BHI Conservancy Team
Kelly Armstrong Coastal Educator
Kelly was born and raised in the mountains of New Jersey. She grew up fascinated by anything with water and finally ended up deciding to pursue a BS in Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington after witnessing a sea turtle nest hatch. She has interned at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Bald Head Island Conservancy, and volunteered with the Hawaii Island Hawksbill Sea Turtle Project. For two years after college she worked at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher in various departments where she learned her love of teaching people about conservation and wildlife around her. She is honored to be back at the Bald Head Island Conservancy and is so happy to call it home again.
Marissa Blackburn Senior Educator
Marissa was born in Maryland and spent her summers vacationing at the beach. Her love of the ocean inspired her to move to North Carolina so she could attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she earned her B.S. in Marine Biology. After graduation, she spent five years working as an Educator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Marissa is a certified NC Environmental Educator and is passionate about sharing the outdoors with others through educational experiences. As a lifelong learner herself, she is currently working part-time towards earning her Master’s degree in Biology through Miami University. Outside of work, Marissa enjoys traveling, exploring nature, and spending time with her husband, Kevin, and their two cats and two dogs.
Melissa Blackmon Director of Development
Melissa grew up in Northern Maryland, before heading to Virginia to study Speech/Communications at Mary Washington College. She remained in the area for four years, working as a on air reporter for Adelphia Communications and local feature TV host. She moved to New York City to work behind the scenes in broadcasting, as the head of Media Relations for a production company. While remaining with the company for 15 years, Melissa and her husband resided in Boston and Northern Virginia, before settling outside of Raleigh. Melissa began working in fundraising as the Development Associate for Donate Life NC, promoting organ donation. Melissa's love of Bald Head Island began several years ago on a family vacation. Melissa is married to Brent and has three very active children, Max, Jack, and Sofie. Outside of work, Melissa enjoys reading, yoga, and spending time with her family.
Diane Calhoon Finance Assistant
Diane was born in England but spend the majority of her life living in the hills of Northwest New Jersey. She worked many years for a large finance company before leaving to run the office for her husband's construction firm. Once her and her husband, Mark, were done raising their two children, they decided to move south to enjoy a quieter lifestyle, better climate and the beautiful North Carolina beaches. In her spare time, Diane can be found reading, exploring her local beaches or socializing with family and friends. She is excited to start the next chapter of her life at the Bald Head Island Conservancy.
Beth Darrow Senior Scientist
Beth grew up in Northern Virginia, vacationing with her family in Delaware and Cape Cod as a child, where she participated in naturalist programs and developed a passion for coastal ecology. She holds a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Virginia, an M.S. in Marine Science from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Alabama. Beth has lived in Wilmington since 2014, and taught classes and led research projects in UNCW’s Department of Biology and Marine Biology for four years. Her research specialty is estuarine ecology; specifically, using bivalves such as oysters and clams as indicators of land-use change. She is interested in water quality, marsh ecology, and exploring how humans can sustainably fit into the coastal environment. When she is not at BHIC she can also be found at her sons’ baseball games or Cub Scout events, or gardening, kayaking, or cycling. Beth is looking forward to further developing the Conservancy’s research program, and strengthening relationships with scientific collaborators in the Cape Fear region and beyond.
Emily Eldridge Communications Specialist
Emily was born in Wilmington, NC and grew up spending ample time both there and in South Florida. She enjoys being close to the beach and often finds herself reminiscing of the times she spent exploring the barrier island Key Biscayne as a child when her grandmother lived there. Her ties to North Carolina led her to later study Interpersonal and Organizational Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. While in college, her passion for the outdoors grew stronger when she began to work with local environmental nonprofits. Emily has experience managing communications for camps and conference centers in Western North Carolina, and she’s excited to utilize these skills at the Conservancy. In her free time, Emily enjoys staying active by running and doing yoga, spending time with her family and friends, and exploring nature.
