Staff Bios

Staff Bios

Loren Bell
Mountain Bike Coach and Lead Instructor

Loren’s love of riding bikes borders on obsession. When he’s not spending long hours in the saddle exploring the trails and two-track of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, he’s thinking about the next big adventure. Whether he’s on mile 70 of an epic endurance race, or day 7 of riding the Continental Divide, Loren is most at peace during what he calls, “spinning meditation.” He is stoked to be sharing this passion with the next generation – adding to a long history of inspiring kids to get outside. Previously, he has taught outdoor education to inner-city fifth graders and coaxed high school crews into building wilderness bridges with only hand tools and willpower. When the snow gets too deep to ride, Loren serves as a Pro Ski Patroller at Taos Ski Valley, and fills his remaining free time with journalism and occasionally writing guidebooks.

Sean Cassily
Assistant Director, Lead Instructor, Mountain Bike Coach, and Logistics Guy

sean FITSean Cassily grew up in the rural mountains of northern New Hampshire where he developed a love for everything outdoors. He has worked for FIT since 2002 and has coached alpine skiing since 2003. In both jobs Sean enjoys connecting youth to our natural world by engaging youth in lifelong activities that are fun.

In 1996 Sean moved to Taos and was intrigued by the dramatically different ecosystems that exist in Northern New Mexico. Sean began to learn about the local Taos eco-systems and was fascinated by the differences from the woods of the East Coast. He realized that sharing his love for the outdoors and sharing his curiosity about the natural world was a path worth following. He began working with FIT in 2002 and has been an integral part of the team ever since. His role within FIT has grown as has his love of sharing his love of adventure with young people.

Sean has a degree from St. Michael’s College in Vermont and is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

Susie Fiore
Founder, Executive Director, Lead Instructor, Mountain Bike Coach, and Chief Bottle Washer

Susie Fiore, FounderSusie founded Field Institute of Taos out of a strong desire to combine her love of the outdoors, natural sciences, and working with youth and share this magical combination with the community. Raised in California in a large family that spent a lot of time camping and exploring, she has always felt happy, energized, and challenged outdoors. On family camping trips as a child, her favorite activity was washing rocks in any accommodating creek and building tiny houses of mud and sticks. After graduating from Colorado College where Susie thrived on the experiential style of field courses, especially in archeology and geology, and working for the college for 2 years, she made the move to Taos (in 1989).

After seven years splitting her seasons between working as an archeologist for the Forest Service and a supervisor in the children’s ski school, the dream of Field Institute of Taos became a reality. In 1996, Field Institute of Taos was founded and a new, exciting journey began. It has been her role to grow the programming, cultivate donors and increase the capacity of FIT to reach more youth.

When she isn’t in the field with kids hiking and biking or in the office keeping up on administrative duties, planning, and scheming, Susie spends time skiing, camping, mountain biking, traveling, and going on as many adventures as possible (both big and small) with her family. Seeing the world through her son’s eyes brought new magic and watching him grow up in FIT has been incredible. She thrives on this lifestyle where her world adapts with the changing seasons. Over the years, Susie has also been found teaching spinning and ski conditioning classes and personal training at a local gym as well as working in a local ski shop.

Susie is a certified Wilderness First Responder.

Andy Grief
Mountain Bike Program Facilitator and Coach 

Since 1988, Andy has been in the service of the developmental needs of children and youth, through experiential and wilderness activities. In 2005, he founded a program in Biddeford, Maine somewhat similar to the Field Institute of Taos called the Community Bicycle Center (now Apex Youth Connection).  He focuses on youth development experiences and mentoring through activities including: bike repair instruction, job readiness skill building, mountain and tandem bicycling, and civic engagement experiences. Andy moved to Taos in 2015 with his wife to live in a co-housing community – Valverde Commons. During his retirement he has volunteered for youth serving organizations including: Field Institute of Taos, Twirl, Youth Heartline, the Nurturing Center at Enos Garcia Elementary School, and the Taos Milagro Rotary Club Interact Club at Taos High School. FIT has nudged him out of retirement to facilitate the Building Bikes, Building Futures program at the Taos Pueblo Day School.

Rachel Heineman
Mountain Camp Lead Instructor

Rachel grew up a city kid in Brooklyn, NY where she treasured weekends and summers spent skiing, canoeing, backpacking, and attending sleepaway camp in the Catskills and Adirondacks. She went to Oberlin College for creative writing but ended up majoring in geology, hooked on field work and on developing an eye for the natural landscapes around her. After graduating she roamed around the West for a few years, leading international crews of young adults on environmental restoration projects in the Puget Sound region and interning as a backcountry ranger in the remote Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. She found her way to Taos as a children’s ski instructor and might never leave (we hope).

Rachel loves working and playing with kids and brings years of experience as a tutor, babysitter, and ski instructor to her role as a Lead Instructor with FIT. She’s full of curiosity and knowledge about the Taos region and is working towards a master’s degree in Environmental Studies at Prescott College. She spends her free time reading and writing, river rafting, skiing, backpacking, and exploring with her dog.

