Our Team

Aeon Bashir

Founder, Chief Krill

Aeon, the driving inspiration of our organization, founded Aeon for Ocean at the age of seven. His unprecedented passion for the ocean and its many ecosystems started when he was just two years old. He had showed profound love for the marine life displayed on his play mat, and he adored his stuffed dolphin and octopus. Instead of outgrowing this fascination with the sea, it grew with him. That fascination has since evolved into tremendous appreciation and respect, which he's used to impact not only the life of the ocean, but the lives of many people who depend on it.

Aeon understood from a young age that living far inland doesn't make you independent from the world's waters. Knowing this, he took every chance got to further explore his curiosity about the interconnectedness of life on Earth. He sought not only to learn just how much the ocean impacts people who don't live near it, but how those people impact the ocean in return.

This curiosity has taken him on multiple whale-watching tours, to beach clean-ups, and to marine conservation meetings. As his parents, we learned right along with Aeon, and we've remained truly amazed by life under the sea and how critical a role humans have in regards to its health. That said, we supported Aeon when he felt compelled to share his discoveries with family, friends, and peers. He's since been giving presentations at various schools about whales, dolphins, sharks, endangered marine species, and sustainable seafood. These presentations have become a critical component of Aeon for Ocean's mission.

Menaka Nagarajan

Executive Director

Menaka oversees the governance of Aeon for Ocean and is heavily involved in communication and outreach for our Krill2Whale program. She has been instrumental in connecting with marine biologists, scientists, and various schools and communities on the educational programs.

Growing up on the coast, she realized that she – like many of us – was unwittingly part of the problem, so she strongly believes it's time to give back and strives to be a part of the solution by raising awareness to protect the oceans. The knowledge she has gained over the last several years has left her amazed at how wonderful the ocean and its creatures are, as well as the importance of healthy marine ecosystems and the critical role humans play towards its conservatio.

She is a computer engineer and has been in various roles in IT industry. She has been volunteering at Save the Water™ managing technology team and in local schools through various educational programs.

Alex Cooper

Director of Finance

Alex is a Director working at FOX 9 News in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul television market who has been awarded a Regional Emmy® and eight additional nominations for automation-based live productions over the past 12 years. His additional skills come from serving as the President, Board of Directors for Ridgewoods Condominium #1 Association. In that role Alex has been able to implement a recycling program for 20 units which previously had only trash service, partner with Hennepin County to pass along continuing education materials to homeowners on the importance of recycling, and work to upgrade the property to reduce the carbon footprint mainly through energy improvements. He wrote his thesis on the association's ability to grow satisfaction by providing better communication to owners through strategic outreach and empowerment tools. In his spare time, he enjoys visiting the National Parks and other public lands here in the US along with Canada to hike, camp, photograph animals, or try out something new in connecting with nature.
He holds a Master's Degree in Strategic Communication Management (Concordia University - Saint Paul), Bachelor's Degree in Communications / Associates in Environmental, Safety & Security Technologies (Thomas Edison State University), and Associates in Accounting/Mass Communication / Certificates in Management, Human Resource Management, along with Marketing Management (Normandale Community College). The volunteering seed was planted early in Alex's life as he began helping with video production work for the local food shelf in high school and was presented with the Caring Youth Award by the City of Minnetonka along with a nomination for the Youth Service Award by what was then Time Warner Cable.

Patrick Bloniasz

Director of Education

Patrick is an undergraduate at Bowdoin College and is a major in Neuroscience and Philosophy with a focus in mathematics and education. Patrick is an independent researcher for America’s Service Commissions and the Public Education Institute, focusing his work on Statistical Assessment Theory in educational curricula, national testing, and curriculum development. He is a contributor to intervention research in loneliness/social isolation, IDD, and major depressive disorders and is an active member of the American Psychological Association and the Psychometric Society.

Patrick has a great love of the ocean coming from his time growing up on the east coast and believes that oceanic conservation and environmental protection should be on the mind of all people; he believes that such a passion is developed early on in today's youth. In his free time, you can find
Patrick running on trails in Brunswick, Maine or fueling his love of iced coffee in one of the area’s shops with his friends (without a plastic straw of course)!

Rashi Mahato

Director of HR

Rashi is a chemical engineering graduate and Masters in Business Administration in Human Resource Management. She has a total of 10+ years of corporate experience and a certified PHR (Professional in Human Resources) from HRCI (Human Resources Corporation Institute), USA.

