Meet the WisCorps Staff
Matthew Brantner is the Executive Director of WisCorps and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He got his start in conservation corps programs as a Crew Leader and eventual Program Manager for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps in 2005. In 2009, after four years with the corps in Vermont, he worked with a small group of dedicated individuals to bring a conservation corps back to Wisconsin by founding WisCorps.
In addition to loving his role at WisCorps, Matthew is an avid outdoors person who loves camping, hiking, fishing, kayaking, and cycling. He enjoys spending time with his wife and three daughters on their small farm where they garden and care for the land.
Director of Administration
Emily grew up camping with her family all over Wisconsin, which sparked a lifelong love of the outdoors. She moved to La Crosse in 2009 to attend UW-La Crosse and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Environmental Studies. After college, Emily did an SCA AmeriCorps Internship with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge. Then, Emily spent two summers working as a ranger for the U.S. National Park Service in Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. Her love for the Driftless region brought her back to La Crosse. She loves exploring with her husband and kiddos, Colton, Will, and Charlotte. She enjoys hiking, camping, playing guitar, crafting, baking, and musicals.
Chad has been working with WisCorps since 2013. The projects and people are what inspire him in his role as Operations Manager. After graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in
Landscape Architecture and Horticulture, Chad began a professional life of work and travel with
stops in the South Pacific, Rocky Mountains and Chesapeake Bay. Returning to Wisconsin to weave the experiences in land management, outdoor education and conservation, he found some roots in La Crosse with WisCorps. Chad enjoys all things outside and hopes the projects our crews complete influence others to do the same.
AmeriCorps member, Ashley Nowak, grew up in rural central Wisconsin surrounded by forest and the Wisconsin River. She had a privileged upbringing in the sense that she was able to don mud-boots and tromp around her backyard before her mother was yelling for supper at the door or her grandfather was swinging by with fishing poles for them to go sit on the culvert at the nearby creek. Her interest in the outdoors, but her desire for change brought her to La Crosse for college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where she explored many interests. This included a summer internship in the Caribbean studying coral and parasites in fish, a summer spent working on a pre-Native American dig-site, and a volunteer opportunity with the Brice Prairie Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Onalaska, WI. After exploring all of these opportunities she graduated with a Bachelors in Biology and Archaeology with a minor in Environmental Studies. Following graduation, she decided to pursue another avenue of working with the environment—a Roving Crew with WisCorps. It was such an amazing experience that she returned to lead a summer Mayor’s Crew, followed by her current Naturalist Corps position where she teaches environmental education. Some of her hobbies outside of work include hammocking, SCUBA diving, kayaking, reading, and art!
Director of Development
Deb Ward is the Director of Development for WisCorps. Deb graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and from Saint Mary’s University in Winona with a Master’s degree in philanthropy and development. She has held a variety of positions in the nonprofit sector and has experience with donor solicitation and stewardship, grants, special events, annual appeals, and capital campaigns. Deb has her Certified Fund Raising Executive designation from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Originally from Pennsylvania Dutch country, Deb moved to Minnesota in 2006 and now calls Winona home. She loves to travel and has been to 42 states, Guam, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy, Iceland, and her personal favorite, Greece.
Deb is a published author and writes and journals or just carries stories around in her head! She loves cats and shares her home in Winona with Tanda, an affectionate and beautiful Calico she adopted from the Humane Society. In her spare time, she loves reading novels and bestsellers, making pottery, gardening, walking, going to museums, volunteering in the community, taking photos and hanging out with artists and friends.
Her goal at WisCorps is to provide donors with opportunities to support the mission through philanthropic gifts.
Director of Marketing
Conservation Program Manager, Andrea Frisch, calls the La Crosse community home for almost 10 years. Andrea grew up in the “Northwoods,” regularly recreating with her family in Wisconsin’s state parks and national forests. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Therapeutic Recreation and a Master’s degree in Recreation Management both from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Andrea is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and bases her practice in the community. She is dedicated to creating greater access to nature and connecting conservation corps members to opportunities in the conservation movement. When she is not at WisCorps, Andrea enjoys practicing yoga; birding, hiking, skiing, and camping with her partner, Ryan and his service dog Wally.
Visitor Services Coordinator
Amber Bydynkowski fell in love with nature as a young girl in the rural backwoods of central Wisconsin. She never missed a day of adventures outside with her older brother, Nick and childhood dog, Bo. Amber went on to graduate from UW-LaCrosse with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology: Pre-Veterinary Science and Environmental Studies. During the summer of 2016, Amber joined a WisCorps conservation crew and has since moved onto a position in the Environmental Education department. In her free time, Amber enjoys hiking, kayaking and camping, but most of all, spending any time she can outside with her dog, Nala.
Director of the Myrick Park Center
Tammy Schmitz received her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from UW-La Crosse in 2009, beginning her career in non-profit youth development. She has served as a Disability Support Specialist at Catholic Charities and District Executive, Senior District Executive, and District Director at the Gateway Area Council, Boy Scouts of America. Tammy became acquainted with the WisCorps mission while the WisCorps Office neighbored the Boy Scout Office on Quarry Road. After years of enthusiastically watching the organization grow, Tammy excitedly joined the WisCorps team in September 2016 as the Facility and Events Coordinator.
Tammy grew up on French Island resides there once again with her partner Jon and their dog Joplin. She enjoys traveling, spending time outside, perpetual pursuit of learning, and being involved in the community.
Environmental Education Manager
Known as WisCorps’ Nature Teacher and token Canadian, Stephanie has been an educator in an informal setting in the La Crosse Area for 21 years. Stephanie’s constant connection to nature ever since she played with and likely ate June bugs in her sandbox at a very young age, has helped shape her role as an environmental/nature educator. She enjoys walking and hiking with Astro, her precocious poodle, as well as cycling, yoga, reading, and just being outdoors as much as possible.
Stephanie earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan and worked as an elementary and middle school teacher for 9 years before moving to the Driftless Area. She loves to learn and to teach others about what she knows. Stephanie is also an avid film fan and dreams of the day when she can join some of her favorite famous biologists in the great outdoors to film some amazing interactions with nature’s creatures.
At an early age, AmeriCorps member, Shannon Columb, fell in love with the natural world. She spent most of her childhood playing in the woods that surrounded her family’s small dairy farm near Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. This connection with nature led Shannon to pursue a career educating others about the wonders of nature. After graduating in May 2020 with her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Education/Interpretation and a certificate in Environmental Ethics from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Shannon moved to La Crosse and eagerly accepted a position at WisCorps as a AmeriCorps Naturalist. In her free time, Shannon loves hiking, kayaking, traveling, reading books, hammocking, journaling, and fishing.