Our Staff

Lisa Thomson, President & CEO

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) appointed Lisa Thomson as President & CEO in January 2015. A lifelong conservationist, Lisa’s previous experience includes 28 years at The Nature Conservancy, serving in leadership capacities in conservation land management and fundraising. In 2010 she was recruited as Associate Vice President for Development at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, she helped lead their recently launched capital campaign and built major gifts and planned giving teams. Lisa earned her BA at Stetson University, with a degree in biology and art, and an MS from Florida State University in design. Lisa relocated to Asheville, NC after living in Central Florida for 45 years.


Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1109

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Judy Antaramian, Membership Manager

Before joining TACF in 2010, Judy worked for the Collier County Tax Collectors in Marco Island, FL. Judy’s expertise includes nonprofit administration, database management, and membership services. Originally from Massachusetts, Judy and her family spent 20 years in Florida before moving to Asheville, NC.


Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1103

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Samantha Bowers, Director of Philanthropy and External Affairs

Joining TACF in 2016, the common thread of Samantha’s nonprofit and governmental work helps bridge the chasm between needs and resources. Through fundraising and outreach across varying mediums she promotes TACF’s conservation mission. She manages the external grants program where research grants are awarded to universities across the U.S. and 60 formal partner agreements to avoid duplication of efforts. With her prior career at the Asheville Housing Authority, she led an energy efficient, multi-million dollar renovation of a large, community facility. She’s led a nonprofit through a founding leader transition while serving as Board Chair and acting as Interim Executive Director. Becoming a mom during the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she now has a daughter. With her husband, they maintain a pollinator-certified garden that’s been featured in Home-of-the-Week and garden tours. She holds a BA in Biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and completed Leadership Asheville in 2016.


Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1104

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Kendra Collins, New England Regional Science Coordinator

Kendra joined TACF in 2008 as Regional Science Coordinator for the New England region, which includes the ME, VT/NH, MA/RI, and CT state chapters of TACF. She received a BS degree in Environmental Conservation Science from the University of New Hampshire and an MS in Natural Resources: Forestry from the University of Vermont. Her Masters research focused on American chestnut restoration, which led her to become involved with TACF and the formation of the VT/NH chapter. Kendra worked previously with citizen scientists through New Hampshire’s Volunteer Lake Assessment Program.


Phone: (802) 999-8706

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Tamia Dame, Communications Coordinator

Tamia joined TACF in 2021 as Communications Coordinator, working collaboratively with staff, chapter leadership, institutional partners, and media outlets to promote ongoing activities of TACF to our national audiences via e-news and social media. She obtained her BS in Environmental Management and Policy from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2020. Prior to joining TACF, Tamia served in AmeriCorps Project Conserve as Forest Keeper Coordinator at MountainTrue, where she specialized in non-native invasive plant control across Western North Carolina.

Her previous experience includes working with organizations including Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and Asheville GreenWorks, where she received the 2019 Environmental Excellence Award in the Youth category, as well as spending two years as Program Assistant at the UNC Asheville Department of Sustainability. A native of the NC foothills, Tamia’s passion for forest conservation translates to impactful storytelling of the American chestnut legacy at TACF.


Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1108

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Sara Fitzsimmons, Director of Restoration, North Central Regional Science Coordinator, and Regional Science Coordinator Supervisor

Sara Fern Fitzsimmons has worked with The American Chestnut Foundation at Penn State University since 2003, assisting chestnut growers and researchers throughout the Appalachian Mountains.  Born and raised in southern West Virginia (Hinton), Sara studied Biology at Drew University in Madison, NJ.  She then received a Master’s degree in forest ecology and resource management from Duke University’s Nicholas School.  After a short stint as an editorial assistant at All About Beer Magazine, Sara returned to the forestry field, where she has been ever since. Sara hopes her research and professional work will facilitate long-term conservation and restoration of native tree species at risk from exotic pests and diseases.


Phone: (814) 404-6013

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Laura Harrison, Gifts and Records Specialist

Laura moved to Western North Carolina in 2012 after a career as a legal secretary in California and New Jersey. A graduate of Rutgers University, Laura has owned an interior design business and volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and Manna Food bank in Asheville. Most recently, she served in the business office at Mars Hill University.

