Meet The Board
Montana Learning Center Board of Directors
Ryan first became involved with the Montana Learning Center in 2013 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 worked as a science teacher in Clancy, Montana until 2019 went he went full time with the Center. 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.
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.
Before retiring from the practice of law, United States Air Force Colonel the Honorable Terrie Rhodes Gent had a long and distinguished career with the United States Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, serving in many different professional capacities within it. Prior to going to law school, Judge Gent was a public school special education teacher.
Although Judge Gent has retired from the active practice of law, she takes pride in doing pro bono work for homeless and disadvantaged veterans and veterans’ survivors and family members. Judge Gent also has chaired the Arizona Veterans’ Service Advisory Commission and helped set up veterans’ town halls in locations around Arizona for Native American veterans. She helped found the Greater Sierra Vista Area United Veterans Council and was instrumental in launching the first Veteran’s Treatment Court-style program in Cochise County, Arizona.
Terrie is a passionate gardener and has a master gardener certificate, which allows her to assist university agriculture extension agents in educating the public about environmental stewardship and horticulture. She also is certified as an organic crop inspector and published several master gardening articles when she was living in Arizona.
Terrie’s late husband Bob also was in the military and was Terrie’s connection to science and, more particularly, astronomy. Terrie says Bob would want you to know the answer to his most frequently asked question: no, there are no Martians preserved in Area 51 of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada!
As a member of the Montana Learning Center Board, Terrie is honored to do all that she can to further Bob’s legacy as an educator and leader, helping others experience the beauty of clear and dark skies and the science and majesty of the universe.
Terrie currently lives in Ohio.
Ken is a retired educator who has devoted his entire professional life to his students and their education and welfare. Ken says, “I always tried to instill in my students a love of science and to instill in them a quest for lifetime learning.” He taught Physics, Chemistry and Earth Science at Helena High and also served as an Assistant Principal there. Over the years, Ken has been named Helena Teacher of the Year and Montana Teacher of the Year. He also has been honored with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.
Upon retiring from education, Ken became a tour guide for adult groups going all over the western part of the United States. He also frequently volunteers at student events in multiple disciplines. During the last ten years, he has served on the Board of Directors of Exploration Works and has worked with East Helena Public Schools to begin the process of establishing a new high school.
Growing up in Arizona, Ken spent a great deal of time exploring Indian Ruins and was fascinated by geology, fishing, hunting and most other outdoor activities. His interest in science was fostered by a family interest in the natural world. In junior high school, he helped his aunt find Phonolite slabs (a fine-grained volcanic rock composed of alkali feldspars and nepheline) to create a rock-based xylophone. His aunt traveled the nation playing her rock xylophone at rock concerts and other events.
After graduating from Northern Arizona University, Ken taught in Long Beach, California and Seattle, Washington before moving to Helena. He received a Master’s degree from the University of Montana.
Ken recently moved to the west shore of Canyon Ferry Lake from Helena with his wife of 51 years, Brenda, and their dog. According to Ken, “We are blessed with a son and daughter and four amazing grandchildren. We’ve also almost always had a pet or pets, and our dogs and cats always have been considered a part of our family. Our current dog goes everywhere with us.”
Adam works in the public sector in consequence management. Because of Adam’s work, his understanding and belief in the importance of scientific literacy has deepened and expanded over the years.
Adam believes that being on the MLC board allows him to contribute to the development of some incredible learning opportunities for the next generation. Adam also has volunteered as a coach for Science Olympiad, the NASA Apollo Next Giant Leap Student Challenge and youth baseball.
Adam says, “Some of my best learning experiences as a child growing up in Big Timber, Montana, were the science experiments I designed myself, with the expert guidance and supervision of my dad, who was a middle school science teacher.”
In middle school, Adam qualified for his school’s Science Olympiad team, a team that consistently made it to the national competition. A highlight of that experience was hearing his name, along with his teammates’ names, called for earning a silver medal in Science Crime Busters at Nationals. “I didn’t know at the time how well those experiences would translate into my current profession,” Adam says.
Adam lives in Clancy, Montana with his family.
Jon A. Dilliard
Jon recently retired from his position as Chief of the Public Water Supply Bureau at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). From an early age, Jon was interested in the sciences and translated that into a career in environmental protection and public health. Despite his retirement, he remains registered with the State of Montana as a Sanitarian.
