Our Staff

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@newportbay.orgCieslak.Heather Portrait
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
carissa.macias@newportbay.org
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.

Hilary Cunningham – Volunteer Development Specialist
hilary.cunningham@newportbay.org
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. Her desire to get back into nature brought her to Newport Bay Conservancy. As Volunteer Development Specialist, she is excited to work with many volunteers to train and integrate them into any number of NBC’s programs to preserve, protect, and educate the public about the Upper Newport Bay.

Alys Arenas – Restoration Manager
alys.arenas@newportbay.org
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).

Matthew Gilstrap – Restoration Coordinator
matthew.gilstrap@newportbay.org
Growing up in Southern California, Matt spent his early years exploring the parks, wetlands, and beaches around the Los Angeles Basin and learning about the communities of plants and animals that live there, which he still enjoys doing to this day. Matt’s always had a passion for protecting and understanding nature, and to further pursue that passion, he has been a member of numerous organizations dedicated to the same cause, including Sierra Club, Algalita Marine Research Institute, and American Elasmobranch Society. Matt’s lifelong interest was taken to another level when he interned at Orange County Coastkeeper to partake in their MPA watch program, and also pursued a Biology B.S at the University of La Verne, where he partook in research projects concerning ecosystem health and the monitoring of restoration efforts in riparian, wetland, and coastal sites surrounding the San Gabriel and Santa Ana watersheds. At Newport Bay Conservancy, Matt aspires to put his passion for conserving and restoring ecosystems into fruition by mobilizing the surrounding community to understand, appreciate, and participate in Newport Bay Conservancy’s restoration projects, and by also using his experiences with field biology, environmental research, and horticulture to add to the framework of these restoration projects.

David Banuelas – Restoration Tech II
david.banuelas@newportbay.org
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.

Zachery Flores – Restoration Tech I
zachery.flores@newportbay.org
As an avid surfer and rock climber, Zac has a great appreciation for natural resources which drives his passion for conservation. Zac received his bachelors in Environmental Sciences from UC Riverside, where he worked in a research lab focusing on ecological restoration and post-fire monitoring. The projects he worked on involved measuring plant functional traits, native plant propagation, seed mix preparation, and surveying post-fire plant communities. He is currently analyzing data he collected to further understand the effect of fuel breaks on plant recovery post fire, in order to help the U.S. Forest Service make more informed management decisions. As part of the NBC restoration staff, Zac will be monitoring and removing invasive species, as well as restoring degraded areas. Specifically, Zac will help to eradicate desert knapweed and Algerian sea lavender populations through continued surveying, mapping, and manual removal, along with continuing restoration efforts in the Bayview Heights region of the bay.