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Rob Thomas, Ph.D.

How to Inspire a Passion for Learning

Dr. Rob Thomas is a Regents Professor of Geology at the University of Montana Western. He is a Carnegie/CASE U.S. Professor (2009), Montana Educator of the Year (2013), Montana Regents Teaching Scholar (2019), and Fellow of the Geological Society of America, “an honor bestowed upon the best of the profession.” He authored or co-authored over 75 professional publications, including the books, Roadside Geology of Yellowstone Country, and Roadside Geology of Montana, which received the High Plains Book Award in 2021. His personal passions include family, teaching Sherpa mountain guides in Nepal, and playing guitar around a campfire.

Jarred Kvamme, MS

Disentangling the Genome with Artificial Intelligence

Jarred Kvamme is a University of Montana Western alumnus, having earned bachelor’s degrees in Integrative Biology and Mathematics in 2018 and 2019. Kvamme furthered his education at the University of Idaho, obtaining a Master’s in Statistical Science. Currently Kvamme is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Audrey Fu’s lab at the University of Idaho where his research focuses on the study of gene regulation through causal network inference and deep learning.

Marybeth Wilson PT, DPT

Why Pain is All in Your Head

Dr. Marybeth Wilson graduated from the University of Missouri in 2011 with her clinical doctorate of physical therapy and has been working in patient care since that time. In 2015 she became a board certified orthopedic specialist and in 2018 she completed a graduate certificate in chronic pain studies from McGill University. She currently lives and works in Dillon, Montana where she treats patients across the lifespan including those living with acute and chronic pain.

Diana Pallin, MD

Obesity Medicine is the Science of Hope 

Dr. Diana Pallin is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Obesity Medicine and has been practicing Obesity medicine since 2013. She is a member of the Obesity Medicine Association and founder of New Start Medical, a metabolic practice that offers comprehensive weight management programs 

She is passionate about offering her patients the tools needed to be successful in their weight management journey in a medically supervised setting. Management of cardio-metabolic conditions is an important part of her practice. Becoming an obesity medicine specialist allowed her to help patients improve their health and quality of life, lose weight safely and prevent developing chronic, metabolic conditions.

Kyra Wood, OTD

Montana Female Veterans: Cultural Considerations

Dr. Kyra Wood recently graduated from Rocky Mountain College with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She was raised in Dillon, MT as a Beaver and soon became a Bulldog. After Western, she went to Idaho State University to finish a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree. She then began her graduate career in Occupational Therapy. Wood’s time at Rocky helped her develop her passion for working with veterans and military service members through occupational therapy and research. Her favorite occupations are dirt biking and spending time with family. 

Sophia Etier, MA

Lost Montana: The Path from Remembrance to Inclusive Heritage

Sophia Etier is a Public Historian, graduating from the University of Montana (’20) as well as Southern New Hampshire University (’23), with a focus area in local Montana History as well as the American West. Etier specializes in research focusing on Western red light districts and the development of minority communities in the Western Montana region. In September 2023, Sophia presented her research “Forgotten Souls: The Lost Voices of Western Montana’s Restricted Districts” at the Montana History Conference. She also is a lead guide for the Unseen Missoula heritage tour program, curating and managing the ‘Carnal Enterprises’ restricted district tour.

Callie Triller, MEd & Melissa Winger, MMFT

Building Your Own Village: The Story of the Early Childhood Coalition of Beaverhead County

Callie Triller is a co-founder of The Early Childhood Coalition of Beaverhead County. She is deeply passionate about building community and connections between families to make sure that all families have what they need to thrive. Trained as a school counselor, Triller still draws on many of her skills for problem-solving and systems change work.  Triller and her family are actively involved in their local Presbyterian church, where her husband serves as the Pastor.  Triller can often be found with a cup of coffee in her hand as she tries to keep up with her two young sons.

Melissa Winger is a co-founder of The Early Childhood Coalition of Beaverhead County. Trained as a Marriage and Family Therapist, she has dedicated her career to nurturing secure connections within families. Winger’s work focuses on healing intergenerational patterns of trauma and disconnection, providing families with the tools to foster healthy, loving relationships. Her journey is deeply rooted in her own experiences as a mother, as she balances the responsibilities of raising her three children, all under the age of five, with her professional pursuits.

Nathaniel Freeman, MFA

“What’s Up with That Kid?” Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

Nathaniel H. Freeman is an artist, designer, and educator based out of Dillon, MT. His art and design work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, NPR, I.D. Magazine, and Matter Magazine, among others. He is presently the Director of the Center for Experiential Education at the University of Montana Western.

Personal Website:

Erik Guzik, Ph.D.

What does it mean for AI to be creative?