Daisy Kirshbaum
FIT Neighborhood Assistant Director and Mountain Camp Instructor

Daisy is a native Taoseña, who grew up hiking, biking, skiing, and playing through northern New Mexico. Her first experience with Field Institute of Taos was when she was seven years old as a camper. Since then, she has returned each summer working through the Counselor in Training program, the Junior Counselor program, and now officially as a staff member. Daisy is currently attending The University of Arizona where she is working on getting her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with a minor in Astronomy. In her free time, she loves exploring Tucson, hiking Mt. Lemmon, stargazing, and trying new things. Daisy is very grateful she is able to return back to Taos each summer to work with such amazing people and children while being in the beautiful place she gets to call home.

Cass Landrum
School, Community, and EdVenture Program Coordinator and Mountain Camp Lead Instructor

Cass is a native Texan with over a decade of outdoor education experience. She graduated from Purchase, NY with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her senior project was a collaborative nature play about the life of a tree, written by kindergartners. In six years, she moved 16 times to five states across four time zones, teaching environmental education in various biomes along the way.

Cass has a passion for flora and has been a naturalist in New Mexico since 2013. In 2014 she settled into an Open Space in Albuquerque where she was the caretaker and full-time nature observer, while directing expeditions at a local nonprofit. After leading exactly 100 trips, she broke ties with Albuquerque and moved to Valdez, NM where she is now a home-owner. She is also one of less than a dozen Certified Environmental Educators in New Mexico through the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico.

Cass has a passion for plant identification, a compulsion for organization, and a small obsession with camo-colors. She estimates to have taught, guided, belayed, and/or played with over 4,000 children.

Fun Facts:
Cass’s favorite toy growing up was a white board.
She spent Friday nights in college looking for the best use of a semi-colon in the literature section of the library.
She owns the entire collection of Gilligan’s Island episodes.

Sophia Moser
Mountain Camp Instructor

Sophia was born and raised in New Hampshire where from a young age she felt deeply connected to the mountains, lakes, and the natural beauty of the region. Raised in a family that was always stressing the importance of health, activity, and the outdoors, her childhood was packed with outdoor activities and adventures throughout all the seasons. Freestyle skiing in the winter followed by backpacking and hiking trips in the summer, and mountain biking into the fall. Sophia moved to Portland, Oregon in 2010 for college and spent 6 years exploring and adventuring the great pacific northwest region. She also began working with children with an interest in early childhood education. She has worked at multiple preschools over the years as well as outdoor education programs and camps for kids. Sophia loves to ski, read, run, hike, travel, take photographs, play the banjo, cook, dance, listen to live music, and spend time with her family. She loves her golden retrievers, Stella and Arlo, and her cat, Sheba-Dee.

Nicole Ponte
Mountain Camp Instructor

Nicole is an all-around outdoor enthusiast. Her love of the mountains grew in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, quickly encouraging her to explore far and wide. You can find her running, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and more. She is excited to be working with FIT because she loves sharing her passion and enthusiasm with others. She serves as a Brand Ambassador for the New Mexico SheJumps Chapter as well as is a Taos Search and Rescue Trainee.

Malia Reeves
Program Coordinator, Lead Instructor, and Mountain Bike Coach

Malia is a native Taos local who grew up playing outside in these beautiful mountains. After leaving home early to complete her high school education at an international boarding school in Wales, UK, she attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. When she arrived at Dartmouth, she became actively involved in the Dartmouth Outing Club. Before she knew it, she was a college certified leader in rock climbing, mountain biking, and backcountry skiing. Malia moved home to Taos after graduating with a degree in Fine Arts. She has since thrived on the seasonal existence of working winters as a Ski Patroller at Taos Ski Valley, summers guiding teen outdoor adventure trips all over the world, and the off seasons creating and exhibiting her artwork. Malia’s continuing passion for outdoor education stems from her love for sharing with others the beauty and exhilaration of being outside.

Sparrow Skywalker
Mountain Camp Lead Instructor, FIT Neighborhood Assistant, and Mountain Bike Coach

Some say she is part Jedi and part mountain princess, Sparrow Skywalker (yes that is her real birth given name) was born and raised in Taos, New Mexico. Her obsession for the outdoors stemmed from being a part of FIT since she was a young child. Sparrow is passionate about skiing, mountain biking, flying, hiking, and, recently, fly fishing. Growing up in the FIT community gave her the knowledge and skills to have outdoor adventures and bring her into a role of sharing her passion and knowledge of the great outdoors. She worked as a Counselor In Training and Junior Counselor with FIT before becoming a bike coach and summer instructor. Sparrow loves working with children and helping them find a love for themselves, as well as a love for the outdoors. When she is not working with FIT, Sparrow is a ski coach with Taos Winter Sports Team in the winter and has had jobs that involve being in the sky, such as working for plane charters in Alaska and hot air ballooning in Taos.

