About Project Conserve

Past Alumni

Daniel Conner

I am an alumnus of AmeriCorps Project Energize, 2010.  I was part of a team that worked with Community Action Opportunities.  Our goal was to lower the utility bills of low income and elderly people through weatherization and education. We weatherized around 300 homes in 11 months of service.

I graduated from UNC-Asheville in 2008.  I got job right out of school testing the emissions of utility and industrial stacks – I climbed smoke stacks with a bunch of equipment and tested for pollutants regulated by the EPA.  I quickly learned that this is not what I wanted to do.  It wasn’t the work that drove me from this job, but the realization that my work wasn’t impacting our world the way I had envisioned.  My results were not driving change.  I was determined to change my strategy and focus on reducing energy consumption, rather than focusing on the impacts of energy production.  I wanted to address the issue upstream, so to speak.  I became obsessed with energy efficiency and home construction and strived to join this industry.  AmeriCorps was my stepping stone.

I’ve been with Southern Energy Management for 5 years now.  Southern Energy Management is a B-Corp that strives to change the way people make and use energy.  We do two things:  We design and install solar systems and we work with builders who want to build green and energy efficient homes.  We are one of the largest providers of energy efficiency and green services in the US.  I started out as a Building Performance Field Technician, working directly with the builder and their trades.  I’m now the Field Operations Manager and work with an amazing team, including several other AmeriCorps alumni.  My AmeriCorps experience directly resulted in the position I have today.  The hands-on weatherization experience and life skills I gained from my time with AmeriCorps have been invaluable.  I am proud and grateful to be an AmeriCorps alumnus.

Lauren Reker

Growing up in the Appalachian Mountains and attending Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC inspired within me a fervent passion to pursue a career dedicated to the conservation of western NC’s highly diverse natural heritage and, with an unwavering commitment to serving our community through volunteerism, the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program was in itself a deeply rewarding experience.

Engaging with The Nature Conservancy as a Project Conserve Stewardship Assistant in 2008-09, after completing my M.S.E.S. in Applied Ecology in the spring of 2008, was an invaluable opportunity to apply and broaden my professional skill set and gain practical experience exercising scientific theory while contributing to the stewardship of some of the most species-rich ecosystems and rare natural communities in WNC.  

As a result of the network of connections with the WNC conservation community cultivated during my Project Conserve service term, I was fortunate to be hired in the fall of 2009 by the Western North Carolina Alliance as the Project Supervisor for the Non-native Invasive Plant Control Program as well as by the Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition to conduct field research on hemlock conservation areas within the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests.

Over the years following my Project Conserve service term, I have frequently volunteered with environmental conservation organizations and land trusts along with other WNC not-for-profits. I also began paid consulting work in the spring of 2014 with KD Ecological Services based in Mill Spring, NC as well as with private landowners.

Thanks to the pathways opened to me through my Project Conserve service term, I’ve been living my dreams since I first walked through The Nature Conservancy’s NC Mountains District office door in September of 2009. I whole-heartedly recommend the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program to any avid volunteer with conservation-related career aspirations.

Jake McLean

I was an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member in 2005-2006 (I guess that makes me old, and to prove it, the outfit I worked with is no longer in existence).  I worked with the French Broad Watershed Training Center - it was actually a grant funded arm of NCSU Cooperative Extension.  Back then I had a trusty golden retriever named Baily who joined us each day in our home-base trailer on the NC Arboretum grounds (staff there knew him well, because he was a great hugger and best friend to all).  He also rode around WNC in the back of my wagon surveying and collecting water samples. Working with NCSU was a great opportunity and a defining moment in my life and career.  I left my job as a Civil Engineer in Alabama to come work for Jon Calabria and other NCSU researchers on design, education, implementation and monitoring of water quality practices around the region.  Some of the fun things I got to do back in ’05-’06 were to operate a mini trackhoe in the UNCA Botanical Gardens (to apply swelling clay to the bottom of a stormwater wetland), don a wetsuit in early spring to dive for pebbles and stones in Murphy, NC on Brasstown Creek (to collect monitoring data for stream restoration projects), oversee a sinking trackhoe in Asheville’s Owens Bell pocket park on my birthday in January.  Each day was a new fun and interesting thing to do, and all of these contributed markedly to my resume, skills and relationships.  Last but not least, I met my wife that year through Americorps.  Bonnie worked for the WNC host organization Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) and still does, and I guess I won her heart over by removing all of the invasive species from the backyard of her new house.

