Our Experts

Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Experts

Smithsonian Student Travel experts join every program for a portion of the itinerary. Experts are professionals in their field and are able to tie in their knowledge and experiences with the themes of the program. They are welcoming, engaging, and accessible, and provide students with unique insights in a way that only the Smithsonian is able to offer. Experts live alongside the students during their time with the group, and participate in all activities and meals, allowing students opportunities to engage in meaningful ways.

Our experts work in museums, conduct experiments, collect data, define the cutting edge of space exploration, and organize community gardens. They are curators, educators, researchers, conservationists, sociologists, and historians.


Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Experts

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Dr. Neeti Bathala


Dr. Bathala brings almost two decades of experience in higher education, teaching Ecology and Environmental Sciences at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She will be joining the faculty at Villanova University this Fall and teaching courses in the Environmental Sciences. An ecologist by training, Dr. Bathala has participated in numerous local and global conservation projects. She has degrees from Rutgers University (BS), Temple University (MA), Duke University (MEM) and the University of Georgia (PhD). During her graduate studies at Duke University, Dr. Bathala studied conservation biology in Costa Rica with the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). She has spent time at numerous biological research stations in Costa Rica and has volunteered with sea turtle conservation efforts at Tortuguero National Park. In addition to her work in terrestrial ecosystems, Dr. Bathala has been involved in several National Science Foundation (NSF) post-doctoral Chautauqua Field programs studying biodiversity and marine communities in Belize, Hawaii, and the Galápagos Islands. Dr. Bathala has taught several marine-based ecology courses domestically and at the Honduras Roatan Institute of Marine Sciences (RIMS). She is a certified PADI SCUBA diver and has completed day and nighttime dives in the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean. Outside of her academic pursuits, Dr. Bathala is an award-winning author and continues to develop educational children’s books on environmental subjects. Her 2017 publication Moonlight Crab Count won the Children’s Book Council and Science Teachers Association, Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2018 and was selected for the 2021 Children’s Book Reading List for Social Activism. As an author, speaker, and educator, Neeti is involved in community public education on environmental issues. She is deeply committed to projects encouraging STEM, particularly for women in the sciences.

Neeti will be joining the June 30 departure of the Belize program and the July 28 departure of the Costa Rica program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Edward Becker

Architect & Professor

Edward Becker is an Associate Professor of Architecture at Virginia Tech, consistently ranked
as one of the top undergraduate architecture programs in the United States. He holds a Master
of Architecture with Distinction from Harvard University, and a Bachelor of Architecture from Cal
Poly – San Luis Obispo. As a member of the Finnish Association of Architects, he is the founder
of Helsinki-based Vor, a sustainability-focused design and consulting practice. His
award-winning, bio-focused design and research work is positioned at the intersection of
architecture, landscape urbanism, and public art. Edward has lived and practiced in
Copenhagen and Helsinki, among other global locations, and through those experiences has a
deeply rooted professional ethic for, and expertise in, sustainable design, livable cities, and
design for well-being. Winner of national and international design awards from the American
Society of Landscape Architects, Architizer, Architects Newspaper, Association of Collegiate
Schools of Architecture, and others, his collaborative work has been published internationally by
Actar, ARK, Archinect, ARQ-XP, Phaidon, Routledge, Wood Design Magazine, and World
Landscape Architecture, among others, including being featured in AN’s “Best of the Best”
design awards publication and Phaidon’s “Architizer: World’s Best Architecture 2020.”

Edward will be joining the July 20 departure of the New York & Denmark program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Naia Butler-Craig

Aerospace Engineering PhD Student

Naia Butler-Craig, 23, is an aspiring mission specialist astronaut who is establishing herself as one of the leading minority voices in the STEM industry. A 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 selection, Naia is currently an Aerospace Engineering PhD student and GEM Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as a NASA Space Technology Graduate Research Fellow. She also received a 2020 Modern Day Technology Leader Award from the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (BEYA). Since childhood, the Orlando, Florida native has had an unshakable love and curiosity for space and its enigma, math, science and engineering.

The insatiable passion for STEM led her to become the first-generation college and graduate student in her family. Despite the barriers and obstacles facing a young woman of color in the STEM field, Naia’s resume also includes: B.S in Aerospace Engineering with special concentration in Astronautics and a minor in Computational Mathematics Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; NASA Pathways intern in the Science and Space Technology Systems branch at Glenn Research Center; Member and research assistant of the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab at Georgia Tech with a focus in plasma diagnostics.

A 2017 McNair Scholar, Naia is involved in a variety of professional, philanthropic and developmental extra-curricular activities on and off campus, including NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), Dreams Soar Inc., Vision of Flight, the ERAU chapter of the Society of Women in Space Exploration (SWISE) at Embry-Riddle, and Tech Sassy Girls, amongst others. She has been a speaker, volunteer, and workshop host at various STEM outreach events and hopes to continue her work in deepspace exploration and inspire the next generation of diverse STEM Leaders.

