Introducing New ELK Staff

Environmental Learning for Kids
4 min readMar 28, 2024

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New ELK Staff members from left: Emily Hertz, Program Manager; Kaartik Gupta, Education Coordinator; Franklin Cruz, Education Coordinator

As the flowers start to bloom and the seasons shift, so too does the vibrant landscape of our team here at ELK. With open hearts and arms, we are excited to welcome our newest team members! Each of them brings unique skills, perspectives, and enthusiasm. We are looking forward to seeing the fresh ideas and energy they bring to our collective efforts toward cultivating a diverse community of leaders and environmental stewards by increasing outdoor equity.

Emily Hertz, Program Manager

Emily grew up outdoors. She spent her childhood on the Iroquois River in Illinois, swinging on wild grape vines, collecting flax & clam shells, and walking barefoot across tilled dirt in the corn fields. After a circuitous journey involving a career in medicine, her outdoor roots eventually led her to work for the Tucson Bureau of Land Management field office. There she managed weeklong conservation projects with youth crews in the saguaro dotted backcountry; served as a para-archeologist documenting pit villages & petroglyphs; and performed ranger/GIS duties on the Ironwood Forest National Monument. After her stint in Arizona, she moved to the Pacific Northwest to attend graduate school at the University of Washington. Here she received her M.Ed. and a certification in Environment, Education and Community from IslandWood. She also discovered a year-around berry smorgasbord, slimy yellow witch’s butter, slugs, & salamanders, and the alien marine landscapes of king low tides. However, her inner lizard was very much in need of sun! Thus, in 2011, she moved to Colorado where she worked for a local environmental education and advocacy organization to inspire conservation action to protect birds and their habitats. Over the next 12 years, she worked in many capacities from coordinator to manager. Whether creating and teaching bird adaptations curriculum, creating naturalist trainings or organizing a tribal coalition, she has always brought her passion for people and protecting the environment together. And if she’s not helping others pursue their passions or connecting others to nature, she is adventuring on the trails: smelling ponderosa pines, cloud gazing, or riding bikes with her two spirited children.

Two truths and a lie about Emily:

I have herded sheep in New Zealand.

I have lived in three states.

I have flown a Cessna.

We could tell you the answer. But we’d rather you come and ask Emily yourself!

Kaartik Gupta

Kaartik grew up in Dallas, TX and studied Astrophysics at the University of Texas in Austin. His family wasn’t particularly outdoorsy, but he found his love for the outdoors in college through rock climbing and hiking around Austin’s green spaces. He spent the next years working in the outdoors industry as an educator, climbing guide, and photographer and finally found his calling in outdoor equity and accessibility. He strives to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone he works with and is constantly looking for new ways to expand his horizons. In his free time, Kaartik enjoys rock climbing, shooting photography, reading, and finding new coffee shops around town.

Fun fact about Kaartik:

Kaartik is currently leading ELK’s Spring Break trip in Buena Vista!

A lot of his facts are almost certainly fun though. Also fun fact: we should have reached out to him sooner for this blog.

Franklin Cruz

Hablo Español Franklin Cruz is a queer latin dancer, poet and environmental nerd born in Idaho, raised Texan and polished in Denver. Born from an immigrant family their work has placed them in science museums, as an emcee for dance & poetry competitions, conferences and environmental spaces. A Tedx Mile High performer and Nature of Cities residency his worked throughout the southwest, Peru, Puerto Rico for universities and environmental leadership camps. Their work encompasses self love, immigration, culture, conservation and more. Franklin always aims to address intersectional liberation, confronting our complicity to privilege and oppression and the lesson of specificity over simplicity.

Fun facts about Franklin:

Favorite dinosaurs in the following order: Ankylosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Diplodocus.

Born in Idaho, raised Texan, polished in Denver.

Would like to date a sunset.

Food favorites in this order: Ethiopian, Mexican, Indian cuisine.

To learn more about ELK’s unique staff, visit https://elkkids.org/about/staff/.

About Environmental Learning for Kids: Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is a local nonprofit that creates a sense of belonging, self-discovery, and adventure in the outdoors for underrepresented young people of color and their families, transforming youth into environmental stewards and trailblazers that promote equitable outdoor access, sustainable practices, and community uplift. Learn more at elkkkids.org.

About the Author: Lauren Keller is ELK’s Events & Marketing Coordinator. She was born and raised in Miami, Florida but has done meaningful work in Colorado since graduating from Colorado College with a BA in Environmental Studies in 2021. Lauren is passionate about harnessing visual media to share the wonder of the natural world with everyone. She is currently pursuing an MA in Biology with a focus on conservation communications. In her free time, you can find Lauren reading, playing games, cooking new foods, or searching for wild animals to photograph.

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Environmental Learning for Kids

Environmental Learning for Kids cultivates a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners.