Four Winds staff members have presented thousands of environmental education workshops over the years, connecting adults and children to nearby nature through the seasons. In addition, our educators have led professional development courses for K-12 classroom teachers, early childhood educators, camp staff, and other non-formal educators. Four Winds staff members have taught undergraduate and graduate courses through Castleton University, University of Maine, and Middlebury College, always with a focus on local natural history and nature-based play and learning.

Becky Proulx

Becky’s (she/her) love for the natural world began as a child in the mountains and on the lakes of New Hampshire. She has worked in the experiential education field for more than 30 years. The majority of this work was at the Hulbert Outdoor Center training staff and facilitating experiential education programs for school-age children, homeschoolers, and adults. She holds a degree in Biology from Colby College and a Master’s degree in Education from Antioch University New England. In addition to her work with Four Winds, Becky works with elementary-age students exploring natural history and outdoor skills in a play- and exploration-based program.

Cara Gauthier


Cara (she/her) grew up in Vermont and remembers the influence of environmental education in her early school years. That exposure sparked an interest in the outdoors that has carried her throughout her life. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Unity College in Maine focusing on Ecology and Environmental Writing and a Master of Science degree from Norwich University with a focus on Organizational Leadership. Throughout her career, she’s done a variety of outreach, communications, and environmental education work with the Vermont Land Trust, Vermont Technical College, Norwich University, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. She has a particular interest in spreading the Four Winds message so that it ignites the wonders of the outdoors for the next generation.  

Chris Runcie

Chris was an Environmental Studies major at Middlebury College where she did research on frequency-dependent selection in fruit flies. Later she attended graduate school and received a PhD in Zoology for her research on chemical trail-laying in a termite species. Returning to Vermont, Chris spent many years as a full-time mother of three, but found the time to pursue her delight and interest in nature through the Forest & Field Club, the Lewis Creek Association, and as a volunteer with the Environmental Learning for the Future (ELF) program. She joined the education staff at VINS in 1997 and was a lead author of the second edition of Hands-On Nature. Chris leads Nature Program workshops in northern and central Vermont and New York. In 2008, she was a visiting faculty member of Middlebury College, leading a winter term course with 30 students entitled “Community-based Environmental Education.” Chris is keenly interested in birdsong, in insect behavior, in plant and animal relationships, and in engaging people of all ages in learning about nature.

Deb Parrella


Deb has been teaching natural history to children and adults for more than 20 years. She leads Nature Program workshops throughout Vermont, adding activities, skits and games to the program from her deep bag of teaching ideas. Deb worked with the Vermont Institute of Natural Science for many years and was a lead author of the second edition of Hands-On Nature. As Director of School Programs for Shelburne Farms, she coordinated programs for K-6 students and their teachers. She is the author of the much beloved text, Project Seasons, a hands-on elementary science activity guide for teachers. Deb has been on the board of the New England Environmental Education Alliance and VT SWEEP, and she is currently serving as staff representative on the Four Winds board. Deb received her Master’s degree from Michigan State University and a B.A. at the University of Vermont.

Ellen Gawarkiewicz

Ellen Gawarkiewicz

Ellen (she/her) grew up stealthily canoeing the ponds of Cape Cod netting painted turtles for a closer look. By age six, she had it figured out: she would be a naturalist and a teacher. This path has brought her from the salt marshes of Cape Cod to the beaches of Madagascar, from the lakes of New Hampshire to the rivers of  Maine, from the north woods of Minnesota to the Himalayan foothills of Nepal, and from the shores of Lake Champlain to the forest classrooms of central Vermont. Along the way, she unearthed a passion for connecting people and place through sharing a sense of wonder.  She is delighted to join the Four Winds community and grow in her ability to cultivate curiosity and wonder in nature nearby.

Emily Pals

Emily (she/her) grew up with a love of nature and outdoor adventure, which led her to study biology and outdoor leadership in Western Colorado. While earning her degree, she led outdoor adventures and service learning trips for high school students in the Sierra and Rocky Mountains, the southwest canyons, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Great Barrier Reef. After graduating from college, Emily relocated to Southern Illinois where she worked as an Environmental Educator and Naturalist for Touch of Nature Environmental Center. For three years, she guided children and families on canoe expeditions, camping trips, naturalist hikes, pond explorations, and campfires. After earning her Masters degree, Emily joined the teaching and residential faculty at The Greenwood School in Putney, Vermont where she taught writing classes for nine years. She is excited to join Four Winds as an Educator/Naturalist and lead Nature Program workshops in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Emily earned a B.A in Environmental Biology and Ecology from the University of Western Colorado and a M.S. in Environmental Studies with Science Teaching Certification from Antioch University New England.

