Executive Director, Program facilitator
As a young man, Tom followed two of his passions: wilderness education, and fine wood working. After being trained by the Yosemite Search and Rescue team, he struck out on his own and started a woodworking business. His work was represented in shops and galleries in eight western states. He taught industrial arts at a private art institute, and construction technology at the community college level. With the woodworking business well established, he then co-founded a non-profit educational organization and built the outdoor education program from the ground up, drawing on his experience as a challenge ropes course trainer with such institutions as Project Adventure, On Course, and the University of California/Los Angeles. His expertise in the wilderness as a teacher and guide ranges from whitewater rafting and canoeing, to rock climbing and backpacking. As part of his early non-profit work, he studied land use/planning and eventually came to manage one of the largest earth construction/green building projects in the western hemisphere. Tom has worked in the non-profit business sector since 1985 applying his skills in cooperation, team building and consensus leadership. As executive director and co-founder, Tom brings his diverse background to Synergia’s organizational structure, service learning and community building curriculum.
Program Director, facilitator and curriculum development
Debra’s background in education began when she and Tom decided to homeschool their daughter. After co-founding a non-profit organization in 1986, she expanded on the community education classes she developed, and with Tom ran the Outdoor Education department of the organization, serving as a challenge ropes course trainer, wilderness teacher and guide. From 1990 to 2002 she served the organization as secretary of the Board of Directors. Debra has authored numerous articles on parenting and education, she is the co-author of the book Win-Win Games for All Ages, Cooperative Activities for Building Social Skills, and speaks on these topics at conferences. She was the creator and host of two long running radio programs Circle Around, celebrating children’s literature, and Those Damn Kids, a teen forum. As co-founder and program director, Debra brings to Synergia a diverse background in outdoor education, media literacy, and parenting/education.
Staff, Field Guide
Mondy Kowal has been a staff of Synergia Learning Ventures for 7 years. She is an avid adventurer, gardener, and mother of three. Mondy lives on her own farm in the Sierra Foothills where she grows, dries, and cans most of her own food. When she’s not working in her garden she can often be found exploring the wilderness with young folks. Mondy is a certified Wilderness First Responder and River Rescue Technician through Rescue 3 International. She has helped develop a variety of programs for youth including: organic food programs for public schools, healthy food cooking classes for inner city youth, a summer backpacking program for young women, among others. Mondy holds a deep respect and appreciation for the natural world and its ability to ground. One of her goals in life is to connect young people with nature and themselves, and have as much fun as possible doing it.
Staff, Field Guide
Alex Nopola has been a staff of Synergia Learning Ventures for 12 years. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder through Nols Wilderness Medicine and has trained with the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) as a rock climbing instructor. Alex is father of two beautiful, rambunctious young boys and spends much of his time showing them the wonders of the outdoors. In the winter Alex works as a ski instructor in the Sierra Mountains. He has spent an extensive amount of time summiting peaks up and down the Sierra Mountain and Cascade Ranges for the pure pleasure of skiing down them. His good nature and wide-spread knowledge of the mountains pair well with his love for sharing the marvels of the rugged wilderness.
Staff, Field Guide
Davin Hart has been a staff of Synergia Learning Ventures for 6 years. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder and River Rescue Technician through Rescue 3 International. As an experienced river kayaker, white water rafting guide, and rock climber, Davin is very confident and comfortable in the backcountry. His dedication to being a leader through kindness and sharing his love for the outdoors. Davin is reliable, aware, and thorough in his medical expertise creating an environment of safety.
Board of Directors
Scott H. Forbes, PhD.
Nan Elmer, M.A.
Robin Martin, PhD.