Instructor Biographies

text: The Grand Canyon Field Institute

Instructor Biographies

Expert Field Instructors

Grand Canyon Association Field Institute is proud of its outstanding team of instructors. Made up of resource experts possessing PhD's, Masters and Bachelors degrees, our instructors continually share their passion for Grand Canyon with others. The following is a list of instructors that will likely be leading classes during the upcoming season.

If the class description lists the instructor as “Field Institute staff,” one of the following instructors will serve in that capacity. Preclass materials will indicate which instructor has been scheduled for your class, or you can call the Field Institute office for the latest information on specific assignments. All instructors listed, with the exception of Mike Buchheit, Jack Pennington and Elaine Maier, are acting as independent contractors while leading courses and performing duties for the Field Institute. Mike, Jack, and Elaine are full-time employees of the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute.

Listed alphabetically by last name.
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Elaine Maier

Elaine Maier has spent much of her time backpacking and hiking the Southwest. For over 30 years, she has hiked extensively in the Grand Canyon. In 2004, she left the Phoenix area and moved to Grand Canyon to pursue her dream of becoming a Grand Canyon hiking guide. Elaine has worked as a trail guide, river guide and tour leader in the Southwest, and taught backpacking and hiking skills classes for several parks and recreation departments in the Phoenix area. When not on the trail with Field Institute participants, Elaine is in our office assisting instructors and students as they prepare for their journey into the Grand Canyon. She loves traveling with her husband on their motorcycle visiting historical places in the United States. At home, you would find her in her garden, sewing, working on a home improvement project, or walking her dogs.

Kate McHugh

Kate comes to Grand Canyon Association with over ten years of outdoor and environmental education experience across the west and Mexico. Kate is a native of Southern Arizona, and stays connected to the pulse of the desert by exploring Grand Canyon. After earning a BFA in Environmental Art in 2009, she found a passion for connecting people to their environment through experience. She has served as an instructor for the Northwest Outward Bound School, a field educator and administrator for NatureBridge: Yosemite and manager of The University of Arizona’s Outdoor Adventures program.

Melissa McMaster

Melissa McMaster was first enchanted by the red dirt of the Southwest at the age of ten while on a trip to Arizona with her grandparents. She earned her B.S. in Biology and Secondary Education from Utah State University and an M.S. in Forestry from Northern Arizona University. She came to the Grand Canyon in 2005 as a recipient of the Eugene Polk Fellowship and was an intern with the vegetation program. She continued to work for the park as a botanist until 2014. While working for Grand Canyon, she was the plant biologist for all vegetation programs in the backcountry. She developed and implemented the first large-scale riparian restoration project along the Colorado River at Granite Camp and led the charge for tamarisk removal in the side canyons for many years. She currently resides in Flagstaff and is working as a plant biologist on various vegetation projects throughout the Southwest. She loves sharing her passion for botanical wonders with others.

Kathleen “Keek” Mensing

It was 1962 on a family car trip “Out West” from Minnesota when Keek looked up through the towering pines that framed a snow-capped mountain out the windshield and decided, “I’m going to live out here.” She was 8. She attended the University of Montana and stayed in Missoula for 42 years, hiking, rafting, fishing, skiing, and loving and learning about The West.

Five years ago she moved full-time into a small RV and hit the road, destined to ramble through the most beautiful and remote places in America. Discovering the beauty and secrets of the Colorado Plateau has become a passion in recent years. She is honored and excited to be working her third season at the Grand Canyon. She also has worked in the Everglades, Grand Teton, and Death Valley national parks as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Her professions as a journalist and a psychotherapist taught her the value of a good story told with heart. She delights in sharing facts and fascinating stories about the canyon and people who have called it home.

Melanie Miles

Melanie Miles, a native of England, is a teacher and naturalist who has led groups through the Grand Canyon and down the Colorado River as a guide/naturalist for Yavapai and Prescott Colleges of Arizona and Woodswomen of Minneapolis. She has taught earth science, canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling and backcountry skills from Catalina Island to the Isle of Wight.

Steve Monroe

Steve Monroe is a hydrologist and aquatic ecologist with the National Park Service, working on water issues in national parks throughout the southern Colorado Plateau. He previously worked for more than 15 years with the U.S. Geological Survey. Steve has hiked extensively throughout the Grand Canyon to research the hydrology and ecology of its springs and seeps. Based in Flagstaff, Steve is an avid explorer of the Four Corners region, hiking and skiing in the area’s spectacular mountains and wandering endless canyons by boat and on foot. Steve holds a master’s degree in forestry from Northern Arizona University.

Tom Myers

Tom Myers is a longtime physician at the Grand Canyon National Park clinic. During his tenure on the South Rim, he has diagnosed and treated thousands of backcountry medical problems. He has been exploring in and around Grand Canyon since 1973 and teaching for the Field Institute since 1994. Tom is the author of Grand Canyon Trail and River Medicine Field Guide and Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon. He is also coauthor of Grand Obsession: Harvey Butchart and the Exploration of Grand Canyon.

Sherri O'Neil

Sherri grew up in Connecticut backpacking the Appalachian trail, but when she began backpacking in the Grand Canyon in the early 90's, she knew she wanted to live and work there. She lived at Grand Canyon for nearly a decade and in that time worked for the National Park Service as an Interpretive Ranger and also as a Backcountry Ranger; both positions allowing her to pursue her passion for the Canyon and its trails. In her time at the Grand Canyon Sherri has hiked 1000's of miles and led ranger programs and tours on Archaeology, Ethnobotany, and Geology. Sherri's additional canyon experience includes rafting the Colorado River during science research projects, and studying Anthropology and Archeology at Northern Arizona University. Besides leading Canyon trips Sherri is a silversmith and a certified yoga teacher.

Jack Pennington

Jack Pennington received his education in his native England, earning a B.S. in geology from Queen Mary College (London) and an M.S. in mineral exploration and mining geology from Leicester University. Geology has taken Jack across much of the globe. He traveled to Africa where he worked as an exploration geologist at the world famous Ashanti mine in Ghana, and visited South Africa’s and Swaziland's rich mining districts. He also studied the geology of the UK and much of Europe. Jack came to Grand Canyon National Park in 1994 working first as a volunteer naturalist with the Division of Interpretation and then as a restoration specialist (plants) with Grand Canyon’s Science Center. He has been down the Colorado River almost a dozen times each time assisting with science research projects.

Alan Petersen

Alan Petersen has been drawing and painting Grand Canyon since 1976. He worked on the Canyon’s South Rim for several years before moving to Flagstaff to study at Northern Arizona University in 1980. Alan’s connections to the Canyon run deep – literally; he worked as a river guide on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon for eight years. More recently, in his role as the Curator of Fine Arts at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Alan has curated exhibitions of work by such notable artists as Gunnar Widforss, Joella Jean Mahoney, Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, Merrill Mahaffey, Bruce Aiken, and Ed Mell.

Currently, Alan is working on a book on Gunnar Widforss’ life and art, and a catalogue raisonné of Widforss’ paintings. He is also working on a comprehensive monograph on painter Merrill Mahaffey. In addition, Alan teaches art history, painting, and courses pertaining to the Colorado Plateau region at Coconino Community College in Flagstaff. His own paintings have their source in the light, space and landforms of the Colorado Plateau, and explore the formal relationships between color and pictorial space.