Derek Small – Founder, Director & Environmental Educator
Derek was raised on a family farm in Maine, and attained a B.S. of Education in Physiology, Health & Nutrition from Plymouth State University. Once the Fitness Director of the Laconia Athletic and Swim Club and then later a successful Personal Trainer in Manhattan… Derek’s life and career took a turn toward environmental conservation & public education through working with live animals in 2002.
For more than a decade since, through formal and informal schooling, Derek has diversified his knowledge and his message strongly into areas that span not only wildlife, ecology and biological sciences… but land stewardship, energy & food production and more! In 2010 he was introduced to the concepts of “ancestral health” and bio-mimicry which have since blended with his existing foundation into a philosophy that guides the Wildlife Encounters Ecology Center & Farm School on a path (and a goal) to effect major change for the benefit of Animals, People & Earth!
Derek been delivering live-animal educational programming in New England for 18 years. Well known for his presentations in the educational community as well as the more “for fun” venues, he is also well regarded in the professional environmental education community.
Professional Member: Zoological Association of America (ZAA)
Member of the ZAA Education Committee
Past Board Secretary & Legislative Chair: Association of Professional Wildlife Educators (APWE)
Certified Member: Feline Conservation Federation (FCF)
Member of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (NWRA)
Consultant to Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife
Jennifer Gibbs – Outreach Programs Office Manager, Environmental Educator & Co-Owner
Resident of Rochester, NH
Jennifer has always had a love for animals since childhood when she would spend her weekends with her Papa at Benson’s Animal Farm. For the past 28 years, Jennifer was employed as a Patient Care Coordinator in the medical field.
Upon buying a home next door to Wildlife Encounters with her husband and two children in 2012, it wasn’t long before she started volunteering to clean animal enclosures and accompanying Derek to presentations and educational exhibits. After several years of self-study, in house training and working with our Ambassadors… Jennifer progressed from volunteer, to Wildlife Educator and currently to one of 2 full-time staff, working also as Outreach Programming Manager!
Although she is passionate about all of the animals we call her the “bird Mom”. Overcoming her fear of birds wasn’t easy but after doing a lot of research on bird behavior and seeking the advice of some parrot specialists in Florida her confidence in working with them and understanding them has truly grown. Jennifer has made a particular bond with “Big Bird”, a 10-year old cockatoo that Wildlife Encounters took in after a particularly difficult first years in an abuse and neglect situation and has nursed him into a beautiful and more confident bird.
Today Jenn is our Outreach Programming Manager. For our school and community outreach program customers, she is the voice on the phone and the hands behind the emails! The majority of the day she spends at the desk, so she REALLY appreciates the opportunity to get out and deliver a program, and see the looks on the kids faces as they meet the ambassadors and “get the message” Jenn shares with them! Her greatest reward, is when she sees that child again and they remember something she taught them!!
Drew Stazesky – Animal Care Supervisor & Environmental Educator
Resident of Milton, NH
Drew is a native New Yorker, having grown up in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating from a private high school in 2012, she went on to attend UNH where she graduated in May of 2016 with a BS in Environmental Conservation & Sustainability. While at UNH she volunteered with the UNH Therapeutic Riding program, was a leader for an after school science program known as “Science Friday’s”, and was an active member of the Native American Cultural Association.
The summer after graduating UNH, Drew worked as an educator at her local zoo in Brooklyn (The Prospect Park Zoo), where she gained lots of experience with formal, classroom oriented conservation and wildlife education.
Drew has always been an avid animal lover, and has been lucky enough to travel to Africa twice! The most recent time was in 2015, where she was in Botswana for 3 months studying wildlife population fluctuations. Her favorite animals include cats (she has 3) and horses (she spent the winter of 2016 as an assistant barn manager & is an avid equestrian). She appreciates all life and the role it plays in the environment around it.
Drew is excited to work with Wildlife Encounters and the opportunity to teach others about the wonders of the natural world and the importance of its conservation!
Today she splits her time with us pretty evenly between program delivery (she especially finds reward in working with intensive needs groups) and working in-house at the Ecology Center’s facilities making sure the animals’ “down time” is comfortable and all their needs are met!
