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.
Felipe grew up exploring the wooded creeks and rivers of Northern Virginia, fostering a love of wildlife and the outdoors from his earliest years. He came to Arizona in 2006 to attend Prescott College, where he majored in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Natural History and Ecology. In 2010 he began his professional life as a field biologist, living and working in places as diverse as Arizona, Louisiana, Florida, Maine, Washington, and New Mexico. He returned to Arizona in 2013 where he received his M.A. in Science Teaching at Northern Arizona University. Felipe brings a wealth of experience in formal and informal science-based environmental education.
In 2010, Andrew moved to Arizona into a Program Director position for a residential and day camp located in the Prescott National Forest. Growing up in the beautiful State of Maine, Andrew had access to the Appalachian Mountains where he spent much of his time backpacking, running and skiing. His affinity for the outdoors still remains, and can still be found hiking and camping in the pines, and riding his bike around town. Prior to his move to Arizona, Andrew received his Bachelor of the Arts from the University of Maine in History, Sociology, and Anthropology. He continued his post-graduate work at University of Bridgeport and receive his teaching certificate while working in secondary education in Connecticut.
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.
Erin was born and raised in southern California and earned her Bachelors of Science in Zoology at Washington State University. Prescott has been her home since 2017 and started her career in outdoor education as an education facilitator and program coordinator at Chapel Rock’s Aspen Creek Outdoor School. She has also been a docent at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary since moving here. She spent summers programming for YMCA summer camp and the Discovery Center at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska. In all of her work she has been fostering a passion for science and the outdoors. Outside of work she loves to hike, rock climb, and spend time with animals, especially her own or the ones at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary.
Schoolyard Habitat Coordinator
Melissa grew up in New England and spent much of her time exploring the mountains, lakes, and rugged coastline of the northeast. Her love for nature and spending time outside led her to pursue a major in environmental science at Lyndon State College in Vermont, where she received her Bachelors of Science in 2014. While in college, she began working for the Massachusetts Audubon Society and was able to work with campers and teach them about many unique and diverse ecosystems, including Martha’s Vineyard. Melissa also loves traveling and has explored much of the west coast – working for a number of non-profits, including Seattle Audubon Society. When not working Melissa enjoys spending time outside whether it Is hiking, skiing, or rock climbing.
Sonya Wood Mahler
Membership Database and Volunteer Coordinator
Sonya has been teaching youth and adults about environmental education and outdoor exploration for 35 years. After careful study of the Winnie the Pooh children’s stories, Sonya’s family decidedly claims that she is half Owl and half Tigger. She is driven to teach those around her but she loves to encourage them to play too.
Sonya grew up on the Alabama Gulf coast. She has degrees from Auburn University and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. For the first 20 years, she was a marine biologist and marine cooperative extension agent. She has worked as program director for environmental education centers, nature center naturalist, planetarium interpreter, aquatic education specialist, and watershed educator. Sonya has led 65 kayak trips and 53 manatee dive trips. She also leads hikes, caving trips, stargazing, and storytelling.
Sonya and her husband Larry participate in work mission trips in Mexico, where they build schools, libraries, health clinics, and drinking water systems. Some of Sonya’s favorite things are travel, photography, theater, bike riding, SCUBA diving, gardening, hiking with her dog Prancer, shrimp, fresh raspberries, and ice box pecan pie.
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”.
Originally from Connecticut, Ken obtained a BA in Anthropology/History from the University of Northern Colorado. His previous career was as a manager with the Union Pacific Railroad in Wyoming for 30 years. Prior to joining our staff, he was a valuable Highlands Center volunteer working in the Discovery Gardens since July, 2016. He currently volunteers with the Verde Valley Archeology Center in Camp Verde.
Our Board of Directors