Sharon Eisele Sales Associate • Turtle Central
Sharon grew up on the north New Jersey shore where she spent many happy hours in and near the ocean, volunteering to plant grasses to slow dune erosion, watching osprey nest every season, documenting oral histories of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse and just enjoying all the different beaches. When her husband Don’s job took them to Greensboro, NC in 2002 she was dismayed to discover the beach was 250 miles away! They quickly made their way to the Brunswick County beaches, bought a weekend place and finally retired full-time to Southport in 2012. She began working part-time at Turtle Central Gift Shop in July 2015 as a Sales Associate. She enjoys working for a non-profit organization with such a worthy mission and is looking forward to participating in the many Conservancy programs and contributing to the success of the gift shop. She is a graduate of Monmouth University and Fairleigh Dickinson University with a B.S. in Education and an M.A. in Psychology/Organization Behavior and had a long career in Human Resources and Training & Development. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, cycling, yoga, golf and reading.
Paul Hillbrand Sea Turtle Program Coordinator
Originally from just outside Kansas City, Missouri Paul acquired an interest in the ocean during a fourth-grade literature arts project on Beluga whales. From then on, he has been exploring the marine and terrestrial environments. He received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from Avila University in Kansas City, MO and his Master's Degree in Marine and Environmental Science from the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. Throughout his career he has worked with a variety of sea turtle species - including Hawksbills, Loggerheads, and Greens - in various labs and sea turtle hospitals throughout Florida and St. Croix.
Lauren Schaale Coastal Scientist
Lauren grew up in Cary, North Carolina and she has always been passionate about coastal wildlife conservation. In 2015, she graduated from University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in neuroscience. In 2019, she graduated from UNCW with a M.S. in Biology. Her thesis research focused on the effects of sand surface temperature on beach-nesting birds and how it influences their nest-site selection and nest success. During her undergraduate years, she volunteered at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and interned at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island. After college, Lauren completed a variety of roles and internships including a role as a marine educator for Sea Turtle Camp, a conservation/education intern at the Bald Head Island Conservancy, and a mammal and bird intern at the Greensboro Science Center. In addition, she worked as an AmeriCorps Research member at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in 2016 and 2017. Her work focused on monitoring the beaches for sea turtle nesting activity. Outside of work, Lauren enjoys exploring the beach, birding, and reading.
G. Christopher Shank Executive Director
Chris was born in Maryland but has had a love for the North Carolina coast since he was a young kid. His family has been vacationing along Brunswick County beaches for more than 40 years and he also lived in Wilmington for a decade. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Marine Sciences from UNC Chapel Hill. He conducted his Ph.D. research on the Cape Fear River system with scientists in the UNCW Chemistry Department, and also worked for several years for the Lower Cape Fear River Program at the UNCW Center for Marine Science. Before joining the Conservancy, he was a faculty member in the Department of Marine Science at the University of Texas at Austin for 10 years where he ran a coastal research lab and taught numerous courses on marine conservation and coastal ecology. Chris also has considerable public education and outreach experience and is always excited to share his love for and knowledge of the awe-inspiring habitats and species of Bald Head Island.
Pam W. Smith Director of Retail Operations • Turtle Central
Born in Elizabeth City, NC on the Pasquotank River, Pam was raised to love and respect the water and its inhabitants. Living near the Outer Banks of NC she spent many summers on the Northeastern North Carolina barrier islands including Hatteras and Ocracoke. She graduated with a degree in Textile and Apparel Management with a business concentration from NCSU in Raleigh, NC. She initially worked as a materials utilization engineer within the textile manufacturing industry in Durham, NC before following her dream of owning her own business. She ran and operated a Bridal and Formal wear shop for 10 years before moving to the Wilmington, NC area. Pam first travelled to Bald Head Island in ’99 while on a “Lighthouses of NC” tour. She fell in love with the island and was thrilled with the opportunity to work at Turtle Central marrying her love of Coastal NC with retail. Pam enjoys reading just about anything she can get her hands on, dancing and traveling with friends and family.
Darice Voigt Finance Manager
Darice was born in Indiana but has lived all over the United States in places like New Jersey, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and Arizona with her most recent relocation to the South Carolina/North Carolina area. Having lived in the desert states for a number of years, her love of the ocean is what brought her to the coast, while her love of nature and sea turtles is what brought her to the Conservancy. She worked as the Controller for a growing company in Arizona and South Carolina for nearly 10 years, before joining our Team. She is an avid traveler and loves to explore different places in the world and has been to Thailand, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, just to name a few. In her free time, she can be found near the water doing things like kayaking or parasailing but she also loves anything adventurous.