Laura lives in Weaverville with her husband, Marty, and cat, Sophie. Her interests include music, reading, cooking, traveling and ecology.


Phone:  (828) 281-0047  x1101

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Eric Jenkins, Meadowview Farms Tree Breeding Coordinator

Eric joined Meadowview Research Farms in April 2014. He received his MS in forest resources from the University of Georgia and a BS in biology from East Tennessee State University. As a Tennessee native, his interest in the American chestnut tree developed early in life. His father lived in a house made of wormy chestnut. It was built around the time the blight killed most of the chestnut trees in east TN.

Eric has experience with land conservation programs as well as GIS-based planning and analysis. His primary responsibility at Meadowview is managing the production of containerized chestnut trees for research purposes as well as establishing and assessing progeny tests.


Phone: (276) 944-4631

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Lily Kingsolver, Meadowview Farms Nursery Manager

Lily joined TACF full time in January 2020 as nursery manager at the Meadowview Research Farm after interning part time for several years. Having grown up in Meadowview before getting her degree in Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, she has a notable investment in the culture and history of Appalachia as well as the importance of sustaining and restoring native ecosystems. Her undergraduate research was on the long-term effects of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis on anuran population diversity, a plight which holds many similarities to that of the American Chestnut. Prior to beginning her job at TACF, she worked as an interpretive ranger at Hungry Mother State Park, sharing her love of the Appalachians and their incredible diversity with visitors from all over the world. She hopes her research on invasive fungus and her experience in interpretation will allow her both to aid in the restoration of the American Chestnut and to communicate the TACF mission.


Phone:  (276) 944-4631

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Vasiliy Lakoba, Director of Research, Meadowview Farms

Vasiliy joined TACF in June 2021 as Director of Research at the Meadowview Research Farms. He works with the staff at Meadowview, the Science Leadership Team, and the Science and Technology Committee to plan and implement breeding studies, orchard and forestry trials, and external research collaborations.

His past work includes forest restoration at the Arboretum at Penn State and a science policy fellowship with the Weed Science Society of America. He holds a PhD in Plant Ecology from Virginia Tech, where he studied invasive species’ interactions with land use and climate change.


Phone: (276) 696-9142



Cherin Marmon-Saxe, Operations Manager

Cherin joined TACF in May 2017 after relocating back to the United States from England, where she lived for 14 years. Her professional career spans more than 30+ years, specializing in project management, process improvement and systems integration across a multitude of countries and markets. Prior to joining TACF, she owned a hotel in the beautiful Northern Lake District of The United Kingdom, one of her bucket list items.

Cherin holds a BS degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management with a secondary Degree in Human Resources. She joins the TACF family with great enthusiasm to expand her involvement and experience within the non-profit sector.


Phone:  (828) 281-0047  x1105

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Dan Mckinnon, Director of Land Management, Meadow view Research Farms

Dan joined TACF in 2014 as Seed Orchard Supervisor at Meadowview Research Farms. He has a long history of agriculture and Appalachian forest work, ranging from trail conservation to forest management. As a local native from Marion, VA, much of his experience was acquired working in the mountains in the surrounding areas. His expertise covers farm and facilities maintenance, field crew training and supervision, with an emphasis on workplace safety, and coordinating volunteer groups. Mckinnon has a degree from the Virginia Highlands Community College in Horticulture Technology and Landscape Management. He has held positions with the US Forest Service, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the US Marine Corps.


Phone: (276) 944-4631

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Tom Saielli, Mid-Atlantic Regional Science Coordinator

Tom joined TACF in 2012 and is based in the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Central Office in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tom oversees the organization’s Mid-Atlantic region which includes the TACF state chapters of KY, MD, VA, and WV. He received his MS in Forest Sciences from the University of Vermont in Burlington after earning his BS in Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado in 2007.

