Meet the Team
Our community of people serving the mission of Project Imo
Our community of people serving the mission of Project Imo
Jason Hyland is the training manager at a nonprofit specializing in behavioral and mental health services. With 23 years in law enforcement, he retired as a police lieutenant from the University of Connecticut Police Department. He led the Community Outreach Unit and managed a team of education and engagement officers. He also worked at the University of Arizona Police Department, served as a corrections officer, and was an adventure educator.
He’s skilled in stakeholder relationship building, problem-solving, collaborative governance, public education, event management, and facilitating experiential programs. He’s recognized for starting the Police Community Challenge, which uses challenge course activities to improve community-police relations. This unique initiative, with independent data collection to measure its effectiveness, was highlighted at a national conference.
With over 30 years of experience, Jason has facilitated over 3,000 hours of instruction for 15,000+ participants in diverse settings. He achieved a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies, specializing in Child & Youth Development, on the day of his policing retirement, showcasing his dedication to lifelong learning.
Adventure, challenge, and belonging have always been essential ingredients in the classrooms, playing fields, and schools where Dave Howes has been a teacher, a coach, and a leader.
As a school leader and a veteran educator, Dave Howes is particularly interested in learning new ways to educate the whole person—the physical, intellectual, social, and emotional parts of a person– through real experiences that involve adventure, self-discovery, teamwork, and purpose. David believes that learning is truly a life-long endeavor and his Masters of Arts in Teaching and advanced degrees in Educational Leadership and Executive School Leadership have all been milestones on his personal learning journey. Currently, he is pursuing an Ed.D. in Curriculum,
Teaching and Learning at Northeastern University where he is very interested in learning more about the most effective ways to engage and empower youth, especially those most at risk of
Outside of work, David enjoys being outdoors with his family and friends—boating, playing and coaching sports, biking, camping, and hiking. Currently, he is learning the craft of wooden boat building and has just completed his first project- a stand-up paddle board!
For well over a decade, Mark’s career has revolved around higher education, with a strong focus on leadership development and team building. Previously serving as the Coordinator of the Four Arrows Challenge Course and Experiential Leadership Programs at the University of Connecticut, Mark has since transitioned to provide his expertise to a broader audience, drawing from both his extensive experience in higher education and his consulting work in project development and design.
Mark has a strong belief in the value of fostering connections and learning through purposeful play and education. He approaches his work with empathy, designing experiences, in person and online, centered around human interaction. Mark’s commitment to bringing people together is evident in his involvement with initiatives like the Police Community Challenge and C2 – Connect and Challenge programs.
Mark earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts concentrated in Computer Graphics from New York Institute of Technology in 2009. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2011 with an M.A. in Higher Education and Student Affairs. In 2017, Mark completed an M.Ed. in Experiential Learning and Development from Plymouth State University.
Based in the Greater Hartford area of Connecticut, Outside the Box Experiential LLC owner Scott Goldsmith is the author of the book Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence: A Group Counseling Guide to the Keys to Success. Scott is also a school psychologist at an alternative high school and the coordinator of the Manchester Ropes Challenge Course in Manchester Connecticut. Scott was named the 2018 Manchester Regional Academy Teacher of the Year and the NCCPS 2018 Practitioner of the Year.
Through Outside the Box Experiential, Scott offers team building programs and professional development opportunities. Known for his passion, charisma, humor and creativity, Scott’s ability to quickly and effectively create community and help others elevate to a higher sense of self has been experienced at numerous keynote (playnote) presentations, workshops and conferences at the local, state, regional, national and international levels. Scott is also a professional musician, black belt in tae kwon do and constantly seeks out physical and mental challenges that foster personal and professional growth for himself and those around him.
Justin Cheney is a Sergeant with the UConn Police Department and began my career as a police officer at UConn in 2015. The majority of his time at UConn PD has been dedicated to community outreach. Justin has facilitated numerous team building workshops and Police Community Challenge programs as well as presented community safety education programs to thousands of community members. He enjoys instructing self-defense programs and hosting study break events for the UConn students. Justin developed the first facility dog program to the UConn PD and their community. Today he is partnered with Tildy. Tildy is a trained service dog that assists victims and facilitates positive communication with the UConn community.
