The effectiveness of OA and its high academic standards are a testament to our faculty. Our teachers are some of the most passionate educators you will find anywhere. They are experts in fields ranging from American literature to political economics to ecological diversity.
Our leaders have received degrees from Swarthmore College, Duke University, Davidson College, The University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Warren Wilson College, and other highly respected colleges and universities. They are all dedicated professionals who enjoy the outdoors and love working closely with young adults in a variety of settings where students are actively engaged in discussions and their own learning process. Click on a faculty member’s photo or name to learn more about each person.
OA Admissions Counselor
Jess Kusher started as an Eagle’s Nest Camper some twelve years ago when she fell in love with Pisgah Forest. For her, summers were defined by the skills and friendships she developed though Eagle’s Nest, in particular through the whitewater canoeing and wilderness programs. After writing her Common Application college essay on her experience in Eagle’s Nest’s Junior Counselor program she attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At Kenyon she majored in biology and film, with a minor in anthropology. Defining moments of her college career included co-producing a feature film on queerness and race, studying climate change and a remote seabird in Canada, and studying the biocultural adaptations of humans through a Neanderthal lens. Jess credits much of her curiosity and passion for learning to the friendships she has shared with her teachers; and she is proud to bring students to The Outdoor Academy where they can share in those bonds of collaboration and mentorship. At Eagle’s Nest she has served as a garden intern, head cabin counselor, and whitewater canoeing director. Similarly, at the Outdoor Academy she works as a back-up resident and wilderness instructor in addition to her admissions counselor duties. In her free time Jess loves to go trail running, paddle the Upper Green River, and geek out about birds. Her goals for this semester include writing more songs, baking lots of bread, and hiking the Art Lobe Trail in a day. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resident Wilderness Educator
Jake was born and raised in Greenwood, Indiana and spent much of their childhood hiking and camping with their family. Jake graduated from Ball State University with a BFA in Acting. Since graduating Jake has worked for a number of environmental non-profits in Indianapolis, namely Reconnecting to Our Waterways and Friends of the White River, as an advocate for Indiana’s waterways and the habitats around them. Jake is an avid backpacker and rock climber and has honed these skills on personal, educational, and professional trips. Jake spent 3 months on an Outdoor Educator Semester with the National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) in 2017 and in April 2019 they officially became a field instructor for NOLS. Jake has also spent the summers of 2018 and 2019 as a Hante Instructor leading both AT Trek and Rocks and Rivers courses through ENF. Jake is thrilled to be joining Outdoor Academy as one of their Resident Wilderness Educators and hopes to inspire passion for the outdoors in their students.
Outdoor Education Manager
John grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and received his Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Studies at the University of Alabama. He has worked in many outdoor education roles during his career, including several roles for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. His many hats with Outward Bound included being an Instructor, Course Director, Chief Kayak Instructor, Staffing Director, Kitchen Manager, and an 82-day course traveling through the NC Mountains, Outer Banks, Everglades, and Costa Rica. He documented this trip on this website.
He enjoys writing and photography in his free time and is an avid trail runner, completing several long distance races. Check out his work and blog at www.meetjohngray.com .
He has spent the last year working in New Zealand and is excited to return to the North Carolina mountains as the Outdoor Education Manager for OA!
Chelsea graduated from Sewanee: The University of the South with a major in Environmental Studies: Arts and Humanities. While at Sewanee, Chelsea played on the Women’s Varsity Lacrosse Team, leading the team as Captain her senior year. Chelsea spent her summers during college leading the Outdoor Leadership Program at a small summer camp in Virginia.
After graduation, Chelsea went on to work at Google in San Francisco. This past year Chelsea has fallen in love with the semester school model while leading the Histories Department at The Island School. Chelsea is thrilled to be joining the Outdoor Academy and cannot wait to share her passion for education, leadership, and adventure. In her free time Chelsea enjoys spending time with friends, family, hiking, traveling, re-reading Harry Potter, skiing, floating in the ocean and listening to music.
Emily is from Miami, Florida, where she grew up scuba diving, kayaking, and camping on Biscayne Bay and throughout The Everglades. Emily says that she first learned to like being outside as a student at The Outdoor Academy in 2006 (Semester XXII). She went on to study Marine Science and Geology at the University of Miami and earned a Masters in Coastal Zone Management from UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. As part of her thesis project, she created the full curriculum for an innovative digital course in marine and environmental science, working with expert guest scientists across seven countries. The driving vision of the project was to bring experiential education to a wider audience via documentary film techniques.
Emily worked as an environmental consultant in South Florida and as a Coastal Planner for the Bureau of environmental and Coastal Quality in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands before turning her attention back to education. Emily first taught Literature & Writing and Applied Maths at The Island School in The Bahamas and is now thrilled to be returning to OA, which she continually credits for shaping her sense of self. As a teacher, Emily is eager to help her students tap into their own wellsprings of determination and grit in the face of challenge, be it a math problem or a mountain. When she is not thinking up new lessons, you can find Emily training for the next triathlon, practicing and teaching yoga, and writing letters.