She is currently working as a Pro Bono HR professional with Save The Water™. She strongly believes that there is nothing that people need in their lives more than water. "Save Water, Save Life"!

Troy Engel

Director of Operations

Troy was born and raised in Pennsylvania until he graduated from High School and his adventurous streak took him to Venezuela. There he spent most of the next two years living next to gorgeous white sand beaches where he learned how industrial activities affect offshore fisheries and freshwater aquatic environments. He is passionate about the environment and about preserving wildlife habitat and animal welfare. He has worked with various volunteer organizations; as a foster dad for dogs recovering from injury and abuse, and in assisting birds of prey recover from injuries with the intent of returning them to the wild. He also participated in elementary education presentations as a bird handler teaching kids about long-eared owls, merlin falcons, and rough-legged hawks.

Troy holds an MBA in Marketing (Washington State University), a Master’s in Military Science (American Military University), a Bachelor’s in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America (Colorado State University), and an Associate Degree in Biology (Aurora Community College). He has spent the last 14 years working in a wide variety of marketing and communications capacities throughout the world. He worked with the Department of Defense in Latin America on counternarcotics missions as well as subverting human trafficking. In the private sector he has developed strategic marketing plans for Polaris Inc. and Harley-Davidson. Troy believes that educating children and nurturing a love for the environment is one of the best ways to make an impact on our planet for good.

Shanthi Mariappan

Director of Technology

Shanthi was born and bought up in India - Chennai, Tamilnadu. She lived very close to the ocean, Bay of Bengal. She has taken part in cleaning beaches, educating kids about sustainability, natural gardening, and upcycling crafts in schools and colleges in India. After reading and learning a lot about how plastic is harming marine creatures and their environment, she started to carry a small cotton bag with a fork, spoon, cup and tiffen made out of stainless steel. There is a Tamil quote: siru thulli, perum vellam; meaning, small drops turn to flood. She is just a spark, doing her part and spreading the word about sustainability and saving the planet.

Shanthi pursued her MBA from Carlson School of Managemen. She is an IT professional. She has been paying back to the community for the past 20 years with different non-profit organization such as Dallas Children Museum, American Red Cross, Meals on the Wheel, Edina Art Fair, and so on.

Ann Johnson

Music Director

Ann Johnson, music director of "The Krills" band is Aeon's piano teacher. With a degree in Music Education from Augustana College in Rock Island, IL, she has taught music K-12 and has been a church music director. She is currently directing two Handbell Choirs and a Sunday School children's choir, teaching a preschool music class and giving piano and guitar lessons. With a life long commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle, "Working to lessen pollution is right up my alley!"

Lakshmi Bonam

HR Associate

Lakshmi, Master of Business Administration post graduate with dual specialization human resource management and marketing, and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science graduate. Lives in Cary, North Carolina, nature lover, likes gardening, strong believes that earth is the only known planet in this universe where life is possible only because of the availability of water and oxygen. Water is most important necessity of life for all the living beings on the earth. So, save it for future generations.

Kaitlyn Martinez

Marine Educator

Kaitlyn is an educator at the Marine Science Institute in Redwood City, California. She spends her days teaching students of all ages about the San Francisco Bay and all of its inhabitants. At MSI, Kaitlyn encourages hands-on learning, which often includes handling scientific equipment, touching sharks and bat rays, playing with mud, and exploring the Bay on a 90-foot research vessel named the Robert G. Brownlee. The San Francisco Bay is connected to the Pacific Ocean, which means its conservation is key in protecting our oceans. An Ecology graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz, Kaitlyn is most passionate about the beaches she grew up loving and spent her college career studying. She adores marine mammals of all kinds, but in light of environmental stressors such as climate change and overpopulation, has been focusing more on the big picture. Kaitlyn firmly believes that conservation of all kinds starts in the classroom, first with our students knowing about all the amazing wildlife that exists in this world, so they can be inspired to begin brainstorming ways in which they can protect it.