I was hired straight out of AmeriCorps by a local engineering firm to do stream restoration and stormwater & watershed projects.  I have worked on many such projects since, and over time expanded my professional horizons into other interests including greenways and floodplain management.  I recently became the Team Leader for the new Asheville office of Wildlands Engineering, an ecosystem restoration and watershed planning and design firm with 30 staff dedicated to these types of projects.  AmeriCorps was a great transition and jumping off point in my life and I am grateful for that opportunity and to CMLC and other local host organizations who see fit to commit to this program.  Bonnie and I have new trusty companions, of 1 and 4 years, that rely on us not to just feed them, but to guide them in life.  I am glad that I took that leap to follow my heart back in 2005, and can share that maxim with them - along with teaching them how far a good hug can go.  A big hug to my fellow AmeriCorps alum, a lot of whom continue to do great work in these organizations for the betterment of this place we call home.


Laura Barry

I was an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member in 2010-2011, serving with RiverLink as Volunteer/Outreach Coordinator.   In this position I contributed to the management of RiverLink's public image through social media updates and website administration. My responsibilities also included designing original marketing materials for print and web. 

I studied painting and ceramics in college and have always been interested in design. RiverLink gave me the opportunity to mold my position to my interests. After my service year I was hired as a freelance designer for The Laurel of Asheville magazine through a connection I made at RiverLink.  I'm now a full-time designer at the Mountain Xpress. 

I wouldn't be where I am today without the connections I made and the experience I gained while in Project Conserve.

Molly Moore

When I first read the service description for the AmeriCorps Project Conserve Communications Outreach Associate position with Appalachian Voices, it sounded too good to be true. As a young journalism graduate who was passionate about nonprofit media and eager to explore environmental issues, I was thrilled to discover a position that used journalism as a way to educate the public about these vital, often under-reported topics.

At Appalachian Voices, one of my primary responsibilities was writing for The Appalachian Voice newspaper, which the organization publishes every other month and distributes throughout Central and Southern Appalachia. My first article was about a new, volunteer-built trail at nearby Elk Knob State Park, and throughout the year I researched subjects such as fragile, high-elevation spruce-fir forests and a partnership between Cherokee artisans and land trusts to help preserve rivercane, a key ecological and cultural resource. Throughout my service, my supportive supervisor and colleagues encouraged me tackle challenging projects and expand my skills. I also learned a great deal from my AmeriCorps cohort, who shared their love for the Blue Ridge and knowledge of the region’s fascinating plant and animal communities. In fact, I enjoyed my first service year so much that I signed up to be a 2012-2013 Project Conserve member as well!

After AmeriCorps, I was fortunate to be able to continue my work with Appalachian Voices. Today I write, edit and manage daily operations for The Appalachian Voice publication. I also have the honor of serving as a host site supervisor for Project Conserve, where I can do my bit to support the program that gave me such a valuable opportunity.

Hanni Muerdter

After graduating with an environmental studies and biology degree from Oberlin College in 2006, I knew I wanted to return to the mountains of Western North Carolina where I grew up.  My goal was to find some way to protect and support the resources of these special mountains -- not only are the Southern Appalachians scenically beautiful (a large driver of the local economy), but they have some of the richest concentrated biodiversity in the world and supply drinking water to millions of residents in the South.  They are also home.  I didn't know exactly how I was going to start on this desired path, but after I heard about AmeriCorps Project Conserve one spring day during my senior year, I knew it was the right fit.  

In fall of 2006 I began a Project Conserve position that was split between High Country Conservancy in Boone and Blue Ridge Forever, the coalition of Western North Carolina land trusts.  Through this AmeriCorps position, I was able to work with local landowners to help them protect their properties, as well as collaborate on large-scale conservation planning for the region.  I worked closely with land trust staff and professionals from across Western North Carolina and after my AmeriCorps term was over, I joined the staff of one of the Blue Ridge Forever partnership land trusts, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC).  For the past six and a half years, I have worked as SAHC's Stewardship & Conservation Planning Director.  I take care of the land SAHC protects through acquisitions and conservation easements.  Throughout my time at SAHC, I have had the pleasure to supervise and hike alongside ten AmeriCorps Project Conserve SAHC Stewardship Associates as we've worked together to take care of our conservation properties.   The quality of our Project Conserve members has been outstanding and they've been just all-around great people, to boot.

