Staff & Leadership


The Education Operating Committee provides governance and leadership to Project Learning Tree. The committee’s responsibilities include:

  • Recommending  goals and policies for PLT and other educational programs
  • Developing annual operating plans and budgets for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s (SFI) Board of Directors’ approval
  • Assisting with fundraising activities
  • Participating in PLT’s programs and activities
  • Initiating strategic planning for PLT and other SFI education programs


PLT National Staff

Esther Cowles
Vice President, Education

Esther leads SFI’s work in youth and adult education, which advances environmental literacy, stewardship, and career pathways for young adults. She is responsible for growing SFI’s award-winning environmental education program, Project Learning Tree® (PLT), so that it may reach more people with its transformational learning experiences connecting them to trees and forests. Esther has worked as an educator, program designer, executive director, and evaluator in the nonprofit sector for over 25 years at the state and national levels. She is also experienced in applying research and evaluation to strategic planning and organizational development. Her skills are deeply rooted in participatory involvement and building collaborative processes and partnerships. Esther holds a Masters of Education in Instruction and Curriculum from Plymouth State College and BA in Economics from the University of New Hampshire.


Sheden Alsaaty
Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships

Sheden is responsible for building partnerships and securing funding to advance Project Learning Tree. Sheden spent the majority of her career in international development where she designed, managed, and implemented programs benefiting marginalized populations—with an emphasis on women and youth. After nearly a decade of working across the Middle East and North Africa, Sheden transitioned into the philanthropic sector and held various development positions in organizations, including the Council on Foundations. Sheden graduated with a degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from George Mason University.


Vanessa Bullwinkle
Senior Director, Communications and Marketing

Vanessa oversees PLT’s websites and the Branch newsletter, as well as curriculum production and fulfillment. She develops and executes communications and marketing strategies to raise awareness of the importance of environmental education and learning outdoors, and publicizes the resources, training, and support available to teachers through a variety of digital, print, and traditional media. Previously Vanessa was Publicist at the National Geographic Society where she promoted documentary films, television specials, and classroom educational videos about the world’s culture, history, and natural world. Vanessa has a B.S. in Biology from Nottingham University in England.


Jaclyn Stallard
Director, Curriculum and Partnerships

Jackie oversees the next generation of PLT’s PreK-12 environmental education materials, as well as other instructional materials and resources. In addition, Jackie manages partnerships and strategic alliances with other environmental education and sustainability resource providers at the national level. She also presents and exhibits at education and conservation conferences across the country. Jackie holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Allegheny College in Meadville, PA and an M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. 


Rocco Saracina
Senior Manager, PLT Network 

Photo portrait of Rocco Saracina

Rocco manages all things related to the Project Learning Tree network and also collaborates with PLT state programs to develop strategies and partnerships that build the network. Rocco previously served as SFI’s Manager of Conservation Partnerships; before joining SFI in 2013, he conducted fire ecology field studies as a U.S. Forest Service technician, and stream geomorphology and habitat assessments with an environmental consulting firm. He holds a Master of Natural Resource in sustainability from Virginia Tech and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from California’s Humboldt State University. 


Ana Leirner
Manager, Professional Development and Instructional Design

Ana designs and develops high-quality professional development materials and programming to prepare educators to integrate PLT environmental education materials into their teaching. Ana is focused on helping educators become comfortable teaching outdoors in urban, suburban, and rural environments. Ana creates engaging and hands-on online courses and supports the PLT network in delivering in-person professional development using best practices in educator professional development. Previously she worked as an instructional designer in various industries, designing online professional development courses for a diverse audience, including K-8 STEM teachers in Latin America. Ana holds an Ed.M. in Educational Media and Technology from Boston University, an MBA from Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil, and a B.A. in Psychology from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo.


Rachel Lang
Manager, Education Products

Rachel Lang Project Learning Tree Coordinator

Rachel contributes to the development of PreK-12 grade environmental education materials, as well as new youth resources. Rachel oversees PLT’s IT infrastructure to support ongoing improvements to the delivery of PLT’s digital education materials and resources. Rachel also presents and exhibits at education and conservation conferences to deliver professional development. Rachel holds a M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA and is currently seeking continued education in user experience design (UXD).


Jennifer Byerly
Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Jennifer-Byerly-headshotJennifer supports both PLT and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s communications and marketing efforts. Jennifer focuses on digital communications and community-building through social media to help tell PLT and SFI’s stories in ways that engage new and existing audiences. Please feel free to email her and share your PLT story! As the former Digital Organizer for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Washington, DC, she collaborated and created campaigns with partner organizations to support shared missions. She also identified, promoted, and created digital content and online advertising to support advocacy and fundraising. Jennifer has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA.


PLT Internship Program

Learn more about opportunities to join PLT as an intern here