Meet the Team

Claus Kjaerby, Director of Operations (COO)

Claus settled in Latin America, in 1997, starting with a six-year stint in the Amazon engaging indigenous people in environmental monitoring, sustainable economic development, including ecotourism; and establishing innovative protected areas management regimes. Some of Latin America’s most renowned lawyers then trained him in legal matters and human rights based development strategies. Claus managed, for seven years, intercultural governance and poverty eradication programs in Central America, served as director to a World Bank infrastructure project and managed a land titling process in culturally complex territories in collaboration with national environment authorities. He spent two years as a consultant evaluating natural resource management programs and most recently he was the regional representative of the environment organization, Forests of the World. Before Google Earth existed, Claus was conducting expeditions to the Earth’s most remote and indigenous territories. He co-owned the Danish travel agency “Seven C’s Adventure Group” which financed his studies and was eventually sold after five years.

Education: Civil Engineer and Land Surveyor / MSc International Development Studies from Aalborg University and Roskilde University, Denmark.

Juan Carlos Monterrey, Executive Director of the School for Biocultural Leadership

Juan Carlos is the vice chair for the implementation of the UN Climate Convention for 2022. He is the founder of Climate Resilient, a policy think tank based in the Dominican Republic, and has vast experience on climate transparency, carbon markets and nature-based solutions. He previously served as lead climate negotiator for Panama, chair of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC) and co-coordinator of the ambition agenda for AILAC and the Cartagena Dialogue. At COP26, he led the youngest delegation in history to represent a country at the UN Climate Negotiations. His work is informed by his upbringing in El Pájaro de Pesé, a rural community in Panama’s Dry Corridor.
Monterrey co-authored the executive decrees that established the national carbon market of Panama and the national low-emissions development and climate transparency program. He was a core member of the teams tasked with the development of the 2016 Panamanian Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and its 2020 update. Juan Carlos was the youngest deputy head of a country delegation in 2015 during negotiations of the Paris Agreement. He is a member of the inaugural class of Obama Foundation Scholars and currently coordinates a World Bank technical assistance to support the implementation of the national carbon market in Panama.

Educational background: B.A. in Economics from Tulane University and M.A. in International Development Policy from the University of Chicago.

Atala Beckford, National Director of Public Relations

Atala joined the team in the early Earth Train days as the Director of Administration. She came from an international law rm established in Panama. In addition to applying her skills in management, budgeting, logistics business planning, and systems design, she has been serving as a counselor and coach to interns. She speaks fluent in both Spanish and English. She is the founder of Geoversity’s Youth Innovating for Biodiversity and Ecology program (JIBE), the author of an environmental education and coloring book for children, and has organized two environmental theater plays.

Educational background: Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Universidad Americana and a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources Management

Mark Arie Knetsch, Manager of Life Changer Leadership Programs

Mark is an educator, wilderness guide, and conservationist who arrived in Mamoní, Panama in 2013 to volunteer with Geoversity for leadership training and conservation efforts. Over the last decade, he has been leading the team in building out Geoversity’s rainforest campus’ facilities with practicality and sustainable closed-loop systems in mind, developed a deep understanding of the local biodiversity and culture, while creating and leading programs for local and international groups throughout the Mamoní Valley and Panama. As co-founder and CEO of Experience Mamoní, Mark in 2019 merged the company with Geoversity to create the Life Changer program experiences as part of the Geoversity’s School programs, where he now manages. He is trained in emergency response and jungle survival, and, while living in Canada, specialized in landscape construction and machinery operation. Being raised in Aruba, Mark is a true waterman and speaks four languages. 

Educational background: Accounting and business administration, graduating cum laude from Laurentian University Canada, and is a Certified Wilderness Guide from the PAWGI system. His passions; surfing, diving, permaculture, nature, life long pursuit of learning and discovery, and continuing to explore the natural world and its diverse cultures.

Delia Cedeño, Financial Manager

Delia is a Panamanian with over 18 years of experience running her own financial management company. She is the staff in our organization with the longest history and has been in charge of our finances since 2007.

Educational background: Certified Public Accountant, Panama.

Carlos Andrés González, Director of Legal Affairs

Carlos Andrés has been our lawyer since 2008 working on our projects in the Mamoní Valley and with our partnering Mamoní100 Membership Club, as well as other for profit and not-for-profit partners operating in the Valley. He also participates in land transactions for long lasting not-for-profit management, develops sustainable legal strategies around land ownership and conservation easements in general, and supports our community development and sustainable livelihood initiatives.

Educational background: Bachelor of Law and Political Science from Universidad Americana and Master in Business Administration with an emphasis on strategic management from Universidad Interamericana de Panamá.

Andrea Miller, Director of Biocultural Learning

Andrea’s passions lie at the interface where science and environmental outreach meets education for a better tomorrow. Science, nature, and the environment have always been an endless source of wonder and amazement for her, and she believes in its power to inspire students, and people, of all ages. Before coming to Panama, Andrea worked with The National Audubon Society and The National Science Foundation in the US, and later continued her research in Panama when she arrived in 2013 working for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. However, as her science career progressed, it naturally evolved towards education as well. After working with the Smithsonian, she transitioned into nature-based teaching, using her passion and love for the natural world, to help inspire and empower young learners. After several years working in international schools, she set off on her own to develop true nature-based educational programs utilizing Panama’s amazing natural and cultural history as a basis for learning. Andrea joined Geoversity to facilitate the shared dreams and visions of biocultural leadership.

