Bert Harris, Ph.D. – Executive Director
Bert has a long-standing interest in the ecology and conservation of forests and grasslands in the eastern United States. He grew up chasing birds and salamanders in the oak-hickory forests of northern Alabama and studied changes in forest composition and ephemeral pond bird communities as an undergraduate at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. While at Sewanee he founded a natural history club in an effort to expose his fellow students to the amazing diversity of life on campus. Bert also has a background in research on the effects of the wildlife trade, climate change, and habitat loss on tropical birds. After attaining his B.S., Bert completed a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Bert is a Research Assistant Professor in Residence in the Department of Environmental Science at American University and an Affiliate Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University. He also serves as an Academic Editor for PLOS ONE and an editor for Cogent Environmental Science. Since moving to Virginia, Bert has become fascinated by grassland restoration and he spends every free moment helping native plants thrive on his property.
At Clifton, Bert oversees all of the organization’s activities, with a focus on restoration. He is passionate about documenting the thousands of species that occur at Clifton (see our iNaturalist project) and sharing the wonder of their life histories with the local community.
More information about Bert including his publications can be found here.
Eleanor Harris, Ph.D. – Managing Director
As a child, Eleanor loved getting to see animals outside and watching nature documentaries. While in high school, she developed a love of mathematics and she attained her B.A. in Mathematics at the University of Chicago. Late in college, she rediscovered her interest in animals and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Quantitative and Computational Biology at Princeton University. In her research as a mathematical biologist, she is interested in the evolution of animal communication and animal social systems. After graduate school, Eleanor held a James S. McDonnell Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Biology at the University of Maryland. Eleanor is currently a Research Assistant Professor in Residence in the Department of Environmental Science at American University and an Affiliate Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at George Mason University.
At Clifton, Eleanor oversees all of the organization’s activities, with a focus on education. Eleanor is fascinated by evolution and she delights in helping people of all ages learn about nature and mathematics.
More information about Eleanor including her publications can be found here.
Alison Zak, M.A. – Education Associate
Alison is fascinated by the relationship between people and nature. She grew up in Florida where she learned to love birds, and ironically, the mountains. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Florida, and a M.A. in Anthropology from San Diego State University where she studied primatology and human-wildlife conflict. Alison is passionate about wildlife conservation and inspiring children to be curious, compassionate learners about the natural world through science education, writing, art, movement, and more. She has a wealth of environmental education experience and has developed and/or taught programs for the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, the Smithsonian National Zoo, and at multiple schools.
At Clifton, Alison runs our education programs.
You can read more about Alison and her interests on her blog, Almost Anthropology.
Feliecia Brooks – Administrator
Feliecia has supported nearly every aspect of the Clifton Institute for over 30 years. From overseeing the office, employees, and events to removing a raccoon from the bookshelf, she has seen it all! As a life-long resident of Fauquier County, Feliecia cherishes both the natural beauty and historical aspects of Virginia. She is an ardent volunteer for local as well as national non-profits, especially in health and literacy and currently serves on the Fauquier Library Board of Trustees. Feliecia’s interest in history has led her to study historic foodways and textiles as well as initiate the restoration of the cabin on the Clifton Institute property that dates from 1820.
PART-TIME STAFF AND CONTRACTORS
Sheri Thorpe – Accountant and History Program Specialist
Sheri has developed her interest in community nonprofits over a career of more than two decades in public accounting, serving on nonprofit boards, and more recently as an interim executive for nonprofit organizations. She enjoys taking a break from crunching numbers to explore the landscape of the Clifton and Adams properties, and looks for opportunities to invite others to experience this special place. Sheri looks forward to continuing to support the Institute’s mission through programs that serve the entire community.
Ken Lang – Groundskeeper
Charles Brooks – Assistant Groundskeeper
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Douglas Larson – President
Doug was formerly a Vice President at the Piedmont Environmental Council with primary responsibility for the development program of the organization. He has had extensive non-profit experience serving as the Director of the Airlie Foundation, Board member of the Fauquier Hospital, and a variety of other community organizations. Following his graduation from Drake University he served in the US Peace Corps. His career took him overseas working for The Agency For International Development and later for The George Washington University in international health education programs.
