Leader Bios! Meet Connor, Alea, Joe, Nicole, Mark, and Eliza!

Did you know that there are more than 7,000 individual islands in the Caribbean? Or that Costa Rica has 800 miles of coastline? This summer, six fabulous leaders will venture out to hike, kayak, surf, zip-line, volunteer, and otherwise explore the stunning Caribbean together with their Apogee students. Whether they’ll be hiking around Chirripó, sharpening their Spanish skills, or volunteering in the tropical rainforest on Vieques Island, our leaders can’t wait to learn and grow with their Apogee students this summer. So without further ado, meet our Costa Rica and Caribbean Service crowd!

Connor Chess – Costa Rica Mountains & Coast

Growing up in suburban Washington, DC with four siblings, Apogee veteran Connor Chess was raised as a team-player with an eagerness to explore the world – and explore he has! While he flexed his chops as a thespian, Connor focused primarily on sports through high school, playing football and lacrosse. Connor continued his dedication to athletics by playing football at Washington & Lee University, from which he graduated in 2017. Connor has spent much of his time post-graduation dedicating himself to acting. Over the past few years, Connor’s focus has expanded from athletics and acting to travel, working with kids, and playing in the outdoors. It doesn’t stop there – Connor has traveled all over the world: to Northern Europe, Brazil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Spain, and Peru, to name just a few destinations on his impressive list! Through travel, Connor has realized how much he enjoys seeing the natural side of the places he visits, and he seeks ways to see more through kayaking, hiking, biking, and surfing. He’s also made these trips more meaningful by making deep connections with the people and culture of wherever he visits. Connor spent the summer of 2015 teaching English at a high school in Costa Rica and spent summer 2016 living and working in Argentina after finishing up a semester abroad there. Connor’s love of team-bonding and teaching, along with his boundless warmth and enthusiasm, makes him the perfect fit for any Apogee family, and we’re excited to put his Spanish-speaking skills and extensive experience in Costa Rica to good use for two summers in a row! Connor thrived on our on our Costa Rica Language & Service trip last summer and will be heading back for more to lead our Costa Rica Mountains & Coast this summer!

Alea Laidlaw – Costa Rica Mountains & Coast

A rising junior at Wesleyan University, Alea Laidlaw grew up moving several times with her tight-knit family before landing in North Carolina. Growing up, Alea developed a love for volleyball, science, and creating positive change in the world. Before settling in at Wesleyan, Alea spent a gap year with an international development program called Thinking Beyond Borders, during which she traveled to South Africa, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Peru for seven months while volunteering with NGOs! Currently, Alea majors in Science & Society at Wesleyan and minors in Film. She spends her free time serving as an eco-facilitator on campus, tutoring Syrian refugees, working at the student-run organic farm, and illustrating for a literary magazine. Additionally, she participates in a dance club, film club, outdoors club, and club volleyball team. Wowza! Alea’s devotion to community and culture doesn’t stop there – she’s spent her summers as a camp counselor at Franklin Park Zoo and has taught countless swim lessons to people of all ages. Believe it or not, Alea has also found time to become fluent in Spanish. She’s especially excited to be leading our Costa Rica Mountain & Coast trip this summer, as she has spent time there working on Environmental Research projects at Manuel Antonio National Park through Kids Saving the Rainforest. We are thrilled to have Alea’s warmth, commitment to community building, and fantastic energy out in the field with some lucky Apogee students this summer!

Joe Jamison – Caribbean Service

Joe Jamison is a curious, optimistic, community-oriented extrovert who finds pleasure in exploring new places, people and ideas. Joe grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, a small city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains that lies right on the Appalachian Trail. With a decidedly outdoor-oriented family, Joe spent much of his childhood hiking, camping, and mountain-biking through the Blue Ridge Mountains or floating down the Roanoke River. Additionally, Joe played soccer for years and once even juggled a soccer ball for nearly forty minutes straight – talk about commitment! While Joe holds Roanoke fondly in his heart, he has also found opportunities to explore new places and recently spent a full semester studying abroad in Spain! From teaching, tutoring, and babysitting to soccer coaching and camp counseling, Joe has worked with kids of all ages in a very wide variety of contexts. Joe is currently wrapping up his senior year at Davidson College, where he studies Mathematics and Hispanic Studies. (You can often catch him speaking both English and Spanish in his sleep)! Joe is stoked to volunteer on Vieques Island and learn how to surf with his Apogee students on our Caribbean Service trip this summer!

