About Us

Our passionate and highly qualified team uses experiential, community-based ecology lessons and activities to facilitate students’ learning about natural systems. As a result, young people develop a respectful relationship with nature and their community to build life and career skills that allow them to make positive changes for a sustainable, restorative future.

 

Staff

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Suzy Dhruv - Executive Director

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SUZANNE DHRUV, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Suzanne (She/Her) is a native Tucsonan and has established deep, strong roots in the Sonoran Desert Region. Her passion to reconnect children with the natural world is fueled by a lifetime of playing, living, learning and teaching within a dynamic, colorful, and detailed landscape. In an effort to develop authentic, engaging, and educational opportunities in nature for adolescents, Suzanne achieved a Prescott College Master of Arts degree in Environmental Studies, investigating youths’ implicit theories of the natural world and their experiences within. This graduate research project builds upon Suzanne’s academic and professional foundation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona and has over ten years professional experience that includes directing, designing and instructing environmental education programs for all ages. Her experiences with local nonprofit organizations foster an ability to collaborate with community organizations, educators, and parents in an effort to enhance learning opportunities for adolescents and children throughout the Tucson area. Suzanne is also trained in Wilderness First Responder and in First Aid/CPR.

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Eric Dhruv - Programs Director

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ERIC DHRUV, PROGRAMS DIRECTOR

Eric (He/Him) began his love affair with the Sonoran Desert and Tucson, Arizona while earning a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from the University of Arizona. The romance and desire for immersion in the natural world led to several years of field work in such places as Arizona, Alaska and Papua New Guinea. Eric was employed by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum as an environmental educator and interpretive manager working with community members of all ages. Eric went on to earn an M.A. from Prescott College in Place-Based Education and enjoyed a position as Sustainability Director and professional naturalist at Miraval Resort in Catalina, Arizona. He also served as Associate Faculty for the Liberal Arts, Adult Degree Program at Prescott College Tucson Center before becoming full time Program Director of ITE. He is LEED accredited and a member of the Southern Arizona branch of the US Green Building Council. Eric’s passion for sharing the intrinsic bond between nature and humanity has generated many wonderful opportunities to “get the word out” en mass on TV and radio as well as one on one and in small groups with youth over many years in both urban and back country settings. Eric is also trained in Wilderness First Responder and in First Aid/CPR.

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Kristen Sawyer - Youth Development Manager

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KRISTEN SAWYER, YOUTH DEVELOPMENT MANAGER

Kristen moved to Tucson from the midwest when she was 14, and has called the desert her home base ever since. A wandering spirit, she has traveled, studied and worked in education from Phoenix, AZ to Yosemite National Park.CA to Cuenca, Ecuador to El Castillo, Costa Rica to Varanasi, India. For the last decade, she’s focused on social-emotional development of youth and teenagers, exploring outdoor and arts-based education, and teaching creative writing. A perpetual lover of the deep questions, she often looks for metaphors, talks about dreams, and encourages practices in deeply loving, trusting, and celebrating our weird, wonderful selves. Her background is Cultural Anthropology and she holds a master degree in education. She is currently an apprentice for The Healing Roots, and is on certification paths in Nonviolent Communication and Embodied Social Justice. She is passionate about noticing small moments of beauty, hiking and backpacking in the mountains, and watching hummingbirds.

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Rebecca Perez - Program Coordinator

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REBECCA PEREZ, PROGRAM COORDINATOR

Rebecca (she/her) values community, land, and intersectional environmental justice and aims to create an inclusive, safe, and fun learning environment that fosters building relationships with community members and the land.

Rebecca graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in Literacy, Learning, and Leadership. Before starting as a field instructor at ITE, Rebecca worked as a graduate student researcher at the Center for Community and Citizen Science, studying environmental science agency in youth, participating in a fire resiliency and prevention community science project in Nevada County, California. Rebecca also participates in several activist movements that center intersectional environmental justice, labor, immigration, LGBQTAI+ rights, and many others.
Rebecca enjoys leisurely bike rides and strolls, attending live musical performances, and visiting science and art museums in her free time.
Email: rebecca@ironwoodtreeexperience.org

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Deborah Oslik - Operations Manager

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DEBORAH OSLIK, OPERATIONS MANAGER

Deborah was born & raised in the Mid-Atlantic but has called Tucson her home for over a decade. Like many transplants from greener and wetter climates, it took a little while for her to connect with this wildly different low-desert landscape. In many ways, it was through her work with Ironwood Tree Experience, which began in 2014, that solidified her connection and awe to the Sonoran Desert – a place she now wholeheartedly calls home. Prior to working at ITE, Deborah spent a significant amount of time leading wilderness expeditions and facilitating outdoor education experiences at programs such as Outward Bound & Prescott College. Before returning to ITE in 2021 as the Operations Manager, Deborah worked at other nonprofits in the Tucson community such as Watershed Management Group & NOLS, where she continued to cultivate her passion for healthy communication and teams in the workplace as a means for success, happiness and honoring the vision of a mission-driven organization. She has also earned a Bachelor’s degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College. Some of Deborah’s biggest joys in life are laughing, being with her dog Gila, working with animals, planting trees for longterm shade and eating delicious foods.

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Chrissy Maes - Development Coordinator

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CHRISSY MAES, DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR

Chrissy fell in love with the Southwest when she moved from St. Louis, Missouri to Prescott, Arizona eight years ago. Her introduction to the region took form in a 3-week backpacking trip in Central Arizona, where she learned the importance of connecting with nature and learning about the plants and animals that surround her. Two years later, she moved to Tucson to finish her studies at the University of Arizona, and she has been lucky to call Tucson her home ever since. Chrissy has worked with people of all ages in several different capacities – in elementary and middle schools, at summer camps, a challenge course facility, and on college campuses. She has been lucky to learn more about the Sonoran Desert and feel a deeper sense of community through working with ITE, which she is excited to continue with. Chrissy enjoys spending time outdoors, trying to identify birds, watching movies, and finding new places to eat and drink around Tucson.

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Isaac Cortes - Field Instructor

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ISAAC CORTES, FIELD INSTRUCTOR

Isaac grew up in the great plains of Iowa and Nebraska climbing cottonwoods next to the Missouri River in the summer and visiting the Chihuahuan Desert of El Paso, TX in the winter with his extended family. He received his Bachelors of Science from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln double majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife and Environmental Studies. While at the University, his work with the Outdoor Adventures Rec Center provided his first experience with leading groups in the wilderness and set him on a path towards helping others find space in the outdoors. Now, after years of working with groups in North Carolina, Montana and California, Isaac now calls the Sonoran Desert his home and his community. Isaac is an educator focused on sharing the fulfillment and relevance of environmental stewardship with his students. As a Field Instructor with Ironwood Tree Experience, you can find him guiding students down urban and outdoor interpretive trails around Tucson. In his off time you’ll find him running on the Loop trail with his wife and daughter (in her stroller) or at one of the taquerias or cafes around town.

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Olivia Ridge

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OLIVIA RIDGE, FIELD INSTRUCTOR

Olivia was born and raised in this sun-shiny paradise we call Tucson and loves that they get to call the desert their home! In 2017 they graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in Environmental Studies and a desire to participate in and help shape their community. Since then Olivia has done a variety of work involving outdoor education and local agriculture. Working with ITE allows for them to combine their love of the Sonoran Desert and community and they are always excited for the lessons the desert teaches. When Olivia isn’t at ITE, you can find them biking, hiking, and swimming around Tucson or working in their garden!

Volunteers and Interns