Meet the AWCC Staff
Di has been a lifelong Alaska since 1973 and joined the AWCC team in 2016. Previously, Di was the General Manager and Vice President of Alyeska Ski Resort and she brings almost two decades of management and operations experience to the AWCC. Di has a Bachelor’s degree in History from the University of Alaska, an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies from the University of Alaska, as well as a certificate in nonprofit management from the Foraker Group. In her spare time, Di can be found enjoying the outdoors and loves to ski, hike, hunt, camp, and float remote Alaskan rivers. Di lives in Girdwood with her husband, teenagers and three American Bulldogs.
Trish has lived in Alaska since coming North with her husband, Jeff, in 1992 “for a year or two.” She loves animals and enjoys traveling, cross-country skiing, photography, and spending the weekends at the family cabin near Big Lake. Trish comes to AWCC from a 25-year career in the oil and gas industry working external affairs and emergency management. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from California State University Northridge and a Master’s degree in Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Trish lives in Anchorage with her husband, two daughters, and their Labrador Retriever.
Sarah grew up in Palmer, Alaska where her love for the state and its wildlife began. She moved to Wisconsin with her family and upon graduating from UW-Stevens Point with a BS in Wildlife Management and Biology, made the move back to her home state. Her career with AWCC started in 2010 while still in college, and after receiving her degree she filled niche’s within the organization ranging from Animal Care Intern, Tractor Operator/Large Game Keeper, to the position she is in now as the Animal Care Manager. Sarah has a strong passion for the animals she cares for and loves to teach people all about them and their stories. It makes her day when she can see the reactions on a visitor’s face when they get to interact closely with the wildlife at AWCC.
When Sarah is not busy wrangling moose and howling with the wolves, she can be seen running around Girdwood with the local fire department and her 90lb German Shepard mix Remi, who can’t seem to keep her paws on the ground!
Lily is an Alaska transplant who first moved to Alaska in 2008 to attend University of Alaska Fairbanks. While earning her Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology and minor in outdoor recreation and guiding management she was an intern at AWCC in 2009. After completing her degree, she gained experience in education working as a camp director, wildlife associate, community college instructor, and program manager developing educational programs for all ages. After almost a decade away Lily is happy to be on our team as the Director of Education. When she is not working, she is enjoying her sparks, whether river rafting, silversmithing, or hanging out with her cat, Little Foot.
Robin was born and raised in Anchorage, with a passion for the outdoors and a love of the state. She took flight to Arizona during her academic years, where she attended Arizona State University for her undergraduate degree in Communications and Business. Robin jumped at the opportunity to come back to Alaska in 2012 and since her return has pursued another passion of hers; education. She went back to school to achieve her Master of Business Administration degree at Alaska Pacific University. Her scope of knowledge is a broad spectrum and ranges from restaurant manager to marketing manager, and even out to Bristol Bay, Alaska where she commercial fishes with her family. Since starting in the tourism industry, Robin sits on the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce boards.
Dr. Michelle Oakley
Dr. Michelle Oakley is the only all-species veterinarian for the Yukon territory and is the star of the National Geographic Wild’s series Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet. She attended vet school at the Atlantic Veterinary College and graduated in 2001 with a doctorate in veterinary medicine. After graduating, she interned at the Calgary Zoo and is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Calgary’s College for Veterinary Medicine. She runs an animal clinic in Haines Junction, Yukon out of her home she shares with her husband and three daughters. In Haines, Dr. Oakley shares her clinic with the American Bald Eagle Foundation which houses injured birds and will also run weekly clinical sessions 148 miles away in Haines, Alaska. In Whitehorse, Yukon works as an on-call vet for the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, with animals native to the Yukon and is a large wildlife rehabilitation facility. She has spearheaded research programs for First Nation organizations and the Canadian government. Dr. Oakley is dedicated and loyal to her clients and animals of all species, making house calls and sometimes driving hundreds of miles through extreme weather conditions to provide care for a patient.