Educational Background: Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology and a minor in Geology from Unity College. Certificate of Forest School Principals. Certificate of Integrating Literacy and Scientific Inquires into K-6 Classrooms.

Kandi Valle, Director of Audiovisual Productions

Kandi, from Bilbao, Spain, is a certified wilderness guide and an experienced IT technician with a talent for outdoor action videography. Starting in 2008, he has worked in the international voluntary service sector. Following work in Africa and Asia, he joined our mission in 2011 to assist in the production of the Roots & Shoots conference with Jane Goodall. In 2013, he became our social videographer and filmmaker. For two simultaneous years, Kandi also served as a Production Coordinator at Fundación Albatros Media in Panama, documenting numerous conservation initiatives. He has been directing, shooting, and editing most of the videos related to Geoversity and the Mamoní Valley Preserve. Besides, he is a long distance runner and a biker.

Educational background: Certified Wilderness Guide from PAWGI and Vocational Training in IT.

Marlene Hernández, Administrative Assistant

Marlene has 5 years of experience in the banking and finance industry, as an operations analyst. In her free time she loves exploring forested areas that connect her with the harmony of mother earth, and harvesting on the family farm, which is dedicated to agriculture. She enrolled in the world of youth scout movement back in 2003, doing activities that integrate young people in areas of social risk. She is currently studying topography and geodesy at the University of Panama.

Nico Armstrong, Centro Mamoní Manager

Nico arrived to Bocas del Toro, Panama in 2006 as a Peace Corps volunteer, where he worked primarily with indigenous Ngäbe people promoting sustainable agriculture and agroforestry, with an emphasis on increasing cacao production in local plantations. After completing his service he moved on to become a tour guide and operator in the high-lands of Chiriquí province, specializing in treks, agrotourism and indigenous cultural experiences with his Ngäbe friends. Nico has now seven years of hosting and management experience, including at our Centro Mamoní facilities in the Mamoní Valley Preserve. His programmatic involvement also includes agriculture and community relations. In his spare time he loves to go on “waterfall quests” — in search for beautiful, undiscovered falls.

Educational background: Certified Wilderness Guide from PAWGI, BA in International Studies and Hispanic Studies from Washington College.

Esmeralda Stonestreet, Chef and Hospitality

Esmeralda is in charge of Hospitality at Geoversity Foundation’s main campus in Panama. Esmeralda prioritizes the importance of health and searches for the nutrition that will make people vibrant and healthy during their stay. She specializes in the culinary experiences that will expand visitors pallets’ to the varieties of food that are available within the rainforest. She has a passion for sharing her extensive knowledge and appreciation of the rainforest with visitors. In her words, “What you have is gold if you pay attention”. In her spare time, you can find her experimenting with natural remedies, medicine, and products. Esmeralda is also a mother to three beautiful children.

BA in Accounting with a Minor in English.

Heraclio López (Surub), Indigenous Issues Project Coordinator

Surub is Guna and a specialist in indigenous peoples issues, human rights, international cooperation and collective land titling processes. He has been working with Geoversity since 2017 as community facilitator, including our EUROCLIMA+ project related to non carbon benefits and Global Climate Change processes, in the Mamoní Valley and Emberá communities.

Educational background: Degree in philosophy from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana de Medellín, Colombia and Postgraduate in Conflict Mediation.

Eudencio Arias, Topographer and digital mapping specialist.

Eudencio Arias Morris, topographer and digital mapping specialist.
Eudencio is from the Guna ethnic group with 21 years of previous experience in topography and GIS (Geographic Information System) work with the seven Indigenous Peoples of Panama and private companies throughout the national territory of the Republic of Panama.

Educational background: Bachelor’s Degree in Topography with a specialization in cadastral data processing and field data interpretation from Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá.

Eudencio Arias
Adolfo Mezua, Consultant and Administrator EUROCLIMA+

Adolfo is Emberá and has more than 19 years of experience working with administrative and financial management of projects financed by international cooperation agencies. He is an Independent Consultant on issues related to indigenous peoples and rural communities, in social, economic, cultural and tourist aspects. Likewise, he has experience training human resources, business start ups. Adolfo is the financial administrator of the EUROCLIMA+ project.

Educational background: Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Human Resources.

Leandro Toribio, MVP Local Guide and Handyman

Gabriel Salazar, MVP Local Guide and Handyman

Gabriel Salazar has lived his entire adult life on location and served as our local wilderness guide from the birth of the Mamoní Valley Preserve. He is a true horseman, born animal tracker and navigates the forest without use of modern technology. In his youth Gabriel was once a prolific hunter trained by Noriega’s military forces in the Mamoní Valley, but he has since been able to create a sustainable livelihood for himself with Geoversity. He also runs a quaint but efficient and beautiful integrated farm system.

Merlis Carrillo, MVP Handyman

Virgilio Salazar, MVP Handyman

Ariel Batista, MVP Handyman

Humberto Valdez, MVP Handyman