Nicole Schmidt – Caribbean Service

Nicole Schmidt hails from Darien, Connecticut, where she enjoys spending time with her parents, nineteen year-old brother, and twelve year-old sister. She grew up in an active family and spent a lot of time trying new sports, riding bikes, and spending time on the beach. Nicole’s interest in traveling was sparked in high school after she spent two summers in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip. After working alongside people in a remote village, learning their language, and sharing in their culture, Nicole became eager to immerse herself in new cultures and global experiences. Since then, she has traveled through parts of the United States, Europe, Northern Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean – look at her now! Nicole also spent a semester abroad in Spain, during which she lived with a Spanish family, took college classes in Spanish, and worked as an English language teacher assistant at a local primary school. She even got to travel to ten different countries while there! A senior at Elon University, Nicole has pursued a major in Elementary and Special Education and a minor in Spanish. In addition to her academics, Nicole loves working with children and has spent time assisting with first- through fifth-graders at several local elementary schools. In her free time, she loves playing volleyball, hiking, and kayaking. She can’t wait to get to know her Apogee students as they explore and volunteer in Puerto Rico together on their Caribbean Service adventure this summer!

Mark House – Costa Rica Language & Service

Apogee is thrilled to welcome Michigan native Mark House back to the team this summer as a leader for Costa Rica Language & Service. Though he grew up just outside of Detroit, Mark, his parents, and his four siblings were rarely stationary for long; they spent most summers road-tripping across the country, checking state after state off of their bucket list. Mark currently stands at 44 states in total! One of his family’s favorite spots was a ranch in Estes Park, Colorado. After it was badly damaged in a mudslide in 2015, Mark returned on a mission trip to clean up the ranch and surrounding area. Mark recently graduated from University of Michigan with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Over the past few years, Mark has pursued his passion for mechanical engineering, having worked for a firm to help design and build amusement park rides and for another company to build fuse boxes for electric vehicles. To expend some of his seemingly boundless energy, Mark has combined his love for basketball and spending time with kids. He worked as a basketball coach for a local program called Skills Unlimited and also served as a mentor for local Ann Arbor students who speak English as a second language. At Michigan, Mark worked as a tour guide and Campus Day Leader. Mark has traveled through Europe and backpacked on Isle Royal in Lake Superior. This summer, Mark can’t wait to explore Costa Rica’s stunning ecological diversity with some great Apogee students!

Eliza Adams – Costa Rica Language & Service

Returning leader Eliza Adams brings her enthusiasm and exceptional baking skills back to the Apogee team this summer on our Costa Rica Language & Service trips! Growing up in a tight-knit family in Medfield, Massachusetts, Eliza fondly remembers hiking trips along the Appalachian Mountain Club huts with her parents and twin brother. Eliza’s passion for the outdoors only continued to blossom when she reached Colby College, where she will graduate this spring with a degree in English and Psychology. Eliza raves about her experience exploring the northern woods and western mountains in Maine with the Colby Outing Club as an orientation leader. Eliza has been, to say the least, an active member of the Colby community, working as a writing tutor in the Writing Center and as a writing fellow to support freshmen in their transition to college-level writing. Off campus, Eliza enjoys serving as a mentor for students at the local middle school. Eliza has also taken her talents back to her hometown in Medfield, where she worked as a counselor at the Medfield Parks & Recreation Camp for two summers. This year, Eliza served as the Head Tutor of Special Events and Community Outreach at Colby’s Writers’ Center, where she coordinated workshops and programming with local elementary schools and Kennebec Valley Community College. Her peers even voted her “Tutor of the Year”! Eliza currently serves on her school’s faculty-led Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, where she works to make campus resources more accessible and visible for students. Eliza can’t wait to spend some quality classroom time and zip line through Costa Rica’s Cloud Forest with her Apogee students this summer!