Meet The Board
Montana Learning Center Board of Directors
Ryan first became involved with the Montana Learning Center in 2103 as a member of the summer camp staff. Eventually he joined the board of directors. Ryan has been Montana Learning Center’s executive director since the fall of 2016. Ryan continues to work as a science teacher in Clancy, Montana. Teaching science has been his profession for the past seven years.
Getting students and teachers excited about science is something Ryan enjoys. He feels lucky to have had several mentors throughout his career and now wants to share the knowledge and expertise he has with others. According to Ryan, “it is vitally important to inspire and mentor the next generation to become critical thinkers and learn about the natural world around them.”
Ryan has served on the advisory board of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, as well as the education committee of the International Society for Optics & Photonics in Engineering.
While attending Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman, Ryan worked for NASA for four years. For two summers, he worked at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center on the James Webb Space Telescope mission, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. In addition to collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and Bill Nye the “Science Guy”, he supported the James Webb Space Telescope mission in the fields of education, public outreach and public affairs.
Before attending MSU, Ryan studied at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo. While there he worked for New Mexico Skies Observatories in Mayhill, NM as a telescope technician, teaching astronomers how to acquire and manipulate astronomical data. He also provided technical support on telescope projects for NASA, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Caltech and PBS.
While growing up in Leesport, PA, Ryan enjoyed astronomy. He was first exposed to it as a Boy Scout and has been “hooked ever since.” He designed and built a telescope while in middle school and in high school he played a key part in putting the first fully remote controlled telescope on the Internet for students and teachers to use.
Ryan has lived in Helena, MT for since 2016. He is married to Melissa Stiles, a physical therapist. They have one dog, a black lab named Tucker, who is the baby of the family.
President, Secretary, and MLC Instructor
Walt thinks it’s important that teachers and students have high quality experiences at the Montana Learning Center. As an author for science journals, a seventh and eighth-grade science teacher, and an adjunct professor in Montana State University’s Masters of Science Program, he knows firsthand what excellence in education means. He applies this to the classes he teaches at the Montana Learning Center.
For thirty-five years Walt and his wife Bridget have lived in Manhattan, Montana. They have two children and five grandchildren. He grew up in Pennsylvania and always enjoyed science. Through work with the Boy Scouts of America, he became interested in nature too.
Vice President & MLC Instructor
As a science teacher for 19 years, Kate has taught all ages various scientific topics. She is passionate about teaching students the importance of science literacy, the applications and relevance to science in our everyday lives, and the need for skilled researchers, healthcare professionals and STEM professionals.
Kate has taught for several years at MLC and loves the opportunity to inspire students with STEAM in a beautiful Montana setting. As a board member, she supports MLC as a place for students who are curious, motivated, and interested in science and engineering, as well as a place for teachers to learn about their own fields.
The Anaconda High School HOSA-Future Healthcare Professionals club was founded by Kate. This brings students to competitions, gives them a chance to organize community volunteer projects, and helps them learn about the skills needed to enter medical fields.
A proud Butte, Montana, native and current resident, she loves to be outdoors, especially hiking and kayaking. She also enjoys reading, cooking and watching documentaries. Growing up she was inspired by strong women in science. She competed in science fairs, attended girls STEM academies, and took as many science courses as she could, gradually getting a major in biology and minor in chemistry. She has a master’s in Interdisciplinary Science with an emphasis in Microbiology.
Alex is a certified public account with accounting firm JCCS in Helena, Montana. He works with businesses, non-profits and individuals. He enjoys helping non-profits ensure they’re maintaining effective internal controls while carrying out their missions. Alex grew up in Circle, Montana, where he enjoyed playing sports and working on the family farm. Typically he was involved in local science fairs and was also active in Mathletes and MATHCounts competitions. He and his wife have two cats. He describes them as being “a handful and serve as our kids until we decide to have a few of our own.”
Canyon Ferry Limnological Institute Founder & Board Member
Marilyn and her husband, Gil, moved to Montana and found it such a wonderful place that they decided to remain there for the next 40 years. In 2005 when they retired from the Montana Science Institute, the precursor for the Montana Learning Center, they moved to a ranch in southeastern Oklahoma to raise black limousine-cross cattle. Gil passed away in 2016.
Marilyn enjoys ranching and says cattle are “terribly curious creatures and fun to watch.” She has one “homemade daughter” and three adopted sons. She is proud of her four grandchildren, two step grandchildren and two step great grandsons. She also has one adult foster daughter who has three children and one grandchild. The other sixteen teenagers she and Gil fostered in the 1970s had homes to return to and did.
For forty years Marilyn taught science to high school students in Helena and many courses for teachers for graduate credit through the University of Montana and Montana State University. She has always had an interest in science and invested 20 years of her life combining her love of science and education to help make the Montana Learning Center what it is today.
