Our Staff

Lisa Thomson, President & CEO

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) appointed Lisa Thomson as President & CEO in January 2015. A lifelong conservationist, Lisa’s previous experience includes 28 years at The Nature Conservancy, serving in leadership capacities in conservation land management and fundraising. In 2010 she was recruited as Associate Vice President for Development at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, she helped lead their recently launched capital campaign and built major gifts and planned giving teams. Lisa earned her BA at Stetson University, with a degree in biology and art, and an MS from Florida State University in design. Lisa relocated to Asheville, NC after living in Central Florida for 45 years.

Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1109

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Betsy Gamber, Vice President of Operations

Before joining TACF National Office in September 2009, Betsy worked for the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port Realtor’s Association as Director of Professional Development where she designed and established a professional educational program for the organization’s 1200+ members in addition to implementing all fundraising and public relations activities. Prior to her position there, Betsy served as Executive Director for the Bon Secours-St. Joseph Hospital Foundation in Port Charlotte, FL where she developed and implemented a comprehensive development program, including fundraising campaigns, special events, planned giving seminars, a grantsmanship program, and a volunteer program for over 400 hospital volunteers. Betsy received her BA in Business Management from Eckerd College in Florida.

Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1110

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Judy Antaramian, Membership Coordinator

Before joining TACF in 2010, Judy worked for the Collier County Tax Collectors in Marco Island, FL. Judy’s expertise includes nonprofit administration, database management, and membership services. Originally from Massachusetts, Judy and her family spent 20 years in Florida before moving to Asheville, NC.

Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1103

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Laura Barth, Horticulture and Pathology Specialist

Laura joined TACF in 2018 as the Horticulture and Pathology Specialist. She has a BS and MS in horticulture, with a minor in soil science, from North Carolina State University (NCSU). Her thesis work was on the physical, chemical, and hydrologic properties of pine bark substrates over twelve months of managed aging. While working on her degrees, Laura gained additional experience working at the Gould Entomology Lab, the NCSU Plant Disease and Insect Clinic, the Larry F. Grand Mycological Herbarium, the Horticultural Substrates Lab, and the Mountain Crop Improvement Lab.

Phone: (276) 944-4631

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Samantha Bowers, Grants Manager

Before joining TACF in February 2016, Samantha held an eleven year career with the Asheville Housing Authority as a project manager. She has an extensive background in local governmental administration including the management of multi-million dollar federal grants and energy efficiency improvement projects. She brings a skill-set for leading database software and equipment conversions, website management, and nonprofit strategic planning. Samantha first discovered TACF while serving as chair with the environmental nonprofit Asheville GreenWorks. She holds a BS in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and graduated Leadership Asheville in 2016.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1104

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Kendra Collins, New England Regional Science Coordinator

Kendra joined TACF in 2008 as Regional Science Coordinator for the New England region, which includes the ME, VT/NH, RI/MA, and CT state chapters of TACF. She received a BS degree in Environmental Conservation Science from the University of New Hampshire and an MS in Natural Resources: Forestry from the University of Vermont. Her Masters research focused on American chestnut restoration, which led her to become involved with TACF and the formation of the VT/NH chapter. Kendra worked previously with citizen scientists through New Hampshire’s Volunteer Lake Assessment Program.

Phone: (802) 999-8706

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Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor

Sara began working with TACF as a Duke University Stanback Intern in the summer of 2000. She was hired full-time in 2003 to work as the organization’s first Regional Science Coordinator. Sara supervises all of TACF’s Regional Science Coordinators and also serves as a Regional Science Coordinator covering PA, NY, IN, OH, DE, and NJ. Born and raised in southern West Virginia, Sara obtained a BS in Biology from Drew University in Madison, NJ and an MS degree in Forest Ecology and Resource Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. Sara is based out of Penn State University.

Phone: (814) 404-6013

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David Kaufman-Moore, Donor Relations Manager

Prior to joining TACF, David worked at the University of North Carolina at Asheville in various roles in the office of University Advancement. During that time, David oversaw and managed the foundations endowments, and worked with various elected officials, community members, and donors to enhance their relationship with the University. He brings a vast array of skills from database reporting and optimization, to project evaluation, donor stewardship, and event planning. David recently received an MS in Public Administration and a certificate in non-profit management from Villanova University.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1108

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Cherin Marmon-Saxe, Executive Coordinator

Cherin joined TACF in May 2017 after relocating back to the United States from England, where she lived for 14 years. Her professional career spans more than 30+ years, specializing in project management, process improvement and systems integration across a multitude of countries and markets. Prior to joining TACF, she owned a hotel in the beautiful Northern Lake District of The United Kingdom, one of her bucket list items.