Erika Bodin


Erika (they/them) grew up on Long Island Sound, enamored with the ocean and studying marine biology at UConn Avery Point. They fell equally in love with Vermont’s mountains, forests and rivers when they moved here in 2009 for school. Erika graduated from Saint Michael’s College in 2013 with a B.S. in Environmental Studies, and has since gone on to study permaculture, botany, and herbalism. Erika is a long-time volunteer for The Four Winds Nature Program in Chittenden and is excited to be joining the staff as a naturalist educator! They enjoy gardening, swimming, hiking, and exploring outside with their three young nephews.

Heather Durkel


Heather (she/her) grew up building fairy houses, snacking on green beans from the garden, hiking, picking berries, catching newts and generally exploring the world while barefoot and happy. Heather attended UVM and received her BS in Environmental Studies from the Rubenstein School. She worked as an environmental educator before going back to school to get her teaching license. As an elementary educator for 10 years, Heather strived to bridge the gap between ‘classroom’ and ‘nature’. She dreams of a world where all children can build their own powerful connection with the natural world. She appreciates that Four Winds empowers caregivers and teachers with tools to engage children with nature.

Hilary Redman

Hilary (she/her) was born and raised in Florence, Vermont with an amazing view of the Green Mountains, a dirt road to wander down, and endless logging roads, forests, and streams to explore. Hilary attended Skidmore College where she majored in French before moving to Key West, Florida where she earned her Master’s degree in Montessori Education from Barry University. As an elementary educator for 12 years, Hilary has had many different teaching experiences in varied environments, from an island Montessori school to a public elementary school in Brooklyn, New York and then, finally, back home to a rural school in the hills of Vermont. While teaching Kindergarten in Chittenden, Vermont, Hilary was introduced to the Four Winds Nature Program and was so impressed with its curriculum and mission that she became a Nature Program volunteer at Richmond Elementary School. Hilary is honored to be a part of the Four Winds staff and to be able to work with and learn from educators and adults who are interested and excited about getting outside with kids!

Keri Hess


Keri (she/her) found her love of nature canoeing the spring fed rivers and exploring the woods in Southern Missouri. She relished time spent listening to the male cicada’s “songs”, the bullfrog’s low calls, and the glow of numerous fireflies that added magic to summer nights. This connection to nature, and the sense of wonder it provided, led her to a career path focused on inspiring others to conserve and protect our natural resources.  After earning her degree in Environmental Studies, she taught environmental education at Cal-Wood Education Center, outside Boulder Colorado.  Eventually landing in Vermont, Keri earned her Master’s degree in Natural Resources Planning at UVM. A large portion of her career was spent at Rainforest Alliance, where she worked with corporations on sustainable sourcing policies to eliminate materials tied to deforestation.  In this role, she facilitated trips to forest locations around the world for buyers to see where they source raw materials. She strongly believes that getting people out in nature, to connect to it and be humbled by it, is the best way to foster conservation, no matter the age.  Keri completed the Vermont Master Naturalist Program in 2019 and is thrilled to join Four Winds as a naturalist/educator. 

Lisa Purcell 

Lisa (she/her) has been leading community-based environmental education programs with adults and children for so many happy years. She believes people of all ages need a connection with the great outdoors, and she loves her work — watching individuals look at the world around them with wonder. Now Director of Four Winds, Lisa was Associate Director at Smokey House Center in Danby, VT and Program Director at Vermont Institute of Natural Science. She has served as president of the board of directors of both Vermont’s Statewide Environmental Education Programs (SWEEP) and the New England Environmental Education Alliance (NEEEA). Over the years, Lisa has held a variety of education-related positions: coordinating adventure-based team building and staff professional development programs, developing a college service learning program, assisting in a preschool, working in public and school libraries. She is the editor of Hands-On Nature, 2nd edition (2000), a natural science curriculum guide. Lisa earned a Master’s degree in environmental administration from Antioch New England Graduate School and a B.A. in Geography from Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.