Nikki is a cognitive neuroscientist and an associate professor of psychology at Carroll College. As an expert in electrophysiological recordings, she has used this neuroimaging technique to investigate a wide range of topics.
Before moving back to Helena, Montana, Nikki worked at a VA Medical Center in California investigating cognitive changes in patients with traumatic brain injury as well as patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many courses she teaches focus on how we remember and learn new information. She loves inspiring others, focusing on how to teach and the effectiveness of certain teaching strategies.
As a Montana Learning Center board member, she is “excited to create new and innovative approaches to camps,” including developing opportunities for learning about the sciences.
She lives with her husband and young daughter in a house almost directly behind where she grew up. They enjoy little hikes, floating down the Missouri River in the summer, and skiing in the winter.
Alyssa is a Retail Branch Manager with First Interstate Bank in Helena, MT. She became interested in joining the board because “giving back to our community is a major focus for myself and my team and also for the company. As a busy mom with three children, I am grateful to work for a company that encourages volunteering my time.” This is the first time Alyssa has volunteered to be on a board of directors.
There are several reasons she became motivated to step into a leadership position with Montana Learning Center. First of all, she attributes much of her success to a passion for learning and the learning opportunities Montana Learning Center provides for students. Her first-hand experience with Montana Learning Center’s camps is another. “Two of my kids have attended MLC camps for the past three years and every year they come home so excited about the different things they have learned. I believe it is so important for kids to discover that they can have fun learning and that not all learning happens in a classroom.”
Over the past few years, Alyssa has been part of many different volunteer projects. Some of her favorites are Spirit of Service in partnership with Rocky Mountain Development Council, Food Share Kids Packs, and Teach Children to Save day. She also helped organize an afternoon of volunteering with her coworkers for five different local organizations including Food Share, Habitat for Humanity, Gods Love, Friendship Center, YWCA, and Prickly Pear Land Trust.
Alyssa is a native Montana. She grew up in Northwest Montana and spent as much time as possible outdoors. She became interested in science in high school and focused on agricultural science due to her involvement with 4-H and FFA.
She and her husband, David, have lived in East Helena, MT for five years. They have three wonderful children, Arianna (13), Zaniel (10), and Dayla (10 Mo). Their two Welsh Corgis are named Crifder and Sprout. They love to spend time outdoors as a family and enjoy skiing, biking, kayaking, and camping.
Dennis believes advances in science and technology are essential to the future of the U.S. economy, environment, and way of life and that these areas will be important for decades to come. He serves on the Montana Learning Center board because he knows “it is critical to develop the science, technology and mathematics workforce of the future that can continue to drive innovations that will make our world a better place.”
Dennis manages a portfolio of research programs that include energy efficiency, renewable energy production, advanced manufacturing, and transportation at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PPNL). PPNL’s research supports the missions of the U.S. Department of Energy. Dennis has spent his 32-year professional career at the laboratory and has held a number of management positions. He launched PNNL’s biofuels and renewable chemicals research program which resulted in a number of commercial products and national awards.
In addition to volunteering for the MLC board of directors, Dennis has served as an officer for his local chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and on several university advisory boards.
While growing up in Belgrade, Montana, Dennis developed an interest in science and math. In elementary school he always looked forward to the annual science fair. He also enjoyed hiking and hunting in the Bridger and Spanish Peak mountain ranges. These experiences gave him a strong appreciation for nature and the environment. Hoping to pursue a career focused on developing technology that would address challenges to the environment, he majored in engineering at Montana State University. Dennis also has a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Washington State University.
Dennis has lived in Richland, Washington, since 1986. He is a widower and has two step-grandchildren who live in California.
Sharon is a Vice President and Systems Analyst for Opportunity Bank of Montana in Helena. She enjoys working with staff to advance their knowledge of the bank’s software and help them improve efficiencies with their daily interaction with it. Her department is always looking for effective new technology.
Sharon is excited to be a member of the Montana Learning Center board and is “looking forward to working with other board members to create new methods to engage our youth. They need opportunities to further the future of space travel through scientific advancements in all areas of space and science.” In the past Sharon has been a volunteer for underprivileged youth, cancer awareness and support groups, as well as, animal rights.
Before moving for her current position, Sharon worked with a company for 20 years that does data processing for financial institutions. While working there, she was selected to serve on the board of directors for Western States User Group which involves all banks in the west that utilize the same software for processing. She continues to help lead that organization.
Sharon was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska and, as a child, “enjoyed anything outdoors, especially camping, hiking and water activities. Unfortunately, there were no science activities that were part of the curriculum at any of the schools that I attended.”
Sharon has been happily married for almost 25 years. They have no children but many god-children along with 23 nieces and nephews that have kept both of them busy for many years. They also have “one beautiful calico cat that drives both my husband and I crazy with needing so much attention.” They have lived in Jefferson City, MT since July 2017.