Meet our Apprentices

Ben Branson, Wilderness Apprentice, grew up near Jackson, Mississippi. He was part of a large swimming family, so land sports were awkward at best. He studied mechanical engineering and dabbled in French and art at the University of Mississippi. It was there that ultimate frisbee and biking helped him get his feet under him. After a couple of unfulfilling engineering internships, Ben earned his sea legs while working at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in coastal Maine, most recently as the head of logistics. The intensity of community-living on expedition challenged and inspired him. He also began to see the beauty of natural systems, which we are all a small part of. Ben is passionate about leaving things better than he found them and enjoys getting nervous when doing new things.

Davis Cowles, Science Apprentice, spent his childhood exploring the abundant hidden forests of Atlanta, GA, where he developed a passion for tree-climbing, fort-building, and general outdoor shenanigans. He followed a deep, unnamed yearning to South America and New Zealand following high school—a transformational time filled with volunteering, working on farms, “’splorin,” experiencing new cultures and all sorts of odd jobs. Those experiences led him to study Environmental Science and Spanish at Louisiana State University with exchange and research stints at the University of Montana and the University of Washington. During his time at LSU, he worked for the Outdoor and Experiential Education program, and spent summers either conducting research in environmental toxicology or leading teenagers on adventure trips all over the world. His continuing work in the outdoor industry and personal adventures have taken him all over the United States, South America, Africa, and Europe. Davis is excited to delve deeper into the world of experiential education and explore the topic of soulful learning.

Eleanor Johnston, Math Apprentice, grew up on an oddly sunny street (odd because it was in the middle of a Midwestern city) in Chicago, IL. Growing up, Eleanor spent weekends playing soccer next to Lake Michigan and adventuring with her three younger sisters. Over summer and winter breaks, the four sisters tramped up to Northern Wisconsin and split their time cross-country skiing, tubing behind boats, and eating cheese curds. When she was fourteen, Eleanor’s family moved to Park City. UT where she attended the local high school and spent weekends skiing and slathering her fries in fry sauce. Eleanor then headed to Williams College in Massachusetts, where she played water polo, led trips on parts of the Appalachian Trail, and majored in Chemistry. When she’s not busy, Eleanor loves to spend time running outdoors, baking treats, exploring new places, and petting fluffy dogs. This semester, she’s looking forward to joining the HMI community on campus, in the mountains and canyons, and in math class.

Iska Nardie-Warner, History Apprentice, was raised outside of St. Louis, MO, and often visited Colorado during which she developed a deep appreciation for the Colorado wilderness. Always deeply shaped by the sense of wonder a specific place inspires, Iska has let that feeling guide her through many cultural and outdoor experiences in the States and abroad. She studied Politics and Race & Ethnic Studies with an international focus while at university in Walla Walla, Washington. It was working with high school girls at Sanborn Western Camps guiding outdoor educational and leadership experiences in the shadow of many Colorado fourteeners, where she developed an interest in actively inspiring young adults to connect with their own sense of nature and place. Acting as the History Apprentice at HMI during the Spring 2019 term excites Iska as she unites these passions and shares a place so special to her.

Annabel Parker, Marketing Apprentice, calls the UK home but spent the majority of her childhood growing up in different countries around the world. She recently graduated with a degree in World Arts and Cultures from UCLA, and while studying abroad in Argentina, met another student who spoke beautifully about the magic of Colorado. Though she had never visited, she was instantly convinced. Upon returning from South America, she moved to Estes Park, Colorado, where she spent two summers working as both a graphic designer and an outdoor education facilitator. Her time in the Rockies introduced her to mountain magic as well as her passion for working with young people. Annabel is incredibly excited to be both a student and a teacher, to learn, write postcards and poetry, sketch and paint, and explore the outdoors with this lovely community at HMI.

Chris Robey, English Apprentice, grew up in the metro-Atlanta area but most recently hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan. As far back as he can recall, the meeting point between the human and natural worlds has always fielded his wildest imaginings. From frequent trips to such beloved places as Tate Branch, Sliding Rock, and Ellicott Rock, he tapped into the deep well of joy that can be found while playing in the woods and streams of the Appalachians. From visiting such historic sites as New Echota, the Etowah Indian Mounds, and the Civil War battlefields about Chattanooga, he grew to appreciate the monumentality of landscapes, the way they accrue stories and meanings through time. He earned a B.A. in American Studies, with minors in English and Sustainable Development, at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Starting in college and continuing after graduation, he worked on and eventually led wilderness trail crews for Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), a nonprofit based in Asheville, North Carolina. Upon moving to Ann Arbor, he spent some time learning the ropes (quite literally!) as a groundsman for a local arborist before moving into a position as a conservation worker for the City of Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation (NAP) division. He considers each moment here at HMI to be a gift and aims to pass on that gift by doing everything he can to help others realize their better selves. When he isn’t scribbling frantically in a notebook or tumbling down some new research rabbit hole, he enjoys cooking, sketching, trail running, and untangling his lines while attempting to fly fish.  

Renee Torrie, Science Apprentice, was raised by the ocean just north of Boston. She grew up sailing the coast of New England and exploring the White Mountains with family and friends. Renee studied Earth System Science and Statistics at McGill University with the intention of someday becoming an oceanographer. As her degree progressed, she found herself drawn towards STEM education outreach programs over oceanography research. A study abroad semester in New Zealand got her hyped about mountains for the first time, and the adventures started adding up. She signed onto the HMI Apprentice Program as an excited outdoorswoman, budding educator, and life enthusiast. Since graduating in June 2018, Renee has had fun managing a junior sailing program in MA and teaching at Nature’s Classroom in NH. She is stoked to start her next chapter in the mountains with the lovely and welcoming HMI community! You can catch Renee around campus journaling, cooking, slacklining, or swooning over succulents.