Dr. Erik Guzik is the Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Montana. His research centers on entrepreneurship, the economic microfoundations of creativity, and conditions supporting regional and national innovation. For his research into the impact of creative problem solving on student skill development, Guzik received the Creative Oklahoma Great Inspirations Award, the Oklahoma Journal Record’s Creativity Award, and Hewlett Packard’s Catalyst Award. His latest research into the creative abilities of Generative Artificial Intelligence has been featured on CNBC, Fortune, Der Spiegel, and hundreds of additional media outlets around the world. Guzik is the founder of VAST: Next Generation Learning, PatientOne, and the non-profit Virtual Problem Solving Program.

Spruce Schoenemann, Ph.D.

What will the future climate be like for our kids? 

Dr. Spruce Schoenemann is a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Montana Western. With his background in geochemistry and climate science research, he seeks to understand the past climate to provide context for the climate changes of today and the future. He does this by utilizing environmental archives of climate like ice cores, lake sediments, glacier deposits, and tree rings. Schoenemann has a strong personal interest in boldly addressing the climate crisis through education and outreach, resource management, renewable energy, and sustainability. He is passionate about protecting our winters and wilderness and securing a livable climate for future generations.   

Personal Webpage:

Amber Jordan, MS

How Food and Body Shame Weaken Our Workplace Potential

Amber Jordan believes her role as a healthcare leader is to “take care of the people who take care of the people.” She is a Community Health Center executive and a coach for rising healthcare leaders. Jordan grew up in rural Alaska, then traveled the world as an internationally competitive athlete after college. She became a healthcare leader after her athletic retirement. Amber now uses lessons learned from elite sports and her own health challenges to help managers become leaders, and to build healthy workplace cultures where people can do their best work every day.

Aleisha Shirley PT, DPT

Solid in the Saddle: How science can make you a better horseback rider

Dr. Aleisha Shirley is a Physical Therapist, college professor, horseback riding biomechanics researcher, and lifetime horseback rider. She works at the University of Montana Western where she teaches in the Health and Human Performance department.  

Dr. Shirley developed a clinical interest in strengthening for horseback riders after breaking her back in a horse accident. After rehabilitating herself she returned to competing at a high level and continues to compete to this day. Her work and online courses are focused on helping riders improve their riding confidence, balance, and stability. 

Personal website:

Dev Seacrest, Ph.D.

Letting Everyone Play: Supporting All Learners in Math and in Life

Dr. Dev Seacrest (he/him) is a transmasculine professor at the University of Montana Western. He strives to share the joy of mathematics with those who grew up believing that a good mathematician is someone who completes 100 multiplication problems in the allotted time.

After earning his bachelor’s in math from Harvey Mudd College and his master’s in math and Ph.D. in math education from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he began focusing on reaching students who have struggled in previous math classes. He encourages his students and his children to ask creative questions and to explore the world, mathematically and otherwise.

Nathan Boll, MS, MA

A Life Less Ordinary: Navigating Nontraditional Education

Nathan J. Boll is a Space Policy Analyst at NASA Headquarters, where he supports the Science Mission Directorate and the NAC Science Committee. He previously served as a Senior Space Policy Consultant to NOAA at the Aerospace Corporation. Prior to his Federal service, Boll was a Program Executive for AIAA and an Associate Program Officer for the National Academy of Sciences. He earned his B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Montana Western, his M.S. in Space Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan, and his M.A. in International Policy from George Washington University.


Katy Wright, MEd

Lowering the Case For Reading: A Sound Approach

Katy Wright is a National Board Certified Teacher and has a Master’s Degree in Montessori Education from St. Catherine University. Wright is a founding member of Improv Mining Company, co-produces an annual education-themed sketch comedy show, and is proud to have worked with Grandstreet Theatre, Helena Symphony, Helena Theatre Company, and Raven’s Feather over the years. Wright hopes to earn her doctorate in Educational Leadership and work in national public education policy in the near future. She thanks her husband, Scott, and all of their 6 kids.

Yasmin Arlette Acosta-Myers, MS

A Cultural Odyssey through Intercultural Experiential Education

Yasmin Arlette Acosta-Myers, rooted in Tecate, Mexico, and Dillon, Montana, blends her diverse cultural background. Navigating the Mexico-U.S. border, her Mexican heritage intertwines with American influences. Acosta-Myers’s commitment to global education springs from family dynamics, global travels, and rural Montana life. Holding a Master’s in Arts Administration and a Graduate Certificate in International Education, she actively advocates for workplace equity and global competence. With a versatile career in non-profit and for-profit sectors, Acosta-Myers excels in education, cultural administration, program management, and the arts. She is dedicated to fostering diverse and inclusive environments and is passionate about impactful education.

Instagram: @yasmin_arlette_art