Cherin holds a BS degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management with a secondary Degree in Human Resources. She joins the TACF family with great enthusiasm to expand her involvement and experience within the non-profit sector.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047  x1105

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Eric Jenkins, Meadowview Tree Breeding Coordinator

Eric joined Meadowview Research Farms in April 2014. He received his MS in forest resources from the University of Georgia and a BS in biology from East Tennessee State University. As a Tennessee native, his interest in the American chestnut tree developed early in life. His father lived in a house made of wormy chestnut. It was built around the time the blight killed most of the chestnut trees in east TN. Eric has experience with land conservation programs as well as GIS-based planning and analysis. His primary responsibility at Meadowview is managing the production of containerized chestnut trees for research purposes as well as establishing and assessing progeny tests.

Phone: (276) 944-4631

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Dan Mckinnon, Director of Meadowview Farm Operations

Dan joined TACF in 2014 as Seed Orchard Supervisor at Meadowview Research Farms. He has a long history of agriculture and Appalachian forest work, ranging from trail conservation to forest management. As a local native from Marion, VA, much of his experience was acquired working in the mountains in the surrounding areas. His expertise covers farm and facilities maintenance, field crew training and supervision, with an emphasis on workplace safety, and coordinating volunteer groups. Mckinnon has a degree from the Virginia Highlands Community College in Horticulture Technology and Landscape Management. He has held positions with the US Forest Service, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the US Marine Corps.

Phone: (276) 944-4631

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Heather Nelson, Controller

Heather was hired in July 2015 and brings a wealth of experience in both non-profit and for-profit needs, including accounting, management and legal consultation, software and accounting system implementation, property, and document management. Prior to her work as an independent consultant, Heather served as managing director for Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center. She holds a BS in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Asheville as well as a certificate of non-profit management from Duke University.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1112

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Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator

Tom joined TACF in 2012 and is based in the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Central Office in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tom oversees the organization’s Mid-Atlantic region which includes the TACF state chapters of KY, MD, VA, and WV. He received his MS in Forest Sciences from the University of Vermont in Burlington after earning his BS in Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado in 2007.

Tom comes to TACF with significant hands-on experience with the Foundation’s breeding program, having worked as a research technician with New England Regional Science Coordinator Kendra Gurney. In this role, he investigated chestnut cold-tolerance at the University of Vermont. Upon leaving New England, Tom accepted the role of TACF’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in Asheville until 2016. Prior to joining TACF, Tom served as a Crew Leader with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Colorado, where he managed dozens of large-scale restoration projects and spent nine years as a medic and firefighter with the Nederland Fire Protection District.

Phone:  (828) 450-9100

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Ben Jarrett, Southeast Regional Science Coordinator

Ben Jarrett re-joined TACF as the Foundation’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in 2017 after working as project manager in Madison, Wisconsin for two years.  In this role, Ben oversees the following state chapters:  TN, NC/SC (Carolinas), AL and GA.

Ben is a TACF alumnus, having worked in the past as an intern in the Mid-Atlantic Region from 2014 to 2015. Ben holds a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia where he completed his undergraduate thesis project on American chestnut sprouts and their response to fire.

Phone:  (434) 906-9312

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Jules Smith, Media and Communications Manager

Though originally from East Tennessee, Jules moved to Asheville in 2010 from Cambridge, MA where she was the Communications Associate at Episcopal Divinity School. Prior to accepting the job at TACF, she was the Webmaster and Communications Specialist at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. Before switching career paths, Jules worked as a videographer and editor in the television news industry. She loves living in Asheville because of its mountains, progressive values, farm-to-table eateries, and support of local businesses & non-profits! Jules has a BA in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Television Broadcasting.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1102

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Shana Zimnoch, Gifts and Records Specialist

Shana comes to TACF with expertise in donor databases and a deep understanding of the challenges and inner workings of non-profits. Before joining TACF in October 2017, she worked at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the Noyes Museum of Art in southern New Jersey. Shana has a sincere interest in conservation, human emotion and working towards a common goal. As someone who loves to hike and all things nature, she looks forward to being an integral part of TACF’s work. Shana holds a BS degree in literature with a secondary degree in art and anthropology from Stockton University in New Jersey.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1101

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Dr. Jared Westbrook, Director of Science

Jared joined TACF in January 2015 as the organization’s new quantitative geneticist. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jared earned a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan, an MS in Botany, and a PhD in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research studied the genetic enhancement of resin production in loblolly pine stems for use in liquid biofuels. Jared works extensively with the Meadowview Research Laboratory and commutes from Asheville to take TACF’s breeding program to the next level.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1106

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Brandon Yanez, Meadowview Research Technician

Brandon joined TACF as a seasonal employee in the fall of 2015, only to return in 2016 for another season.  In 2017, Brandon rejoined the TACF staff as a full time employee at the Glen C. Price Research Farm in Meadowview VA.  Brandon graduated in 2015 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with a BSA in Landscape Architecture. His thesis defense focused on the redevelopment of a rail to trail project, with a focus on educating the public of the historical, natural, and infrastructural importance of the site; and its relationship to the larger landscape. Working in Meadowview, Brandon assists the Seed Orchard Supervisor with any and all tasks needed to fulfill the day to day and long term operations of the research orchards.

Phone: (276) 944-4631

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