technical single-track, Ethan thrives when he’s with friends exploring diverse ecosystems in pursuit of flow.
Favorite book: The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor & Peter Parnall
Meet our board
Director, Customer Reference Program, VMware
Cynthia Hester is a senior marketing professional with over twenty years experience in global marketing, strategic planning, communications, and business development primarily in the high technology arena. As a senior level manager, she has developed and implemented global strategic marketing plans, including advertising, marketing communications, third party relations, events and public relations. Cynthia has managed multi-million dollar budgets and cross functional internal/external teams during the course of her career. Learn more
Ashok K. Goel
Vice Chair of the Board
Professor, Computer & Cognitive Science, Director, Design & Intelligent Laboratory, Georgia Institute of Technology
Ashok Goel is a professor of computer science and cognitive science in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is director of the school’s Design & Intelligence Laboratory (DILab)and a co-director of Georgia Tech’s Center for Biologically Inspired Design (CBID). He serves on the advisory board of the Bioinspired! digital newsletter. Ashok recently co-chaired two workshops on Computer Aids for BioInspired Design sponsored by the US National Science Foundation. He is co-editing a volume on Computational Methods and Tools for Biologically Inspired Design to be published by Springer in late 2012. Learn more
Partner & Co-Founder, Biomimicry 3.8
Janine Benyus is a natural sciences writer, innovation consultant, and author of six books, including her latest − Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature. She co-founded the world’s first bio-inspired consultancy, bringing nature’s ideas to the design table and board room of 250+ companies including Nike, HOK, GE Procter and Gamble, Levi’s and General Mills; and an educational non-profit dedicated to promoting the study of biomimicry. In 2011, Janine and her co-founders combined staffs and administration services into a single entity, to create Biomimicry 3.8. In addition to her biomimicry work, Janine teaches interpretive writing, lectures at the University of Montana, and works towards restoring and protecting wild lands. She has received several awards including the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Design Mind Award, the 2011 Heinz Award, Rachel Carson Environmental Ethics Award, and the Lud Browman Award for Science Writing. Learn more
Executive Chairman, Volans Ventures
John Elkington is the founding partner and executive chairman of Volans (2008 to date) also co-founder of SustainAbility (1987-2008, where he remains a non-executive member of the board) and of Environmental Data Services (ENDS, 1978), John Elkington is a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development.John has written or co-authored 18 books, most recently The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier, published May 2012. The Zeronauts spotlights a new breed of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and policy-makers who are pushing towards zero in such areas as population growth, pandemic risk, poverty, pollution and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The book explores ways in which corporations, citizens, cities and countries can tackle the civilizational challenges at the intersections between demography, consumerist lifestyles, natural resource availability, and climate change. Learn more
Consulting Professor, Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University
Stefan Heck is a Consulting Professor at the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University, teaching courses and conducting research on innovation, energy, and resource economics. Stefan lectures widely on his new book Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century to long-term investors, academic audiences, and the broader public. Previously he was a Director (senior partner) at McKinsey and he co-founded the Cleantech and Sustainability
Owner, David Oakey Designs
David Oakey founded David Oakey Designs in 1985 and leads global efforts in sustainable or “smart design” by learning from nature. Oakey challenges industrial designers, architects, teachers, and students to take action and impact change today. He has been featured in Business Week, Fast Company, Interior Design magazine, The New York Times, Green Futures magazine, I.D. magazine, and Smithsonian magazine. Learn more
CEO, Gore Street Capital
Alex O’Cinneide is CEO of Gore Street Capital where he manages significant capital on behalf of institutional investors for renewable investments. Beside his role in Gore Street he acts as a Senior Advisor to Kleinwort Benson Bank in London and a Senior Advisor to Paladin Capital Group in Washington DC, serves on the Investment Committee for SDCL (a global energy efficient fund), serves on the Investment Committee of IndoChina Capital (an Oryx Corp Asia Renewables fund) and is partner in Aqal Capital, a leading impact investment firm. Alongside those commercial activities he also serves on the board of the NGO Educate Girls Globally and the NGO thirst4water. Learn more
Co-Founder, CEO and Chief Alchemist, Numi Organic Tea
Ahmed Rahim is the Co-Founder, CEO and Chief Alchemist behind Numi Organic Tea, the largest premium, organic, Fair Trade Certified tea company in North America. Ahmed is responsible for all of the unique Numi blends and products that the company launches every year. Before starting Numi in 1999 in Oakland, California with his sister, Reem, Ahmed studied Theater & Psychology in New York City. He then spent a decade living, working and traveling throughout Europe as a professional filmmaker and photographer. At Numi, Ahmed travels to remote regions of the world seeking unique herbs and teas unknown in the United States. Numi has developed meaningful partnerships based on mutual gratitude, and has proudly been involved in sponsoring schools, hospitals, community centers, road construction and other needs to improve living standards in farming communities. Since 2009, Ahmed and his sister Reem have been evolving their vision for Numi through the Numi Foundation, with initiatives that focus on acknowledging and addressing the challenges within inner city Oakland; from education to health and nutrition. Ahmed sits on various boards and works with many non-profit organizations to focus on infusing art and nature into inner city communities, and mentors for-profit companies on enhancing their growth and sustainability goals. In 2011, Ahmed helped launch the nation’s first Waldorf-inspired multi-lingual, multi-cultural K-4 charter school: Community School for Creative Education. Learn more
Principal, Northstar Manifesto
Duke Stump is the principal and chief architect of The Northstar Manifesto, a dynamic culture and leadership studio focused on cultivating and nurturing bonfires with soul—positive systemic change-makers who are out to transform the world and have a great time along the way. Prior to creating The Northstar Manifesto, Duke worked as a brand builder for more than 20 years, most recently as the chief marketing officer for Seventh Generation and prior to that as a senior executive for NIKE. Learn more