Meet our awesome Science Mentors!

  • Dr. Liesel Erb Warren Wilson College
    Dr. Liesel Erb

    Dr. Liesl Erb is a Professor of Conservation Biology at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC. Liesl works with students and the public to better understand how human activities affect wild animals, particularly mammals in mountain regions. She and her students use live trapping, scat collection, hair snares, and camera traps to study several local species and communities of conservation concern, including Appalachian cottontail rabbits, Allegheny woodrats, and eastern spotted skunks. Her classes are also collaborating with several community partners to establish a bat citizen science project in Western North Carolina. Liesl collaborates on a long term study of American pika (a small rabbit relative) survival and stress in the Rocky Mountains. She has an undergraduate degree in Biology from Colorado College and a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Colorado - Boulder.

  • Chris Goforth North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
    Chris Goforth

    Chris Goforth is the Head of Citizen Science at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and works to get people throughout North Carolina involved in authentic scientific research. She currently heads several citizen science projects, including the Dragonfly Swarm Project and Dragonfly Detectives, both of which focus on observing and reporting dragonfly behaviors. Chris holds a master’s degree in entomology from the University of Arizona and has published her work with dragonfly flight behaviors and giant water bug parental care. She also has extensive experience using aquatic insects to study water quality and co-authored several reports for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality about the impacts of impaired habitats on aquatic insect populations throughout Arizona.

  • Sean Higgins North Carolina State Parks
    Sean Higgins

    Sean Higgins is the Chief of Education with North Carolina State Parks. Among his favorite things to do are canoeing and watching spiders. Better yet, he loves watching spiders that end up in his canoe. Sean graduated with a degree in Biology from Virginia Tech. He worked in a spider lab in graduate school where he earned a Masters in Zoology. Like spiderman whose powers developed from a spider lab, one of Sean's super powers is helping people overcome their fear of spiders. 

  • Lauren Housley North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
    Lauren Housley

    Lauren Housley is a Benthic Biologist for the North Carolina Division of Water Resources. She uses benthic macroinvertebrates, animals without backbones that live in water, to determine water quality through North Carolina. Lauren has a bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies from Bucknell University and then a Master's degree in Biology from Baylor University. She loves to study the insects, but one bug she does not enjoy is a house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata)! You may be surprised to learn that attention to detail is a very important skill to have in Lauren's job. She has to pay very close attention to the detailed features on the animals she finds. Perhaps most importantly, Lauren relies on her curiosity to help her in her position. She knows not all macroinvertebrates have been found before, so her curiosity helps her discover new insects or species!

  • Andrew Laughlin University of North Carolina, Asheville
    Andrew Laughlin

    Andrew Laughlin is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies department at University of North Carolina Asheville, where he teaches Ecology & Field Biology, Avian Ecology & Conservation, Wildlife Ecology & Management, Urban Ecology, and other courses. He is most interested in how animals, especially birds, respond to environmental change. He and his students began a re-survey of the bird communities of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to document how birds are responding to hemlock removal and climate change. He received a Ph.D. from Tulane University in New Orleans where he studied Tree Swallow migration and winter roosting ecology.

  • Maegan Luckett Duke Gardens
    Maegan Luckett

    A native of Colorado, Maegan has lived in North Carolina for about 15 years. While she misses the Rocky Mountains and the starry expanse of Western skies, she has found a home in the sweet, sunny South (Hooray for warmth and green growing things!)  

    In the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens, Maegan is able to marry her twin passions of Ecology and Horticulture.  While she is a fan of all of the native plants in North Carolina, she is particularly fond of the flora of the Sandhills and the coastal plain region.  In her spare time, she travels all over the state to hike and camp. In fact she just completed a challenge to visit all 41 NC state parks in one year! These hiking trips allow her to see native plants in their natural environment, and help inform her design practices in the garden as she and her colleagues attempt to mimic native plant communities in the Blomquist.

  • Bryan Tompkins U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    Bryan Tompkins

    Bryan grew up in a rural farming community near Milledgeville, Georgia. Spending much of his youth playing in the forests and swamps around his home instilled in him a great appreciation of nature. He currently serves as the USFWS - Southeast Region recovery biologist for the federally endangered rusty-patched bumble bee and is the Energy Project Coordinator for the Asheville Field Office where he reviews energy production and development projects such as hydropower, coal combustion, natural gas, solar arrays, and wind farms.

    His job responsibilities consist of coordinating with energy companies to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats from impacts associated with energy production projects. His recent efforts have been focused on the conservation of pollinator species with emphasis on the preservation and restoration of native pollinator habitat in North Carolina. In his free time, Bryan enjoys backcountry camping, float fishing the many beautiful rivers of western North Carolina, gardening, and spending time in the outdoors with his family.

    Bryan is always happy to help people develop their own pollinator gardens! If you would like to reach out to Bryan for advice or any pollinator questions you can reach him at

  • Jennifer Rhode Ward University of North Carolina, Asheville
    Jennifer Rhode Ward

    Jen Ward is a faculty member in UNC Asheville’s Biology Department, where she teaches classes in botany, genetics, and marine biology. Her research, which is funded by agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Science Foundation, surveys plant populations, discerns population genetic patterns, and investigates plant / pollinator interactions. Current focal species are either imperiled or invasive, and include American ginseng, oriental bittersweet, pitcher plants, and Virginia spiraea. She also leads course-based research experiences in plant phenology, which examine patterns in the timing of life history events like flower production. Dr. Ward maintains home gardens for permaculture and native pollinator habitat, works to eradicate invasive plants on public and private lands, and is passionate about educating students and citizens about plant life!

  • Landon Ward University of North Carolina, Asheville
    Landon Ward

    Landon Ward works in the Environmental Studies department at UNC Asheville, where he has taught since 2010. His course offerings include conservation biology, tropical ecosystems, and herpetology. His current research interests include studying invasive boa constrictors on the US Virgin Island of Saint Croix and studying vernal pool salamanders in western North Carolina. Mr. Ward’s favorite course to teach is field herpetology, where he takes students on a 2 week camping trip to search for herpfauna from the coast of North Carolina all the way to the Florida Keys. Student learn about the diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the eastern US and learn about the conserving them.

    Aside from his teaching duties at UNC Asheville, Mr. Ward also maintains and captive-breeds a large collection of reptiles. He often uses reptiles from his collection for teaching and outreach. He enjoys traveling to local schools with snakes and other reptiles to educate students about reptile adaptations and the ecological roles that reptiles and amphibians play. 

  • Sam Young, DVM Greensboro Science Center
    Sam Young, DVM

    Sam Young, DVM is the VP of Veterinary Health at the Greensboro Science Center. With a BS in Zoology and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine, both from NCSU, Dr. Sam works closely with over 1,600 patients from across the globe including invertebrates, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. As the VP of Veterinary Health, every day presents new and interesting challenges that inspire a lot of creativity for him and his team. He has a passion for  teaching and loves collaborating with many local universities. Our new Shearer Animal Health Center provides a fully transparent look into our spaces where Dr. Sam and the Education team have the opportunity to educate guests, especially children, and get them excited about multiple facets of science.