2020 Fall Team
Tasneem Ahsanullah Conservation Intern
Tasneem was born and raised in Austin, Texas. She recently graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Marine Biology and a certificate in Environmental Sustainability. At UT Austin she worked in a microbiology lab where she studied the gut bacteria in wild Drosophila. Her junior year she was selected for a Semester by the Sea program in Port Aransas, Texas. In Port Aransas, she conducted an experiment testing the effects of desalination and oil spills on copepods. She also volunteered at the Amos Rehabilitation Keep where she helped with bird and sea turtle rehabilitation as well as assisted in turtle patrols. Most recently, she came back from an internship in Paraguay where she tested the effects of urbanization on amphibian diversity. She is interested in pursuing a Master’s related to wildlife conservation, marine protected areas, human impacts on wildlife or science communication. Most of her free time is spent outdoors and she is an avid wildlife photographer!
Sean Brunson Development Intern
Sean is from the small town of Douglas, Massachusetts. He wanted to escape the cold, long winters of the north so he went to High Point University in North Carolina for college. During his time at HPU, Sean began to pursue wildlife photography as a hobby. His junior year he studied abroad in Sydney, Australia. He had the opportunity to visit the Great Barrier Reef and dive with whale sharks off the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. These experiences gave Sean a newfound appreciation of marine life and the importance of conservation. He ended up graduating from HPU with a B.A. in Communications focusing on Electronic Media. Applying to intern at the Conservancy seemed like the perfect fit - with the Conservancy’s mission of barrier island conservation, education, and preservation along with his passion for wildlife conservation through digital content.
Tim Chisholm Conservation Intern
Tim grew up in Mooresville, NC and recently graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Applied Ecology from NC State University. In the past, he held the position of a Village Mentor within NC State’s EcoVillage living and learning community where he engaged with fellow students and the public as an environmental educator and project coordinator. With an interest in freshwater hydrology and ecology, Tim hopes to gain hands on experience and valuable life experiences in the various fields surrounding coastal ecology here at Bald Head Island Conservancy. In his pastime, Tim loves to fish and kayak and enjoys hiking North Carolina’s many state parks.
Taylor Conklin Sea Turtle Intern
Taylor is from Fayetteville, North Carolina and received her bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina with a major in Marine Science and a minor in Chemistry. She studied abroad in the Galapagos Islands, as well as Brisbane, Australia, where she conducted an experiment on the population density of Butterflyfish and Damselfish on different species of corals on the Great Barrier Reef. During her undergraduate career, Taylor volunteered at Riverbanks Zoo in the Aquarium & Reptile Complex, where she conducted water quality tests and performed various animal husbandry tasks. She also worked in her professor's advanced analytical geochemistry lab, where she analyzed the trace metal composition of fossilized fish teeth. Taylor loves spending her summers at the beach and hopes to eventually obtain her masters degree in Chemical Oceanography and study the effects of ocean acidification.
Ella Doud Education Intern
Ella was born and raised in Fort Collins, Colorado. Most of her favorite childhood memories take place outside learning about her surroundings. She has spent her summers attending, and later working at Camp Manito-Wish in northern Wisconsin. There, she participated in and lead extended kayaking, canoeing, and backpacking trips. She attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, double majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies with a minor in Education. It was there she fell in love with the subtleties of grassland prairies because she worked as a student naturalist. In her college career she studied abroad for a semester in Australia and New Zealand and interned for a month in two Hawaiian schools. These experiences are what showed her the magic of islands.
Phoenix Spivey Conservation Intern
Phoenix Spivey is from Louisburg, North Carolina, a rural area where most of her entertainment came from playing in a forest or wetland. She lived for the outdoors as a kid and often explored the wetland in her backyard to observe its cradled life. As her love for the outdoors grew stronger, so did her concern for its safety. To better understand the environment she loved, she decided to pursue and earn a bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and a minor in Applied Ecology and Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. During her undergraduate years, she interned with the University of Arizona to analyze microbial communities in the Landscape Evolution Observatory's rainwater supply at Biosphere 2. This experience led to the opportunity to present her research at the European Geosciences Assembly in Austria, Vienna. With a strong interest in water quality and conservation, she plans to obtain a master's degree in a related field and contribute to current and future environmental solutions. She loves hiking, reading, listening to music, and collecting rocks and crystals.