Jacqueline Kristofik

Program Manager (K2W)

Jacqueline recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Environmental Science, concentrating in Oceanography. Even though she grew up in Michigan, she has always been fascinated by the ocean and learning the science and culture surrounding it. During her undergraduate career, she worked at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic and conducted research on the microbial communities in freshwater marinas. These experiences showed her the detrimental effect humanity has on the environment, but also how much people care and how the smallest action can make the biggest difference. She is passionate about respecting the life around us, no matter how small and learning the different ways to protect it. Jacqueline strongly believes that passionate environmental education is key to its preservation and that the greatest way to develop the passion for environmental learning is just to play outside- in any way that makes you happy! “Give every day the chance to become the most beautiful day of your life.”

Wei Zhu

Education Program Lead

Wei is a master's student in the Learning Technologies Program at the University of Texas, Austin. She uses her eclectic multicultural background in Shanghai’s international market to deliver innovation, quality, and performance and value-creating engaging learner experience by using innovative technologies from China and the U.S. in the design of audiovisual training materials to improve learners' outcomes. She has helped international companies with their online training, customer relations, website development, and project management. Her customer relations and quality management experience have made her a reliable and organized asset with a passion for detail and a great communicator.

Lily Tedford

Summer Education Fellow

Lily is a student at Bowdoin College majoring in English and Education with a minor in Urban Studies. She has served as the Chair of Academic Affairs on the Bowdoin Student Government, where she led a student committee working to implement curricular and policy change on campus. An aspiring teacher, Lily volunteers at a local school and provides childcare during an English language course for new Mainers. She also volunteers on campus with Maine College Circle, a group working to increase college aspirations and awareness for Maine’s rural elementary and middle school students She spends her free time reading, watching movies, finding new favorite bookstores or tea shops, wishing someone would play a board game with her, and finding the best scenic lookouts along the Maine coast, which she feels lucky to live nearby.

Esal Shakil

Summer Education Fellow

Esal is a freshman at Seattle Pacific University and will be doing pre-med there while majoring in Psychology. She loves to volunteer and is always volunteering for anything that she can. At the moment, along with volunteering for AFO, she is volunteering for the United Vision of Idaho and Vocal-NY to text people about resources for COVID and for the BLM movement. She feels really great to educate people on important issues that need attention. In her freetime she enjoys reading, watching shows and movies, and traveling. She has traveled to every continent except Australia and Antarctica of course, but would love to go to australia someday.

Tiana Barrios

Summer Education Fellow

Tiana is an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, working towards a BA in biology. She has spent most of her years in school writing academic research papers including topics on snails in riparian habitats, reforming education out of its forced environment into one that focuses on curiosity, and animal welfare. After gaining hands-on experience in the classroom and with state mandated curriculum, she intends on returning to school to receive her masters in education. Education reform is where her true passion lies. The system must change along with the students to ensure an engaging experience that will encourage them to want to pursue education for their own benefit.

Alexia Raynal

Grant Writing Lead

Alexia is a social science researcher and educator with extensive experience promoting the development of digital literacies for under-resourced communities across formal and informal learning settings. Her professional career has focused on creating scaffolded educational curricula for classroom use, mentoring youth, and implementing grant-supported education programs and research projects that leverage digital technologies for learning. Alexia grew up near the Samalayuca Desert, where images of an ancient body of water flowing through the now-deserted sand dunes filled her imagination. Such images, combined with Herman Melville's detailed descriptions of cetaceans, continually inspire Alexia to raise awareness of marine life and ocean preservation.

Marcos Bouzon

Technology Associate

As a young child, Marcos was always interested in the computer and technology world. At that time, "Visual Basic" was his first programming language. Even when he didn't understand how to interpret what was in front of me, he started discovering things by himself and was capable of writing small applications. He is a full-stack developer, working primarily with Python, JavaScript, Html, CSS, and SQL. He enjoys staying in front of the computer for long periods of time, working on projects and learning new programming languages and technologies. He strongly believes in staying up to date is essential in this big world. Playing sports is a good way to keep your mind and body healthy as well as relieving stress. He is a big fan of water sports, as he grew up near the ocean. He enjoys surfing, scuba diving, and fishing and his favorite is kiteboarding. He is based in Miami, Florida.

Amy Bendtsen

Associate Researcher - VR

Amy is a recent graduate from University of Minnesota - Duluth with a BA in Environment and Sustainability as well as a BAS in Psychology and two BAs in Hispanic and Latin American Studies. She is passionate about education and climate action and had the opportunity to attend COP 20 in Lima, Peru in 2012. She has volunteered for many different organizations through my service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma during college days. In her free time she loves to read, hike, travel, and play PC games.

