Who We Are

Who We Are

The Institute at the Golden Gate champions sustainable development and environmental stewardship. Our mission is to drive action and change on the critical issues of our time. Leveraging our expertise and networks—especially those in parks and protected areas—the Institute acts as a catalyst and leader, incubating and implementing new ideas, policies and practices where it can have a clear impact. The Institute is a program of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy in partnership with the National Park Service.

Lori Bruton, Communications Specialist, has a background in marketing and PR and experience with local park agencies. Lori serves as Institute at the Golden Gate’s first point of contact for the public, partners and colleagues, as well as acting social media maven. Born and raised in Marin County, Lori loves exploring the region’s hidden gems in her spare time as well as attending Bay Area sporting events, traveling and DIY projects. She holds a degree in International Business and a minor in Spanish from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Catherine Carlton, Program Director at the Institute at the Golden Gate, comes to the Institute with interdisciplinary experience designing and implementing environmental programs for maximum social impact. She specializes in action-oriented strategic planning and partnership development. With the Institute, she is leading the development of our climate change, education, and urban work. Catherine holds a degree in History from Stanford University and a Master’s in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Donna Leong, Program Manager, has a background in health policy and governmental partnerships. She has worked in the Lt. Governor’s Office of Rhode Island to implement long term care policy using cross-sector engagement. She is working on the Healthy Parks, Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative to ensure continued success of the internationally renowned program. Donna holds degrees in Ethnic Studies, Political Science, and American Studies from Brown University.

Oksana Shcherba, Project Coordinator, has a background in public administration and policy, with an emphasis in environmental policy.  She has worked with local governments, including the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, as well as environmental advocacy groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund on initiatives ranging from outlining open space needs in underserved neighborhoods to promoting sustainable fishing practices. At the Institute, Oksana helps manage the Climate Change Education and Urban Programs. Oksana holds a Bachelor’s in Politics from the University of San Francisco and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

Chris Spence, Director of the Institute at the Golden Gate, has 20 years’ experience working internationally and in the United States on sustainable development, conservation, climate change, and health policy. He has held leadership positions at non-profits in New York, New Zealand and California. He has also served as a political advisor and is an award-winning writer. Chris is the author or co-author of several books, including Global Warming: Personal Solutions for a Healthy Planet (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Chris has served on a number of boards and advisory groups over the years, and is currently on the Board of Directors of the George Wright Society and a member of IUCN’s World Protected Areas Commission.

Kristin Wheeler, Associate Director at the Institute at the Golden Gate, has a background in environmental and social justice organizing and training. Kristin led the development of the Park Prescriptions pilot in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood in San Francisco and serves as the lead facilitator for the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative and the National Park Rx Initiative. Kristin serves on the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco and is a member of IUCN’s World Protected Areas Commission and the Healthy Parks Healthy People Global Task Force. Kristin holds degrees in Political Science, Geography, and Art History and calls San Francisco home.

Fellowship for Emerging Leaders

Sophia Choi, Urban Fellow at the Institute at Golden Gate, comes from New York as an urbanist and writer. She has a background in urban planning, architecture, and design with editorial experience in those fields. At the Institute, she is researching park planning and transformations and developing ways to turn information into stories with an impact. In her spare time, she loves riding her bike, going to museums, and making objects and furniture. Sophia holds a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from New York University. 

Rhianna Mendez, Health Fellow, has a background in public health prevention and environmental health. She has worked with non-profits in the nation’s capital striving to provide a healthy world for all. During her time at the Institute, Rhianna will document the successes of the Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative with the hopes of providing a resource for communities across the country to take advantage of. In her spare time she enjoys curating playlists, attending art exhibits, and searching for the perfect coffee shop. Rhianna holds a degree in Public Health from American University.


Graham Schnaars comes as a consultant to the Institute after years of experience working as a civil engineer and as a public policy advisor for numerous issues, including both environmental and conservation efforts. He enjoys working with a diverse team, finding common ground solutions that deliver efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective results. When he’s not poring over Venn Diagrams, Graham enjoys playing outdoors, getting his fair-skin sunburnt, finding himself lost in the woods, talking about training for triathlons, or spending a rainy afternoon whittling. He is currently assisting the Institute with their Interpretation and Education Business Plan.

Advisory Council

Mark Buell (Chair), Civic Leader, San Francisco

Suzanne Badenhoop, Civic Leader, San Francisco

Martha Ehmann Conte, Civic Leader, San Francisco

Randi Fisher, Pisces Foundation, San Francisco

Jessica Galloway, Civic Leader, San Francisco

John Gamble, Managing Partner, Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis, LLP, San Francisco

Patsy Ishiyama, Civic Leader, San Francisco

Jay Ku, Vice President, Partnerships, TakePart.com / Participant Media

Angeline Kung, Leadership Coach / Angel Investor / Entrepreneur, Astia Angels, San Francisco

Amy McCombs, Civic Leader, San Francisco

John McCosker, Chair of Aquatic Biology, California Academy of Sciences

Whitney Mortimer, Partner, Global Marketing Director, IDEO

Julie Parish, Landscape Designer, Liaison to the William Kent Society, San Francisco