BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Sarah Coleman is the director of the West Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, and a science consultant and director of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District’s Regional Mathematics & Science Center. She has 11 years of experience teaching secondary science and math, and extensive training and experience in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and teacher professional development. Ms. Coleman designs and delivers professional learning programs; works with school leadership teams to build capacity for institutionalizing place-based education; and provides curriculum and assessment support to participating school teams.
Shari Dann (Secretary) is associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University. She has 31 years of experience in environmental education for K–12 students and teachers, and nonformal programs for youth and adult/educator audiences. Her focus is on programs that foster effective, science-based stewardship in partnership with natural resource agencies and community organizations. Her current research interests center on how people develop a “sense of place” and how that place attachment relates to learners’ civic engagement in critical conservation issues. She holds a PhD in Fisheries and Wildlife from MSU, and her MS and BS in Natural Resources are from Cornell University.
Abbie Debiak is a biologist and the Program Coordinator for the Upper Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (servicing Alger, Delta, Marquette, and Schoolcraft Counties). Based out of the Superior Watershed Partnership in Marquette, Michigan, Ms. Debiak works closely with communities and project partners to plan and implement environmental education, conservation, and restoration efforts throughout the Upper Peninsula. Ms. Debiak received her MS and BS in Biology from Northern Michigan University where she also worked as an adjunct instructor in the field.
Dr. Suzanne Knight is an associate professor of English Education at the University of Michigan-Flint and directs Discovering PLACE, the Flint hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative. Suzanne has been in the education field for 30 years, teaching at both the middle and high school levels and now at the university, specializing in secondary educator preparation. She has served as the Director of Educational Field Experiences for all undergraduate educator preparation programs, and she is now a co-coordinator for all secondary educator preparation programs. She also serves as the director of the University’s Master of Arts in English Language and Literature program. Suzanne’s research interests include narrative inquiry, teacher research, and place-based teacher education. She is also interested in how “sense of place” and philosophy of place helps us to re-think both literacy and the humanities.
Dr. Ethan Lowenstein (Vice President) is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Lowenstein has 20 years of experience in school systems reform, educational leadership development, and teacher professional development in moral and civic education. In recognition of his work in teacher education, Dr. Lowenstein received the 2007 Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award and the 2006 Dean’s Award for Innovative Teaching. Before his career in higher education, Dr. Lowenstein taught high school social studies at Park East High School, an alternative high school in East Harlem, New York City. Dr. Lowenstein was the 1996 New York City Board of Education Teacher of the Year for alternative schools.
Shawn Oppliger is the director of the Western UP Center for Mathematics, Science, and Environmental Education. She has 18 years of experience in leading science and mathematics professional learning and implementing student programming for schools in Houghton, Baraga, Keweenaw, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties of Michigan. Ms. Oppliger has successfully managed K–12 education grants from various funders, including the Math and Science Partnership, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, and the Wege Foundation. Ms. Oppliger has been recognized for her contribution to education through Copper Country Association of School Boards (2010 Educational Leadership Award) and Michigan Technological University (2005 Educators Academy). Prior to her work as the director of the Western UP Center, Ms. Oppliger taught math and science for 13 years at the middle and high school levels.
Clayton Pelon (President) is an Associate Director of the Center for Educational Partnerships in the College of Education at Grand Valley State University. He has a Masters in Higher Education Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration from Michigan State University. He developed and helped found the College of Education’s Alumni Association; converted its Colleagues magazine from a newsletter serving tri-county alumni to an award-winning magazine reaching 28,000 alumni worldwide; developed partnerships between WGVU, PBS, and the College; and helped design the W.K. Kellogg-funded Learning to Give program. His passion for place-based education and service learning led him to help create and sustain Groundswell, a regional hub of the Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative. Pelon has been a principal or co-principal investigator on federal, state, and local grants totaling more than $2.5 million to support Groundswell and the 46 schools and nearly 19,000 students in Kent county that have done meaningful environmental stewardship work with the community since 2009.
Brandon Schroeder works with coastal communities in northeast Michigan to apply science-based knowledge to address Great Lakes issues locally. His Sea Grant Extension efforts involve fisheries science, sustainable coastal tourism development, and Great Lakes education. He serves as co-leader of the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.
Fred Sitkins (Treasurer) is the Executive Director of the Inland Seas Education Association, the hub location of the Grand Traverse Stewardship Initiative. He holds a masters degree in Educational Administration and has 20 years of experience in public education including serving for 13-years as a school principal. Fred’s background includes a great deal of experience leading professional development, strengthening instructional methods and techniques, and curriculum coordination. This background has proven invaluable in his current role at Inland Seas Education Association overseeing place based educational experiences for students and professional development for educators. Fred has been managing a wide variety of federal, state, and foundation grants throughout his career.