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WEC Rangers

Jesse Chakrin

Director, UC Merced Wilderness Education Center
Director, Yosemite WildLink Bridge Program 













Jesse Chakrin is the director of the UC Merced Wilderness Education Center and the Yosemite WildLink Bridge program. During the last few years, Jesse also has been involved with national committees working to address the issues of leadership development, relevancy, and succession planning for the Park Service. He is currently working with a consortium of six universities that are developing graduate-level education to help the next generation of National Park leaders address the challenges of the 21st Century.

Jesse began his Park Service career in 1999 at Denali National Park working as a wilderness ranger. While there, he developed his ranger skills and fostered his love of parks and the great outdoors. In 2004, he moved to Yosemite National Park to continue his development as a wilderness ranger and pursue his newfound passion for rock climbing. He became involved in SAR and traditional tools operations and began assisting with educational endeavors. In 2006, Jesse developed, funded and implemented the Yosemite WildLink Bridge Program, and in 2007, he became the Wilderness Education Center’s first director.

During his years as a seasonal park ranger, Jesse spent many winters traveling and exploring the world. He has traveled extensively in Mexico, Central America, South America, Europe and Asia. His travels have helped broaden his worldview and foster a love of different cultures and people.

Jesse received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and a graduate certificate from the Leadership for Public Lands and Cultural Heritage Program.

Jessica Rivas

Lead Ranger at UC Merced Wilderness Education Center












Hi all! My name is Jessica Rivas, but I typically go by Jess. I'm a first-generation college student and a first-generation park ranger. I’m majoring in Cognitive Science with a minor in Anthropology. My introduction to and immersion in wilderness came in 2012 when I was hired to work as a ranger at the UCM Wilderness Center. Wild places have offered me a variety of things. I've seen the Milky Way for the first time and cried as I watched others experience it for their first time. I've walked through a living giant Sequoia and have had the opportunity to lead others through these marvels. I've backpacked, hiked, rock climbed, snowboarded, and so much more. The privilege to do these things was granted to me by the people who believed that I deserved them, and now I have the opportunity to pay this luxury forward. It is truly life changing to go to a place that has changed so much and yet so little and know that someone a long time ago cared enough about us to make sure we could experience it. At least that's how I feel when I'm leading a trip to the park or picking up some trash on the trail. For those that have never been to a park, and for those of you who visit when you can, I care about you. I want you to experience these places and feel the love and belonging that I've felt here. I hope, someday, you can. Come visit us at the WEC, I’d love to hear about your experiences in wild places and answer any questions you might have.


Robert Martin

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger











My name is Robert Martin and I grew up in Roseville, CA, a suburb of Sacramento. I found my love for the outdoors growing up through hiking trips with my family and learning about the environment in high school. Proximity to Yosemite was one of the biggest draws for me to UC Merced and here I am majoring in Mechanical Engineering and hoping to minor in Environmental Science and Sustainability. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do after I graduate, but I aim to pursue sustainable and green engineering.

What excites me about the Wilderness Education Center is connecting individuals to nature that might not have otherwise. Learning about and experiencing the awe and beauty of the natural world has had a tremendous impact on myself and I hope to share that with others. I'm so honored to work with the incredibly passionate staff here at the WEC and thrilled to see what impacts we will have on our campus as well as the Merced community. Stop by the desk if you ever want to chat about music, movies, rock climbing, vernal pools, disc golf, or ultimate frisbee!


Maya Nielsen

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger










A hunger for outdoor exploration has always been a part of who I am; when I was younger, as with many of us, I much preferred the quiet stillness of a forest to the towns and cities I grew up in--nature was where I could be myself. That desire to connect with nature stayed with me through high school, and in my eleventh year I took advantage of a high school program that, in addition to regular coursework, was designed to instill leadership skills in an outdoor setting. There I went on my first backpacking trips; I learned how to take care of blisters and perfect a s'mores dessert, learned what it felt like to crave watermelon and Ben & Jerry's after munching on endless handfuls of dry trail mix for eleven days, and discovered what it felt like to wake up before dawn and watch the sunrise over the mountain range.

By the end of high school, I knew that I needed to go to a college that was close to the mountains. I picked UC Merced for two main reasons: It's incredible Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) and its proximity to Yosemite National Park. In my first year of college I took part in YLP and was lucky enough to become a wilderness intern during the summer. Since then I have continued to work in Yosemite during the summers as a wilderness ranger, as well as working at the UC Merced Wilderness Education Center during the academic year. Working as a wilderness ranger has allowed me to live and work in the outdoors, to connect with visitors and students alike and to share my passion for the conservation of wild areas. I plan to continue working as a ranger beyond college. Hope to see you in Yosemite soon!



Mirella Gutierrez

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger











Confident, out-spoken, knowledgeable, and focused are all words I would not have used to describe myself before coming to UC Merced. The person I am today took three years, too many life changing moments to count, and one amazing program to be uncovered. My name is Ranger Mango, but most people know me as Mirella Gutierrez. Growing up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California, I never would have imagined myself at a school surrounded by almond trees and cows. I didn’t chose UC Merced, UC Merced chose me. And boy, I am glad it did.

I discovered a passion for conservation deep within myself I didn’t even know was there because of the Yosemite Leadership Program. When I joined YLP my second year, it sent me down a path to having career as a park ranger and environmental educator. Being a ranger at the Wilderness Education Center was like winning a free trip around the world. I hit the jackpot, and it has opened up a whole new world for me. I get to work for the National Park Service as a student, show people how amazing Yosemite is, and wear an awesome uniform while doing so. I fell in love with caring for nature and showing others how to do so. Yosemite gave me the space to grow and learn about myself and give back to the local community as well as a larger international community. I will be graduating in Spring 2017 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Earth Systems Science. I will be moving on from UC Merced feeling prepared for a new adventure with the flat billed ranger hat planted on my head.


