Ocean Institute Team

Overview

Meet Our Ocean Institute Team

Our staff comes from all over the world, having earned degrees from prestigious universities and training programs. Each person represents the diversity of the programs we offer, encompassing all disciplines of modern science, technology, history, and sailing.

Our instructors are professional educators who specialize in hands on, inquiry based, scientific and historical exploration. Through our award-winning programs, instructors not only use the ocean as our classroom, but all of the rich natural resources that Southern California has to offer.

Our staff comes from all over the world, having earned degrees from prestigious universities and training programs. Each person represents the diversity of the programs we offer, encompassing all disciplines of modern science, technology, history, and sailing.

Our instructors are professional educators who specialize in hands on, inquiry based, scientific and historical exploration. Through our award-winning programs, instructors not only use the ocean as our classroom, but all of the rich natural resources that Southern California has to offer.

From our outdoor education camp, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ana mountains, to a Tallship on the high seas, we engage, enlighten, and inspire visitors to learn about the world and their role in it.

Since 1977, Ocean Institute has inspired scientific discovery for both K-12 students and visitors from all over the world. By offering innovative and exciting programming that incorporates technology, we create a passion for exploring science that makes discovery fun!

Ocean Institute Staff

Mary Lawson
Vice President of External Relations

Hometown: Long Beach, California

Education: University of Southern California

Why I work at Ocean Institute: I work at the Ocean Institute because I believe that the work we do here is both important and time sensitive.  I work here because we are an organization that helps inspire children to be future innovators, problem solvers and environmental stewards.  I work here because I believe in our mission and the positive impact we are making for the future.

Ocean Institute Staff

Jody Williams
Maritime Sailing Coordinator

Hometown: Tracy, MN

Education: BS Industrial Technology  Moorhead State University

Why I work at Ocean Institute: Sharing  my love of the of the ocean and the magic of sailing a traditional tallship with people of all ages has been a rewarding experience for me at the Ocean Institute.  There is an amazing  the transformation that occurs in youth during a multiday trip aboard Spirit of Dana Point.  Watching them learn what life at sea was like during the great days of sail while also learning about the importance of our ocean environments and their preservation brings a feeling of satisfaction to me on every trip.

Ocean Institute Staff

Jim Wehan
Tallship Captain

Hometown:  Los Angeles, CA

Education:  BS in Electrical Engineering from LMU, MA in Mathematics from CSULA

Why I work at Ocean Institute:  I enjoy educating youth especially in the field of Maritime Studies

Ocean Institute Staff

Jane Birmingham
Grantwriter

Hometown:  New York City

Education:  BA Economics, University of Pennsylvania

Why I work at Ocean Institute:  I was attracted to the Ocean Institute because of its dedicated focus on education, which I have always felt is the most important factor in someone’s success in life.  My career is fundraising and it’s important that I believe in the mission of where I raise funds!  At the Ocean Institute – in many ways – it is an honor to work hard to secure essential funding for our outstanding educational team that truly excels in engaging and inspiring students.

Ocean Institute Staff

Emma Opie
Annual Fund Manager

Hometown: Adelaide, Australia 

Education: University of South Australia, Bachelor of Science in International Relations, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism

Why I work at Ocean Institute:  I have always loved the water, and am passionate about the conservation of our oceans. Everyone deserves the opportunity to learn about this precious resource, and the chance to see it healthy for generations to come! 

Ocean Institute Staff

Nathan Taxel
Director of Outdoor Education

Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio 

Education: BA, Hobart College:  Environmental Studies/ Political Science

 MS, Slippery Rock University: Parks and Resource Management 

Why I work at Ocean Institute:  I work at the Ocean Institute because it gives me the chance to create opportunities for students to participate in life changing educational programs that foster connections to our rich natural and cultural history. 

 

Ocean Institute Staff

Alexandra Latona
Director of Public Programs

Hometown: Clovis, California

Education: Bachelor of Arts: History, California State University, Fresno

Master of Arts: History with a concentration in Museum Studies, University of North Carolina, Greensboro  

Why I work at Ocean Institute: At the Ocean Institute, I am able to combine my passions for informal education and history in a unique environment. Working with the public every day, I get the unique privilege of exposing visitors from around the world and from various walks of life to new experiences, ideas, and environmental stewardship. I’m excited to have the opportunity to grow the Ocean Institute’s public programs and provide everyone in our community -from toddlers at our Tiny Tots programs, to adults, at our lecture events- with the opportunity to learn. Every day is a new adventure- I hope you can join us!