Resident Wildeness Educator
Katie grew up in Wallingford, Connecticut, and spent most of her early school years playing sports and taking creative writing classes. She first became interested in the outdoors when she took a North Carolina Outward Bound course, and continued down the path of outdoor education by attending the High Mountain Institute during her junior year of high school. She went to Whitman College and graduated in 2018 with an Environmental Humanities degree. In addition to studying, she spent the majority of her time leading and organizing trips for the Outdoor Program, climbing and skiing with friends on the weekends, singing in a coed a capella group, and playing pick-up sports whenever there was time between classes. After college she took her NOLS Instructor Course, and began leading extended backpacking trips in the western United States for the next two summers. For her first full year out of school, she taught English to primary school students in Thailand, and was able to gain classroom teaching experience, and immerse herself in a new culture and language (by the end she could successfully ask for “no spice” in Thai). After the semester was over, she traveled around Southeast Asia with some friends, going climbing, motorbiking, and bicycling in various locations including Vietnam and China. Though it was an eventful year, she is excited to be back in the States and working at the Outdoor Academy. She can’t wait to live and learn with the students, and to help facilitate the experiential education and community activities both on campus and in the field!
Resident Wilderness Educator
Ellie was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her college years took her to Sewanee, Tennessee on the Cumberland Plateau, where she attended the University of the South. She studied Political Science and French at Sewanee and graduated in 2014. She played for the Sewanee Women’s Soccer team throughout college as well. Growing up, Ellie spent her summers at Camp Fern in Marshall, TX, where she later served as a counselor and eventually became head of outdoor experiences. The bulk of her experience in outdoor education comes from her summers working for Moondance Adventures, an adventure travel company for teens focusing on outdoor leadership. Her five summers with Moondance allowed her to lead trips domestically and internationally to locations like the Pacific Northwest, Europe, Alaska, Tanzania, and our very own Blue Ridge Mountains. Ellie’s thirst for adventure travel encouraged her to spend a year living in New Zealand, but has since lived in Asheville, NC and Nashville, TN. While living in Asheville, she worked for Inside Out Inc, an experiential education company located in Hendersonville, NC. She is excited for the opportunity to live in this community and work with teens throughout the year in the academic and outdoor setting that OA provides
Whole Foods Kitchen Manager and Music and Dance Teacher
Rick Hastings is a musician, chef, and teacher in Brevard, North Carolina. Rick studied piano throughout his youth, and worked with J.D. Robinson in Brasstown, NC to begin guitar studies. In 1999, Rick enrolled in the inaugural Classical and Jazz Guitar program at West Virginia University, studying under Scott Elliot. While at WVU, Rick was a founding member of the WVU Classical Guitar Ensemble, a performance group that played weddings, parties, and other events. From 2008 through 2016, Rick was the first music teacher at Mountain Sun Community School, developing curricula and teaching students from preschool through middle school. Rick says the loves the universal language of music, and the joy that comes from both casual listening and deep study of music of all genres. It is especially rewarding to work with young people as they explore the musical world, whether they are toddlers just singing their hearts out, or youths developing their first love of an instrument or musical form. Teaching is a wonderful means of continuing to develop as a musician, as teachers are continually taught by their students as well. I believe that music education plays a unique role in developing valuable ways of thinking and learning, and can be a strong element of well developed critical thinking, academic discipline, focus, and cooperative skills.
Natural Science Teacher
Ted was the founding Director of The Outdoor Academy. His knowledge of the land, history, and culture of the Southern Appalachians brings depth and quality to our academic and extracurricular programs. Ted’s personal demeanor gives students and faculty alike a sense of what it means to ‘belong’ to, and care for, a place. Ted holds a M.S. in Biology from Appalachian State University. Many students appreciate most the way Ted shares his passion for woodworking and other historic Appalachian crafts.
Jeffrey grew up below sea level in New Orleans, Louisiana before falling in love with the mountains and wild places in our country. Jeffrey studied geology at Sewanee: The University of the South and has always been interested in the evolution of landscapes. At Sewanee he was an active member of the outdoor program and led trips across the country. Following graduation, Jeffrey has worked at the Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park, led outdoor trips for teenagers in California, and worked as a Teaching Fellow at the Alzar School in Idaho. In the classroom, Jeffrey’s goal is to push students to quantify the world around them and to think analytically when faced with a complex problem. In his free time, you will find him outside hiking and rock climbing or inside drinking coffee and whittling.
In 1998, after years of directing a non-profit public interest organization, Julie moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC to join Eagle’s Nest and The Outdoor Academy team as the OA Assistant Director. As OA Assistant Director, Julie found she had a great passion for introducing students to the richness of The Outdoor Academy experience in addition to working with parents and schools to facilitate the enrollment process. Now, Julie works as The Outdoor Academy Admissions Director.
Following the birth of her only child, Skyler, she became invested in local experiential education opportunities and founded a Prek-8th grade school, Mountain Sun Community School, that was inspired by the community building she witnessed at The Outdoor Academy. Julie loves working with children of all ages, but finds the developmental stage of 14-16 years old to be a defining period in a person’s life.
