FCAT Staff

Man standing in front of jungle

Luis Carrasco

Reserve Director

Luis has nearly two decades of experience working in the rainforests of northwest Ecuador. He studied Biological Sciences at the Central University of Ecuador and He is currently studying a master’s program in Biodiversity and Climate Change at the Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica. Luis has led research projects for several national and international organizations including the Ministry of the Environment. Luis is an author and coauthor of several articles in scientific journals. His interest focuses on community-based conservation and understanding the ecology of Neotropical bird species.

Woman standing in front of jungle

Karla Zambrano

Station Manager

Karla has been an active FCAT member since 2021. She played an integral role in various ongoing biological research projects before becoming FCATs station manager. With an Environmental Engineering degree, Karla’s professional career has focused on environmental conservation, with roots in the Mache Chindul reserve in Esmeraldas, Ecuador, where she grew up. Her dedication to environmental protection and desire to continue learning about biology and conservation motivate Karla to contribute her expertise to the real-world impact projects ongoing at FCAT.

Man holding a bird

Fernando Castillo

Director of Sustainable Agriculture

A Mache-Chindul native, Fernando holds a degree in Environmental Engineering from the Escuela Superior Politécnica de Manabí. Fernando is an expert ornithologist with over ten years years of experience studying avian populations across Ecuador. He is currently leading projects to document avian diversity and promote conservation in local communities. He has promoted his research through the publication of peer-reviewed scientific studies, as well as presentations at international scientific meetings.

Man hiking in the jungle giving thumbs up

Carlos Aulestia

Director of Reforestation

Carlos has a degree in Forestry Engineering from Universidad Técnica del Norte, Ecuador. He is an expert in botany and has reforested hundreds of hectares in the Mache Chindul Reserve. Carlos leads our field operations and heads our reforestation work. He is a well-respected local leader with over two decades experience in our project area.

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Ailín Blasco

Director of Operations

Ailín Blasco is an Ecuadorian biologist and photographer who has worked in various research areas with the objective of doing, hand in hand with sustainability, environmental conservation in Ecuador. She has two master degrees, one in Photography from the SVA-NY, and the second one in Climate change, Sustainability and Development from the UASB Ecuador. As a biologist, she has worked on projects related to Neotropical frog diversity and to discover novel antimicrobial molecules isolated from anurans. At the same time, she is interested in studying the relation of human health, landscape use and climate change.

Man standing in front of jungle

Jordan Cruz

Program Manager

Jordan is an environmental engineer from Escuela Politécnica Nacional and a tropical ecologist from Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Additionally, Jordan completed a diploma at the University of Wuhan in remote sensing. Their experience revolves around promoting conservation programs that prioritize both communities and the protection of ecosystem services. Their areas of interest include utilizing technology to study carbon dynamics in tropical ecosystems and exploring the relationship between conservation efforts and local communities in the fight against climate change.

TIERA Faculty

Specific instructors vary by course.

Dr. Jordan Karubian


Jordan Karubian is a Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University and a founding member of FCAT . After completing his doctoral work at University of Chicago, Jordan lived in Ecuador for five years working with locals to develop FCAT’s award-winning community-engaged research and conservation programs. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and led many field courses to FCAT and points beyond. His work has been recognized and supported by the Fulbright Fellowship Program; ‘Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty’; and the ‘Excellence in Tropical Biology and Conservation Award’ from the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, among others. Jordan says “teaching TIERA field courses is a high point of the year for me! I love working with FCAT team members and other leading researchers to provide knowledge, technical skills, and life-changing experiences to students. We are helping to train and empower the next generation of environmental leaders- what could be more important than that?”

Dr. Renata Ribeiro

Professor of the Practice

I am a Senior Professor of the Practice in the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department at Tulane. I have conducted ecological research in several amazing places, including the Atlantic rainforest and Cerrado ecosystems of my native Brazil, in the Amazon and Chocó rainforests of Ecuador, and in the city of New Orleans, which resulted in 35+ publications. These experiences have given me invaluable perspective about the adaptations of organisms living in very different environments, but also about the humans occupying these diverse spaces. I will be forever indebted to the many teachers and mentors, from high school all the way to graduate school, who inspired me to travel, seek adventure, and pursue my intellectual interests, and I aspire to be like one of those to my own students. I have been involved with FCAT since 2009 as a researcher, instructor, and ally. At Tulane, courses that I teach include Diversity of Life, Theory & Methods in EEB, Vertebrate Biology, Tropical Biology, Diversity of Animal Behavior, and Humans & Environmental Change. See you in Ecuador! 

Dr. Donata Henry

Senior Professor of Practice

I am a Senior Professor of Practice in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University. As a junior in college I went on a Brazilian Ecosystems study abroad program that opened up my world, personally and academically. I’m excited that FCAT offers an equally amazing experience to students today, and that I can participate! I have been interested in tropical forests and their bird communities since that first college adventure and so began a lifetime of studying avian ecology from the Yukon to Brazil to West Africa. I’m looking forward to continuing these questions with you, in Ecuador. At Tulane my courses include Diversity of Life, Theory and Methods, the General Ecology lab, Natural History of Louisiana, Ornithology, and field courses in the Grand Canyon and Scandinavia, and graduate courses in pedagogy. I also started the Girls in STEM at Tulane program. At any given moment I am happiest outside, in nature, with my students, my family, and/or my dogs.

Dr. Sunshine Van Bael

Associate Professor

Sunshine Van Bael has been doing research in tropical forests since 1997, when she started as an undergraduate field assistant. She was hooked on tropical forests right from the start! Her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana landed her in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where she has been doing research since 1999. She studies plant-fungal interactions, with a dash of insects and bacteria every now and then. She loves teaching undergraduates about the wonders of the tropical world and appreciates the community-based research approach at FCAT. Her friendships and memories at FCAT are precious to her, and she hopes to be involved in the TIERA program for many years to come.

Toucan sitting in a tree

Dr. Nicole Katin

Senior Professor of Practice

Bio coming soon!

Dr. Tiago Fernandes

Postdoctoral Researcher

Tiago is a Brazilian ecologist committed to studying the contributions of insects, especially ants, to ecosystem processes. He also seeks to understand the impact of human activities on these vital processes. Tiago is passionate about discussing ants and sharing his love for the beautiful world of ecology.

Toucan sitting in a tree

Dr. Rosa Isabel Soria Penafiel

Postdoctoral Fellow

Bio coming soon!


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Dr. Jordan Karubian

Program Director

Jordan lived full-time in Ecuador for five years, forming the relationships with local residents that make TIERA so special. He has authored 100 peer-reviewed publications on tropical ecology and won numerous awards for excellence in conservation and community engagement.

Liat Perlin, MA

Program Coordinator

Liat completed both her undergraduate and Masters degrees at Tulane. She has conducted sociological research in Ecuador and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. She has extensive experience in experiential international learning and community engaged research projects in Latin America.

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Woman looking at camera

Megan Narasimhan, MS

Program Manager

Megan has worked with Dr. Karubian and students traveling to Ecuador in some capacity for the past 5 years. Megan manages operations, logistics, and accounting for the TIERA Program. She holds a MS in Environmental Studies from Antioch University of New England.