Ocean Institute Staff

Andrea Smith
Volunteer & Weekend Manager

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Education: B.A. in Anthropology minor in Biology and M.A. in Museum Studies

Why I Work at Ocean Institute: I always feel like I am doing what I’m meant to when I am working with volunteers and informal education. I am a social butterfly and want to ensure that visitors and volunteers are having a great experience!

Ocean Institute Staff

Dan Goldbacher
Director of Maritime

Home Town: Sweetwater, New Jersey

Education: BA Geography: Environmental Planning, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania

Why I work at Ocean Institute: I work at the Ocean Institute because we continually  provide a wide array of experiences that many students may otherwise never have had the opportunity to do.  I still remember my overnight trips throughout my education more then any other part, and giving students of all ages the same chance is something I am proud to be part of.  We have an incredibly strong leadership team that strive to push themselves and each other to give the best experience to each student that steps on a ship, reaches into touch a sea star or hike through our native chaparral.

Ocean Institute Staff

Kristin McGowan
Maritime Education Coordinator

Hometown: Laguna Niguel, CA

Education: BA History, University of Redlands

Why I work at Ocean Institute: I work at the Ocean Institute to share my love of history and the sea with students and the public.  The transformation of students that attend both our dockside and sailing programs is an amazing experience to be a part of. The students learn about the life of sailor in history while gaining an appreciation for the environment and skills to help them in their future endeavors.  It is such a rewarding experience to develop these programs and bring more students to the Institute.

Ocean Institute Staff

Leslie Kretschmar
Director of At Sea Programs

Hometown: Rapid City, South Dakota

Education: Montana State University & Oregon State University BS Organismal Biology, Marine Biology.

Why I work at the Ocean Institute: Growing up in the Midwest, I was always fascinated with the ocean! I now have the dream job of being able to work on the water and share its wonders with people of all ages.

Ocean Institute Staff

Brittany Loust
At Sea Program Coordinator

Hometown: Dana Point, CA

Education: BS Marine Science, University of Hawaii-Hilo

Ocean Institute Staff

Danelle Hickman
Distance Learning Programs Coordinator

Hometown: Woodland Hills, CA

Education: Bachelor of Science, Woodbury University: Marketing

Ocean Institute Staff

Danielle Garcia
Director of STEM Programs

Hometown: Claremont, CA

Education: University of San Diego, Biology and Marine Science

Why I work at the Ocean Institute: Working at Ocean Institute has allowed me to share my passion and wonder for the ocean with students of all ages. I love that we can impact someone new every day! We have such a unique learning facility and it is an honor to train students as both scientists and stewards for the the future.

Ocean Institute Staff

Jonathan Witt
Senior Education Director

Hometown: Long Beach, CA

Education: UC Santa Barbara

Why I work at Ocean Institute: The Ocean Institute is a unique educational resource for our local community.  I have been involved with informal education since 2001 and believe strongly in the impact these types of learning experiences can have.  The scope of what the Ocean Institute is able to do in terms of teachable moments is special.  I have an opportunity to facilitate a student’s connection to the environment each and every day through science programming.  All Ocean Institute staff come to work full dedicated to mission and goals of the organization.  That is a special work environment.

Ocean Institute Staff

Karen Jhwar
Director of Environmental Programs

Hometown: La Mirada, CA

Education: Bachelors of Science, Marine Science , minor in Geology

Why I work at the Ocean Institute: I love working at the Ocean Institute, because I love educating kids about the ocean, and its conservation.  I love seeing that light-bulb going off, when they finally understand or have learned something.

Ocean Institute Staff

Randy Teague
Facilities Manager

Hometown: Henderson, NC.

Education: Masters Degree EE

      

Why I work at Ocean Institute: I work at the Ocean Institute because of the everyday challenges the job presents and where else could an almost 82 year old guy get a good job. 

Ocean Institute Staff

Kara Whitechurch
Manager of Laurena G. Chambers Gallery

Hometown: Louisville, CO

Education: Montana State University

Why I work at Ocean Institute: Working at the Ocean Institute means I get to share my love for the ocean. I feel privileged to work for a non-profit organization that focuses on educating students in ocean science. I enjoy working with a supportive team that allows me to use my current talents while being able to learn new skills daily.