Reika McNish

Associate Researcher - VR

Reika is a researcher and educator whose work spans a variety of disciplines, with her most notable contributions in virtual reality use for clinical research. She has eight years of teaching experience along with five years of experience in virtual reality game development. She prioritizes accessibility in the classroom and creating for broad audiences while using virtual reality as a tool for immersive learning.

Neha Bhatt

HR Associate

Neha has completed her Masters in Human Resource Management and has 6+ years of corporate HR experience. During her free time, she enjoys cooking, dancing, reading books and binge watch and is based in Bellevue, Washington.

She strongly believes that working with Aeon For Ocean would provide her an opportunity to give back to the community and make a difference and quotes - "There is no life without water. It dies if we die".

Kevin Williams

Publishing Lead

Kevin specializes in creating and managing marketing communications programming for individuals, corporations and non-profit organizations. Kevin continues to provide communications consulting to mission-centered non-profits that address nutrition and wellness services for the senior citizen population; refugee resettlement services; and conservation. Kevin teaches as an adjunct faculty member for the University of Phoenix and tutors K-12 students in the Chicago school system. Kevin holds a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan.

Ashley Sexton

Publishing Associate

Ashley is an engineer by training who enjoys bringing science and technologies to audiences of all ages. After earning her degree in Chemical Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, Ashley began a career in the healthcare technology field, holding a variety of positions spanning clinical research, interoperative clinical support, quality and process improvement, and research and development. In her current position, Ashley serves as a project manager in the R&D department of a surgical robotics start-up, working towards bringing the next generation of minimally-invasive surgery to patients. Ashley was born and raised in Massachusetts and currently resides there with her husband and two young children. She strives to be a continuous learner and aims to bring the spirit of curiosity to all of her work.

Cynthia Ma

Youth Leader: Publishing Associate

Cynthia Ma is a student at McLean High School in Virginia and a dedicated environmental activist. She loves researching environmental sustainability topics, including climate change, sustainable energy, water and energy conservation, desertification, and acidification in oceans. She is currently taking an online course outside of school to learn more about the health effects of climate change. Cynthia is also looking forward to participating in the National Youth Council for Project Green Schools and other clubs and programs in the next few months so that she can create a larger influence in her community and environment. Having researched many environmental topics, her passion for oceans and the environment motivated her to work with Aeon for Ocean. As a Publishing Associate for Aeon for Ocean, she hopes that she can spread awareness about our valuable oceans through writing.

Juliette Palermo

Publishing Associate

Juliette Palermo is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where she studied English literature and creative writing. She hopes to work in science journalism one day. Juliette loves going to aquariums. Her favorite animals are the octopus and the narwhal. She recommends that everyone reads the book The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery.

Jessica Jenkins

Publishing Associate

Jessica Jenkins is a Publishing Associate for Aeon for Ocean. She has had a lifelong love of the water and the environment that grew from her favorite place, her grandparents' house on the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland. She currently serves as a Tours & Experiences Aide at the National Aquarium. She previously worked as a journalist covering politics in Washington, DC as well as in communications for multiple environmental organizations and non-profits including the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, MARACOOS, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. She's always had a love for writing and the ocean and is so excited to use those loves to further a great cause!

Annaleigha Wilke

Illustration Lead

She has completed MFA at SCAD in Illustration, BFA in Art Education at UNC-Greensboro. She has 4+ years of experience in teaching high school visual art, 2 years of stationary production, freelance illustrator. She is currently involved in freelance projects and in free time, she enjoys researching 19th-century writing fiction, creating artwork, gardening, collecting art supplies and small figures, playing with my pet ferrets!

Lacey Raser

Digital Marketing Lead

Lacey has a bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from the College of Saint Benedict, and is a current Dietetic Intern at the University of Minnesota. She is passionate about sustainable eating, supporting local farms, and limiting food waste. Lacey has experience in social media marketing, photography and blog writing. Her motivation for marine conservation developed when she was a child on a trip to Florida and saw dolphins, manatees and sea turtles in their natural habitat. Since then she has returned to Florida almost every year to swim in the ocean and visit her favorite sea turtle rescue. Taking care of our oceans, means taking care of all the creatures that live in it and depend on it!

