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The Rustic Team

The Rustic Team

Our exceptional staff members are the backbone of our organization. Their incredibly diverse backgrounds provide us with a profound understanding of the destinations we visit and offer our students one-of-a-kind experiences.

International Staff

Rustic Pathways spans the globe! Most of our staff members are based outside the United States. While the cultural traditions of our team vary from country to country, the shared values that define Rustic Pathways and make them exceptional extend across all borders. Country Operations teams include international and local staff who work together to ensure Rustic students have fun, empowering, and safe experiences with us.

Exceptional Program Leaders

Our Program Leaders have backgrounds in teaching, experiential education, service learning, wilderness training, international development, and other outdoor and educational fields. Each year, we hold in-country training sessions for both new and returning staff to ensure we maintain our standards in safety, student learning, community service, and the overall Rustic Pathways student experience. Program Leaders are incredible role models for students and, most importantly, they are all dedicated to creating the best possible programs for students.


Chris Stakich

Chief Executive Officer

An expert on travel and service-based education, Chris leads Rustic Pathways with an eye for innovation and excellence. Since graduating from Harvard in 2001, Chris has worked in virtually all areas of our organization, from running programs in Costa Rica to managing our global team. He works diligently with our team to develop future leaders who embody a broad perspective and compassion for the world. Chris lives in San Francisco with his wife and three young sons.

Brent Watkins

Vice President of Program Operations

Brent first joined Rustic Pathways as a Program Leader in 2007. He earned a master’s in teaching from Johns Hopkins University where he is on the adjunct faculty at the Graduate School of Education. Before returning to Rustic, Brent managed training and preparation of new classroom teachers for Teach For America-Baltimore. With extensive experience in learning development and teacher training, Brent ensures the highest level of quality across our programming.

Anna Beckerman

Vice President of Sales

Anna is an alumna of School Year Abroad and has a dual degree in geoscience and Mandarin from Dartmouth. Anna’s passion for experiential education and travel was sparked in high school and furthered in college. She now applies this passion at Rustic Pathways, providing opportunities for teachers and students to immerse themselves in new surroundings and engage powerfully with other cultures. Anna was previously director of our China operations and now resides in San Francisco.

Ryan Gibbons

Vice President of Business Operations

With a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, Ryan brings his talent in marketing, photography, and design to Rustic Pathways. Originally a Costa Rica program leader, Ryan spent four years building our creative team before taking over Business Operations. Ryan now focuses on creating a world-class client experience for each and every family at Rustic. Prior to joining Rustic, Ryan worked for NPR in Washington D.C.


Kevin Porter

Global Program Operations Director

Kevin has been  directing our global program operations since 2014, after serving as Ghana Country Director for three years. Now based in Boston, he manages our team of diverse country directors and ensures the quality of the programs we deliver on the ground. Prior to joining us, Kevin worked with development organizations in East Africa, completed research for the United Nations in South Korea, and oversaw wilderness leadership programs while attending Harvard University.

Dave Dennis

Vice President - Safety and Risk Management

With a masters degree in risk management and more than 20 years of relevant experience, Dave is the perfect fit to lead Rustic’s Health and Safety Team. Dave joined us in 2014 after owning a consulting firm specializing in implementing risk management and emergency response programs for domestic and global tour operators. He now works with our global teams to ensure quality and consistency in all Rustic programs. Dave lives in Colorado with his wife and children.

Dr. Will Smith

Medical Director

Dr. Will Smith is a recognized leader in wilderness medicine who joined Rustic Pathways in 2015. He practices emergency medicine in Jackson, Wyoming, and is clinical faculty for the University of Washington School of Medicine, as well as the Medical Director for the National Park Service. Locally, he serves as the Co-Medical Director for Grand Teton National Park, Teton County Search & Rescue, Bridger Teton National Forest, and Jackson Hole Fire / EMS.

Ann Dunphy

Medical Screening Manager

Ann has been in emergency medicine for 35 years and has been a professional EMT and Wilderness First Responder instructor for decades. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education in addition to having certifications in specialized emergency medicine. When not screening our student’s before their programs, Ann teaches for Wilderness Medical Associates and even picks up ambulance shifts to keep her skills sharp. Based in northern Wisconsin, Ann selflessly dedicates herself to helping others.

Lauren Anderson

Program Staffing and Training Director

Lauren joined Rustic Pathways in 2008 after graduating from Emory University. She spent her first six years in Costa Rica overseeing our operations and seasonal staff. Lauren then formed our Alumni Association where she developed programs for continuing student involvement. She now uses her extensive skill set to continue to improve the hiring and training of all program leaders across the globe. Lauren lives in Chicago, travels often, and enjoys maintaining her Spanish fluency.

