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.
Emma Corbett AmeriCorps Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Emma grew up just outside of Richmond, Virginia and spent her summers on the Virginia’s beaches and the Chesapeake Bay. She went to school in the mountains at Virginia Tech, and completed an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Green Engineering. During college, she spent her summers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia working as a sailing instructor and volunteering with the Nature Conservancy. During her time at Virginia Tech, Emma continued to be drawn to the water and spent her weekends sailing in regattas all up and down the east coast with the Virginia Tech Sailing Team or hiking and fly fishing in the Jefferson National Forest. She is passionate about sharing her love of the environment and was the president of the Environmental Student Organization at Virginia Tech. Through this platform, she organized outreach to local schools in Giles County and developed a love for environmental education. She is excited for the opportunity to share her excitement and enthusiasm with the community during her time at BHIC!
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 Summer Team
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.
Cameron Good Resident Coordinator
Cameron is excited to be returning to the BHIC this summer as resident coordinator! Last summer she worked as an education intern, when she fell in love with the Conservancy and Bald Head Island. Cameron was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. She received her B.S. in Environmental Science at the University of South Carolina, and has just finished her first year of her Master's program at NC State University, working toward a MAT in Secondary Science Education. She hopes to work as a teacher and inspire students to care for and about the environment. For fun, Cameron loves to ballroom dance, and has done so for the past 5 years!
Briana Fragata Conservation Technician
Brianna left her hometown beaches in Plymouth, Massachusetts to attend Hood College where she received a degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in coastal and watershed studies. During her time interning at Hood College in the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies and the Biology department, she conducted bacterial monitoring, a forest recreation study, and helped to implement a vegetable rain garden in the local community. After graduation, she interned at the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory Oyster Hatchery. Next she spent a year working at Maryland Coastal Bays Program as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member, where she engaged in water quality monitoring, oyster gardening, anadromous fish sampling, and implemented environmental education programs. Most recently Brianna worked as a ten month Conservation and Education intern at the Bald Head Island Conservancy (BHIC). Brianna is looking forward to returning to BHIC as a Conservation Technician for the exciting summer season.
Corinne Johnston Sea Turtle Intern
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. In May 2019, I received my B.S. in Animal Science and minor in Wildlife and Fisheries from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Through my time there I was able to gain experience handling, observing, and managing companion animals and large and small livestock. This past fall, I was a conservation/education intern at the Bald Head Island Conservancy. This was an amazing opportunity for me to explore my passion of wildlife conservation within marine habitats. When I first arrived on BHI, sea turtle season was still in full swing. It was an incredible experience to watch hatchlings make their way to the ocean, and on my first night no less. I am so excited to continue my journey at the Conservancy as a 2020 sea turtle intern and learn through BHIC’s sea turtle protection program. In my free time I enjoy being outside, swimming and birding.
Krishna Tiwari Sea Turtle Intern
My name is Krishna Tiwari and I'm originally from Wilkesboro, NC. I've lived in North Carolina my whole life and attended Western Carolina University these past 4 years. I received my B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Anthropology last spring semester and will be working towards my Masters in Environmental Science/Public Administration at UNC Wilmington this fall. Some of my hobbies include hiking, outdoor photography, sports such as tennis, and learning about wildlife. I love the outdoors and greatly enjoy the field of biology. Some of my favorite experiences derive from field work with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) Natural Resources Department. During this position, I snorkeled for eastern hellbenders, conducted salamander surveys, elk transects/counts, etc. Overall, I love getting outdoors and performing filed work that contributes to wildlife conservation!
Olivia Thomas Development, Marketing + Turtle Central Intern
Olivia grew up in Dubuque, IA before moving to Indiana with her family. She attends Purdue University where she studies marketing management. She has had many marketing and development positions over the past few years, but her favorite was with the Boys & Girls Club. Olivia’s excitement for traveling and passion for the environment are what made Bald Head Island stand out to her when searching for internships. Outside of work and school, Olivia enjoys hanging out with her family and friends and spending days at the Lake.
Savannah Weber Sea Turtle Intern
Savannah grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and recently graduated with a B.S. in Biology and Marine Science from the University of South Carolina. In the past, she has interned with the Newport Aquarium in the Outreach Education Department, followed by an Aquatic Veterinary internship at Dolphins Plus in the Florida Keys. Last summer, she completed a NOAA Hollings Internship in Apalachicola, Florida, where she first realized how fascinating sea turtle research is. She is very excited to get involved and learn more about sea turtle research efforts during her summer internship at Bald Head Island!
Ali Wisner Turtle Walk Instructor
Ali grew up here on Bald Head Island living full-time on the island and until she graduated high school. She attended Conservancy Camp every summer for seven years which taught her the beauty and importance of the nature around her. This led her to study Environmental Policy and Human Rights at Duke University where her passion for environmentalism grew. Since, she has focused on the nexus of humans and the environment, whether it was working off grid in the Ecuadorian Amazon on cultural preservation, or working on Capitol Hill with legislators to push forward legislation to protect communities and the environment. She is excited to get this opportunity to get back to her roots, give back to an organization which has given her so much and teach others about the wonders of Bald Head Island!