Naia will be joining the June 25 departure of the Washington, D.C. to Houston program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Cris Corrado


Professor Cris Corrado has spent her entire career creating, leading and teaching academic programs in Italy and Greece. A classical archaeologist specializing in Roman Art, Professor Corrado has taught university students in Rome for the past 20 years. She has worked in a curatorial capacity in the departments of ancient art at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, the RISD Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Vatican Museums. For several summers, she was also involved with research projects and excavations at Pompeii.

Her research interests and publications focus on ancient Greek and Roman wall painting and sculpture, as well as funerary and domestic architecture. Professor Corrado is currently working on an exciting project that aims to identify and correctly categorize aedicular tombs and statues in the ancient Roman landscape. She presents guest lectures on the topic, and her co-authored article on a related topic, the Monument of Eurysaces, will be published this summer. She is also co-authoring a textbook on ancient Rome. Professor Corrado is the founder of the Rome Society of the Archaeological Institute of America.

Cris will be joining the July 2 departure of the Greece & Italy program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Tom Dawson


Tom Dawson is an archaeologist and Principal Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews. He
started his archaeological career in London, excavating trenches up to 20 feet deep in the heart of the city. He then conducted excavations in Japan, Italy, Ireland, and France, and spent three years in
Sri Lanka, training archaeologists at World Heritage Sites and doing underwater archaeology on the
south coast. Since joining Scotland’s oldest university, Tom has pioneered ways of working with sites threatened by climate change. He is the CEO of SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) and, together with his team, has inspired creative ways of recording threatened heritage. A strong advocate of public archaeology, most projects were developed in collaboration with local communities. Tom regularly appears on TV shows in the UK and has written many academic papers. His edited publications include Archaeology and Coastal Erosion in Scotland and Public Archaeology and Climate Change. He sits on a number of international panels and advisory boards and was formerly a Commissioner with the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and Vice President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Tom will be joining the June 23 departure of the Scotland program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Dan Dixon

Sustainability Director

Dan is the University of Maine Sustainability Director and a Research Assistant Professor with the University’s Climate Change Institute. He initially trained as a marine engineer and ultimately received his Bachelor of Science in Geology and Oceanography from the University of Southampton, UK. For his undergraduate research, he studied the clay mineralogy of mud volcanoes and diapirs along the Iberian continental margin using x-ray diffraction techniques. Since then, he earned his MSc in Quaternary and Climate Studies and his PhD in Earth Sciences while working at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. 

Dan’s graduate research was primarily focused on Antarctica. As a member of the United States International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition team, he completed five Antarctic field seasons, traversing more than 10,000 km over the ice sheet and drilling more than 40 ice cores along the way. Dan continues to focus his research on reconstructing paleoclimate using the chemistry contained in snow and ice. He has also worked in Iceland, Southern Patagonia, the New Zealand Southern Alps, the Central Chilean Andes, the Olympic Mountains, the Saint Elias Mountains, the Island of South Georgia, and most-recently in the Peruvian Andes. Dan is a recipient of the United States Antarctic Program Polar Service Medal and has received a National Science Foundation Achievement Award for Traversing in Antarctica.

Dan will be joining the June 27 departure of the Iceland program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Ashley Elston

Art Historian

Ashley Elston is an art historian who specializes in late medieval and Renaissance art in Italy. She is Associate Professor of Art History and Director of Visual Arts at Berea College, where she teaches a variety of courses on European art from the ancient world to the 19th century. She discovered her love of Italian art and culture as an undergraduate working on a degree in history and medieval studies at St. Olaf College when she participated in a study abroad course in Rome. She went on to complete an M.A. and Ph.D. in art history at the University of Kansas. A Fulbright grant allowed her to live in Italy while conducting her doctoral research in churches, archives, and museums, and her work has also been supported by competitive grants from the Renaissance Society of America and the Southeastern College Art Conference. She is currently working on a book that examines how paintings and sculptures were used together on Italian Renaissance altars and recently co-edited a book titled Hybridity in Early Modern Art.

Ashley will be joining the June 18 departure of the Greece & Italy program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Francisco García-Serrano


Francisco García-Serrano earned his M.A and Ph.D. in Medieval Iberian History at the University of California, Berkeley and is currently a professor of History in the Department of Humanities at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus. In addition, he has been a visiting professor at U.C. Berkeley, New York University in Madrid, and Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. His research focuses on the influence of the Mendicant Orders in Spain during the late Middle Ages and on religious identity and interfaith relations. Professor García-Serrano also serves as the Director of Ibero-American Studies at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, an academic program that he created. In addition he is the current president of the interdisciplinary association AHLiST (2012-2015) and has organized a number of international conferences.

