Northwoods Leadership

Jacob Thomason Family Services Director

Jacob Thomason, MA, LPC is the Family Services Director at...

Emily Fritz B.S., M.S., CTRS Experiential Services Director

Emily is an Iowa native that now calls the north...

David Puhl B.S. Program Director

David is a Wisconsin native, born and raised in Oshkosh,...

Ben Koch MSc Operations Director

Ben’s interest in working and teaching outdoors began while studying...

Dr. Ryan Patterson Medical Director

Ryan Paterson attended the University of Vermont School of Medicine...

Kaci Sapinski Executive Director - NVW Northwoods

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, Kaci...

Patrick McAvoy Admissions Director

Patrick McAvoy is the Admissions Director at Northwoods Wilderness Therapy.  Throughout...

Jacob Thomason

Position: Family Services Director

Jacob Thomason, MA, LPC is the Family Services Director at Northwoods Wilderness Therapy.  His primary focus is supporting caregivers and siblings of students enrolled at Northwoods.   

Jacob graduated from Wheaton College with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.  He has served in various wilderness therapy roles including Clinical Director at Northwoods Wilderness Therapy.  Jacob has a special interest in work with family systems and is dedicated to expanding family support programming at Northwoods. 

In his spare time, Jacob loves being outdoors with his wife and two daughters.  His favorite activity is fishing and he is happy to partake in this pastime with companions or on his own.  Jacob values connected relationships and is an active member of his community.  Jacob and his family spend significant time visiting extended family and friends throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.  

Emily Fritz B.S., M.S., CTRS

Position: Experiential Services Director

Emily is an Iowa native that now calls the north woods of Wisconsin home. As an undergraduate, Emily double majored in exercise science and human performance and fitness, then went on to pursue her masters in recreation, park and tourism administration with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation. Emily fell in love with working outside during graduate school while managing a challenge course and climbing tower at Horn Field Campus. Emily’s graduate course work also led her on a variety of other adventures including backpacking a section of the Ozark Trail in Missouri and sea kayaking in the Apostle Islands. After working as a Recreation Therapy Intern at Lurie Children’s Hospital inpatient psychiatric unit, Emily knew she needed to get back outside. Northwoods Wilderness Therapy was the perfect fit combining the population of students she loved serving and being outside. Emily is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist and is passionate about incorporating this skill set into her time with students in the woods and educating students through experiential activities. In her free time, Emily enjoys reading, paddling, traveling and spending time with family, friends and her dog Diesel. 

David Puhl B.S.

Position: Program Director

David is a Wisconsin native, born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. Nature and the outdoors have always been a part of David’s life and have helped shape him as a person. David initially went to college for biology but quickly realized that his passion was in the outdoors and facilitating growth for individuals. David graduated with a degree in Wildlife Ecology and German from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  After graduating David spent two years in West Africa with Peace Corps Senegal where he worked as an Environmental Education volunteer spending much of his time working with local teachers on techniques to adjust their lesson plans to make subjects more applicable to the students’ lives and was an integral support in the annual regional youth leadership camp. David is grateful to continue be able to support exploration and the creation of positive outdoor experiences for the students served by Northwoods Wilderness Therapy. Outside of work, David can be found exploring new places with his dogs Kéba, and spending time with friends. 

Ben Koch MSc

Position: Operations Director

Ben’s interest in working and teaching outdoors began while studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his undergraduate years, he became involved with the Hoofers Outing club and spent his summers in the outdoors, first working with young kids at local summer camps and then leading international trips for high schoolers in Fiji, Switzerland and Tanzania. After graduating with a BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering, he decided to follow his passion for working with kids in the outdoors full-time, working as an outdoor education instructor for school programs and then returning to school to get a MSc in Outdoor Education, as well as getting certified as a Wilderness First Responder. Ben uses his knowledge and experiences to help others reconnect to nature and better understand our dependence on the world around us. In his free time, Ben is an avid backpacker who has hiked the entire west coast of Scotland, the Haute route in Switzerland, and Mt. Kilimanjaro. He also enjoys other outdoor pursuits, including skiing, kayaking and climbing, as well as cooking, play board games with friends, and reading a good book by a fire. 

Dr. Ryan Patterson

Position: Medical Director

Ryan Paterson attended the University of Vermont School of Medicine and completed his Emergency Medicine Residency and Fellowship in Wilderness/Altitude/Expedition Medicine at Denver Health Medical Center/the University of Colorado, USA. He also holds advanced certifications in Tropical Medicine from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (DTM&H) and in Mountain Medicine (DiMM). He is a practicing, board-certified Emergency Physician for Kaiser Permanente at St Joseph’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado, USA, and associate professor at the University of Colorado in the Department of Emergency Medicine section of Wilderness, Environmental and Expedition Medicine.

In leisure, Ryan loves to spend time outdoors with his spouse and two children. He is an avid traveler, climber, and a former distance athlete.

Dr. Paterson is the founder and director of Emergency Medical Providers (EMP) a leader in the provision of remote medical support and expedition medical direction. Ryan is co-founder and former director for the Wilderness Medical Society Diploma in Mountain Medicine (DiMM) course. Ryan also has significant experience in large-race/event medical management. He serves as medical director for GlobalLimits and has medically-directed multiple GlobalLimits events. He is the current United States delegate to the International Society of Mountain Medicine (ISMM). Ryan founded the FLuME foundation and serves as medical director for Kolkata City Mission (KCM) working through both organizations to establish sustainable development solutions in education, health, women’s empowerment, micro-enterprise, and public-health for informal communities in and around Kolkata, India. Combining all of his training and passion, Dr. Paterson has worked in Disaster Relief efforts in both post-earthquake Nepal and with the UN in Iraq. Additionally, Dr. Paterson is an altitude researcher, expedition physician, mountain emergency medicine educator, and guide.

Kaci Sapinski

Position: Executive Director - NVW Northwoods

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, Kaci worked in health care for 15 years in Emergency Medicine and Cardiology. As her two sons entered High School, she began looking for a deeper connection to the service industry. Honored to be part of the development of a new University of Wisconsin collaborative program, Kaci continued her education in Community Health and Wellness. With her extensive knowledge of the medical environment and passion for the outdoors, wilderness therapy became the perfect fit. Finding New Vision Wilderness has allowed her to bring her outdoor adventures to work right here in the north woods.

Patrick McAvoy

Position: Admissions Director

Patrick McAvoy is the Admissions Director at Northwoods Wilderness Therapy.  Throughout his career Patrick has helped adolescents and their families find solutions in times of crisis. 

Patrick has a bachelor’s degree in Management of Music and Communications from Ohio University.  He began his work in wilderness therapy providing care and field coordination to students entering treatment.  Since then he has served in Admissions Director, Program Director, and Executive Director roles.  Patrick has additional experience in admissions at a therapeutic boarding school and was a founding member of two treatment programs for at-risk teens. 

In his free time, Patrick can be found outdoors hiking, kayaking, and skiing with his family.  He is a bass player who dreams of one day starting a family band with his wife and two kids.