Justin is a native of Storrs, CT and attended UConn as an undergraduate from 2003-2007 where he obtained his bachelors degree in psychology. Prior to becoming a police officer, he worked as a professional fitness trainer in Norwich, CT and as a mental health worker for Natchaug Hospital. As a mental health professional, he worked in a clinical day treatment facility with high school students who have behavioral and emotional disabilities. He has an amazing wife of 10 years, Stacey and they have 2 beautiful daughters, Camellia and Daisy. They reside in eastern CT and enjoy hiking, swimming, and all things outdoors.
Rigel currently works as the Outdoor Programs and Cycleshare Coordinator at the University of Connecticut. He has worked with summer camps, outdoor education programs, commercial guiding, and university outdoor programs for over 10 years. In all these roles Rigel has a strong background in risk management and providing quality outdoor educational programs to individuals of all ages. Rigel studied has a Bachelors in ecology and often infuses educational lessons into trips that he is guiding whether it is rock climbing, mountain biking, or just a day hike. Over the last 5 years he has been exclusively working for university outdoor programs. First spent two years assisting with the management of an outdoor program and challenge course as a graduate assistant at Bucknell University earning a MSed in Higher Education. After graduate school he has worked for three years at the University of Connecticut where he continues manage the operation of outdoor programs for the university community.
In addition to education and experience he currently holds certifications and has attended trainings in Wilderness First Responder, Single Pitch Climbing Instructor, Climbing Wall Instructor, League Cycling Instructor, swift water rescue, and a CPR/AED/First Aid instructor.
Eric is a retired Connecticut Conservation Police Officer; he also previously served with the UConn Police Department.
Eric serves as a volunteer board member on the (DEP Officer) James V Spignesi Jr Memorial Fund. He also serves on the board of Friends of Mansfield Hollow State Park (Eric enjoyed working at Mansfield Hollow in different job capacities for over 30 years). He has previously served as president of Connecticut Conservation Officers Association and on the board of Connecticut Audubon Society-Pomfret. Eric volunteered as a coach for his children’s (Hannah and Thomas) youth sports teams, and he has authored two books about working in conservation law enforcement.
A lifelong fan of hiking, Eric believes in the complete range of health benefits from all forms of outdoor recreation.
Driven by a passion for education and equity, Nicole has centered her career around connecting young people of all ages to educational opportunities.
Nicole is a peace education and youth development professional, with over 12 years of practice in a variety of settings, ranging from her service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic to local and national non-profits in the U.S. Nicole first found her way into youth development through Outward Bound, where she fell in love with outdoor education. An alumna of the Practicum for Experiential Peacebuilding program with Outward Bound’s Center for Peacebuilding, she discovered experiential peacebuilding through the Outward Bound community as well. She is an advocate for experiential peacebuilding, and believes that facilitating opportunities that create common ground across lines of difference not only creates connection, but can also be an avenue to building more just and equitable systems — and a more just world.
Nicole earned her Bachelor’s degree and K-6 teaching certificate in elementary education at Bridgewater College and earned her graduate degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University.
Currently, Nicole is the community engagement director for Reading Partners in Baltimore, MD where she lives a sailor’s dream on the Chesapeake Bay with her husband and pup, Baxter.
Brace is a mechanical engineer who has worked in the aerospace and fuel cell industries for over 24 years. He is a Principal Engineer at Pratt and Whitney where he leads teams in the design and fabrication of engine test equipment. He has extensive experience in mechanical design, CAD modeling, structural analysis, fluid system analysis, instrumentation, metal fabrication, and safety engineering.
His greatest recreational interest is the design and making of a wide variety of things, both functional and artistic. In his home shop he practices woodworking, blacksmithing, metal working, and hobby electronics. He also enjoys the outdoors, especially at the state and local parks in eastern Connecticut. Brace likes kayaking and camping, having spent his youth in Boy Scouts. He is also an avid motorcycle enthusiast.
Brace is a strong believer in volunteerism, and has participated in FIRST with Hartford Public High School and Engineers Without Borders. He is excited to be part of the IMO initiative.
Brace has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology.
Kerry is a Master Gardener trained at the UConn Cooperative Extension. She holds an associate’s degree in Horticulture and a bachelor’s degree in Plant Sciences. Kerry owns her own landscaping company and has served on the Board of Directors for the Juniper Hill Retirement Community as Secretary for five years.