Francisco will be joining both Portugal & Spain departures.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Paul Glenshaw

Filmmaker & Writer

Paul Glenshaw is an independent filmmaker, artist, and writer whose multidisciplinary work covers art, history, and aviation. He is co-director, writer, and producer of the World War I documentary The Lafayette Escadrille, distributed nationwide to PBS stations in 2021. His work for the Smithsonian Associates include his popular online series Art+History, Jazz in Paris, and other history lectures, as well as drawing instruction and history tours. He is a longtime contributing author and editor for Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, with expertise in the Wright brothers and pre-WWI aviation. Paul is the author of the theatrical concert To Swing Through the Sky, a commission by George Mason University that traces the twin histories of jazz and powered flight. His drawings made at the Folger Shakespeare Library were featured on their Shakespeare and Beyond blog. He is currently creating a series of drawings made from the remains of Civil War casualties at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. At the start of the 2020 pandemic, he co-created The Seven Tones Project, which paired musicians and filmmakers to create 40 short films based on the music of Duke Ellington. He began his career at the National Gallery of Art, selling postcards in the bookstore, and then printing exhibit labels.

Paul will be joining the July 23 departure of the Washington, D.C. to Houston program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Alex Hearn


Alex Hearn is a marine fisheries ecologist with 20 years of experience working in Galápagos. He is
Professor and Researcher at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the Galápagos Science Center since 2015. He obtained his BSc in Oceanography and Marine Biology from the University of Southampton, UK; and his MSc and PhD from Heriot-Watt University in the Orkney Islands. He has worked in the Galápagos Islands since 2002 on fisheries research and management, and spearheaded the development of the Shark Research Program since 2006. He is a founding member and current Board President of the regional research network, MigraMar. Alex was made co-champion of the Mission Blue Galápagos Hope Spot in 2020.

His current projects include using acoustic and satellite telemetry to establish the migratory pathways of sharks, evaluating the movement ecology of the pelagic assemblage around oceanic islets, and monitoring shark nursery grounds. Alex has published over 60 peer review research articles and over a dozen book chapters. He recently led the multi-institutional team of biologists to develop a blueprint for improved conservation

Alex will be joining the June 25 departure of the Ecuador & the Galápagos program.

Leader Ravi smiling outside

Geeta Mehta


Geeta Mehta is an adjunct professor of architecture and urban design at Columbia University. She received her education from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi and Columbia University, and earned her Ph.D. from the University of Tokyo. Her experience of working in India, China, Korea, and several countries in Europe, Africa, and South America enables her to bring a global perspective to her teaching. She has spoken on social capital, sustainable and equitable urbanism, and community-based change at forums around the world and she served as a panelist at WomenDeliver in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Women’s Summit in Sharjah organized by UN Women. In 2018, she was appointed to serve on the Waterfront Management advisory board by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Geeta also co-founded URBZ: User Generated Cities, a research collective that focuses on participatory urban planning and design systems, which was named one of the 100 most influential names in architecture in the world by the magazine Il Giornale dell’Architettura.

Geeta will be joining the June 22 departure of the New York & Denmark program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

April Nowell


Dr. April Nowell is a Paleolithic archaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Victoria, Canada, where she has taught classes on cave art for more than 20 years. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. She directs an international team of researchers in the study of Lower and Middle Paleolithic sites in Jordan and collaborates with colleagues on the study of cave art in Australia and France and on ostrich eggshell beads in South Africa. Her work has been covered by more than 100 outlets including The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times, CNN website, The Economist, CBC’s The National and As It Happens, NPR, and the Smithsonian Magazine website, and her work on blood residue on stone tools was named one of Time Magazine’s top 100 discoveries. Her most recent book is titled Growing Up in the Ice Age: Fossil and Archaeological Evidence of the Lived Lives of Plio-Pleistocene Children.

April will be joining both France departures.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Diana Pazmiño

Marine Biologist

Diana is a marine biologist born and raised in the Galápagos islands, passionate about conservation and education. She obtained her undergraduate degree of Biology in Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in Quito (PUCE) and moved to Australia for her PhD. These experiences broaden her professional and personal perspectives about women in STEM and inspired her to encourage women participation in science. After coming back to Galápagos in 2017, she joined the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the Galápagos Science Center (GSC) to develop several research and community engagement projects. Diana is aware of the disconnection between the local population and researchers, and the negative impacts over long term conservation goals. She is convinced joining efforts at regional and global scale is key to move forward and achieve permanent solutions. 

Her projects include long term monitoring of rays (and manta rays) in the Galápagos islands, as well as the use of molecular tools to inform conservation and tackle illegal activities. Diana is currently building a genetic database for the diversity of the Galápagos through barcoding and metabarcoding techniques, while supporting local capacity building and community participation.

