NBC has a small, but capable staff that works collaboratively with our volunteers, our Board of Directors and our partners at the Bay.
Heather Cieslak – Operations Director
Heather Cieslak grew up in Illinois and moved to California after graduating from Northern Illinois University with a BA in Marketing. Previously, Heather was the Finance and Operations Manager with Amigos de los Rios, a nonprofit committed to protecting and restoring open space in urban environments, specifically in East LA County. Prior to that, Heather spent a number of years as Associate Director with National Assistance League, responsible for marketing, fundraising and administration to support their 125 chapters nationwide. Also while at NAL, she pursued her MPA in Nonprofit Organizational Management from California State University Northridge. As Operations Director, Heather ensures our programs and activities are part of an overall annual plan and supporting budget, that they are well-managed, and that we are actively marketing and communicating our mission and activities to our community.
Carissa Macias – Education Programs Manager
Originally from Ventura County, Carissa grew up with a passion for the outdoors and spent much time hiking and camping with her family as she still does today. Coming from a very environmentally minded family, Carissa was a part of school clubs like the “Kids Save the Earth Club” and the “Ecology Club” in elementary school which had a profound effect on how she viewed the environment and the importance of protecting wildlife and conserving natural resources. She attended Cal State Long Beach to graduate with her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology. After graduating, Carissa went on to work for the California State Parks in Malibu and Carpinteria as a Park’s Interpretive Specialist designing and leading Junior Ranger programs, nature walks, campfire programs, tide pool tours and special events. After relocating back to Long Beach in 2011, Carissa used her education and background to provide programs to Newport Landing Whale Watching and most recently for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. Carissa, as Programs Coordinator, brings with her a diverse background in scientific and outdoor programming to coordinate our educational programs.
Alys Arenas – Restoration Manager
Originally from Southern California, Alys Arenas is an environmental scientist by training with a background in conservation biology and ecological restoration and monitoring. She has experience in environmental stewardship, project and program management, native plant propagation, rare plant monitoring, working with endangered species, non-native species removal, and utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for conservation. Alys aims to facilitate conservation and ecological restoration using scientific research to bridge the gap between scientists, the community and stakeholders. Her devotion to protect estuarine, Coastal sage scrub and riparian ecosystems was fostered in academics while dipping her toes in numerous wetlands and environmental nonprofits in southern California throughout her career. Alys joined the Newport Bay Conservancy in 2020 to continue her passion to conserve, protect and advocate for native habitats and open space in southern California. As the Conservancy’s Restoration Manager, Alys is excited to continue planning and implementing restoration projects around the Bay, monitor and control non-native invasive species and assist in facilitating partnerships between the City, County and State entities. Alys holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science & Policy and a Master of Science in Geographic Information Science (MSGISci) from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
Hilary Cunningham – Assistant Coordinator
Hilary Cunningham spent many childhood afternoons sitting in her parents’ avocado tree. Her love of nature was later reinforced on family vacations to botanical gardens and on school trips to AstroCamp, Catalina Island, and Olympic National Park. Inspired by these experiences and by her high school biology teacher, she went on to study Plant Biology at UC Irvine. But she was always fascinated by many other subjects too and ended up staying at UCI for a decade to obtain a B.S. in Plant Biology, a B.F.A. in Dance Performance, a B.A. in Anthropology, a minor in Linguistics, and an M.A. in Cognitive Science. Since 2014, she has been fulfilling her passion for live theatre as part of the front of house staff at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts where she is currently an Assistant Performance Manager and a Head Usher. Her desire to get back into nature brought her to Newport Bay Conservancy. As Assistant Coordinator, she is excited to work with the volunteers and support the other staff members in NBC’s mission to preserve, protect, and educate the public about the Upper Newport Bay.
David Banuelas – Restoration Intern
Born and raised in Southern California, David formed a close connection with the outdoors at an early age, influencing him to pursue environmental science at Whittier College. After receiving his BA, he worked for the Bureau of Land Management conducting large-scale restoration projects. While pursuing his master’s degree in Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, David was the inaugural Farm to School Coordinator for the Upland Unified School District. Currently, David is a doctoral student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at UC Irvine. He is poised to translate his research into novel management strategies to control invasive plants species in the Upper Newport Bay and beyond.
Brittney Dantuono – Restoration Intern
A born and raised native of southern California, Brittney has always been fascinated by the local plants and wildlife around her. She made the decision to pursue the field of biology after working as an Intern at an environmental learning center during high school. She graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology and went on to do field work with the Santa Ana Watershed Association. She has also worked in the natural resources department of California State Parks where she gained experience with habitat restoration and plant propagation. Brittney is very excited to bring her passion and experience with conservation and restoration to the Newport Bay Conservancy as a Restoration Intern, as well as expand her knowledge of the Newport Back Bay.
Jennifer Sirena – Community Day Program Administrator
As an Orange County native, Jennifer’s understanding of human and environmental interactions began when she pursued her Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and Geography at California State University, Fullerton. From there, she recognized the importance of conserving the Upper Newport Bay and educating the public about its diverse flora and fauna. First volunteering at the Bay doing community outreach at the Newport Beach’s Green on the Green Eco Expo and Coastal Cleanup Day, she was drawn to interacting with our community. Most importantly, her mission is to inform the public about Upper Newport Bay’s recreational, scenic, and natural habitat values. Jennifer’s work experience also includes being a part of the Community Services departments in the cities of Buena Park and Westminster. Lastly, she hopes to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of La Verne in 2020. Since July 2018, she has served hosted Community Day at the Back Bay Science Center monitoring touch tanks, facilitating the teaching lab, and educating visitors about marine life in local tide pools every Sunday.