Kat’s first season at the AWCC was back in 2009 as a seasonal worker to offset her travels and work in Antarctica. The Alaska bug bit, and after a second season down on the ice, Kat decided to make Alaska her home. She has worked on and off at the AWCC since 2012- in positions ranging from snack bar cook (she can still grill a killer hot dog), to caribou wrangler, to Assistant Manager and is now proving to have an eye for retail, as she is now the Retail Manager. When she’s not working at the AWCC Kat finds herself moonlighting as a raft guide, adaptive ski instructor, and helping her husband Adam run their fishing company.
Matt Hertel has led the Maintenance department at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center for over 12 years, with over 25 years of construction and maintenance experience. He was part of the wood bison restoration project in 2015 and was a pivotal team member in leading the wood bison into containers that were shipped to Shageluk. He has designed and implemented several structures and projects around the Center. Matt also operates all machinery at the AWCC and supports the animal care department with hay feedings of the large hoofstock animals. When Matt is not working he enjoys spending time with his daughter, Cedar and she can often be found helping out at AWCC in the Be Wild Gift Shop.
Di P as she has been known for years has been in Alaska since 1985 when she married her husband and moved to Girdwood to live in a “Wood Tent” (the A-frame at the top of Crow Creek Rd.) and came out of retirement to join the AWCC team in July of 2019. Previously, Di was the RTP Administrator and Ticket office Director at Alyeska Ski Resort where she worked in various positions from accounting to Ticket office over her 26 years there. But the last 10 years she oversaw the Point of Sale System (RTP) and the programming, as well as Ticket office Director, making sure the lift tickets and season passes worked. She brings management and operations experience to the AWCC. In her spare time, Di can be found enjoying the outdoors and loves to travel, photography and quilting. Di lives in Girdwood with her husband, and their English Labrador, Aurora
Pete is a North Carolina native who received his Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Minor in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington. Shortly after graduating in 2009, Pete accepted a 6-month Internship at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center as a Naturalist where he fell in love with the Center and the state. Pete always knew he wanted to return to Alaska, so after spending 8 years in California in the education and tech industries, he is finally back at the AWCC in the Social Media and Administrative Manager position. Pete oversees the AWCC’s social media pages, provides administrative support, and assists the Education and Sales & Marketing departments. On his off time, Pete is busy traveling, brewing mead, or working on his creative writing projects.
A 40+year resident of Alaska, Lana Johnson is a former journalist who worked her way through the ranks at the Anchorage Times to become the newspaper’s first female managing editor. After leaving the Times, Lana performed corporate communications for Chugach Electric Association and later became a public relations professional. She currently is senior vice president at MSI Communications. Active in the community, she is a founding board member of Girdwood 2020 and sits on the board for the Alaska Council for Economic Education. Lana is the author of Alaska’s Perfect Mountain, a history of the gold rush community of Girdwood where she has lived since 2003. She also was instrumental in development of the Roundhouse at Alyeska, Alaska’s only ski museum. She is a political science graduate of the University of Wyoming where she was a member of the ski team.
Jason Graham is a lifelong Alaskan. He graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Alaska – Fairbanks after spending two years at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Jason has worked as an engineer, project manager and estimator for a number of the larger civil construction firms in Alaska over the course of his career. Having been raised in Alaska, he has spent a lot of time skiing in Girdwood, boating in Prince William Sound and Resurrection Bay, and hunting across the State. He is currently working on obtaining his pilots license. Jason enjoys sharing the State with his three daughters and wife Jessica. They currently split their time between Anchorage and Girdwood.
Toni has been a player in the Alaska tourism industry for years. She owns and operates Logistics LLC, a successful meeting and event planning company in Anchorage. She is known in the industry as the go-to person when an event needs to be done right and brings with her incredible partnerships in the worldwide event planning business. Toni lives in Anchorage and is often spotted at the Center with clients, or on a day out with her daughter, Taylor.