Diana will be joining the July 12 departure of the Ecuador & the Galápagos program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Dr. Brett Scheffers

Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Dr. Brett Scheffers is an Associate Professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at University of Florida. He currently serves as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. Dr. Scheffers is the Chair of the Species on the Move international seminar series and the co-Founder of the SE Regional Invasive Species and Climate Change Management Network. He has been a National Geographic explorer since 2014 and a long-time member of the IUCN Climate Change and Biodiversity Specialist Group. Dr. Scheffers obtained his BSc in Ecology at Sewanee: The University of the South, USA, his MSc in Ecology from University of Alberta, Canada, and his PhD in Ecology from National University of Singapore, Singapore. He served as a post-doctoral research fellow at James Cook University, Australia.

Dr. Scheffers runs a dynamic and leading biological conservation and ecology lab and has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles, many of which are in leading international journals such as Science, Nature Climate Change, Current Biology, and Frontiers in Ecology and Environment. His work has been covered by hundreds of news outlets, including The Economist, Huffington Post, National Geographic, Scientific American, and the New York Times. Dr. Scheffers has spent the last 20 years working in tropical ecology and conservation biology across the world’s tropical rainforests of Australia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. He has extensive experience in the field of global change biology and his research focuses on core ecological problems – often using canopy science, the degree of vertical habitat use in montane tropical rainforests, as his model system. His research also focuses on ecological responses and adaptation of a variety of taxa ranging from birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects to climate change and environmental instability.

Brett will be joining the July 14 departure of the Costa Rica program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Hugh Shapiro


Hugh Shapiro is a professor of East Asian history at the University of Nevada, with a BA from Stanford University and a PhD from Harvard. As a Smithsonian Journeys Expert, he has lectured in 15 countries in Eurasia, and has traveled extensively throughout the region. Hugh has enjoyed visiting appointments at Princeton University, at universities in China, Japan, and Taiwan, and at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He received the Li-Qing Prize for the History of Chinese Science and won his university’s highest teaching award. His extensive archival and fieldwork focuses on the history of medicine, disease, and the body in comparative context. His recent work appears in volumes published by Harvard University Press, Brill, and Oxford University Press. Hugh’s other research and teaching interests include visual and performance art, Central Asia, and the history of de-colonization and authoritarianism.

Hugh will be joining the June 29 and July 18 departures of the Japan program. 

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Dr. Stephanie Sykora


Dr. Stephanie Sykora is a geologist, with a PhD degree in Geology from the University of Tasmania, Australia, and a BSc degree in Earth and Ocean Science from the University of Victoria, Canada. She has worked for over 10 years as an exploration geologist all around the world, including Australia, Papua New Guinea, Serbia, Ireland, Japan, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, USA and Canada. She has worked with various mineral exploration companies, universities and published scientific articles. Currently she is a consultant geologist based out of Canada. She had led and participated in various field trips globally, focusing on geology and natural sciences. Stephanie is also an avid scientific communicator for earth sciences, having been involved in outreach programs, such as Young Tassie Scientists, and written numerous online, publicly accessible articles about geological sites around the world.

Stephanie will be joining the July 12 departure of the Iceland program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Kaitlyn Ugoretz

Assistant Professor & Associate Editor

Kaitlyn Ugoretz is an Assistant Professor and Associate Editor at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan. Her experience studying and working abroad in China inspired her to spend her life learning and teaching about East Asia. She received her BA and MA from the University of Pennsylvania and is finishing her PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara. As an expert on Japanese religion and culture, Kaitlyn has conducted fieldwork at shrines, temples, and other historical sites across Japan. Her research focuses on the global spread of the Japanese religion called Shinto through digital technology and popular media. She consults on games and television and writes for outlets including Religion News Service, The Washington Post, Critical Asian Studies, and The Conversation. She is a frequent podcast guest and the host of the award-winning educational YouTube channel “Eat Pray Anime,” which explores Japanese religious history and culture through comics, anime, and video games.

Kaitlyn will be joining the July 11 departure of the Japan program.

Outdoor portrait of leader Dan

Martin van Aswegen

Marine Scientist, Photographer

Martin is a Ph.D. Candidate currently studying humpback whales in Hawai’i and Alaska. While growing up near marine hotspots in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, he developed a strong interest in marine science and scientific communication, with the aim of conserving threatened fauna. In 2015, he merged his two main passions—ecological research and wildlife photography—to study the migration energetics of large whales. He uses drones to measure their size and explores underwater behavior by attaching suction-cup tags to humpback whales. Martin is a National Geographic Explorer. When he is not studying whales, Martin likes to drink good espresso, go freediving, and explore the outdoors.

Martin will be joining both Australia departures. 

More Experts to be Announced Soon!

Meet Smithsonian Student Travel Expert April Nowell

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