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Our people
Itasca Director Jonathan Schilling
Jonathan Schilling, PhD


Jonathan earned his bachelor's degree from Rhodes College and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Maine. He is a professor in Plant and Microbial Biology and has been Station Director since 2018. Jonathan studies microbial decomposers, most often the fungi and their biology/biochemistry. He is broadly interested in how this biology relates both to biotechnological potential (applications) and to ecological dynamics (implications), including their role in carbon cycling and their potential inclusion in Earth Systems Models. 

Itasca Associate Director Emily Schilling
Emily Schilling, PhD

Associate Director

Emily earned her bachelor's degree at Colgate University and Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Science from the University of Maine. With 20+ years of pedagogical experience in conservation biology and environmental science, she leads the Field Biology Program, shaping curriculum and student experience in Itasca's living-learning community. She leads station science outreach efforts and collaborates with community stakeholders to improve research opportunities and regional connections. Emily also conducts research in aquatic ecology.

Itasca Station Scientist Victoria Simons
Victoria Simons

Station Scientist

Victoria earned her bachelor's degree from Bemidji State and her M.S. in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from Colorado State. Victoria oversees research operations at the station and provides support for the Field Biology Program. Additionally, she manages the station's long-term datasets, collecting data on lake ice cover and lake water quality. With a background in aeroecology, behavioral ecology, and ornithology, she is shaping her own research projects at the park, currently including loon population monitoring. 

Itasca Operations Associate Heather Kokesh
Heather Kokesh

Operations Associate

Heather earned her bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. Heather oversees the day-to-day office management of Itasca Station and ensures operational compliance with University regulations and policies. She is the first point of contact for general inquiries through Heather also provides administrative support for the Field Biology Program, and collaborates on station promotion and communication efforts.

Itasca Facilities Lead Eric Sather
Eric Sather

Facilities Lead

Eric leads the facilities management team, maintaining the station's 64 buildings and the grounds of our 49 acre campus inside Itasca State Park. He and his carpentry team have a focus on sustainability and a keen sense of place, approaching construction projects with an aesthetic eye. They use reclaimed wood and repurposed materials as much as possible. They are working to rewild areas of our campus, using sustainable grounds management practices. He has a background in carpentry, small business management, and contracting.

Itasca Head Cook Dawn Wannebo
Dawn Wannebo

Head Cook

Dawn has been working in the station's kitchen since 2002 and has served as the head cook since 2006. With her leadership, our kitchen has received awards of excellence and serves 14,000-16,000 meals to station users every year. Dawn visits food shows every spring to find new foods to incorporate into her menus and works diligently to serve locally sourced ingredients. Dawn and her staff have received specialized training to provide allergen free and halal foods. Dawn also owns and operates a plant nursery in Bagley, MN.