Emily Sanders

Program Staffing Manager

Emily first encountered Rustic as a student, traveling to Asia and South America. Emily’s positive personality and leadership skills made her an integral part of the Costa Rica team before moving to our Program Staffing team. Emily is a graduate of Florida State University with a degree in anthropology. Her mastery of icebreaker games, talented singing voice and love of sloths make her a favorite. Always looking for a challenge, Emily also completed the Camino de Santiago, a 510 mile trek across Spain.

Matija Paunovski

Regional Recruitment Director-International

Matija completed an undergraduate degree at Northeastern University, then went on to earn a master’s degree from Harvard. Her expertise in leadership training and recruitment has enabled her to achieve great success within the Rustic Pathways Group Travel division. Her highest priority is that educators and students walk away completely satisfied and fulfilled from their incredible experience. In her free time, Matija enjoys reading, working out, running, and practicing power vinyasa yoga.

Dustin Aschenbeck

Regional Development Manager

Dustin joined Rustic Pathways in 2010 as the Director of India operations. Whether he is busy working on the river guiding trips in the mountains of Colorado or sharing stories of his many global adventures, Dustin believes that his life’s journey should never be a destination but a journey of careful observation and intentional living. When not traveling throughout the world, Dustin enjoys playing classical piano and kayaking with his friends.

Mary O'Connor

Group Travel Program Coordinator

Mary graduated from Boston University with degrees in photojournalism and Spanish. Mary is from the North Shore of Massachusetts. Since graduating in 2011, Mary has worked as a photographer for newspapers in Massachusetts and Vermont, taught English in Montezuma, Costa Rica, coordinated a volunteer program in Cuzco, Peru, and taught snowboarding in Lake Tahoe, California. Mary has lead and photographed Rustic Pathways programs in Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Morocco, and Peru. She is fluent in Spanish and culturally competent across the globe. Mary’s free spirit and passion for travel and photography make her a natural on Team Peru.

Kelli Crooks

Group Travel Program Coordinator

Kelli has worked in the student travel industry for the past 10 years with a focus on both the sales and operational sides of the business. She studied Social Studies at Eastern Washington University with an emphasis in Secondary Education and has since traveled extensively both domestically and internationally to meet with teachers eager to travel with their students. Kelli currently resides in McKinney, Texas with her husband and two young girls. She is an active board member and volunteer at her local elementary school with the PTA.

Shelby Silva

Group Travel Account Manager

Shelby, a Californian native, avid surfer, and retired rugby player, was inspired to pursue a career in travel, education, and adventure while studying abroad in New Zealand. Since graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in ecology, she has obtained a master’s in education. After leading outdoor leadership expeditions around the world for 10 years, Shelby joined Rustic in 2016 to lead programs in Fiji and now manages Group Travel in Hong Kong.

Ashley Fox

Personal Travel Advisor

A native Clevelander, Ashley joined Rustic Pathways in 2015 after four years in the North American travel industry. With degrees in Anthropology and International Studies, she has studied and worked abroad in the UK and Australia, and in the past few years, has traveled extensively throughout the United States and most recently to India. In her spare time, Ashley can be found running the trails and local races of Northeast Ohio, and chasing her favorite music bands across state lines.

Carrina Crow

Personal Travel Advisor

Carrina loves travel and is passionate about helping others. A graduate from Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania, Carrina puts her degrees in international business and spanish to use as a personal travel advisor since 2013. In her spare time, Carrina loves photography, gardening, beekeeping, and scuba diving. In 2008 she traveled to Australia to play for the United States World Softball team.

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Colleen Liggett

Personal Travel Advisor

Born and raised in a small Northeast Ohio town, Colleen has an insatiable curiosity about the world and loves learning about other cultures. She has visited our operations in New Orleans, Costa Rica, Fiji, and Australia. Colleen is an accomplished professional photographer and appreciates the power that photography has to capture a memory that will last forever. When not at work helping others plan their adventures, you can often find her planning a trip for friends and family, or camping at a music festival.

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Michelle Michal

Personal Travel Advisor

A true Clevelander and a graduate of Kent State University in hospitality management, Michelle joined Rustic Pathways after working for six years as an event planner for a local winery. Her emphasis on customer satisfaction, love of travel, and desire to experience new cultures make Michelle a great fit within the Rustic family. Michelle has visited our operations in Fiji, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, and New Orleans. In her spare she time enjoys cooking and selling her own line of jam!

