Our Staff and Board of Directors
Dave Irvine became the Executive Director of the Highlands Center for Natural History in January of 2008. Mr. Irvine brings in over 25 years of experience working with non–profit, science education organizations as a naturalist, program director and executive director. Most recently he was the Director at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center in Northeast Ohio, which was operated in partnership with the National Park Service. He was also a past President of Environmental Education Council of Ohio and has worked for other organizations in Colorado, North Dakota and Ohio. Originally from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Mr. Irvine holds a BS degree from Penn State University in Parks & Recreation with an emphasis in Environmental Interpretation and has done graduate work at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Cathy Sutton worked in healthcare for 22 years, primarily as a nurse. She obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in 2001 and a Master’s of Science in Healthcare Informatics (IT) in 2014 from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. Since that time, she moved to Arizona to start a family and begin a new chapter in her life.
In 2021, Cathy underwent a major life transformation, which sparked a newfound interest in hiking and being in nature. In conjunction with this transformation, she needed a career field shift so she became the Operations Director in 2022. With her new found respect for nature, she has become passionate in assisting “children and adults discover the wonders of nature and become wise caretakers of the land.”
Vita Marie Phares
Events and Volunteer Coordinator
Vita Marie Phares became the Event & Volunteer Coordinator for the Highlands Center for Natural History on January 9, 2023. She brings 35 plus years of experience to this position and is excited to join the team! Vita Marie holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Arizona University and a Master’s Degree from Webster University. Being in the Prescott area since the late 1960’s, Vita Marie is enthusiastic about nature and the natural world. She and her two children were raised in Prescott, and enjoy the altitude, the people and the small town vibe. Vita Marie looks forward to hiking more, meeting new people and sharing the Highlands Center for Natural History facility with the public, thus creating memorable events from conception to completion.
As a member of the Education team at Highlands Center for Natural History, Sarah brings passion for science, love for education, and rootedness in the communities she serves. As a young scientist, Sarah obtained a B.S. in Earth Science from George Mason University, with research opportunities in freshwater ecology and geomorphology. After working as an outdoor educator and field guide from the Chesapeake Bay, to the Grand Staircase Escalante, her desire to become an educator evolved leading her to receive a M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Prescott College. Sarah brings experience in environmental and educational leadership – constantly learning from and celebrating the communities that make up the Central Highlands, human and non-human. She works hard to facilitate meaningful experiences for people in nature, about nature, and most importantly, with nature.
Youth Education Coordinator
Jessica is a native of California, but has lived in Arizona since 1994 when she came here to attend college and received her Bachelor of Science in Soils from Northern Arizona University. Jessie spent some years working for Sharlot Hall Museum, and then at the local government level, but never lost her passion for the natural sciences. She started as a volunteer for the Highland Center helping with the Knee High Naturalist program, working in the store, and special events. Jessie later transitioned to the Americorps program assisting the Education Department, and now she is a permanent member of our staff.
Community Education Coordinator
Maria grew up exploring the woods of southern Indiana, and lived in Colorado and on the Appalachian Trail before making her way to the Central Highlands of Arizona over a decade ago. It’s safe to say her love of the outdoors runs deep. Having previously worked in the field of hospice, Maria graduated in 2019 from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott with a second degree, this time as a wildlife scientist. Maria brings to her role as Community Education Coordinator her passion for nature, land stewardship, and helping others connect with what roots us all. Maria enjoys hiking, backpacking, birdwatching, and rainy days. She also enjoys volunteering on the board of Prescott Audubon Society and with Grand Canyon National Park’s Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR) Program.
Schoolyard Habitat Coordinator
Growing up in the farming community of rural Illinois,Taylor has marveled at nature since childhood. From catching toads and building bike ramps as a kid, to mountain biking, running, and hiking the trails of Prescott, Taylor loves being outside. That love is what drove them to pursue a degree in Human Development and Environmental Education at Prescott College, with the goal of providing equitable opportunities for youth to learn and spend time outside. After college, Taylor did just that by working at local camps and the Prescott Community Nature Center, where they provided outdoor and environmental education to youth in the public schools. Whether exploring the trails of Prescott with their dogs or working outside with children, Taylor brings a spark for life and learning they are excited to share.
Facilities & Property Director
Jess joined the Highland Center in 2019. He has held previous roles as a business owner in the tree service industry, Arizona licensed contractor, patrol deputy and maritime captain. His varied background provides a broad knowledge of skill sets to assist in maintaining the Center. Jess was introduced to the Highland Center as one of his customers, where he developed a relationship with the staff and an appreciation for all the Center provides.
Jess grew up in San Pedro, California and then spent many years in Washington State. He and his wife and son moved to Prescott in 2015 to be closer to family and enjoy all the Prescott has to offer. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking, gardening and the sunshine!!
Tom has an unusual, and colorful, history in the Marketing and Communication field. During his seventeen years living in Los Angeles and working in the entertainment industry he co-produced the “The Imperial Bells of China”, the largest group of Chinese artists that ever toured the US, twice. He also worked closely with Tai, the amazing Indian elephant that starred in the movie, “Water for Elephants,” when he founded The LA Circus, an award-winning one-ring community circus sponsored by the City of Los Angeles. Tom also worked on several of the largest Music Festivals of the 90s, including the Amnesty Int’l World Tour w/ Peter Gabriel, Sting and Bruce Springsteen, Fiesta Broadway, and the US Festival. As Tom says, “After running a circus for two years, there’s not much that can surprise me. If you can deal with a dozen clowns on a daily basis, everything else is a piece of cake.” Thirteen years ago, when Tom moved to Prescott, he started the Folk Sessions Radio Show, still broadcasting on the KJAZZ Radio Network. He received a Bucky Award for Media in 2013, performs at church halls and folk fests with his wife, Christa, and is proud to be a “Man Who Cooks”.
Kyle is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee where he obtained a B.S. in Environmental Soil Science. His interest has always been rooted in the environment ever since he can remember. From obtaining his Arrow of Light to his Eagle Scout he has learned the practices of being a steward of the environment. He has joined the Highland Center in partnership with the AmeriCorps to teach many of the valuable and important lessons that can be found within the nature of the Arizona Highlands.
Casey and Carmen Hines
Our Board of Directors
Mary Ann Mira