Our Team and Faculty

Each block of the Cortes Island Academy is facilitated by our inspired and passionate “faculty” that bring their expertise to the module. And local scientists, naturalists, and other knowledge-holders will share through workshops, field trips and guest visits.

2024/25 Facilitators

Manda Aufochs Gillespie

Facilitator, Executive Director
Manda Aufochs Gillespie is a published author, award-winning website writer, radio/podcast producer, founder of FolkU.ca, and founder of the Cortes Island Academy. She will be bringing her love of research, radio journalism, long-form interviews, Masters in Writing from SAIC, and most especially her love of ideas to the New Media/English course Creative Tools for TruthTelling. She continues on in the background as Executive Director, fundraiser, and passionate crusader for the Cortes Island Academy and creating inspiring options for all rural and remote students.

Kai Harvey

Kai Harvey runs an outdoor adventure company based on Cortes Island BC. Through her work, Kai strives to connect people to the environments around them by creating deeper relationships with local ecology. She brings her background in Science from Quest University, adventurous spirit, and guiding experience to the course.

Michael Datura

Facilitator, SD72 Lead Teacher, Cortes Island School Principal
Michael recently completed a PhD in Curriculum Theory and Implementation from Simon Fraser University (SFU) with a focus on place-based education and the First Peoples Principles of Learning. In addition to his formal education, Michael brings a broad range of experience in both conventional and alternative education programs, as well as several educational research positions which have allowed him opportunities to guide the principles and curriculum of several innovative educational projects in rural BC.  

Tianna Hope

Tianna Hope is a multidisciplinary maker and facilitator raised on Cortes Island. A graduate of Emily Carr University, she uses performance art, short film, sculpture and social practice to prompt questions and critical discourse. Tianna’s playful artworks investigate gender roles, power structures, environmental activism, and other socio-political themes. Her award-winning work has been featured by CBC, Radio-Canada and SAD Mag. After a decade in Vancouver, she returned to Cortes for the birth of her son. Tianna is deeply committed to her local community, and her approach to facilitating and knowledge-sharing combines accessibility, systems thinking, humour and the pursuit of joy. 

Tosh Harvey

Tosh Harvey grew up on Cortes and experienced first hand the challenges of rural education. Tosh brings a place based perspective and a passion for nature based learning to his teaching. Tosh works as a deckhand, kayak Guide, youth educator, and property manager. He’s an outdoor enthusiast with a special interest in ethnobotany. 

Rex Weyler

Rex is a writer and ecologist. His books include Blood of the Land, a history of indigenous American nations, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; Greenpeace: The Inside Story, a finalist for the BC Book Award and the Shaughnessy-Cohen Award for Political Writing; and The Jesus Sayings, a deconstruction of first century history, a finalist for the BC Book Award. In the 1970’s, Weyler was a cofounder of Greenpeace International and editor of the Greenpeace Chronicles. He served on campaigns to preserve rivers and forests, and to stop whaling, sealing, and toxic dumping. He currently posts the “Deep Green” column at the Greenpeace International website.

Hakai Institute

The Hakai institute conducts long term scientific research in remote locations on the coastal margins of British Columbia. The Hakai Institute—part of the Tula Foundation—has offices in Quadra Island/Campbell River, Victoria, and Vancouver. We also partner with universities, NGOs, First Nations, government agencies, businesses, and local communities. The Hakai Institute is a set of interlocking programs that blend technology and science to better understand the coastal margin of British Columbia and beyond. We eschew both scientific and geographical artificial boundaries, as our interdisciplinary teams work from icefields to watersheds to the nearshore and coastal oceans. We link with regional and global networks. We integrate the disciplines. We fill the seams of coastal science. Learn more at https://hakai.org/ 

Past Facilitators

Suzanne Simard

Workshop Leader
Suzanne is aProfessor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia and the author of the book, Finding the Mother Tree. She is a pioneer on the frontier of plant communication and intelligence; and has been hailed as a scientist who conveys comlex, technical ideas in a way that is dazzling and profound. Her work has influenced filmmakers (the Tree of Souls in James Cameron’s Avatar) and her TED talks have been viewed by more than 10 million people worldwide.