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Hollie Wolfinger

Personal Travel Advisor

Hollie’s life changed when she witnessed the impact that Rustic Pathways programs have on both students and communities while leading her first program in 2015. After teaching art for 7 years in Baltimore, Maryland, she joined the Rustic team in Fiji for over a year. Now, Hollie is happy to be at home in Findlay, Ohio working as a Personal Travel Advisor. Being a PTA allows Hollie to talk about the programs she loves all day long with her dogs at her feet and her family nearby!

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Marisa Ferro

Personal Travel Advisor

Growing up where the ocean meets the redwood forest of northern California, Marisa’s first love was nature. After earning an undergraduate degree in International Relations and African Studies her passion was ignited for travel and cultural immersion. She then moved to Portland, where she became immersed in Native American indigenous teachings and community outreach supporting refugee youth. After receiving a Masters in Sustainability Education, Marisa led gap year programs throughout East Africa and Southeast Asia. Marisa is excited to continue working with likeminded people and helping students use travel and an opportunity for educational growth.

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Emily Harney

Client Recruitment Manager

Born and raised in New England, Emily now resides in New Zealand. Emily is a Rustic veteran, having led community service and animal conservation programs throughout Australia, Fiji, India, China, Cambodia, and Thailand since 2007. Emily earned a masters degree in education from Salem State University in 2010. Emily has a deep knowledge of our global program operations and when speaking with our students and parents, she never hides her enthusiasm for volunteer and adventure travel.

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Erik Schoon

Gap Year Operations Manager

Staying true to his viking blood, Erik has visited more than 60 countries and lived in numerous locations across the globe. With eight years under his belt with the company and several years as our global Gap Year guide, he now helps ensure that our Gap operations run smoothly. Erik is an avid skydiver, scuba diver and fisherman, and is known to be a fearless connoisseur of wild foods. He also recently completed a 3500 km road trip through east and central Africa!

Carly Caldrone

Gap Year Travel Advisor

With a gift for organization and a calm, compassionate personality, Carly has supported students traveling with our growing Gap Year division since 2012. After earning her degree in international studies from Miami University of Ohio, she spent several years in New York City before returning to the Cleveland area. From her own adventures in Europe, Morocco, and Costa Rica, Carly knows firsthand how powerful and life-changing world travel can be, and she loves helping to provide similar opportunities to young people on the threshold of adulthood. She also enjoys working on home improvement projects, reading novels, and taking nature walks with her young daughter.

Amanda Nitzken

International School Partnerships Manager

Amanda, a rock music junkie and amateur rock climber, fell in love with service-oriented travel when she first embarked on a service-learning trip to Belize. After graduating from the University of Louisville with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minors in Middle Eastern Studies and Spanish, Amanda packed her bags to teach English as a Second Language in the island nation of Comoros. Amanda brings these travels, work experience in refugee resettlement, and a love for mango sticky rice to Rustic, where she helps customize our group travel experiences for international schools.

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Theresa Brecker

Global Programs Advisor

Theresa is a University of Maryland alum and an avid traveler visiting over 45 countries. After graduation she completed two Fulbright grants in Colombia, deep in the Amazon rainforest. She joined Rustic as a program leader in 2017 working in Costa Rica, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and meeting with students and families as our representative in Europe and the Middle East. When she isn’t helping families pick their perfect program you can find her reading, dancing or practicing new languages with whoever she meets.

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Connor FitzGerald

Global Program Advisor

Connor joined the Rustic Pathways team in 2018. After working in both Fiji and the Midwestern US, he now works with families to find the perfect program for them. He has a background with summer camp and non-profits, working with SeriousFun Network, a network of camps providing free summer camp for kids with serious illnesses. Connor is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in neuroscience. A Cleveland native, he enjoys spicy food, live music, and Cleveland sports.

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Candice Jackson

Team Resources Manager

Candice is a graduate of Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio with a degree in business administration, and she recently earned her MBA from Lake Erie College. Candice brings her expertise, kindness, and attention to detail to our human resources department. She assists with the on-boarding of all staff and manages staff benefits and professional development.

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Heather Nicholson

Global Shipping Manager

A Northeast Ohio native, Heather has been with Rustic Pathways since 2014 coming to us after 10 years in customer service.  She brings her intense attention to detail and keen organizational skills to our shipping department. When she’s not in the office shipping out all of our awesome swag,  she enjoys traveling, boating on Lake Erie, gardening, cooking, reading, and volunteering with the local Elks lodge.

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