Bruce Bustamante is the President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and has lived and worked in Anchorage for over 24 years.
Previously, Bruce was Vice President of Community and Public Affairs for Princess Cruises where he served for 8 years. Prior to that Bruce was President and CEO of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Visit Anchorage, where he served in that capacity for seven years. During that time Bruce was directly involved with two campaigns to build a new convention center in Anchorage, which passed voter approval in 2005.
Bruce also worked for Alaska Airlines as Regional Sales Director where he managed three sales offices in the state from 1992 – 2000. Bruce worked for Alaska Airlines for 17 years and lived and worked in Seattle, Tucson, and Los Angeles before moving to Alaska.
Bruce has served as chair of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and continues to serve on the Alaska Sea Grant Advisory Board, the Alaska Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Board and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center board.
Bruce holds a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Chad is the President and co-founder of Steel-N-Iron Equipment, LLC, Steel-N-Iron Construction, Inc., Far East Pile Driving (Russia) and Far East Pile Driving (Canada) each of which provide oilfield support for clients in Alaska, Canada and Far East Russia. Prior to working for himself, Chad worked as a Project Manager for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation completing oil and gas, telecommunications, power and missile defense projects statewide.
An Alaskan since age 3, Chad graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a degree in Biology. His greatest joy is sharing his love of Alaska’s beauty and wildlife with his wife, young daughter, family and friends — particularly skiing the Chugach Moutains, including Alyeska, and fishing the Kenai Peninsula and southwest Alaska. Chad and his family also enjoy extensive world travel, with favorite spots including Punta Gorda (Belize), Des Roches Island (Seychelles), Ndutu Lodge (Tanzania), and Koh Lao Liang (Thailand).
Melissa LaRose is a Vice President at Alaska’s premier destination ski and Summer resort and neighbor to AWCC and Alyeska Resort. Melissa focuses on Retail, Guest Services, and Design at Alyeska while living in Girdwood and enjoying everything the Alaskan outdoors has to offer in all seasons. Melissa began her career in the resort and outdoor industry with a break from graduate school to teach backcountry travel and mountaineering that became a lifelong path and passion. After guiding guests throughout the US and Patagonia, Melissa transitioned to resort management and has worked her way through the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges, including 10 years as a Director at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky Montana, eventually finding her home to the North in Alaska. Melissa enjoys biking, skiing, hunting, snow machining, and hiking with her husband Eric and their dogs. Melissa also loves spending time each year traveling outside the US but is always happy to come home to Alaska!
Barbara Donatelli joined CIRI in 1980 and has been a Vice President of the company since 1987. In her current position as Senior Vice President, Donatelli is responsible for government relations, shareholder services, public relations, human resources, information technology and serves as the company’s Chief Administrative Officer. Donatelli is Yup’ik, a shareholder of CIRI and Doyon, Limited and grew up in Anchorage. Prior to joining CIRI in 1980, Donatelli studied Economics at George Washington University and the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Caryn has more than 20 years of experience working in the oil and gas industry in Alaska, primarily within the Arctic coastal plain and outer continental shelf. She has also co-authored publication of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, successfully shared environmental data in databases available to the public, presented at numerous conferences (national and international), community meetings, and served on a variety of science advisory groups.
A life-long Alaskan from Fairbanks, John Binkley is president of CLIA Alaska, which represents the large cruise lines that call on Alaska. Binkley served as chairman and CEO of the Riverboat Discovery for 14 years and as president of the El Dorado Gold Mine for 12 years. Both are popular visitor attractions in the Fairbanks area. In 1977, John and his wife, Judy, moved to Bethel, where they started Northwest Navigation, which hauled freight on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. It was there that he started his public service career, first as a member of the Bethel City Council from 1982 to 1985 and then representing the region in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1985 to 1986. John ran for the Alaska State Senate in 1986 and represented District M until 1990. John has an extensive record of civic service, including serving as chairman of the Alaska Railroad Corporation from 1997 to 2011. He serves on many other corporate and nonprofit boards and was named the president of CLIA Alaska in 2007. One of four recipients to be selected by his business peers for into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame. John Binkley, one of four peers recently selected for outstanding Alaska leaders to join the Alaska Business Hall of Fame.