Michael Conway

Fundraising Associate

Michael Conway has over ten years of experience in business development, education, clean energy and entrepreneurship. He owned and operated an English Language Institute in Antofagasta, Chile for five years and managed Corporate Social Responsibility and other projects with local corporations. He has extensive volunteer experience and pro-bono business consulting experience for social entrepreneurs located in Chile, Nepal, and Australia. His passion for the ocean has led him to become a 5Gyres Ocean Ambassador and hopes to find new and innovative ways of keeping our waterways clean. He's currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainability at Bard College.

Shelia Axelsen

Grant Writing Associate

Shelia is passionate about environmental sustainability and education. She is a graduate with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and is currently working at a non-profit. She has experience teaching and working with NGOs both domestically and abroad. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, the outdoors, and volunteering.

Nick Hudalla

Graphic Designer

Nick is a freelance Graphic Designer. He has graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the Art Institutes International in Minneapolis in 2016. He enjoys walking his dog, spending time with friends, bowling, gaming and reading and his interest areas are graphic novels, animals, Anime, comic book conventions.

Courtney Peterson

Community Engagement Manager

Courtney is a Special Education Teacher at Rosemount High School in Rosemount, Minnesota and is currently working toward completing her Masters in Special Education at Bethel University in St. Paul with a focus on the importance of community-based instruction. She spends her days working alongside students in high school, helping them to develop skills of independence and self-sufficiency. Courtney believes in student-centered and project-based approaches to learning, focusing on the importance of generalizing and transferring skills that are learned in the classroom and implementing them out in the community. Courtney grew up in wonder and awe of the ocean, originally wanting to go into Marine Science. She also knew she wanted to make an impact on the world around her and was drawn toward education through missionary work and the relationships she built. After Courtney graduated from college, she realized that even though she found herself pursuing a career in education, she should not give up on her passion for ocean exploration and learning how we can best protect it and pursued her Advanced Open Water PADI certification. Serving as Community Engagement Manager at Aeon for Ocean, Courtney is able to combine her two passions of ocean conservation and education with a community engagement emphasis in mind. Courtney grew up in Minnesota and currently resides there with her husband, two cats, and a dog.

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Qiting (Tina) Cai

Youth Leader: Social Media Lead

Qiting (Tina) Cai is currently a first year student at Middlebury College pursuing a joint degree in Environmental Studies and Biology. Tina is passionate about the environment, and she is especially interested in the topic of microbial ecology and environmental health. Growing up in China, Tina had witnessed many severe environmental problems in her hometown, and she aspired to be a part of the actions to better the environment. As a strong believer in the power of teamwork, she participated in a service trip to Costa Rica in early February 2020, where she worked with local indigenous communities with water conservation and gained valuable experiences in environmental conservation. While she envisions making positive changes to better the environment, Tina also loves to be engaged in the community that she lives in. In her free time, she loves to read, travel, and create new pieces of artwork.

Carlyn Iverson

Scientific Illustrator

For three decades Carlyn has worked as a creative professional bringing art and science together. After graduating from the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences with a Bachelor of Science Degree, Carlyn worked in the Biomedical Graphics Department of the University of Minnesota Hospitals learning skills of the medical illustration profession.

She is working as an Illustrator/Designer for the Climate Program Office of NOAA under the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Division and also have been working with the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos on ocean conservation. Carlyn has over 20 years of experience in scientific/medical illustration, 3-D illustration and animation, Video, ZBrush modeling, 3-D diorama design and fabrication.

Carlyn has held a wide range of freelance contracts for organizations such as the Minnesota Zoological Gardens creating illustration work for several major new exhibits, illustrations of tropical insects for a traveling exhibit designed by Outhouse Exhibits Design firm, wild orchid models for Maltbie Design firm, and for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources developing over 200 illustrations for the state-wide school curriculum package called MNAqua. This award winning curriculum and art package brings the freshwater ecology of Minnesota directly to the students of the state to increase awareness of water as a valuable and intrinsic resource in Minnesota's environment and it's value to people.

She has also worked with Taser International, Kongsberg Submarines, and institutions such as the National Institute of Health, the University of Vermont, National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions. One of her most recent project was designing of exhibits for the Charles Darwin Exhibition Hall in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, which opened in June 2016.