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2014 Teachers

Robert “Skip” Backus is chief executive officer of Omega and the visionary behind the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL). He helped lay the foundation for Omega’s environmental and conservation initiatives, including campus recycling and composting, sustainable purchasing and support of local agriculture, water conservation, and 100% sourcing of campus electricity from wind and solar technology.

Ricky Baruc and Deb Habib, EdD, are founders of Seeds of Solidarity, a visionary solar-powered farm and education center in Massachusetts that provides people of all ages with the inspiration and practical tools to use renewable energy and grow food in their own communities. Through their education programs at Seeds of Solidarity, Baruc and Habib frequently share their 30 years’ of real-life experience growing food and how they took the plunge—off the grid, onto the land, and into their hearts—while building a resilient community and a thriving relationship.

Michele Bertran, MS, JD, is the assistant director of the Omega Women's Leadership Center. Before joining the Omega staff, she worked for almost two decades on the staff of the New Jersey Courts. An attorney, mediator, and former court manager, Michele Bertran is committed to social justice and creative conflict resolution. She is also a Fellow of the National Center for State Courts.

Carl Big Heart’s work and visions have been blessed and approved by elders from the Abenaki, Muskogee Creek, and Iroquois Nations, as well as by leaders in the Sufi, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions. Big Heart focuses on building bridges between the world’s wisdom traditions and healing relationships between humankind and all living beings.

Jennifer Dowdell, Associate ASLA, has been with Biohabitats, Inc., in Baltimore Maryland since 2007. An ecological designer and master planner, she focuses on landscape ecology, conservation planning, and dynamic living infrastructure systems, and how they inform design and redevelopment.

Steve Gabriel is an ecologist, educator, author, and forest farmer who has lived most of his life in the Finger Lakes region of New York. He cofounded the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute and currently works for cooperative extension in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell, focused on permaculture and agroforestry research and education.

Lois Guarino, Omega’s chief operations officer, created Omega’s People and Culture department. Her focus is on developing every aspect of the campus as a meaningful part of a learning community while exploring the concept of compassionate service at work as a spiritual development path. She is also an artist and writer and teaches classes on leadership, work/life balance, and the creative process.

Heidi Hutner, PhD, is the interim director of the Sustainability Studies Program, director of environmental humanities and a professor of English, sustainability, and gender studies at Stony Brook University. An environmental author, she also writes for magazines on topics related to ecofeminism and environmental justice.

Barton Kirk, MS, PE, is an ecological engineer at SEEDS who works at the nexus of energy, water, climate, and community. For the past decade, he has been helping communities develop durable decisions about their built and natural infrastructure by applying life-cycle systems analysis.

Erik Kiviat, PhD, is cofounder of Hudsonia at the Bard College Field Station, a nonprofit institute for research, education, and technical assistance in the environmental sciences. A certified wetland scientist, he has more than 40 years’ experience with natural history and environmental issues in the Northeast, and elsewhere in North America, and has worked extensively with policy-makers, land use planners, and environmental managers.

Alice Maggio, local currency program director at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, grew up in Berkshire County, Massachusetts and uses her local knowledge to promote the use and expand the scope of BerkShares. She works to democratize the economy through the use of local currencies.

Pete A. Muñoz, PE, LEED AP, cofounder of the eco-design organization SEEDS and senior engineer at Biohabitats, is a certified wastewater treatment plant operator. His areas of expertise include wastewater management, constructed wetlands, ecological design, and climate change solutions.

Jason Novak is a renewable energy instructor who has taught environmental education from the Redwoods of California to the banks of the Hudson River. He is currently a photovoltaic (PV) installer and educator in the Hudson Valley, working with Dutchess Community College, SUNY Ulster, and Ulster BOCES.

Martin Ping is the executive director of Hawthorne Valley Association, a nonprofit that promotes social and cultural renewal through the integration of education, agriculture, and the arts. He has been working at Hawthorne Valley for more than 20 years, formerly as a teacher, director of facilities, and project manager on several new construction projects.

Bryon W. Salladin, MS, a senior environmental scientist at Biohabitats, is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist. His areas of expertise and interest include forest and natural resource inventory and management, restoration forestry, and regenerative working landscape design.

Steffen Schneider joined Hawthorne Valley Association in 1989 as the herd manager of the farm’s dairy herd. In 1994, he became farm manager and took on the role of general manager of the farm branch in 2008, serving as a key member of the team that brought the farm back from near insolvency to its present state.

Dyami Solaviev is the principal, lead designer, and install manager at Appleseed Permaculture. An educator and passionate permaculture designer based in the Hudson River Valley, she holds degrees in nature-based mentoring and in eco-social design from Gaia University, and is an instructor of Permaculture Design Courses from Vermont to the Virgin Islands.

Ethan Roland Solaviev, MS, is an international expert on edible landscaping, permaculture, and homesteading based in the Hudson River Valley of New York. His firm, AppleSeed Permaculture, has designed more than 2000 acres of permaculture landscapes, and manages a multistate installation team each year. Ethan joins the Omega team as the lead teacher in Omega's 2014 Ecological Literacy Immersion Program (ELIP).

Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson, a nonprofit that works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. He is a former commissioner of Maine's Department of Environmental Protection and deptuy commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

John Todd, PhD, is cofounder and president of Ocean Arks International, and founder and chairman of John Todd Ecological Design, Inc., an international design, engineering, and natural resource planning firm. Author of more than 200 articles and seven books, he is the inventor of Eco Machines for the treatment of wastes, production of foods, generation of fuels, and restoration of damaged aquatic environments.

Eric Toensmeier has studied permaculture and useful plants for over two decades. He is the award-winning author of Perennial Vegetables, and the coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens and Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre, and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City. He is also an appointed lecturer at Yale University, and an international trainer, presenting around the world.

Laura Weiland, assistant director of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OCSL), seeks creative ways to bring people together to find innovative solutions while also learning from each other. Her interests and studies span from farming and permaculture to sustainable development, community development, and eco-social design.

Susan Witt is executive director of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, heir to the legacy programs of the E. F. Schumacher Society. She also helped found the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, and cofounded the BerkShares local currency program that has won unprecedented international media attention as a model for other regions.


Teachers and schedule are subject to change.