American Civics Center


Senior Staff

Chris Walsh, Executive Director

Chris believes that educational travel programs – in particular those based in Washington, DC – should be affordable so that more students may participate.  For that reason, he founded American Civics Center fifteen years ago, a non-partisan organization dedicated to providing high-quality, life-changing travel experiences for students, teachers, and adults.  By ensuring top customer service, Chris and his team are dedicated to seamless trip planning, all while making sure that program content meets civics and history academic standards.  Favorite program moments for Chris are usually found on the first program day when participants meet each other for the first time.  Traveling from across the country, and even the world, participants are able to broaden their world view within the first moments of their American Civics Center program.  A native of Pennsylvania, Chris is a twenty-five year veteran of Washington, DC based civic education programs. Prior to founding the Center, he served as Director of Operations at the Close Up Foundation® . Before beginning his career in civic education in 1994, Chris was active in the software and hospitality industries for more than a decade. He is a graduate of Penn State University.

Darren Minarik, PhD. Director of Curriculum & Professional Development

Darren is committed to providing high quality curriculum design and professional development in citizenship education for American Civics Center instructors and teacher program participants. He has worked in social studies, alternative, and special education since 1992 as a trainer, classroom teacher, and teacher educator, including over 25 years with Washington, DC based experiential civic education programs. Darren holds Strategic Instruction Model (SIM™) Professional Developer certification through the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and provides professional development opportunities to educators around the world.

Although Darren feels a close connection to all of the programs he helps design, his favorite program memories involve the American Civics Center partnership with the Virginia Department of Education’s I’m Determined Youth Summit.

Darren’s academic research addresses citizenship education, self-determination for youth with disabilities, instructional strategies, inclusive practices, and the pedagogical intersections between social studies and special education. His publications include the National Council for the Social Studies book, Social Studies and Exceptional Learners, and numerous other book chapters and articles addressing inclusive social studies classroom practices, co-teaching in social studies, teaching disability history in social studies curricula, and using film to teach about societal perceptions of disability. For more information about Darren, please explore his CV.

Gustavo Rodriguez, Director of Customer Relations

Gustavo specializes in guiding schools through program planning. He is a nineteen year veteran of civic education programs in Washington, DC. Most recently, Gustavo served as an outreach representative in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. Prior to his work in those communities, he was a Customer Relations Supervisor. Born in Latin America, Gustavo has been in the United States since 1986 and became an American citizen in 1998. His language skills and personal experience make him uniquely qualified to reach out to communities with large numbers of new Americans.

Sharron Garrett-Haskins, Director of Support Services

Sharron is a twenty-eight year veteran of civic education programs in Washington, DC. She has wide knowledge of the national capital area, Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Philadelphia and Gettysburg having been raised in Virginia. A master of details, Sharron has scheduled thousands of program participants for theater performances, meals, transport, historical site visits and hotel stays in cities throughout the United States.

Dedicated and committed to American Civics Center’s participants from plan through implementation’s end, Sharron most favors the opportunities in her work to share program experience. Program travel she admits leaves her feeling empowered, accomplished and important; her goal for each and every person in our democracy. Each opportunity she says refreshes and renews her in the importance of American Civic Center and what she does here.

Edwin Natal, Director of Educator Outreach

Edwin is a retired veteran classroom educator and a lifelong proponent of civic education. He spent several years teaching mathematics in the Washington, DC area at Walter Johnson High School and Parkland Middle School, both in Montgomery County, Maryland before returning to his native Puerto Rico to teach.  Born an American citizen, he is bilingual in Spanish, his native language, and English, his second.  Edwin is a writer and is author of several short stories, poems and Christian meditations.  His love of travel is what drew him to American Civics Center over fifteen years ago, and he continues to enjoy sharing American Civics Center experiences in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Williamsburg, Jamestown and other places with the students on his beloved island.

Marie Markussen, Adult Programs Coordinator

Marie Markussen has over 30 years’ experience leading civic education programs and teaching government at the high school and college level.  She holds an A.B. in political science and sociology from Boston College, an M.A. in political science from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia. She is a reader for the College Board’s Advanced Placement American Government and Politics exam.

Anna Patton, Program Manager

Anna joined the staff of the American Civics Center in 2016 and has worked with thousands of participants on our Washington D.C. programs. Originally from Colorado, she graduated from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. Anna spent two years with the U.S. Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan where she worked with teachers from across that nation and a disability rights organization. Anna enjoys following global events, engaging students in history and helping participants of all ages explore Washington DC.

My favorite program moment is always centered around creating connections for participants. When a student discovers a symbol at a memorial that ignites their curiosity or returns from an exhibit in a museum excited to share a connection they’ve made with something they’ve learned in their social studies class back home, it shows the value of experiential learning and travel programs.