Robert C. Karch, Ed.D. – Vice President
Robert has been a member of the American University faculty, in Washington, D.C., since 1969. He is a Professor in the School of Education, Teaching and Health and the creator of two academic programs at the University: the Master of Science program in Health Fitness Management, now 30 years old, and the Bachelor of Science program in Health Promotion, now in its 15th year. He is also the founder and Executive Director of the University’s National Center for Health Fitness and the University’s International Institute for Health Promotion.
Jocelyn Lee Alexander, M.Ed.
Jocelyn is an educator, conservationist and neighboring landowner. As owner of her family’s long-held (since 1941) property on Wildcat Mountain, whose fields and woodlands she has hiked and ridden since childhood, she represents three generations of a family closely involved in the preservation of natural values in the Warrenton community. She remains involved in Great Meadow Outdoors Foundation, which her uncle founded and where she rode as advanced level competitor. Jocelyn (MA. SpEd) is a caseload manager and teacher in the county with a passion for connecting the varied working components of her community which reaches to Washington D.C., where she went to school.
Edward J. Bernacki, M.D.
Edward is Professor of Medicine, Director, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Department of Medicine and Executive Director of Health, Safety and Environment for the Johns Hopkins University. He is past President of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and former Corporate Medical Director of United Technologies Corporation, Hartford, Connecticut and Corporate Vice President of Tenneco, Inc., Houston, Texas.
Melissa Johnson, MS
Melissa was an adjunct professor in Health/Fitness Management at American University in Washington, D. C., She has served as Director of Operations for National Fitness Leaders Association (NFLA), and as vice president and western regional chair of the National Association of Health and Fitness, formerly the National Association of Governor’s Councils on Physical Fitness and Sports. She was appointed Executive Director of the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and appointed by President Bush as Executive Director of the Presidents Council on Physical Fitness.
Charles G. Mackall, Jr.
Charles is Chairman of Avenir, a value-oriented investment management firm located in Washington, D.C. Prior to founding Avenir with an associate in 1980, Mr. Mackall worked for 17 years at NS&T Bank (now SunTrust Banks, Inc.) serving as Vice President and Manager of Commercial Lending. He received an A.B. from Princeton University in 1957 and an M.B.A. from the Colgate Darden School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia in 1962. Charles is a passionate conservationist who is especially interested in restoring native grasslands in the Northern Virginia Piedmont.
Cathy retired from the practice of law and an international consulting business to discover the satisfaction of volunteering to conserve our precious natural resources. She helped organize the Old Rag Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists and served on the boards of the local chapter and state office of the Virginia Native Plant Society. She was a citizen scientist with the Smithsonian’s Virginia Working Landscapes project and Shenandoah National Park. Her principal leadership effort has been with The American Chestnut Foundation, where she served as an officer of the Virginia chapter and the national organization. But her love is field work and learning how to provide the best habitat for wild things.
Jocelyn Arundel Sladen
Jocelyn is a conservationist and lifelong resident of the Warrenton, Virginia area. She worked closely with her husband, Dr. William Sladen, in founding the Environmental Studies on the Piedmont program (part of the Clifton Institute). She has served on numerous boards, including the Center for Plant Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, Rachel’s Network and the Advisory Board of Virginia Working Landscapes.
David Snyder, M.D.
David is a founding member of Blue Ridge Orthopaedic Associates in Warrenton, Virginia and a diplomat of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery with extensive experience in reconstructive surgery. He has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia and as Chief of Surgery and President of the medical staff at the Fauquier Hospital. David is also the founder of Verdun Adventure Bound.
Phoebe Tufts, M.Ed
Phoebe has an M.Ed in English and an M.Ed in Special Education, is certified to teach Biology and has taught in both independent and public schools. Prior to teaching, she served as a humane investigator for the state of Virginia, as a member of the Head Start Parent Policy Council, Head Start Health and Education Advisory Council and as chairperson of the Fauquier County Public Schools Vocational Education Advisory Council. More recently she has served on the board of the Fauquier Mental Health Association.
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