Kerry focuses on design and maintenance of residential gardens and shares adventures in cycling and hiking. Kerry is an accomplished artist and singer.
Sara earned her BA at Boston College in Education/English, MA in Education from UCONN. After beginning her professional career as a High School English teacher, Sara worked at Boston College and Harvard Law School, and has over 20 years of experience in camping administration. She’s held positions at multiple start-up companies, and as a curriculum developer and program manager at the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound School. She currently works as a writer on the major gift team in the development department of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, MD.
Leanne is a graphic artist and illustrator with a bachelor’s degree in Medical Illustration from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Leanne is an expert art director, designer, post-production photo editor, illustrator, and print liaison. She works in a variety of medium from oils, acrylics, digital, electronic publishing, and more.
She shares her talent with the world through Art and a Little Magic.
Syrena is an illustrator with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration from the Ringling College of Art. She has had her work published in gaming books, children’s books, and comic books, as well as on t-shirts and on other merchandise. She is a Veteran of the US Army, who worked in South Korea. As a CBRN Specialist, her job was to train soldiers to survive in Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear environments.
She was born in California but loves East Texas and made it her home. Syrena also likes to write and has one published novel and another in the works. She lives with her wonderful husband of 15 years Stephen, their son Caedryn, and their mini-zoo of two cats, a German Shepherd mix, and a cockatiel.
Annie is an avid outdoor enthusiastic, finding peace in quiet moments in the woods, marshes, and natural landscapes across Connecticut. Annie’s voracious appetite for consuming literature and public radio closely align with her professional world as well – that being the telling of human stories. Annie received bachelor degrees from the University of Connecticut in human development and family studies, and history with a focus on family structures and governmental policies. Annie earned her masters degree in marriage and family therapy from CCSU.
Throughout the years, Annie has worked on a variety of research studies, including the impact of stigmatization in black, gay communities and published research on cross-cultural differences in baby’s stress responses. Currently, Annie works as an MST family therapist following an evidence-based model for improving family functioning and reducing recidivism in teens.
At home, Annie enjoys spending time with her two rescue pups, lazy cats, and endearing husband. Annie recently joined the newly created board for Friends of Mono Pond State Park, aimed at increasing community involvement and engagement with local state parks.
Shawn grew up in Storrs, CT, and attended the University of Connecticut. Shawn has been working in summer camping since the summer of 1983. In 1988 he began working in the ropes course industry. Since then he has worked and lived in Japan and Thailand, worked at 8 camps in 6 states, directed 3 of those camps, gotten his undergraduate degree in Asian American Relations from UCONN, and a master’s degree in Environmental Education from Prescott College. Along the way Shawn got involved in learning primitive skills, deep nature connection, and crafting regenerative communities.
Shawn is a published author. His book, Ropes of Ecology: Connecting People to Nature, Community, and Place includes activities that guide sense of place, teaches ecological literacy, resource guides, and ropes course and experiential education resources.
Shawn is a firm believer that children need to spend time in nature as often as possible, and that time at camp can play an incredibly important role in the development of a child.
Leah is currently the Educational Program Director at Natural Curiosity. Their previous experience includes over 10 years in collegiate Outdoor Recreation, she teaches backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, biking, skiing, wilderness medicine, and more.
She emphasizes the importance of outdoor time for holistic wellness across ages and backgrounds. Leah strives for inclusivity, inviting those with limited experience to learn adventure skills. She prioritizes “Leave no Trace” ethics and wilderness preservation in teaching outdoor engagement. Her job’s most fulfilling aspect is witnessing people achieve what they once struggled with.
Leah’s expertise spans wilderness medicine, risk management, trip planning, beginner instruction, bike maintenance, staff training, and more. She’s a SOLO & Red Cross instructor, PADI Rescue Diver, LAB Cycling Instructor, PCIA Climbing Wall Instructor, ACA Swiftwater Rescuer, Appalachian Trail “Thru-Hiker,” and committed learner.
Leah holds a bachelor’s in Kinesiology: Athletic Training from the University of Connecticut and a master’s in Recreation & Sport Administration from Western Kentucky University.
