Leaders in environmental education and community-based learning

Anna Balzer

Anna Balzer


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Anna Balzer (she/her) is thrilled to serve as the new Director of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS). In this role she will support the SEMIS team and members to co-create, shape, and implement a collaborative vision for place-based, eco-justice education in the region. Anna will also establish, steward, and deepen connections across the region and throughout a national place-based education ecosystem and help amplify the stories and impact of and bring additional resources to our regional work.

Anna has been connected with SEMIS since 2014, first as an AmeriCorps Green School Coordinator with EcoWorks’ Youth Energy Squad (YES) and then throughout 6 years as Program Manager and Co-Director. During her time at YES, she supported place based education and youth-led environmental justice projects in Detroit and the metro area, with a special focus on forging deeper connections between young people and community leaders and local environmental justice priorities. More recently, Anna served as a Community Engagement Coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy, strengthening relationships and resource sharing between the federal government and local clean energy initiatives.

Anna holds a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from the University of Colorado, Boulder and a Master’s in Public Affairs from the University of Michigan. She has been a resident of Detroit for the past ten years and finds herself endlessly curious about the history, ecology, folklore, and personal stories of the Great Lakes region. An aspiring home renovator, gardener, and  cook, she is always interested in opportunities to trade skills, books, tools, and time with her community.


Email Anna at abalzer1@emich.edu.

Matt Siegfried

Matt Siegfried

Historian and Cultural Landscapes Expert

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Matt is a historian, writer and researcher. A graduate of Eastern Michigan University with degrees in History and Historic Preservation, much of his work has been on connecting local history to broad historical moments. With a focus on race, class, gender and power in our social landscape, Matt believes that the ground and built environment we walk through every day is alive with worlds of history and can speak to us about why we live the way we live.

In his role with the Coalition, Matt designs and facilitates adult professional development which focuses on social landscape histories, supports teachers in upper elementary through high school to design curriculum, and do historical research. For more about Matt’s work, please visit his website: mattsiegfriedhistory.com

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Lisa Voelker

Lisa Voelker

Assistant Director

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As Assistant Director for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition, Lisa’s responsibilities include place-based education curriculum design and facilitation for adult professional development, K-12 teacher curriculum design support and field experience coordination, working with the director to coordinate and supervise daily operations, and stewarding partnerships with community organizations and members.

Lisa holds particular expertise in Ecojustice Education, Social Foundations of Education, and STEAM – helping STEM teachers to incorporate the arts with rigorous STEM content. Lisa holds an undergraduate degree  in  Visual  Arts  Education and a Masters of Arts in Social Foundations of Education, both from Eastern Michigan University. Prior to joining the SEMIS Coalition, Lisa taught elementary and middle school visual arts in Ypsilanti Township at East Arbor Academy.

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Amy Clarice

Amy Clarice

Development & Communications Project Manager

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Amy (pronouns: She/her/hers) is focused on matters that create strong communities. She brings over 18 years of experience in relationship management, project direction, event leadership, campaign strategy, digital and offline fundraising, program development, and public relations to her work. In her role in SEMIS Coalition, Amy is responsible for fundraising administration, database management, solicitation and stewardship, campaign strategies, and fundraising goal-setting in collaboration with the Directors. She also supports the creation of monthly newsletters, social media campaigns, and project management tools for the team through her company, ClairvoyAgency. She and ClairvoyAgency also manage SEMIS Coalition’s website presence, media creation, video production, and graphic design. 

Amy lives in what is now known as Ypsilanti, Michigan (ancestral land of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Indians, along with the many other Indigenous peoples who have lived along the Huron River over the last 12,000 years). She enjoys living near the river, music, dancing, being with loved ones of all ages, making delicious food, swimming, creating, supporting her community, and learning more about how to live in harmony with nature. She is passionate about making Self-Directed Education and Place-Based Education accessible for all people across all age groups.

Email Amy at aclarice@semiscoalition.org

Nigora Erkaeva

Nigora Erkaeva

Postdoctoral Researcher

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Nigora (pronouns: she/her/hers) is an international scholar who is indigenous to Central Asia. She identifies herself as an ecofeminist, ecojustice, decolonizing, and place-based scholar, who is also a mother of two wonderful boys. Nigora graduated with her PhD in Educational Studies from Eastern Michigan University in 2021. Her research focuses on ecojustice education, place-based education, ecofeminism, settler colonialism, postcolonial theory, social justice, indigenous wisdom, and connection of local to global situation. She uses these theories to make sense of the current social, ecological, and economic injustices which informs her work in education and at schools. She is excited to use this interdisciplinary expertise and passion to build healthy, just, and sustainable communities working with teachers, students, community partners and colleagues. 

Nigora’s research focuses on supporting teachers to connect with indigenous communities and incorporate land-based and indigenous wisdom to their place-based projects.  She uses an ecojustice approach to lead her work in the SEMIS Coalition. 

Dr. Erkaeva believes that injustice and inequality is structural but each of us can change it by making small steps in our core beliefs that further shapes our actions.  Her MA and PhD background focused on cross disciplinary analysis of school-community relationships and what role educators can play to build inclusive, transformative, and democratic learning communities that are rooted in seeing humans as part of a complex and interdependent ecosystem. She is passionate about decolonization of our mind, system, knowledge production, our actions and how we start this process at the grassroots level as well as structural level.

