Leaders in environmental education and community-based learning

The SEMIS Coalition leadership team has diverse experience and deep expertise in community partnerships, Place-Based Education and curriculum design. We’re committed to finding and advancing ways of learning that provide a sustainable future for our communities and world.

Ethan Lowenstein, Ph.D., Director

Dr. Ethan Lowenstein is a Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). He has close to two decades 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, he received the 2007 Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award and the 2006 Dean’s Award for Innovative Teaching. Dr. Lowenstein and the SEMIS Coalition received the 2014 Dale Rice Award for Academic Innovation in AS-L and Community Engagement.

Before his career in higher education, Dr. Lowenstein taught high school Social Studies at Park East H.S., 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.

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Lisa Voelker, Assistant Director

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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Nigora Erkaeva, Program Associate

Nigora Erkaeva is a PhD candidate at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). As a program associate for the SEMIS Coalition, she assists in the coordination of the daily functions of the organization, supports the planning and facilitation of professional development, fundraising stewardship, research, communications and social media curation.
Nigora’s dissertation employs a critical discourse analysis of the introduction of compulsory education and historical change in Central Asia in the early twentieth century. She has taught undergraduate Social Foundation of Education at EMU. Her research interests include place-based learning, EcoJustice education, postcolonial theory, settler colonialism, critical studies, feminism and how can we build a society that is healthy, democratic, organic and sustainable socially, economically, politically and ecologically through education.

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Miriam Furlan Brighente, Program Associate 

Miriam holds a Master’s and PhD degrees in Education from Pontifical University Catholic of Parana, Brazil. In her role with the Coalition she supports the coordination of professional development events, fundraising stewardship, research and social media curation.

Miriam is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University. Miriam was born in a small town in a rural area of the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil and moved to the US in 2013. As she experienced poverty, sexism, and social exclusion during school and university days, she became interested in an education that would make the world a better place to live. That’s why her research interests include philosophy of education, especially Paulo Freire’s work and the following themes: interdicted bodies in the pedagogical practice, liberatory pedagogy, teacher education, freedom and knowledge, and education as a practice of freedom. More recently, she has researched about feminism, popular education, and place-based education.

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SEMIS Coalition Education Specialists

SEMIS Coalition Education Specialists add tremendous energy to the organization as they offer their expertise in guiding us on new initiatives, classroom content, school inquiry projects, teacher tools and multimedia resources, and connecting with our partners.

Sarah Halson

Education Specialist, Programming Support, Outdoor Learning Lead

Sarah serves as an Education Specialist for the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition and has been a member of the coalition since 2009. Her role is to support teachers in their Place-based and Eco-Justice Education inquiry projects specializing in the student driven Earth Force curriculum and Outdoor Classroom 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 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 and Program Coordinator at Detroit Audubon. She was selected as the Informal Science Educator of the Year by the Michigan Science Teachers Association in 2012.

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Laura Florence, Project Lead for Climate Change Resilience & Great Lakes Literacy Initiatives

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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Matt Siegfried, Historian and Cultural Landscapes Expert

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 serves as the or to contact him directly resident historian, designs and facilitates adult professional development which focuses on social landscape histories, supports teachers in upper elementary through high school to design curriculum, and historical research. For more about Matt’s work, please visit his website: mattsiegfriedhistory.com

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SEMIS Coalition Leadership Team Circle of Support

This group of people act in an advisory role for our leadership team. These are member teachers and partners who we seek input from about strategic decision-making, partnerships, school district partnerships, and so much more – this list is being updated! Check back soon.


A coalition's primary strength is in its members