Liana Sonne
Special Projects

Liana SonneAs a young’un, Liana grew up camping in the deserts and mountains of the Southwest US, living some years in a pop-up camper or truck travelling the country with her family. Liana fell in love with everything from ocean animals to desert plants to heritage seeds. They began working at fifteen with wildlife in need of rehabilitation, soon thereafter working with tigers at a Conservation Facility. She ventured into the fields of Environmental Education and Food System Justice. Liana has generated lessons and curricula that have made for an abundance of experiential learning opportunities to youth across the regions.

Liana’s work experience is extensive, her depth and breadth of knowledge is astounding, and her energy level is high. Past work has included many organizations emphasizing social and environmental justice such as…Nature’s Classroom Institute, Lorax Urban Farm, EarthCare, Community Against Violence, MoGro, Public Allies, and Cho Ku Rei Ranch. These organizations are in addition to many outdoor education programs.

Having studied ecology and environmental education at the masters and undergraduate level, Liana persists in investigating every subject from lichens to pegacorns to sociobiology. Fun facts: derby daredevil, avid cyclist who prefers a bike over a car, huge fan of exploration, loves rock scrambling rocks and rio frolicking, growing food, feeding friends human and wild, dance parties, and many, many things OUTSIDE.

Having studied ecology and environmental education at masters and undergraduate level, Liana persists in investigating every subject from lichens to pegacorns to sociobiology. Fun facts: derby daredevil, avid cyclist who prefers a bike over a vehicle, huge fan of exploration, loves scrambling rocks and rio frolicking, growing food, feeding friends human and wild, dance parties, bikepacking and many, many things OUTSIDE.

Upon spending 12 fabulous years working as the School, EdVenture, and Community Outreach Coordinator as well as a Lead Instructor, Liana is further pursuing justice work for and on behalf of marginalized community. She leaves FIT in a much better position directly as a result of her tireless, creative, determined work with a focus on making a difference for all youth in our community. While we miss her energy and expertise greatly, we are lucky to have her work with us as a contractor on special projects.

AimeeLynn Stearns
Community Programs and Mountain Camp Lead Instructor 

Aimee Lynn was born and raised in Taos, NM and has been a part of FIT since she was a young camper. She worked as a CIT and Junior Counselor for FIT for several summers. She loves to share in the magic of curiosity with young people while out playing and learning in the mountains. Aimee Lynn has a passion for nurturing awareness, sense of wonder and engagement and knows how important this is for the health of our families, friends, and communities.

Being a part of FIT has allowed Aimee Lynn to cultivate her interest in human development, experiential learning, and mentorship. Growing up in the mountains has helped her develop a spirit of adventure and appreciation of beauty and excellence. She is also interested in literature, art and culture, and well-being studies and loves to read, write, paint, ski and hike. Aimee Lynn has a BA in Psychology and English from the University of New Mexico and is certified in Wilderness Advanced First Aid and CPR.

Stephanie Vigil
Director of FIT Neighborhood Camp

Stephanie grew up living everywhere from Kentucky, Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico, and a few more in between. She graduated with honors in 2001 from Taos High and put down roots here. Taos always felt like home to her and was the place her family always came back to.

Many of her moves were due to her families art gallery business and summer volunteer work with the Forest Service doing archeology. Stephanie participated in various projects and helped on archeological digs in Northern California and Montana. With her love for the outdoors and kids, Stephanie joined Rocky Mountain Youth Corp to tutor and mentor youth, emphasizing teamwork and homework skills. She also worked on a forest trail maintenance crew. She loved working outside and benefited from the team building and leadership skills she developed.

After graduating Stephanie was a nanny for several families. During this time she also started a home-based playgroup for infants and toddlers, which she ran for 10 + years. For the past 13 years, Stephanie has been very happy as the head of the after school program and a substitute teacher at Anansi Charter School. She loves the challenge, creativity, and rewarding work this job allows her.

As a mother to her daughter Hailey, Stephanie has a whole new appreciation and perspective on life and for her work. She understands the trust people place in her to take care of their most precious parts of their life and is so humbled by that. Stephanie is constantly amazed by her daughter and the wonderful kids she works with. She loves the way they view the world, make her laugh, and always end up teaching her something new everyday!

Germaine Bartlett-Graff – Forever on our Team
Community Programs and Lead Instructor 

GBG photo3As a Taos native, Germaine’s love for the mountains, rivers and cultures that depend on them, began early in life. She began her work as an outdoor and experiential educator in 2007 leading outdoor and environmental education programs with the Field Institute of Taos, Naturalists at Large and was the Nepal Course Director for experiential study abroad programs with Where There Be Dragons seasonally.

When not working in the mountains, Germaine spent her free playing in them, skiing, rafting, hiking and forever learning from the wonders of the natural world. From the mountains and rivers of the southwestern United States to the Nepal and Indian Himalayas, Germaine was always inspired by the natural environment.

With a passion for teaching young people and playing in the mountains with them, Germaine provided many students with the opportunity to learn about the natural world and environmental issues with greater depth and understanding, which in turn enabled them to cultivate a greater awareness of themselves and the world in which they live.

Germaine earned a BA in Religious Studies and Psychology from the University of Colorado in Boulder and was Wilderness First Responder. She earned her Masters in Social Work in 2020.