Tacoma Nature Center Staff
|Lauren Bentson (Education Program Coordinator)
As of January 2017, Lauren's title is Education Program Coordinator. She became a Tacoma Nature Center Education Program Specialist in August 2015 after serving as the Program Coordinator for the Exploring New Horizons Outdoor Schools in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. Here at the Nature Center Lauren is responsible for coordinating and teaching Homeschool Science, Scout programs, Summer Day Camps, and School Field Trips.
Growing up in Boston her love of nature was fostered by visiting local parks and green spaces in the city, which is one of the many reasons why urban environmental education is close to her heart. She earned her BS in Environmental Science while playing catcher for the Franklin Pierce University softball team and went on to get her MS in Environmental Studies (focused on Environmental Education) at Antioch University. Since then she has worked as an environmental educator and naturalist from New Hampshire to Alaska.
When she’s not sharing her love of nature with your family Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, riding her bicycle, surfing, spending time with her dog, writing music, listening to the radio, and playing the guitar. She writes and records original music, and likes incorporating nature-themed music into her lessons.
Michele Cardinaux (Nature Center Supervisor)
Michele has managed the Tacoma Nature Center programs and facilities since 2005. Before that she worked at Northwest Trek for eight years, so she is really in tune with environmental education in our community.
The supervisor position means that Michele gets to see everything that’s going on at the Nature Center and she loves working with the public and with the Center Staff.
She has over 30 years of experience working in the environmental education field from working with cities and counties to working at Crater Lake National Park. She’s proud of all of the Nature Center’s accomplishments and counts the Nurture in Nature preschool as one of the biggest successes here.
When she’s not overseeing work at the Nature Center Michele loves to read, craft and spend time in nature. As a self-described “nature nerd” Michele loves to take her time and really enjoy observational experiences in the natural world. Taking a walk in the woods with her is taking a walk with a guide to the plants along the way!
Kyle Clogston (Adventure Programming)
The Outdoor Adventure Program was moved to the Tacoma Nature Center in July 2015 which is when Kyle joined the TNC. Kyle coordinates the Outdoor Adventure Programs for the TNC and his programs include adult, youth, and family kayaking, snowshoeing, hiking and climbing trips. During the summer Kyle facilitates a nine week outdoor camp for middle school aged youth.
Kyle grew up in the Seattle area and spent his childhood either on the back of a road cycling tandem with his dad or out backpacking and fishing in the Cascades. Because of his upbringing he values the outdoors and has pursued a career to educate others of the many wonders of getting outside. He graduated with his degree in Outdoor Recreation from Western Washington University. Before leading the TNC trips he coordinated the “Y-Adventure School” in Bellingham and spent the summers running the YMCA’s week-long caravans leading students on climbing, rafting, skateboarding, surfing and cycling trips up and down the west coast.
When he’s not leading programs for TNC you will find Kyle paddling, sailing, cycling, backpacking, etc.. Kyle is also an avid Pickleball player playing in a league and tournaments.
Brandon Hawn (Education Program Assistant)
Brandon first became involved with the Tacoma Nature as a 12-year old volunteer in the Nature Center’s teen volunteers in 2004. He volunteered for six years, was a paid intern for a year and was hired to our education staff in 2011.
Brandon is involved with on-site programming including scout programs, homeschool science, birthday parties, summer day camp, school tours as well as some off-site programming including family nature walks and low tide events.
Brandon’s favorite part of working at the Nature Center would have to be working with a fun and supportive staff as well as getting the opportunity to foster an appreciation and interest for nature and the outdoors in the kids and families that he works with.
When he isn’t teaching your family Brandon is an all-around nature nerd and spends his off time exploring the various corners of the Pacific Northwest looking for our native flora and fauna.
James Krolikowski (Summer Camp Instructor and Preschool Instructor)
James began her career here at the Tacoma Nature Center as a volunteer with the after school science programs in 2011. Now she works for the TNC as a Summer Camp Instructor as a Nurture in Nature Preschool instructor.
James grew up playing in the Great Northwest woods with her two brothers and developed a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world early on. She graduated with both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science from Evergreen State College and then earned her Washington State Teaching Certificate. She has previously worked at the Lyon Arboretum at the University of Hawaii as an environmental educator and at the Armand Bayou Nature Center in Houston, Texas.
James is a certified plant geek! She volunteers every summer for Mt Rainier National Parks Meadowatch Plant Phenology Study and enjoys botanizing with fellow plant geeks in her spare time. She also aspires to be a more fluent bird nerd. When she’s not geeking out with plants and birds she loves to spend time with her husband, daughter and their adopted kitty.
Paula Larson (Marketing Assistant)
Paula joined the Tacoma Nature Center in the fall of 2015. As the Marketing Assistant she creates Facebook posts, updates the webpage and produces content for the monthly member newsletter. Prior to her time here Paula was a wildlife biologist for over 15 years working with owls, hawks, turtles and more.
Paula has always loved animals and being in nature. When she was young she loved spending time on her grandparent’s ranch and playing sports of all kinds. Now she’s grown up she still loves spending time in nature and playing sports of all kinds! She received her BS in Wildlife from Humboldt State University in northern California (Go Lumberjacks!).
When she’s not finding adorable photos to post on the TNC Facebook page Paula works leading activities for kids and adults of all abilities with Pierce County Parks and Recreation and Metro Parks Specialized recreation. She is also a freelance writer. Paula enjoys spending time with her wife and her (very) elderly dog and cat, bird watching and working in her garden.
Jennifer Lauer – aka Ms. Jennifer to preschool families (Preschool Instructor & Parent Educator at the Preschool)
Ms. Jennifer has taught preschoolers locally for nearly 20 years through school districts, home care and private preschools. She has worked at the Tacoma Nature Center since the fall of 2009 during the inaugural year for our preschool.
She has camped, hiked, boated, biked, swam and just plain enjoyed the northwest outdoor her entire life and she loves sharing nature with the children in her care.She studied Early Care and Education (ECE), Leadership in ECE and Green and Sustainability Practices in ECE at Clover Park Technical College. Ms. Jennifer also enjoys continuing her education by regularly attending local and national teaching conferences and instructing classes and workshops for others.
In addition to teaching preschoolers Jennifer enjoys teaching adults how to paint, creating one of a kind metal art, singing the National Anthem at local sporting events (including the Mariners!) and singing at church. She and her three children enjoy camping, biking, hiking, swimming , kayaking and more.
Kerry Phibbs (Park Steward)
Kerry has worked at the Tacoma Nature Center since 2003. As a Park Steward Kerry does a huge variety of things to support the facilities, the staff and the programs. If you have walked the trail, entered the building, been in our preschool or attended an on-site program Kerry has made your experience here better.
Before coming to work here at the Nature Center he worked for every area of Metro Parks Tacoma through the years. He has years of experience in a wide variety of facility support and he can create or fix almost anything.
Kerry is a University of Washington graduate who studied physics, chemistry, geology and more. His curiosity and inquisitive nature have led him to be many things through the years, such as Master Gardener, Audubon member and a geomorphology nut. He has also held the esteemed position of staff smart aleck for several years running.