Our team

Meet the Earth Team Staff

Manuel Alonso

Executive director

Born in Spain, Manuel is an anthropologist and archaeologist interested in the protection of cultural and biological diversity. He has been working with environmental non-profit organizations for more than 25 years in Europe, Central, and South America and the United States. Manuel has been with EarthTeam since 2013.

Little Known Fact: Manuel loves to hike in the wilderness with his two (or three!) big golden retrievers. He was the founder of the TUVA Foundation, (United Lands of Neighbors for the Environment) and acted as its Executive Director for 11 years, from 1990 to 2001. As a local nonprofit headquartered in the town of Puerto Jimenez, TUVA launched collaborative community-conservation initiatives in a highly conflictive area that in 1989 had the highest deforestation rate in the world, finally saving over 5 million trees in a 20,000-acre buffer zone around Corcovado National Park, in southern Costa Rica. TUVA’s pioneering “working landscapes” approach built a coalition of stakeholders including local residents, landowners, government agencies, eco-tourism operators, illegal loggers, gold miners, indigenous groups and a wide network of over 50 local, regional and international organizations. TUVA also played a key role in the Stone Container campaign in 1990, a transnational industrial forestry project that threatened the integrity of local forest ecosystems. In 1990 TUVA also started the Osa Sea Turtle Study, a community-based effort to protect several endangered species of sea turtles. TUVA’s story was featured in NPR’s Living on Earth Top Story in 198.

This 10- year effort resulted in groundbreaking agreements that successfully protected cultural and biological diversity in an extensive “working buffer zone” around Corcovado National Park, conserving landscapes and providing new economic alternatives to local residents, including the beginnings of the Smart Wood certification program to support sustainable local communities. According to National Geographic, Corcovado National Park’s 150,000 acres contains the richest rainforests in the world and is the “most biologically intense place on Earth”. Today, TUVA’s legacy continues and has expanded under the management of a new organization, Osa Conservation, that took over operations in 2005.

Joelle Alley

Program Director

Joelle graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. She focused her studies on environmental policy, primarily in relation to agriculture and water resource management. While living in Santa Barbara, Joelle worked as an outdoor educator at a local sustainable agriculture nonprofit called Fairview Gardens. She also worked as the regional intern at the Ventura, CA office of California Trout. During her last year as a student, Joelle spent the majority of her time researching for and writing her thesis about the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in California. Joelle hopes to use her background as an educator and her passion for community engagement in environmental issues to make a difference in her childhood home, the wonderful East Bay.

Itzel Gomez

Program Manager

Itzel graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in Environmental Engineering. In college, she developed an interest for topics in hydrology and water resources as well as environmental justice issues related to water quality and conservation. During her time as a student she served as Outreach Chair for the UCSD Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) where she was able to foster her passion for encouraging youth of color to pursue careers in STEM fields. Itzel was born and raised in San Pablo, CA and knows the East Bay to be her home. She is excited to be joining Earth Team this year and have the opportunity to work with young leaders of the next generation to give back to the communities she grew up in. She recognizes the severity of climate change effects within underrepresented communities, both locally and globally, and is passionate about educating others towards implementing more sustainable practices in their daily lives.

Ben McLaughlin

Program Manager

Ben has been interested in environmental justice since he was young when he became involved with the efforts to restore the Los Angeles River to its natural state. He studied Environmental Policy and Geography at UC Berkeley with a minor in Forestry. He is fascinated by the intersection of the natural world and our society and how the two can work in tandem to benefit both.

He has worked with food justice and access organizations like the Berkeley Student Food Collective, where he helped teach and inspire the Berkeley community to eat healthily and understand where their food comes from. He has also worked in residential energy efficiency at Build It Green, where he planned and coordinated trainings for contractors and architects to teach them how to build and design energy efficient building. He is committed to reducing the environmental impact of our society in practical ways.

Manuel Smythe

Systems administrator

Manuel joined Earth Team in 2017 as Logistics Coordinator and in 2019 he was promoted to Information Technology Manager, in charge of hardware and software.  He manages our Salesforce system, Form Assembly forms, maintains the Drupal webpage and handles our office network and servers. 

He coordinates the internship registration and Outdoor explorers trip reservation systems, and helps managing student transportation to our outdoor weekly and weekend events.

Manuel is part of the Bay Area Green Corps, helping The Watershed Project with local green infrastructure projects.  Before joining Earth Team he was running his own business, and prior to that he worked with Dobl, a software technology company and with La Peña Cultural Center as a tech assistant to Oscar Autie (Warm Audio), a top sound engineer and Latin Grammy winner.

Meaghan Gavagan

Campus coordinator

Meaghan has always had a passion for the environment and making a difference, whether it is at a community, education or government level. She recently graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Recreational Administration and a minor in Sustainability. During her last year at SDSU she worked at different non-profit organizations that helped promote sustainability in a variety of ways, from working on urban forest restoration projects to teaching K-8th graders about water conservation. Through these different programs, Meaghan realized the importance of educating people about sustainability and environmental science. As a Bay Area native herself, Meaghan is very excited to work with Earth Team and the Bay Area community, while working on environmental/climate projects and education with interns!

Jenna Topper


Jenna graduated from Sonoma State majoring in Environmental Studies with an emphasis on conservation and restoration with a minor in Biology. She has been interested in wildlife from a young age and has worked along side a variety of animal rehabilitation and protection agencies. Throughout college her love for wildlife uncovered deeper intrinsic values she holds for nature and all it has to offer. She is inspired to use her background and experiences to promote environmental awareness throughout the community and to provide opportunities for youth to engage in environmental pursuits and sustainable actions.

Charlie Chesney


Charlie is a current UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies PhD student studying new forms of renewable energy. She was an Earth Team associate for the 2019-2020 school year and is now a consultant. She helps with biodiversity conservation curriculum, exploring new environmental technologies and research with the ECLIPSE project.