Blue Ridge Institute: Meet the Team

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2024 Blue Ridge Institute Participants


Rich Bowerman
Middle School Science & Social Studies Teacher
Apple Valley Middle School, Henderson County
Hobbies: Hiking and backpacking.
Looking forward to:Immersing myself in the Blue Ridge ecosystem and taking that love of place and sense of curiosity back to my students!
Abby Goodson
K-5 Art Teacher
Catawba Springs Elementary, Lincoln County
Hobbies: CrossFit, weightlifting, running, rock climbing, and hiking with my husband and dogs.
Looking forward to: I am looking forward to meeting other great educators from across North Carolina and spending a week in the awesome Blue Ridge Mountains! I am so excited to bring lots of great new ideas for arts integration back to my elementary art classroom.
Mika Hunter Twietmeyer
High School Science Educator
Riverside High School, Durham County
Hobbies: Running, gardening, knitting, baking, crossword puzzles.
Looking forward to: This will be my longest camping and backpacking adventure! So I am excited to sleep outdoors for an extended period of time. I am looking forward to learning from others on the adventure and snorkeling in chilly mountain water. And, hopefully, some s’mores!
Lydia Hyer
Kindergarten Teacher
Alma O Easom Elementary School, Cumberland County
Hobbies: I like reading, yoga, hiking, trying new foods, and exploring new places.
Looking forward to: I am looking forward to being surrounded by nature and learning from other educators.
Chris Keffer
4th Grade Science/Math Teacher
FernLeaf Community Charter School, Henderson County
Hobbies: I love hiking, camping, and traveling. Also, I enjoy photography and scent detection work with my dogs.
Looking forward to: I am looking forward to learning more about the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the plants and animals that live there.
Katelyn Keller
Education Outreach Coordinator
North Carolina Forest Service, Transylvania County
Hobbies: Hobby farming, vegetable and flower gardening, taking care of my animals who are all pets (goats, chickens, dogs, one cat) hiking, and mountain biking. I enjoy being out on the water swimming, paddle boarding and rafting on the river! I enjoy anything outside, love to travel, and I am always searching for new adventures and learning opportunities!
Looking forward to: Being present in nature and being surrounded by incredible educators!
Holly Kolarova
EC and ESL Teacher
Clear Creek Elementary School, Henderson County
Hobbies: Clowning, hiking, reading.
Looking forward to: Discovering how to bring the wonders of natural history and sciences from our beautiful state back to the classroom to inspire and engage all of our students.
Erin Quinlan
Instructor of Biology
NC School of Science and Mathematics, Durham County
Hobbies: I love to spend time hiking with my family and dog, getting back into mountain biking, riding horses, and reading. I also have a ridiculous amount of houseplants in my life.
Looking forward to: I’m really looking forward to snorkeling in the mountain streams. If I could grow gills, you would find me underwater.
Anita Rubino-Thomas
AP Capstone and Visual Arts Teacher
Currituck County High School, Currituck County
Hobbies: Running, gardening, camping/hiking, and creating through visual arts.
Looking forward to: I am looking forward to an immersive, hands on experience learning about the Blue Ridge region and being part of a collaborative community!
Luba Tyer
World Languages/ESL Teacher
Enloe High School, Wake County
Hobbies: Photography, art, running, hiking, geography, travel.
Looking forward to: To be up close and personal with the Appalachian Mountains.

Museum Staff Leaders

Melissa Dowland
Manager of Teacher Education
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Hobbies: Camping, hiking, reading, nature photography
Looking forward to: Exploring and learning more about the Blue Ridge Mountains, sharing a sense of wonder with a great group of educators, seeing colorful fish while snorkeling in mountain streams, sleeping outdoors for a week, and reconnecting with nature and my fellow travelers.
Megan Davis
Coordinator of Teacher Education
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Hobbies: Chasing my toddler, cooking/baking, gardening, exploring the natural world, traveling when possible.
Looking forward to: I’m excited about traveling along the backbone of NC with a fantastic new group of educators! I can’t wait to do deep dives into the plants, animals, geology, and cultural history of the western part of our beautiful state. I’m especially looking forward to nature journaling, camp meals, and stream exploration!
Beth Cranford
Coordinator of Elementary Education
NC Museum of Natural Sciences
Looking forward to: 

2022 Blue Ridge Institute Team
2021 Blue Ridge Institute Teams