Heather Kuhlken, M.A.T. Founder and Director of Families in Nature
Heather Kuhlken incorporated her experience as a teacher, outdoor educator and biologist and her passion for nature and conservation to found Families in Nature in 2008. Over the past 9 years, Heather has guided FiN’s growth from a small family nature club into a 501c3 non-profit with international influence as an example of a program successfully connecting people to nature. As the executive director of Families and Nature, Heather spends time planning and leading family outdoor and environmental education experiences, managing multiple Families in Nature groups, and managing the internal structure, fundraising, website and social media for the organization. She mentors leaders in Austin and around the US to help them engage families in experiential science, outdoor education and nature play. This includes training classroom teachers to incorporate nature and the outdoors into their instruction. During the summer, Heather leads immersive, nature-rich travel experiences for families to destinations around the world. Heather has also designed and lead the community builds of three nature-based play areas at Parkside Community School, a Montessori school in Austin, TX. Heather also works as a nature and underwater photographer through Kuhlken Photography. Her work is published in Rich Louv’s book Vitamin N as well as in several articles for Blue Ocean Network, and climate change adaptation materials through the Nature Conservancy. She leads the Families and Communities project on the Leadership Team of the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin, and is an active part of the international Children & Nature Network, speaking at their annual conference and helping lead webinars for family nature club leaders and the Natural Leaders Network. Heather has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Masters in Teaching secondary science from Rice University. She has research experience studying marine mammals and sustainable fisheries management in Baja, Mexico through the School for Field Studies. Heather also has research experience studying bird behavior at Rice University and the Houston Zoo. She is a National Outdoor Leadership School graduate that participated in the Baja Sea Kayaking program and is certified in Wilderness First Aid and Rescue Scuba Diving. Heather is the parent of 3 boys who love to be out in nature exploring and traveling with friends and family.
Jennie Shields – Development Director for Families in Nature
Jennie Shields has over 15 years of experience building relationships with clients, vendors and community. She and her family have been members of Families in Nature (FIN) for eight years and have seen personally the benefit of time spent in nature. Jennie is grateful to be able to use her professional experience to be an advocate for FIN’s success and growth.
Prior to her position as FIN’s Development Director, Jennie worked as a Director of Production and Logistics. In this capacity, she worked to create synergy between all areas of the company to increase efficiencies, streamline processes and increase overall sales and revenue. Previously, as an instructor and director at Le Cordon Bleu for ten years, Jennie honed her skills writing and managing educational curriculum, hiring and developing faculty and managing student programs. Throughout her career, Jennie has sought to create partnerships that benefit business and community. Jennie has an undergraduate degree from Tulane University in International Politics and Economics and an MBA from Colorado Technical University.
Jordan Joly – Program Coordinator for Families in Nature
Jordan recently completed her her Master’s degree in Anthrozoology after earning her Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation. She has been fortunate enough to conduct behavioral research in South Africa and spend a good deal of time traveling various parts of the world. She previously developed curriculum for STEAM programs focusing on conservation and sustainability for underserved Austin youth. She yearns to make environmental education and awareness accessible for all walks of life through engaging and relatable activities. She is extremely passionate about conservation and the natural world, and is so grateful and excited to work with FIN.
Nancy Zepeda – Outreach Coordinator for Families in Nature
Nancy is passionate about non profit work, spending her time working as a bilingual educator and translator for Families in Nature as well as working for the Amala Foundation and El Ranchito.
Thanh Nguyen – FIN Intern
Thanh is currently a senior at the University of Texas at Austin. He majored in biochemistry for a year before developing a stronger interest in nature and deciding to transition into geology at the Jackson School of Geoscience within U.T. Thanh was born overseas but spent most of his life in Austin. As a minority, he was not significantly exposed to nature in the past; as a result, he hopes to spread knowledge about nature to under-represented groups and cultivate their interest in nature while pursuing his career in geosciences.
Jennie Glass – FIN Educator
Jennie grew up in the bustling city of Houston, but spread her wings in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where she attended and worked at the YMCA of the Rockies leading and helping with backpacking and rafting trips for teens, working as an assistant camp director at the Estes Park Center Day Camp, and taught at a Montessori preschool. She is a trained Montessori teacher who has worked with children 3-12 for the past 17 years, and is currently having fun teaching P.E. and Outdoor Leadership at Headwaters School’s Elementary campus. She also runs day camps through the year through Nature’s Wonder Camps, which she started a few years ago. She has interned at Earth Native Wilderness School, where she also trained in the Art of Mentoring. She has been a volunteer with Families in Nature for four years. During her time with FiN, she has gained training with Texas Outdoor Families and their camping, kayaking and geocaching equipment, and has also received training in Project Wild, Archery and Wilderness First Aid. She loves walking and seeing nature close-up, taking pictures with her trusty iPhone, and spending time with her 9 year old son outside. She values and strives for a deeper understanding of the world around her, and honors the processes and connections that have tied us together for millions of years.
Carlos Yanez – Intern for Families in Nature
Carlos has volunteered for FIN for many years. He assists with guiding activities and acts as a Spanish language translator at many of our events, helping families feel comfortable camping, canoeing and hiking.
Andy Kuhlken – Junior Guide for Families in Nature
Andy has always felt most at home in the outdoors, whether camping or just in the backyard. He loves teaching children and adults, helping them share in his enjoyment of the natural world. Andy has planned and taught many activities for FIN such as archery, canoeing, camping and survival training. In 2015 (age of 14), he presented at the Children & Nature Network conference about using biophilic design in a virtual world. He attended the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Honolulu where he volunteered for Kupu, earned an internship with a company creating biophilic designed coral reefs. In 2017, his design ranked in the top 17% of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge landing him a spot in their Catalyst Program. He has also earned a space at the 2017 and 2018 Youth Leadership Summits of the Our Ocean Conference, where he had the opportunity to speak about his work to high-level officials and other influential figures like John Kerry, Sylvia Earl and Peter Thomson of the UN, along with many others. Andy is currently working with a fellow young ocean conservation leader to establish Peru’s first marine protected area. Andy is passionate about art, metal work, travel, and martial arts.
Theo Roe – FIN Junior Media Intern
Theo is a student at McCallum High School, where he majors in technical theatre, is on the editorial board of the school newspaper, and is the sound designer for the theatre program’s musicals. In addition to theatre, he has experience in film, podcasting, and graphic design. He has only been involved with FIN for a little over a year, but he looks forward to more years to come.