A recent addition to the AWCC Board, following her time on staff, is Karen Cowart. Karen’s love for Alaska started in 1976 when Navy husband, Rob, was stationed on Adak Island. Along with 2 children, they hiked and fished, and loved their time in the Aleutians. They moved to Anchorage in 1980, and Karen started a journey in nonprofit management in tourism and the oil and gas industry. She recently retired from BP Alaska after having served as the Community Affairs Director. A Board member convinced her that getting involved with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center would be fun and rewarding. They were right! She’s having a ball, learning more every day about the animals she now represents and humbled by watching the dedicated staff care daily for each animal.
Jim Barnett has been an Alaska attorney in private practice in Anchorage since 1974, representing a host of fishing, tourism, natural resources, real estate and other commercial and non profit ventures, including recent representation of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. He also participated in the development of the cruise dock, marina and other recreational facilities in nearby Whittier, the western gateway to Prince William Sound.
A fourth-generation Californian, his principal leisure pursuit is the early history of the west coast of North America, particularly Alaska. He has written or edited seven books on these topics, including a pocket-sized history of Alaska, the comprehensive Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (University of Washington Press, 2015) and two complementary volumes about the voyages of Captain James Cook and Captain George Vancouver in Alaska and the North Pacific, all available at local bookstores. His latest project is Imagining Anchorage: The Making of America’s Northernmost Metropolis (University of Alaska Press, 2018), a thorough examination of Anchorage’s history in commemoration of the recent centennial of its founding.
Dr. Herb Schroeder
Dr. Schroeder created the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP) in 1995 with a single Alaska Native engineering undergraduate. ANSEP has evolved into a longitudinal education model that provides a continuous string of components with 2,500 currently enrolled students beginning in sixth grade, continuing through high school, into engineering and science undergraduate majors, and through graduate school to the Ph.D. The Urban Institute has found that ANSEP students outperform national averages for all students at every education level. Dr. Schroeder has been recognized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with a 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), the 2005 Alaska Federation of Natives Denali Award, the greatest honor presented by the Federation to a non-Native. He has also been awarded the 2009 National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and Reginald H. Jones Distinguished Service Award (Founders Award) created to honor individuals whose efforts and accomplishments have resulted in increased underrepresented minority participation in the nation’s engineering workforce.
Laura McLaughlin is a ten-year resident of Alaska. She received her degree in Elementary Education at Boston College and also ran a sheep and chicken farm in Massachusetts for 15 years. Laura is the proud mother of ten children and is a 4th-grade teacher in Anchorage. In her spare time, she enjoys kayaking and fishing on the Kenai River near her Cooper Landing cabin.
Chris von Imhof
Chris H. von Imhof, born and raised in Germany immigrated as a young ( 19 years ) man to the USA. The first 5 years he worked in the Hotel and Airline business in Beverly Hills, California. In 1963 he moved to Anchorage, AK and was Sales Manager for SAS, Scandinavian Airlines System. In 1965 Governor Egan appointed him as Alaska State Director of Tourism. Chris married Nina Whaley, Miss Alaska and they had 3 sons, Rudi, Chris Jr. and Fabian. In 1967 the CEO of Alaska Airlines, Charlie Willis, Jr, hired Chris as General Manager of Alyeska Resort. For over 40 years he managed and developed Alaska’s premier Summer and Winter Resort. In 1980 he sold the Resort to Seibu/Prince Hotels of Japan and continued as CEO & GM of Alyeska. From 1985 to 1995 Chris was transferred to Hawaii and built and managed Prince Hotels in Maui and Honolulu. Chris was very active in the tourism industry, including President of the Alaska Visitor Association. While at Alyeska Resort, Chris got involved with the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and was its first President.