Dennis is an experienced management and technology consultant, with over 30 years of industry experience across Insurance, Healthcare, Legal and other industries. Dennis is passionate about the potential impacts that artificial intelligence and machine learning can have. He also advises customers on technology choices and transition to the cloud. Dennis supports the IT community through organizing and public speaking at user groups like Hartford SQL Server User Group, Power BI User Group, Code Camps, Boston Architect Summit and IT Round table for business users.
New England Give Camp
For the last 10 years has participated and coordinated 100 to 150 individuals for this annual “hackathon” event to assist charities.
Theia Solutions LLC
Founder of socially responsible technology firm for non-profits, schools and other start-ups leveraging a “mobile first” application development strategy.
Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT)
In partnership with CCAT, developed “Goodwin Choice” application for magnet school enrollment lotteries.
Developed “Omni Analytics Engine” leveraging Bing and Twitter search to locate matching topics in question.
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Management and Analytics, Solution Architecture, Technology Transformation
Xavier Fowler is an enthusiastic, insightful, lover of learning and sharer of knowledge. A recent graduate of the University of Connecticut. He earned his B.A. in Chinese and B.G.S in Kinesiology, Exercise Science coursework. He is also a graduate of the Beijing Institute for Education in Beijing, China where he studied Chinese language and culture.
He currently works as a Youth program Coordinator with Husky Sport, a University of Connecticut affiliated program that focuses on bringing physical literacy, nutrition education, academic support and transferrable life skills to students at Fred D. Wish school; additionally, as a Driving Instructor for CT licensure.
Xavier is an outgoing individual that only pursues avenues that help further a mission of helping improve the lives of others, especially the plundered, minoritized and marginalized. He is most passionate about equity, Sport Based Youth Development, and Self-improvement through acquiring knowledge and practice along the 7 areas of well-being (spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, social, environmental, occupational). He believes that happiness and actualization is a by-product of creating wholistic wellness conditions for oneself. He is currently studying for his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification and plans on pursuing a master’s degree in Sport-Based Youth Development.
Gordon is an educator and has been for the last 25 years. He currently teaches middle school math at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy. Gordon has worked with a wide array of children – from struggling students to talented and gifted learners. Most of his teaching has been with elementary school children, and he has worked with individuals, small groups, and in classrooms. Additionally, he has lead teams of teachers, written curriculum, conducted educator training, and served as the local teachers’ union president.
Gordon is a published game designer. He has designed Keepers of the Questar and co-designed the upcoming Space Jam: Serververse Showdown Card Game, both for Upper Deck. Working with Forever Stoked Creative, Gordon was one of the designers of Blow My Mind for Kickstarter. He was the game designer for the Connecticut Historical Society’s latest exhibit – The Bicycle Game where museum goers make your way through the exhibition by playing games and solving puzzles in order to save bicycle history from the villainous Barnabus Boggs! It is a unique way to learn about the development of the bicycle and its impact on society.
It is no surprise that he teaches and makes games, Gordon believes that curiosity and imagination are vital to the growth and learning of an individual. Play is the way and there is no wrong way to play. Whether it is around a table with dice, in a gym with equipment, or among the trees of a forest with ropes – a young person needs to feel safe and secure so that they can take the reasonable risks that are necessary for their flourishing
Mike Monikowski is an IT specialist with more than twenty years’ experience in project management, systems analysis, data security, disaster recovery, and software development with additional responsibilities in electric utility grid restoration and circuit mapping. He has long time relationships with local retired racing greyhound rescue organizations volunteering with fostering, training, placement, and fund-raising activities. He’s currently training for a second career in Diesel Technology and in his spare time builds, maintains, and drives racecars
Maman Cooper currently works as an Academic Coordinator, supporting students in their academics at Capitol Squash in Hartford, CT. Capitol Squash is an urban youth athletic and academic program supporting students’ grades 4+ with the goal of college. Maman previously taught at an all-boys private school in Hartford for two years upon graduating from the University of Connecticut (UConn). She loves working out, reading and watching educational and inspirational messages for pleasure. Also, she always loves and appreciates a great heart to heart talk no matter how difficult the topic, ones communicated respectfully, believing genuine dialogue is a vehicle for creating a better world.
Her upcoming goals and aspirations are obtaining a law degree. Maman wants to work with non-profits and the government to provide and strengthen education for students and children in undeserving communities, especially in her homeland, Liberia, West Africa.
Maman also aspires to make the world a more just place through giving people exposure and having more open dialogues.