Odette Auger

Workshop Leader
Odette is an indigenous journalist, and communicator for non profits. Bylines include Watershed Sentinel, IndigiNews, APTN National News, La Converse, The Tyee, The (Toronto) Star and others. She will be introducing themes in Decolonizing media, (including interview processes) and non performative allyship in editing.

Briony Penn

Workshop Leader
Dr. Briony Penn is a naturalist, writer, educator, and broadcaster well known in BC for her indomitable spirit and tireless devotion to protecting endangered species and sensitive ecosystems in her native British Columbia.

Savanna Young

Facilitator, Board Member
Savanna Young is a seaweed enthusiast and farmer, science communicator and artist. Utilizing her experience working in the marine sciences and aquaculture sector, Savanna will guide students to investigate how people relate to, utilize and steward the local ocean environment.

Dan Tucker

Workshop Leader
Dan Tucker loves moss, and he is hoping to share that love with the people on Cortes Island. He is a graduate of the University of Alberta, where he got his bachelor’s degree and is currently a researcher in residence at the EcoLab on Linnaea farm in partnership with Wild Cortes, Cortes Island Museum and FOCI.

Jessie Louie

Workshop Leader
Jessie Louie is a Klahoose First Nation elder, language holder and traditional teacher.

Erica Køhn

Erika is a filmmaker, director, editor, potter and is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Reel Youth.

Mark Vonesch

Mark Vonesch is a film maker, producer, and the Director of Reel Youth.

Morgan Tams

Morgan Tams is an award winning filmmaker and educator who has lived on Cortes Island for the past six years. He works primarily in the mediums of film and photography, with an interest in re-imagining traditional storytelling, distribution and power structures in media creation. His work has screened internationally including at the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, DOXA and the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. www.morgantams.com

Kate Maddigan

Behind the Scenes, Board Member
Kate has lived on Cortes Island since 2010, and has successfully transformed many great community ideas into concrete projects. She has helped meet the island’s needs in the areas of community gathering space, active transportation, environmental leadership, and now support for island youth, with the Cortes Island Academy! In her spare time she serves as paramedic with the local ambulance crew.

Kiera Tsakonas

Behind the Scenes, Board Member
Kiera Tsakonas is a research assistant and master’s student with the Research for EcoSocial and Equitable Transformation lab at Simon Fraser University. She is also board member for Forest Trust for the Children of Cortes Island Society and the Cortes Island Academy. She is passionate about place-based environmental education and climate justice, and brings these passions into her work with the Cortes Island community.

Lisa Ferentinos

Behind the scenes

Lisa was born on Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands and grew up in Asia  and Europe. After living on Cortes Island during the 1980’s, she earned a master’s degree in agronomy and soil science in Hawaii, where she focused on agricultural research, watershed protection and stream restoration. Recently retired, she has been volunteering with CIA since this spring.

Immanuel McKenty

Media Producer, Board Member

Immanuel McKenty is an island-raised, West Coast kid. Drop in soccer, Cortes Day, summer music festivals, and spending six months of each year living aboard his family’s wooden sailboat were some of the highlights of his upbringing on Cortes. He’s excited to help make this a vibrant and sustainable community, that’s bursting at the seams with creativity, music and art.


Igor Bachmann

Student Advisor to the Board, 2022-2023 CIA Grad
Igor is a motivated international student and always open to adventures and new experiences.

Rowan Joiner

Student Advisor to the Board, 2022-2023 CIA Grad
Growing up on Qudra Island I was exposed to some of the island life pros and cons. While being dyslexic school isn’t always easy so I turned to film as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings. Reading, filming and outdoors have gone hand in hand for my life and I love sharing what I know with others and learning from them.


Merissa Victor

Merissa is a multidisciplinary digital creative who primarily works within the mediums of film, animation and illustration. 

Jeff Lontayao

Jeff was the SD72 teacher for the Cortes Island Academy in the development phase and pilot year.  

Sarrah Claman

Sarrah is a river guide, youth educator, artist and salmon enthusiast.


Joining the faculty every year will be additional mentors, knowledge-holders and organizations including journalists, scientists, knowledge holders from the Hakai institute & the DFO, media producers from Cortes Radio, naturalists from FOCI, members from the Klahoose First Nations, and many, many more neighbours and thinkers. Thank you!

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