Aurora Trejo

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger








Hello! My name is Aurora Trejo. I am a Wilderness Education Ranger for Yosemite National Park and I study Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Merced. As a college freshman, I could not have imagined saying that and it has only been a dream come true that I get to share Yosemite with you as a college student.

I am originally from Los Angeles, growing up with mostly sport and musical experiences and so I had limited and sparse exposure to wilderness until the start of college. It was through the Yosemite Leadership Program, where I was able to experience backpacking for the first time and meet inspirational mentors. With park visits and meeting many environmental stewards I realized I wanted to make larger contributions in protecting the environment and the life it sustained. This led me to apply for the Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship my sophomore year and work during the summer as Restoration and Ecological Restoration Intern. It gave me so much insight, experience, and confidence in how wild places are actively taken care of and that I wanted to continue to be part of the process.

Now as a Wilderness Education Ranger, I continue to advocate for protected natural lands by helping others see how their actions make a difference in ensuring we can enjoy nature and give back to the Yosemite Leadership Program that helped me find my greater purpose in life. My journey towards these experiences never would have been possibility without UC Merced and would not have believed that my journey would have brought me to these experiences. I am so privileged to be serving you all and can’t wait to see how you will experience Yosemite!

Andres Escalante

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger








Hi, I am Andres and I come from San Ysidro, CA. which is on the border between Mexico and the US. Coming into UC Merced I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself, what my interests were, and the question of who I was confused me. Not living on campus as a freshman limited my ability to find like-minded people that enjoyed being outside and exploring new places. Nonetheless, as soon as I heard of Yosemite National Park I knew I owed it to my inner child to experience Yosemite. Soon, I found myself going on trips through the Outdoor Experience Program almost every week, and on this particular trip up to a glacier in Inyo National Forrest, Ranger Maynard Medefind mentioned the Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP). I applied and went through the two-year program, then on the summer of my fourth year I was able to participate in the Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship and live in Yosemite National Park, which was truly a dream come true. Now as my fifth year comes to an end I will graduate with an Earth Systems Science degree, an extensive network of like-minded people who I admire deeply, and as a National Park Service ranger. My experience through UC Merced, YLP, and as a park ranger has allowed me to nurture my passion for outdoor education, the conservation of public lands, and environmental stewardship. I hope to continue working for the National Park Service and make my inner child proud. Come by the Wilderness Education Desk any time you feel your inner child hunger for adventure!


Rachel Krausert

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger









My name is Rachel Krausert, and I’m from Murrieta, which is a small city in Southern California. Growing up I didn’t have much of an opportunity to spend a lot of time in nature, and thus wasn’t very passionate about it. In high school, I participated in Varsity Speech and Debate and the school band and the closest I got to any outdoor adventures was when I went dirt biking with my family as a kid. In fact, I had never set foot inside National Park until my first year here at UC Merced when I joined the Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP). My involvement with this fantastic program actually led me to find the major I’m pursuing today, Biology with an Emphasis in Ecology and Evolutionary Sciences. I also helped me to discover my love for the mountains, through the Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship.

In the summer of 2016 I was lucky enough to be a wilderness intern and I consider it to easily be the best summer of my life. I climbed to the top of snowcapped mountains, rafted down swollen rivers, saw thundering waterfalls, and learned extraordinary things about my surroundings. I watched countless glorious sunrises and sunsets, and slept underneath the full moon and clear night sky. I also got into the best shape I’d ever been in my entire life, and even got a pretty nice tan to top it all off! These programs gave me opportunities I never dreamed of, and continue to do so. Because of these amazing experiences, I became a National Park Service ranger and get to work at the Wilderness Education Center at UC Merced, and have continued to partake in various outdoor recreational activities, striving to push myself and always try new things. Today, I love spending time in the outdoors whether it be hiking, rock climbing, or swimming. I would love to share these experiences, and the knowledge I’ve learned with you, so stop by the desk and say hello!


Lawrence Rush

UC Merced Wilderness Education Center Ranger

Hey, my name is Lawrence Rush, and I'm from Orange County, California. I grew up with a love of going to the beach and skating through my neighborhood with my friends. My mom helped to facilitate my love of the outdoors by taking me camping in the local state parks. She showed me how much fun there was to be had in a good hike and how much the outdoors can have a positive effect on life. As time went on, I got more involved in sports and exercise in general. I consistently played basketball and joined my high school team. All the while, I fell in love with playing many of the videogames that came out during this time and go quite good!

Moving to UC Merced, I was introduced to several life changing experiences. First of all, I had a whole different landscape to get used too, as the suburbs of Orange County a far cry from the plains of the central valley. Not only did this mean that I had to get used to all the cows, but I also had to find new ways to occupy my time. After adjusting to my new environment, I found the Yosemite Leadership Program and endeavored on a life changing journey. They showed me the wonder of Yosemite National Park helped me realize this was definitely something I wanted to be a part of. I luckily was accepted into their summer internship and lived in the park for 12 weeks. After this I was sold, and knew very well that I wanted the experience of being a ranger.

Ever since then, I have been balancing my studies as student and my work as a ranger. When I’m not studying, I make frequent trips to Yosemite to get all the nature I can. When I’m not on the job or hitting the books, you will probably find me using my PlayStation or relaxing with a good book. Regardless of the past or the present, I am always excited to see what life has in store for my future.


Yosemite Leadership Program