Tom comes to TACF with significant hands-on experience with the Foundation’s breeding program, having worked as a research technician with New England Regional Science Coordinator Kendra Gurney. In this role, he investigated chestnut cold-tolerance at the University of Vermont. Upon leaving New England, Tom accepted the role of TACF’s Southern Regional Science Coordinator in Asheville until 2016. Prior to joining TACF, Tom served as a Crew Leader with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Colorado, where he managed dozens of large-scale restoration projects and spent nine years as a medic and firefighter with the Nederland Fire Protection District.


Phone:  (828) 450-9100

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Jules Smith, Director of Communications

Though originally from East Tennessee, Jules moved to Asheville in 2010 from Cambridge, MA where she was the Communications Associate at Episcopal Divinity School. Prior to accepting the job at TACF, she was the Webmaster and Communications Specialist at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville. Before switching career paths, Jules worked as a videographer and editor in the television news industry. She loves living in Asheville because of its mountains, progressive values, farm-to-table eateries, and support of local businesses & non-profits! Jules has a BA in Communication Arts with an emphasis in Television Broadcasting.


Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1102

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James E. Tolton - Meadowview Farms Maintenance Technician

Jim joined TACF in April 2017 after retiring from Ball Corporation where he was employed for more than 30 years as a line technician. Prior to Ball, Jim was employed at Cape Hatteras National Seashore for four years as a lifeguard/park technician. After that, he served as a recreational forester for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado. Being an avid outdoorsman and having an enduring love for nature and its sustainability, Jim joined TACF in Meadowview, Virginia where he assists staff at Meadowview Research Farms in developing blight-tolerant American chestnut trees. Jim aids in maintaining the farm through equipment operation and maintenance, seed and pollen collection, and processing. He enjoys his role as an advocate for American chestnut restoration and believes in the ecological benefits it will bring to an entire ecosystem.


Jim has a BS in Recreation from Radford University.

Phone: (276) 944-4631


Jamie Van Clief, Southern Regional Science Coordinator

Jamie joined TACF full-time in 2021 as the Regional Science Coordinator for the Southern Region that covers NC/SC, GA, TN, AL and is based out of the headquarters office in Asheville.

Jamie began her journey with TACF when she interned for the New England Science Coordinator for two seasons while completing her B.S. in both Forestry and Environmental Science from the University of Vermont. She then spent the next two years as an agriculture volunteer with Peace Corps Panama, where she supported a remote community’s cacao and coffee farmers. After the successful completion of her service, she spent the next two years at the United States Department of Agriculture as an International Program Specialist managing and coordinating large natural resource projects.

Phone: (828) 281 – 0047 x1109

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Dr. Jared Westbrook, Director of Science

Jared joined TACF in January 2015 as the organization’s new quantitative geneticist. Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jared earned a BS in Environmental Science from the University of Michigan, an MS in Botany, and a PhD in Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research studied the genetic enhancement of resin production in loblolly pine stems for use in liquid biofuels. Jared works extensively with the Meadowview Research Laboratory and commutes from Asheville to take TACF’s breeding program to the next level.


Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1106

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Paul Wingenfeld, Chief Financial Officer

Paul joined TACF during 2020.  He earned his bachelor and master degrees in accounting at the University of Central Florida.  Paul began his career as a CPA working at a regional accounting firm for 10 years.

Paul has always enjoyed the outdoors and is an avid mountain biker which is why he chose to move to Asheville in 1998.  It is this love of the outdoors that drew him towards TACF’s environmental conservation mission.   Prior to joining TACF, Paul worked for several companies in the private sector in Asheville and was directly involved in the sale of two of these companies for a combined $100 million dollars.  When not working at TACF, Paul enjoys spending time with his wife Heather, son Nathan and their dog Oliver (and of course going mountain biking).


Phone: (828) 281-0047 x1110

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Shana Zimnoch, Donor Relations Manager

Shana comes to TACF with expertise in donor databases and a deep understanding of the challenges and inner workings of non-profits. Before joining TACF in October 2017, she worked at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and the Noyes Museum of Art in southern New Jersey. Shana has a sincere interest in conservation, human emotion and working towards a common goal. As someone who loves to hike and all things nature, she looks forward to being an integral part of TACF’s work. Shana holds a BS degree in literature with a secondary degree in art and anthropology from Stockton University in New Jersey.

Phone:  (828) 281-0047 x1111

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