Project Conserve has been, and continues to be, an integral part of my professional life.  It started the path that allows me to help conserve the mountains I grew up in -- that, in itself, is pretty special.       

Trudie Henninger

I added AmeriCorps Project Conserve to my life map in 2012 as the Citizen Science Education Specialist at The NC Arboretum in one of the most beautiful places in America: Asheville, North Carolina. My position felt less like service, and more like recess! I played outside all day long leading programs for visitors, school groups, and summer campers. I helped them channel their inner scientist through collecting real scientific data on all things slimy, squirmy, cuddly, and cute! I was particularly excited to start a research project on my favorite animal, the Eastern Box Turtle! Our students helped me find, mark, map, weigh, measure, and release box turtles found at the Arboretum. 

My experiences with Project Conserve helped me gain a deeper understanding of the communities, wildlife, and beauty of Western North Carolina. It was impossible not to have fun and make friends as we enjoyed feeding baby goats, building trails, planting vegetables, gutting trout, and canoeing down the French Broad River!

I was lucky enough to be able to continue as an Environmental Education Specialist at my host site after my AmeriCorps service. Today, I am still playing outside with children, catching crawdads, measuring salamanders, counting birds and weighing turtles. Project Conserve gave me the opportunity and experience necessary to land my dream job, working outdoors providing students with meaningful, hands-on activities that will aid scientific research, connect them with nature, and help promote the conservation of western North Carolina plants and animals.  

Suzanne Mwengi

I was an AmeriCorps Project Conserve member from 2005-2006, serving with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy as an Outreach Associate.  My service included contributing to outreach and marketing for CMLC, working with volunteers on developing a monthly hike program and assisting in organizing events.  After finishing my AmeriCorps service, I was honored to be hired by CMLC and worked as the Outreach Coordinator for two more years. 

Serving in Project Conserve was a great opportunity for me as it helped me to identify and further develop the skills that I have to offer.  Perhaps more importantly, it helped me realize that I enjoy working in outreach and got me started on a non-profit career.  In fact, my current job as Membership & Outreach Coordinator with the Friends of the Western North Carolina Nature Center is a result of a connection I made at CMLC.  I think Project Conserve is an extraordinary program and has made an immeasurable contribution to the Western North Carolina community.  I’m proud to be part of Project Conserve, first as a member and now as a site supervisor.

Peter Barr

I credit AmeriCorps Project Conserve entirely for inspiring me to become the person I wished to become—someone who devotes their life to making this region a better place. During my service with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in 2010-11, ACPC exposed me to all facets of the environmental and land trust field—including how non-profits and land trusts operate, working with volunteers, showing people the joys of our natural world and why conserving our resources is so critical, writing and research, community outreach, trail building, team building…you name it. Following my service, ACPC led me to my dream job as Trails & Outreach Coordinator at CMLC—where I now split my time between building new hiking trails in the Hickory Nut Gorge and facilitating new public access among the natural treasures of our region, as well as sharing the excitement of CMLC’s conservation mission through print and online media, writing and storytelling, and direct member outreach on protected lands. ACPC not only enabled me to find my life’s calling, but also allowed me to form meaningful relationships with many other inspiring and selfless people dedicated to caring for western NC—friendships that I cherish to this day.

Chris Coxen

I was one of the lucky folks to fortunate enough to live out the "AmeriCorps dream," finding work with my home site, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC). Project Conserve provided invaluable networking opportunities within the Western North Carolina conservation community, allowing me to work with and learn from a dynamic group of people that care deeply about the resources fostered in these old mountains. I began APC working in the stewardship department of SAHC, learning about conservation easements and the process by which land trusts work to continue conserving land after it has been formally protected. Currently, I am involved with plant and wildlife monitoring, habitat restoration, and volunteer recruitment for land projects in the Highlands of Roan. Because of APC, I feel prepared to take on a graduate school research related to conservation/restoration ecology and owe 3+ great years of memories and new friends to the program. 

Chris Coxen (pictured right) along with fellow AmeriCorps Alumni Jamie Ervin and Margot Wallston.