Additionally, in the SEMIS Coalition leadership team, Nigora provides assistance in coordination of the daily functions of the organization, works with teachers to incorporate land-based and indigenous cultures curriculum, support on the planning and facilitation of professional development, budgeting, building local and international research community, communications, leads ecojustice sessions, and engages in research to share the impact of our work. 

Nigora is a mother to two beautiful children and loves her time with them camping, reading, watching movies, playing board games, and simply staying at home laughing, cuddling, and resting. For her, love is an action and to work towards communities that are ecologically, socially, and economically healthy, just, vibrant, diverse, sustainable and democratic is a path worth living for.

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Laura Florence

Laura Florence

Project Lead for Climate Change Resilience & Great Lakes Literacy Initiatives

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Laura Florence is an Education Specialist focusing on Great Lakes and STEM education and leads our Climate Change Resilience initiative. In this role she provides expertise in guiding us on classroom content, school inquiry projects, teacher tools and multimedia resources, and connecting with our partners. Her responsibilities include supporting SEMIS teachers in expanding their Great Lakes literacy and connecting them to community partners with expertise in Great Lakes science and education.

Laura holds a B.S. in Biology and Anthropology and a M.S. in Aquatic Ecology, both from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the SEMIS coalition, she worked at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab and Michigan Sea Grant doing research, outreach and education. Laura is also an experienced environmental educator, trained in Project WET, Project WILD and Project Learning Tree.  She serves on the Board of Trustees at the Leslie Science and Nature Center and Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.

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Sarah Halson

Sarah Halson

Education Specialist in Outdoor Learning

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Sarah has been a member of the SEMIS Coalition since 2009, when she joined as a community partner representing The Greening of Detroit. She supports teachers in their PBE curriculum planning, specializing in outdoor learning. Sarah also supports planning and facilitation of professional development, provides expertise in guiding new initiatives, classroom content, school inquiry projects, teacher tools and multimedia resources and connecting with our community partners.

Sarah received an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies and Science, Technology and Society from Pitzer College in 1998. She has over 20 years of experience in field-based and school-based environmental education program development and management at several Metro Detroit nature centers and as the Environmental Education Director at the Greening of Detroit. She was selected as the Informal Science Educator of the Year by the Michigan Science Teachers Association in 2012.

Sarah lives in Oak Park, MI with her mom, wife (Kim), daughter (Maia), 2 cats (Dinah & Molly) and their dog (Bear.) In her free time, you may find Sarah singing, walking, birding, camping or snuggled on the couch with her daughter watching the latest Marvel movie.

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Willie King III

Willie King III

Program Associate

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Willie serves as a Program Associate for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition. In his role, Willie’s responsibilities consist of developing new place-based initiatives for youth activism and civic engagement, developing arts infused PBE initiatives, and cultivating stewardship and art based community partnerships. He also supports planning and facilitation of professional development and provides expertise in classroom content.

Willie holds an undergraduate degree from Eastern Michigan University in History with a minor in Political Science. Willie also serves as the current alumni president of King’s Of Color Incorporated. Prior to joining the SEMIS Coalition, he served as an activist and mentor within the Ypsilanti Community for over 8 years and worked as a restorative graduate assistant, math intervention teacher and long term substitute at WIMAHI. Willie was also an employee with SEMIS partner, EcoWorks, in the Detroit Youth Energy Squad and was a Site Coordinator/Assistant Director within the Washtenaw Parks and Recreation.

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Ethan Lowenstein, Ph.D.

Ethan Lowenstein, Ph.D.

Senior Advisor on Special Projects

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Dr. Ethan Lowenstein is a faculty member in the Department of Teacher Education at EMU and recently cycled out of the SEMIS Coalition director position after serving as director for 13 years. As a senior advisor, Ethan will remain as a co-Principal Investigator on current grant-funded projects, helping to ensure a smooth director leadership transition. Ethan is in love with the art of place-based teaching and learning and is excited to devote the next phase of his career to mastering the art of teaching (as much as anyone can!), helping to further develop EMU’s undergraduate place-based teacher preparation program, sharing his knowledge for how to facilitate group processes and systems change, and documenting what he has learned over the years so that others may gain from his experience.

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Paula Sizemore

Paula Sizemore

Ecojustice Education Consultant

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A Master Place-Based Educator with 30 years combined classroom, administrative and coaching experiences, Paula (pronouns: She/her/hers) seeks to inspire young people through making deeper connections to their school, home and neighborhood environments. Together with SEMIS Coalition community partners, school district leaders and students, a common goal emerged: use green infrastructure to create sustainable, clean school campuses. Since 2018, Ypsilanti Community students and teachers across disciplines have connected to learn how to successfully mitigate human impacts on school campuses through ongoing legacy projects. Mathematics, science and business classes joined together to design and install rain and pollinator gardens. In 2022-2023, two projects were completed: a two-acre prairie resplendent with classroom grown natural Michigan flowers and plants is beginning its work to mitigate runoff. And in the Grizzly Woods, a 32-seat outdoor classroom learning space was created from winter deadfall. From data collection and analysis, research and exposition of local challenges includes food apartheid, plastic pollution, understanding our Great Lakes systems – SEMIS Coalition partnerships inspire lifelong stewards of home, and place.

A coalition's primary strength is in its members