Staff and Volunteers
Sami Netherton, CWR
Sami has had a lifelong drive to better the lives of animals. This passion influenced her path through school where she received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Georgia in 2016. Knowing her work would involve helping animals in some way, but unsure of which direction was next, she began working with in wildlife rehabilitation, where she quickly resonated with the connection between rehabbing wild animals back to health and limiting the effects of human impact on the earth. She is also an educator for the Amphibian Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia teaching others about reptiles and amphibians. Her favorite course to teach through the Amphibian Foundation is a venomous snake handling course. While Sami rehabilitates all species native to Georgia, she has grown increasingly fascinated with snakes, especially venomous snakes, and strives to teach others how to peacefully coexist with these widely misunderstood animals. In Sami’s free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors, rock climbing, diving, and traveling while also making connections with other people.
CWR Assistant Director
Hannah has always had a passion for wildlife and wanting to better the world around her. She graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Biology. She began volunteering at AWARE Wildlife Center in Atlanta in 2021, where she fell in love with the wildlife rehabilitation field. Outside of school and volunteering, she loves spending time with her two children, her family’s two dogs, and ball python.
Jordan graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences. She has volunteered with numerous organizations around Atlanta including the Amphibian Foundation and Pippi’s Place Pet Rescue, but she found her passion for wildlife rehabilitation while volunteering with Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE). She joined the staff of AWARE in 2022 where she fulfills her dream of rescuing and protecting wild animals. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the outdoors and connecting with her friends.
Julianna is a lifelong animal lover and has always been passionate about wildlife conservation. She initially got involved in wildlife rehabilitation by starting a rehab internship at AWARE Wildlife Center in May 2022 and continues to volunteer there as an ambassador animal handler, caring for the center’s non-releasable ambassador animals. She currently works as a veterinary assistant and is studying to become a veterinary technician. Her goal is to eventually reach a career in wildlife rehabilitation, be able to educate people, and raise awareness about wildlife conservation. In her free time, Julianna enjoys birding, hiking, and spending time at home with her several beloved cats and tarantulas.
Continuing Education Coordinator
Marielle Kromis graduated in 2015 from Kennesaw State University, with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. In 2008, Marielle was a member of the Reef Check team, alongside 9 other students, with Ocean Blue Education. They analyzed various reefs throughout the Bahamas. Their goal was to assess and compare reefs inside the Exuma Land and Sea Park with other non-Marine Protected Areas off of Conception, Long Island and the Northern Exumas. Reef Check divers gained awareness of their own relationship to the sea while gathering pertinent information on coral cover, ﬁsh/invert populations, and site conditions. In 2014, Marielle started volunteering at AWARE and was hired as a Wildlife Caregiver the following year. At home, Marielle spends time with her Border Collie mix, Shanti.
Continuing Education Coordinator
In 2016, Julia Sparks earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and a B.A. in Economics from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She currently works as a Wildlife Care Supervisor for the Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. In addition to caring for wildlife native to the United States, Julia also spent several months volunteering for wildlife sanctuaries in both Ecuador and Bolivia working primarily with ocelots, Geoffrey’s cats and tapirs. In her position as Coordinator for Continuing Education, she hopes to diversify the regions and languages of CE offered in order to connect many more passionate rehabbers around the world.
Communications and Marketing Lead
Rowan started working with animals when she was growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. She attended Missouri State University where she studied Wildlife Biology and Fisheries Management. During her college career she volunteered with animal shelters, worked at a large cat sanctuary, and interned at a zoo. In 2021, she moved to Atlanta where she became a veterinary assistant and started volunteering at Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort. She was hired by AWARE as an Animal Care Technician in May of 2023. Outside of work she loves spending her off days hiking with her German Shepherd, Jasper.
Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Colleen Burley graduated from Atlanta College of Art with a BA in Fine Arts. Colleen continues her work as an artist as well as working as a set dresser in the film industry. Some of her works can be seen in shows such as The Walking Dead and Kevin Probably Saves the World. She is also known around Atlanta for her friendly, witty personality as a bartender in some of Atlanta’s favorite neighborhood bars for many years. Colleen has always had an overly passionate love towards animals. Wanting to learn and do more for wildlife, Colleen joined Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) as a volunteer on Valentine’s Day 2018. She currently volunteers as an animal care taker in addition to being on the inventory and maintenance teams at AWARE. In her free time, Colleen loves taking care of her 4 cats, continues to learn about wildlife, and inspires others to help make a difference.
Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Dayla Jackson graduated from Oglethorpe University with a B.A in Studio Art and a minor in Environmental Studies. Wanting to combine her passion for art and the environment, it led her to the Georgia Aquarium. During her time as an Environmental Educator, she discovered she wanted to focus directly with animal care. That’s what guided her to volunteer with Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort (AWARE) and eventually CWR as well. Currently she’s a graphics designer at a reform synagogue. In Dayla’s free time, she loves watching documentaries, being in nature and reading a good book with her pets.
