Greetings SEMIS Coalition members!

I am so honored and excited to be serving as the new Director for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition and to be working within and across this powerful, and hopeful community. If we haven’t met yet, my name is Anna Balzer and I am a longtime resident and enthusiast of the Great Lakes watershed. I was born and raised in Northwest Ohio and have spent the majority of my adult life in the city of Detroit. I’ve had the good fortune of being a part of the SEMIS Coalition since 2014 when I was first introduced to the Coalition as an AmeriCorps member working with EcoWorks’ Youth Energy Squad in Detroit. As is the SEMIS Coalition way, I was so welcomed by the SEMIS Coalition community and so moved by the intentionality and youth empowerment of place-based education, that I remained a frequent attendee at SEMIS Coalition’s professional development days and community forums for the next six years. Throughout my subsequent time with the Youth Energy Squad, first as Program Manager and then as Program Director, I worked with SEMIS Coalition and our team to more closely embed the principles of eco-justice, inquiry and youth voice, and place-based, interdisciplinary activities that lead to civic action into our own program structure. In 2020, I took some time for my own growth and learning and attended graduate school at the University of Michigan’s school of public policy. After graduating, I spent three years at the U.S. Department of Energy working on projects to increase equitable access to clean energy and to equitably grow the clean energy workforce before returning to the SEMIS Coalition this past May.

Youth Energy Squad AmeriCorps team at a MLK Day Event at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. The background behind them says "inspiring minds" "African Americans in Science and Technology"

Anna and the Youth Energy Squad AmeriCorps team at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

It has been such a delight to reconnect with the SEMIS Coalition work and members over this past month as Director – and especially inspiring to see how much the Coalition’s work has grown! Across our region, over 2,000 teachers, young people, and community partners from across seven districts and over 20 schools are using place-based education to explore and address local issues in climate resilience, stormwater management, air quality, vacant lot reuse, and many more – and preparing young people to continue to lead on solving these challenges through careers in science, technology, engineering, art, math, civics, and others. And while this growth has been championed by all members of the Coalition, I must acknowledge and celebrate how the Coalition activities have been nurtured and developed under the thoughtful leadership of Ethan Lowenstein over the past 13 years.

portrait of Ethan Lowenstein, PhD. wearing a black coat, mid-conversation looking off to the right and smiling.

Eastern Michigan University Professor of Curriculum, Ethan Lowenstein PhD

My gratitude for Ethan’s steadfast commitment to this work and his vision for a beloved community, rooted in relationships to each other and to our place knows no bounds. We are also very lucky to have Ethan staying on as a Strategic Advisor to the SEMIS Coalition Planning Team moving forward.

I would also like to take a moment to celebrate another member of the SEMIS Coalition Planning Team – Lisa Voelker!

After serving as a SEMIS Coalition grad student, SEMIS teacher member, and many years as its Assistant Director, Lisa started her new position as SEMIS Coalition’s full-time Associate Director on July 1st.

A woman smiles at the camera. She's wearing a black shirt with a green shirt and is clasping her hands in front of her. There is art on the walls in the background.

SEMIS Coalition Associate Director, Lisa Voelker

We are so fortunate to have Lisa’s deep place-based education expertise, comprehensive understanding of all SEMIS Coalition activities, and boundless creativity, joy, and spirit as a part of the SEMIS Coalition leadership team. Congratulations, Lisa!

Two people are engaged in conversation in an educational setting. They are both smiling and holding clipboards.

Lisa engaged in conversation with a SEMIS Coalition youth leader.

One final note of recognition (for now) goes to Tracy Ortiz, a long-time SEMIS Coalition member and expert place-based educator, who was recognized by the Engage Program at Eastern Michigan University with a ‘Transformative Partnership Award’ for her consistent openness and dedication to collaboration for the advancement of Place-Based Education

A selfie photo with six people in it. The person who took the photo Is wearing a black jacket with black sunglasses and is smiling. There Is grass and trees in the background.

Tracy Ortiz with some of her students

We are honored to work and learn alongside Tracy and incredibly grateful for all her contributions to the Coalition.

We hope each of you are celebrating your own milestones in these early weeks of summer with some well-deserved rest and relaxation, and hopefully your own explorations of your local place in this colorful and biologically productive time of year! We look forward to seeing many of you at the Summer Institute from July 29th through August 2nd, but please feel free to say hello or check in with us at any time as you are dreaming up place-based units for your next year – we are always here to support you! 

In partnership,

Anna Balzer

Director, SEMIS Coalition