Dennis is a nationally recognized expert in science education with a passion for helping diverse audiences to engage in scientific inquiry and thinking. Dennis is Vice President of Education for the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and the Half-Earth Project. Prior to joining the Foundation, Dennis directed the production of educational media at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for two decades. In his role as Executive Director of HHMI’s Tangled Bank Studios, he was executive producer and editorial advisor on over a dozen film projects for theatre, broadcast television, Large Screen, and digital science programs aimed at the general public. He understands the creative drive and teamwork it takes to make great media. He’s passionate about the power of diverse media to stir emotions, inspire fresh thinking, and rally action. Although his formal scientific training is in neuroscience and genetics, he is keenly interested in biodiversity, ecology, and conservation. Most recently he’s been engaged in following turtles and dragonflies, diverse creatures that can be found in similar places.
Photo credit: Olivia Liu
Carolyn Ruos Thomas, Vice President
Carolyn is a retired science teacher and an active member of the community. A recipient of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, Carolyn cares deeply about clean water, brook trout, the natural world, and community engagement.
Carolyn grew up in northern Minnesota and Howard County, Maryland, attending the University of Maryland and the University of Montana. She and her husband Bruce have two adult sons and enjoy spending time hiking and fishing.
Chrissy is a Shepherdstown native whose day job is as a family nurse practitioner in Shepherdstown, WV. Before a career in nursing, she was an oceanographer who worked with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Bermuda Biological Research Station, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and conducted research in Peru, Bermuda, Antarctica and many other far off locations. She has always loved the outdoors and sees the intersection of health and the environment as a way to encourage people to get outside and experience the natural world around us. She is particularly motivated to inspire young people to get engaged in conservation.
Mark Burgess, CPA, Treasurer
Mark grew up outside of Hamilton, Virginia where he currently lives with his wife, Erin. He is a Not-for-Profit Section Member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and a member of the Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants. Mark gained a lifelong interest in cultural ecology while studying history and anthropology at James Madison University.
Elise Baach has worked in Washington, D.C. as an attorney in private practice, in the federal government and in the nonprofit sector. In addition to her legal work, Elise has served as a board member of nonprofit organizations in a variety of fields, including disability advocacy and educational opportunity. Raised in the San Joaquin Valley in California, Elise has a particular interest in issues related to water and agriculture.
Sarah Gulick, Board Member
Sarah is a filmmaker who lives in Jefferson County. She is currently a film producer for the National Park Service. She previously ran a design studio focused on educational and non-profit organizations and taught at a local university. She was a Center for Environmental Filmmaking scholar and has an MFA in Film and Electronic Media from American University. When not on a film shoot, Sarah has assisted with ACFF’s Conservation Filmmaker Workshop. Sarah grew up on a farm in Virginia and enjoys paddling and climbing.
David C. Pugh, Jr., Board Member
David is a retired Jefferson County Schools educator having taught Social Studies at Jefferson High School from 1975-2006, and also mentored new teachers for an additional 5 years. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and raised in Carlisle, Dave attended Shippensburg University earning a BS in Secondary Education and an MS in Social Science. He has resided with his wife Jean Anne in the immediate Shepherdstown area for 46 years. Dave won election to the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee representing the Shepherdstown District from 1992-1996 performing the duties of County Chair for 2 years. From 2006-2008, he served on the Shepherdstown Community Club Board (formerly the Men’s Club) as vice-president and Chair of the Morgan Grove Park Committee. Last year, he completed his second 3-year term on the Board of Historic Shepherdstown Commission serving as Chair of the Program Committee and Chair of the Membership Committee. Dave has attended the American Conservation Film Festival since its inception. He believes that its mission continues to be of the upmost importance especially for our young people. He is willing to volunteer to help with its continued success.
Hilary Lo, Festival Manager
Hilary’s professional background includes nonprofit development, community outreach and public education. Her work has led her to serve young students, adults with a disability, and seniors. A lifelong interest in environmental and cultural conservation began on a small farm in the West Virginia hills. She later earned a bachelor’s degree in Education at WVU. Always engaged in community activism and continuing education, Hilary has served on the Shepherdstown Public Library Board, the PTO and volunteers at local schools.
Jennifer Lee, Executive Director (2014-2022)
Note from Jennifer – September 2, 2022
It has been my honor and pleasure to have been part of the ACFF Team for the last eight and a half years. I started in April 2014 as the Communications and Development Director and was appointed Executive Director in January 2018.
In that time, the organization has stretched and grown, we’ve welcomed many new partners, audience members, and contributors, and have shared hundreds of stunning conservation-focused films and dozens of captivating programs.
I have learned so much and established many wonderful relationships during this time. I am especially grateful to my team of colleagues over the years, most notably Hilary Lo, Kristy Cherry, Molly Bloom, Jen Rolston, and Jeff Feldman. Volunteers and donors have been so generous. Board members have been instructive and supportive. Audience and community members have inspired and delighted.
And to the filmmakers and all who are on the frontlines doing the courageous, hard, and often thankless work of protecting and celebrating our precious planet, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please keep on.
Thank you, ALL, for allowing me to serve this small but mighty organization.
It’s been a wonderful time and I will be forever inspired by it.
Past ACFF Board Members
Keith Alexander, Lauren Ames, Amy Mathews Amos, Alice Barkus, Janna Bond, Sue Caperton, Steve Chase, Lawrence Cumbo, Chuck Dunkerly, Jeff Feldman, John Grabowska, Jeff Groff, Jeffrey Gustafson, Thomas Harding, Alix Hazel, Don Henry, Michael Hobert, Chris Hoelzl, Catherine Irwin, Judy Katz-Leavy, Alex Kemnitzer, Karen Kinnett, Dave Kirkwood, Edward Leavy, David Lillard, Mark Madison, Farzad Mahootian, Bill McShea, Rachel Dorsey McGowen, John McGrath, Stan Mopsik, Wendy Mopsik, Sue Pellish, Stephen Pettler, Anne Sechler, Vanessa Serrao, Thomas “Topper” Sherwood, Michael Spensley, Barbara Spicher, Susan Walter, Ann Watson, Lisa Welch, Susan Womeldorf, Lynn Yellott