Julie holds a B.S. in sociology from the College of Charleston and AMS Montessori Teacher Training in early childhood education. When not working, Julie enjoys sailing, trail running, paddling, climbing trees, and just being in the outdoors with her son as often as possible.
Dean of Academics
Katie has finally found a way to combine her favorite areas to work with youth: academics and the outdoors. She received her M.Ed. in secondary education from Vanderbilt University. Katie has worked as an instructor at Page High School and the adventure program director at Camp Rockmont for Boys. Experienced in working with students of a wide range and variety of academic strengths, Katie enjoys delving into the learning process with young adults. However, creative writing is her true love. When away from OA, she likes to spend her time reading good books, making music, climbing, and spending time outside with her husband Josh.
Dean of Students
Susan Tinsley Daily
Having worked in a variety of traditional and experiential academic and wilderness settings, Susan is thrilled to work at The Outdoor Academy, where her favorite things in life (the outdoors, education, experiential learning, and community) come together on a daily basis. Susan holds a M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a M.A. in Teaching. She has chosen to work with adolescents throughout her professional career, and has great respect and curiosity for all the strengths and challenges that teenagers experience in their journey. Having spent over 1500 nights in the field as a wilderness instructor, Susan loves to teach others how to learn about themselves through the challenges and rewards of living outside. At The Outdoor Academy, she has served in roles including English teacher, Environmental Seminar teacher, and Dean of Students. Susan has worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, Where There Be Dragons, the Prison University Project at San Quentin, and taught in eight different schools across the country as a classroom teacher. A huge proponent of OA’s principle of simple living and cornerstone of community, she loves to spend time in these mountains she calls home with her partner, two kids, two cats, and a handful of chickens.
Outdoor Academy Director
During his first year of teaching, Glenn’s boss at Ravenscroft School asked him where he saw himself in five years. Without hesitation, he answered, “Western North Carolina.” It took a bit longer than those five years, but Glenn made good on his word and is now doing what he loves in a place he loves doing it here at The Outdoor Academy. He grew up attending and then working at a summer camp in nearby Flat Rock, and after a NOLS semester, Glenn spent a year backpacking in Pisgah National Forest with at-risk teenagers in a therapeutic wilderness program. He went on to spend a decade teaching world and environmental history, global issues, and world religions at independent day and boarding schools in Raleigh and Southern Vermont. Most recently, Glenn took a year off from teaching to return to the classroom a student in Harvard’s educational leadership program, where he also spent a year interning with the head of a Boston-area independent high school. With an academic background in the histories of both Appalachia and the American Wilderness and firsthand experience in witnessing the power of Pisgah as a classroom, Glenn sees The Outdoor Academy as the perfect opportunity to leverage the mountain magic of this special little corner of the country to help create a distinct and compelling experience for young people. Glenn holds a EdM in School Leadership and Development from Harvard University. In his free time, Glenn cooks, skis, and runs. He and his wife Julia, also an educator, are excited about raising their baby boy Elem—already working on his application to OA Semester 76—among the rocks, rivers, and bluegrass jam sessions of Western North Carolina.
Rodrigo has served as a strong and enthusiastic leader at Eagle’s Nest Camp since 1996 in rolls of International Hante Leader and Assistant Program Director. At The Outdoor Academy, Rodrigo has served as Spanish Teacher and in various leadership capacities for many years. He has been abroad with Eagle’s Nest to Mexico, Costa Rica, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, and Iceland. He holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Costa Rica. Rodrigo also has experience as a naturalist guide of Costa Rican Sun Tours and the Executive Director of El Centro Comunitario Brevard.
Outdoor Academy Registrar and Pisgah Forest Office Manager
Her love of the mountains, people, organizational skills, and attention to detail brought Bonnie to command central on the campus of Eagle’s Nest and The Outdoor Academy. She attended North Georgia College & State University and East Georgia College and has worked as a mortgage consultant for First Citizens Bank and an administrative assistant for General Motors Acceptance Corportation. Now, all roads lead to her desk in the Salt Mines of Eagle’s Nest. Raised mostly in a small town in Georgia, summers found her and her family in the mountains of North Carolina or at her grandparent’s cabin in the near-by woods of Transylvania County, North Carolina.
Elizabeth Waite-Kucera (Noni) is the Executive Director of Eagle’s Nest Foundation and serves on The Outdoor Academy Advisory Board. She graduated from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a B.A. degree in anthropology. Previously, Noni was Camp Director at Eagle’s Nest Camp from 1993-2003 and Business Manager from 1989-1999 for Eagle’s Nest Foundation. She has also been the Swimming Director, and Paddling Director. Additionally, Noni developed Eagle’s Nest whitewater canoeing and Hante Bicycling programs.
Noni’s grandfather, Alex Waite, head of psychology at Rollins College, founded Eagle’s Nest Camp in 1945. Helen and Mo Waite, Noni’s parents, served as directors for the Eagle’s Nest Carolinas’ Camp for Diabetic Children. Her mother served as director of Eagle’s Nest Camp and executive director of Eagle’s Nest Foundation for many years. Noni spent her childhood years growing up at camp and is honored to carry on the mission of Eagle’s Nest as Executive Director of the foundation.