Kenzie Sharpe Eliason
Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Kenzie attended the University of North Georgia where she graduated in 2017 with a BS in Biology/Pre-Veterinary Medicine. After graduating, she began working in veterinary clinics and hospitals, providing her with her first experiences with wildlife in a care setting. After moving to Athens with her now husband, the pandemic and a back injury led her to doing a remote internship with a Wildlife Park in Australia. This unique experience resulted in Kenzie spending the next few years doing remote internships at zoos, wildlife rescues, parks, and rehab centers all over the world! She was taught about nutrition planning, appropriate enclosures, observed necropsies and surgeries, analyzed trail cam footage, and her personal favorite, researching and designing enrichment that would then be implemented, reviewed, and revised. It didn’t take long for Kenzie to crave hand on experience as well. One summer night in 2021, while looking through old bookmarks saved from college, she found AWARE’s website. After a slightly pleading email to the center inquiring if there was any way to volunteer, despite the pandemic not allowing new volunteers, she was told they would be opening the internship program back up. After completing her internship, Kenzie continued on as a volunteer and is now also part of the nutrition and vet team! In her free time, Kenzie enjoys knitting, crocheting, learning anything and everything she can, with her dog Odie never leaving her side.
Shana is an avid wildlife and domestic animal lover, so it is no surprise that she obtained a B.S. in Fisheries & Wildlife in 2013. She studied Wildlife Biology at the University of Georgia where her eyes opened to the intricate web of wildlife & human interactions. This, along with countless volunteer hours in wildlife rehabilitation, made her realize that veterinary medicine was not the only way to help animals. She discovered that undergraduate research in life sciences could also offer her a career working with and studying animals. Shana has spent several years working in a variety of research areas, like developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and genetics. She is dedicated to mentoring students, not only in the field of study, but most importantly, promoting compassion and animal welfare in research. Animals that Shana has studied and cared for include the green and brown anole, zebrafish, three-spined stickleback, and house mice. Currently, Shana is a PhD Candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington working on her dissertation on gene expression regulation on sex chromosomes. Between her research and teaching responsibilities, she cares for her brown basilisk Garuda, her step-dog Rally, and honors her late tabby cats Jack and Rain.
Kelsey has always had a passion for nature and grew up in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. She graduated from Brigham Young University in 2017 with a B.S. in Conservation Biology. After marrying into the film industry, she found herself in Georgia with no Rockies nearby! She began her search for animal related work by volunteering at AWARE Wildlife Center in 2018 and has hung around as a volunteer ever since. Most days you can find her at her current veterinarian clinic where she works as a veterinarian assistant. Her goal will always be to advocate for the best animal health and care.
CWR Certification Review Board
Marjan Ghadrdan, MS, CWR
Marjan Ghadrdan has been a CWR since 2011 and received her B.S. in Biology from Kennesaw State University in 2009 and M.S. in Neuroscience at Georgia State University in 2015. Marjan has worked with native, domestic, exotic, and research animals in veterinary hospitals, zoos, and rehabilitation centers all over Georgia and currently serves as the Director of Animal Care at the AWARE Wildlife Center which accepts 1500-2000 wildlife patients per year. She became a part of the CRB board in 2012 and after serving 2 years as the board chair beginning in 2014 was promoted to the CWR Director in 2015 to help grow the CWR program and allow it to reach more rehabilitators across the world. Marjan is on track to become a licensed veterinary technician in 2019. At home, Marjan cares for her adorable pitbull, Little Mama, who is the love of her life.
Penny Elliston, CWR
Elizabeth Penn Elliston earned an MSc from Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health (now the Bloomberg School) in 1974. While working at JHSHPH, Penny had the opportunity to spend 2.5 years in India and several months in Chad studying the epidemiology of disease. After moving to New Mexico in the late 1970s, she became interested in wildlife rehabilitation and was active with a group of people founding Wildlife Rescue Inc. of New Mexico (WRINM) in Albuquerque (in 1981). Penny joined the IWRC in its fledgling years and was on the Board for ten yes (President for two). WRINM is an organization that uses both a central location and home rehabilitators as its all-volunteer staff. Penny’s particular interest is birds, and although specializes in hummingbirds and roadrunners, she rehabilitates raptors, songbirds and the range within the avian order. Penny campaigns for protection of habitat and the general health of the planet. Publications indicating more of her interests can be found at Research Gate and The Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation.
Lisa Tretiak, CWR
Lisa Tretiak started her career in wildlife rehabilitation in 1994 and is a founding member and President of the Prairie Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre . In 1998, Lisa graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree with a major in Zoology from the University of Manitoba. From years of experience working with raptors, and successfully completing a training course, Lisa became permitted as a Master Bander for rehabilitated raptors. In spring 2008, Lisa became the first Manitoban, and only the fourth person in Canada, to be a CWR.
Merle Stewart, CWR
Dr. Belinda Burwell, CWR
Dr. Belinda Burwell has practiced emergency medicine for 17 years. She founded the Valley Emergency Veterinary Hospital in 1998 and the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in 2000. She founded Wildlife Vet Care (WVC) in 2015. Dr. Burwell is a graduate of Duke University with a B.S. in Zoology, and received her Veterinary Medical Degree from Tufts University. She has been rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife since 1988 . She also serves on the Advisory Board of the Animal Rescue Fund, a Virginia Master Naturalist and Instructor.