Jean Cumings – Animal Behavior Enrichment Coordinator & Environmental Educator
Resident of Strafford, NH
Jean Cumings has spent her life studying, caring for and teaching about animals. Growing up on a dairy farm, she graduated from U Mass, Amherst with a BS in Natural Resource Studies. She taught middle and high school biology and zoology for over 30 years and has spent countless hours volunteering in wildlife rehabilitation and educational facilities.
She loves to travel, photograph and observe wildlife in the US and other countries including Panama, Thailand, the Galápagos Islands, Australia and most recently Tanzania. Just a few of her favorite experiences involved fostering a black bear cub, helping protect sea turtle nesting beaches and releasing hatchlings and swimming with whale sharks.
She currently volunteers at the Center for Wildlife in Southern Maine, and hopes to continue to learn how to care for a variety of injured or orphaned animals!
Today she splits her time with us between program delivery (she is especially rewarded with the jobs where we are a special guest lecturer at the assisted living facilities and nursing homes) and her passion for enrichment! None of us come even close to the creativity Jean brings to making sure the Ambassador Animals have visually and sensory stimulating and engaging things to do and eat during their “down time” at the Ecology Center’s USDA licensed wildlife sanctuary!
Krista Butts – Environmental Educator
Krista Rheinhardt Butts graduated from Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA) in 1996 with a BS in Biology. In college, she earned a Dean’s List acknowledgement, was a member of the Biology Honor Society, Beta Beta Beta, and was listed in the “Who’s Who of College Students”. She interned at the NH Department of Agriculture in the Entomology Division, then received her MS in Management & Organization from Antioch New England Graduate School in 2003. Starting out her career working as a Naturalist at Knights Hill Nature Park in New London she then progressed to the Audubon Society in Concord, NH. Her career transitioned into a 15 year period as Project Engineer for what is now Graham Packaging and Plastics Forming Enterprises. Since having children, Krista was employed as the Business Operations Manager at PLAY!, a childrens’ indoor playspace. Krista has now, happily, made the move back into her biology roots for her career choice and has enjoyed working for Wildlife Encounters since August of 2013 as a Wildlife Educator. Krista is married with three boys. In her free time she enjoys, hiking, camping, and being outdoors with her family.
Faith Dittmar – Environmental Educator
Resident of Farmington, NH
bio coming soon
Virginia (Ginny) Hahn – Environmental Educator
Resident of Somersworth, NH
Ginny became interested in educating with our ambassador animals after seeing Wildlife Encounters present at the school she teaches 7th grade math in. Growing up with a dog and a guinea pig, she led bike tours throughout college to help kids learn about the outdoors. She has worked with horses for over 20 years, as she was raising her daughter, and was selected to travel to Puget Sound to work on Orca Whale research. She is excited to teach everyone the differences between a hedgehog and a porcupine, and much more!
Rick Gibbs – Environmental Educator
Resident of Rochester, NH
Rick is Jennifer’s husband, and a key part of the “Penn & Teller-style” presentations they deliver every summer at Salmon Falls / Lebanon KOA (formerly Flat Rock Bridge Campground), and other locations. Rick enjoys participating in the more relaxed setting of our Exhibit Services where we interact with and educate the public more one-on-one. You will most likely find him a distance from our exhibit tent – following a giant tortoise!
When not out teaching with his wife, or at his “real job”, Rick spends time lending a helping had with anything he can from organization & preparation to grounds maintenance!
Meghan Fernandes – Environmental Educator (Picture coming)
Resident of Hampstead, NH
Meghan is a science teacher in the Salem, NH School District.
A more complete profile is coming soon.
Jessica Reid – Animal Care (Picture coming)
Resident of Nottingham, NH
Jess came to know Wildlife Encounters programs first as a customer, hiring our programs for delivery before students at NH Technical Institute in Concord, NH.
Today Jess is a full time mom, and reduces her stress by helping provide excellent care and enrichment for our ambassador animals! You will likely not see Jess out in the classroom or community – but as all of our team give, her time, hard work and dedication to hours “behind the scenes” are why everyone always comment how happy and healthy our Ambassador Animals are!
Riley Small – Volunteer, Tour Assistant & Junior Educator
Riley is a very experienced volunteer and skilled young educator. As our Director’s youngest daughter, she has grown up with the staff and the animals as a part of her everyday life.
Basically able to “do it all”, you may see her supporting tours, assisting in outreach programs, helping to groom and care for certain animals. The only thing you might not find her doing is cleaning poop, lol.