According to Jon, “serving on the Board of MLC provides me with the opportunity to be a part of an organization that promotes and feeds the curiosity of children and adults about the sciences. Additionally, as an amateur astronomer, I believe the astronomical resources available at MLC provide a tremendous opportunity to encourage interest in the wonders of the universe. Being on the Board allows me to do what I can to assure those resources continue to be available to Montana’s students and teachers.”
Jon is a member and officer in the Helena Astronomical Society and has served on the boards of state and national nonprofit organizations such as the Montana Environmental Health Association and the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators.
He grew up in Southcentral Ohio and always has had in interest in astronomy. He also enjoys fishing, baseball, football, nature walks, gardening and bee keeping and hopes that retirement will allow more time to pursue those interests. He and his wife Kathie have lived in Helena, Montana for 32 years. They currently share their home with their two cats and one dog.
Julie is a project manager at Montana State University (MSU) in the University Information Technology Department’s Project Management Office. This is her seventh year at MSU. She is proud to work with her team every day to provide necessary services for students to receive the best university education available in Montana. Her primary focus is assisting MSU departments and campuses implement new software and updated processes. When asked about her work, Julie says, “As a project manager, every day is different, and life is never boring!”
Last October, Julie had the opportunity to coordinate a teambuilding event for the MSU Information Technology Community with several other female colleagues. The event, called Coding for Kids, helped promote education beyond the traditional classroom. The afternoon of activities included a lightening round of trivia, two-person teams building Raspberry Pi Coding computers, box decorating, snacks and fun awards. The event coordinators partnered with MSU Extension and the Montana 4-H Program to distribute computers to students who otherwise would not have access to these technology resources due to their rural location or socio-economic status. After successfully applying for the program through their local 4-H organization, boys and girls participated in a regular schedule of meetings and mentoring so they could learn how to code.
Before coming to work for MSU, Julie had positions as a senior account manager, application and web development manager, project manager and technical writer. Julie has served the Gallatin Valley and surrounding community by volunteering for the Belgrade Jaycees and Destination Imagination. She is currently the Chair Elect of the MSU All Staff Council, served as the senior advisor of the MSU Chapter of Mortar Board Senior National Honor Society for five years and is a Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Scholar.
Julie grew up in Helena, Montana, spending time reading, camping, woodcutting, bike riding, fishing and doing anything else that was near or in the water. In the summer of her sophomore year of high school, she attended Canyon Ferry Limnological Institute, one of the predecessors of the Montana Learning Center, as a camper. Julie recalls, “I fell in love with science during that time at Canyon Ferry. I had a strong curiosity for science before, but going to camp really made things come alive for me.” The next summer, she conducted research about arsenic accumulation in crayfish. While there, she learned the fundamentals of scientific writing and presentation skills from Marilyn Alexander and Tom Pedersen. Julie says, “I could not have had better mentors and their teaching remains with me today.”
Julie lives in Belgrade, Montana with her 14-year old Tuxedo cat, Mrs. Squeakers. According to Julie, “Mrs. Squeakers allows me to live in the house that I purchased for us because banks do not give loans to cats. She tolerates me because I feed her and scratch her where she likes it.”
As the Sales and Marketing Manager at the Helena Tourism Alliance, Brandon emphasizes the importance of offering visitors, and particularly children, with opportunities to learn while visiting the Treasure State. The Montana Learning Center is ideally positioned to fulfill that need. “The Montana Learning Center is a vital asset to our community that enriches student experiences in STEM Tourism,” he said.
Brandon’s love of the outdoors runs deep. Before moving to Helena in 2018, he traveled with K2 Sports in global brand marketing. He worked to launch new product lines, built interactive events, and developed extensive brand strategies in U.S. Markets.
Brandon was raised in a military family and had the chance to travel the country, and was heavily influenced by a variety of communities while growing up. While living in the Saugerties, New York, Brandon was immersed in a wealth of arts and music, and knows the value of sharing those experiences with others
He and his wife, Laura, are proud to be raising their two young boys in Helena, where they can be outdoors, and enjoy stargazing, the mountains, and frequent travel.