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The People

Sandra Svoboda, Great Lakes Now Program Director

The Great Lakes region has always been home for Great Lakes Now Program Director Sandra Svoboda. Born in Chicago, college educated at Indiana University, and spending nearly her entire professional career in Michigan and Ohio, she’s traveled between Minnesota and Tadoussac, Quebec, both on the water and on land.

Sandra has been in the storm sewers of Duluth, hiked Isle Royale, watched freighters squeeze through the Soo locks, anchored in Door County harbors, motored on the flow-reversed Chicago River, relaxed in Georgian Bay, chronicled Detroit’s waterfront revitalization, kayaked the Maumee River as it empties into Lake Erie, guided a sailboat through the Welland Canal, toured Niagara Falls, cruised the Thousand Islands, docked in Old Montreal, and photographed whales in the St. Lawrence River. A competitive sailor, she sails hundreds of miles each season on the Great Lakes, including on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, and once threw out a pitch at a Detroit Tigers game as recognition of her win with her team at the U.S. Women’s Match Racing Championship. She’s also eaten Asian carp as part of her coverage of invasive species.

Her journalistic print, digital, broadcast, and community engagement work has won awards from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Michigan Press Association, State Bar of Michigan, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies and Society of Professional Journalists-metro Detroit chapter, and in 2018 the University of Michigan-Dearborn named her “Mentor of the Year.” For her work covering Detroit’s bankruptcy at WDET-FM, Detroit public radio, she received numerous awards including the Distinguished Alumni of the Year from Wayne State University’s public administration program. She has had multiple fellowships from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Ravitch Fiscal Reporting Program at City University of New York. After a stint with FEMA where she supported disaster response and community redevelopment in Louisiana, she is keenly interested in how local governments can create sustainable, resilient communities in the Great Lakes Basin.

Sandra also teaches American Government at Wayne State University and strategic communication in the graduate public administration program at University of Michigan-Dearborn. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism from Indiana University and holds two master’s degrees from Wayne State, one in public administration and one in library and information science where she has been recognized for her research and writing.

She lives with her husband and too many rescue animals in metro Detroit just in earshot of freighters at the head of the Detroit River. Find her bicycling (road and mountain, but mostly road), shopping local farmers’ markets, browsing museums, and hiking Midwestern trails when she’s not on the water or working.

Monthly Show Staff and Regular Contributors

Host Ward Detwiler

Ward Detwiler has spent his life surrounded by the Great Lakes. Born and raised in Michigan, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University and a master’s in business administration at the University of Michigan. As his day job, he serves as the chief executive officer of SpinTech, Inc., a medical imaging technology company, and was named one of Crain’s Detroit Business’s “40 Under 40” for 2019.

As the new host of the “Great Lakes Now” program, he’s looking forward to helping people learn about the world’s largest freshwater ecosystem. In his free time, Ward is active in sailboat racing around the country, fishes the Great Lakes and tries to keep up with his rescue dog, Indigo.

Rob Green, Producer

Rob Green has worked in non-fiction television for more than 20 years, making shows about history, science, food, travel, and more—and telling a range of stories broad enough to include high risk SWAT raids, explosive demolition of bridges and buildings, the inner workings of volcanos, and opulent birthday parties for teenagers.

Born in Detroit, Rob graduated from the University of Michigan with an English degree. After a stint with the Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago, he moved to New York City but returned to the Midwest in 2015 to work in his hometown. He co-produced “The Forever Chemicals,” a documentary about PFAS contaminants’ effect on west Michigan communities in 2019.

Laura Weber Davis, Narrator

Laura Weber Davis is a senior producer and fill-in host on Stateside on Michigan Radio. Before landing with Michigan Radio, she worked at WDET in Detroit, where she was senior producer on the current events program, Detroit Today. She began her career in public radio as a Michigan Radio intern before taking a job as a Capitol-beat reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network. Laura was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and has had a lifelong love affair with the Great Lakes. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and she received a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California.

Zosette Guir, Integrator

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Communications Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Zosette Guir has worked on various production projects in the metro Detroit area including Autoweek’s Vinsetta Garage, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for Crain’s Detroit Business, Detroit Performs, Connect, The Seven Generation River as well as nationally distributed documentaries When I’m 65 and Ride the Tiger,  as well as pieces for Detroit Public Television’s weekly news and public affairs program, One Detroit, which focuses on journalism based on immersive community engagement.

Writers and Website Contributors

Natasha Blakely, Great Lakes Now News Director

Growing up in Singapore, Natasha Blakely is a lot more familiar with oceans and tropical weather than freshwater and snow, but a stint as staff writer for the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism’s Great Lakes Echo changed that for her.

Occasional visits to family in Michigan meant she had a passing familiarity with the lakes and the other environmental wonders of the Midwest. It wasn’t until she moved to Michigan in 2012 and friends introduced her to Lake Michigan, the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, the Black Rocks in Marquette, Niagara Falls and more that she started missing the sea a little less.

Natasha graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in journalism in 2017, writing for Great Lakes Echo and for the Red Cedar Log—the school yearbook—in her time there. It was her experiences talking to scientists studying the Great Lakes and exploring stories about the region and its waters that finally converted her into a freshwater fiend. She also received the Society of Environmental Journalists 2017 Emerging Environmental Journalist Award.

Before joining Great Lakes Now, she was the business reporter at the Battle Creek Enquirer. In her time there, she received the 2018 MPA Better Newspaper Contest Class B first place for sports columns and an honorable mention for business writing. She was also a finalist for the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors’ 2018 newspaper contest Division II for best business writing.

Natasha lives with her sister in Detroit, cooking, exploring and attempting to keep her apartment clean.

Ric Mixter, Multimedia Producer 

Ric Mixter is one of the region’s busiest maritime history speakers, making dozens of appearances in two countries and three states last year alone. As multimedia producer at Great Lakes Now, Ric researches, writes and directs segments for the monthly TV show and develops digital content for the website focusing on historical and cultural stories and issues. He draws on his background as a shipwreck researcher, diving over 100 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.

Ric has served as SCUBA cameraman on underwater expeditions to the Great Lakes largest shipwrecks including the Edmund Fitzgerald and Carl D. Bradley.  He has interviewed dozens of shipwreck survivors over the past 15 years including two from the 1913 Storm, two from the 1940 Armistice Day Storm and survivors from the largest shipwrecks in lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie.  He’s Emmy-nominated and has earned several awards from the Addy, Aurora, Michigan Association of Broadcasters, Associated Press, and United Press International.

With over 20 years of stories on historical preservation, Ric was awarded the 2009 Award for Historic Interpretation by the Association for Great Lakes Maritime Historians, and 2011 was elected to the organization’s board of directors.  Ric was also on the board of directors for the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, elected to serve as their president starting in January 2016.  Mixter is also a board member of the prestigious Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, which manages the museum at Whitefish Point.  Ric has hosted the largest dive show in Ontario and also served as master of ceremonies for the Midwest’s largest show in Chicago.  He is a frequent speaker at Ghost Ships in Milwaukee and Michigan’s largest show “Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival” held annually at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor.

Visiting museums, libraries, schools and with his live music concert “STORM”, thousands of audience members get a new appreciation for our unique inland-sea history through his spellbinding lectures. He has produced over 30 programs for PBS and the Outdoor Channel and appeared as a shipwreck expert on the History and Discovery Channels. His stories appear in books, podcasts, magazines and in radio and TV news programs.  Mixter’s YouTube videos have over a million views, covering shipwrecks in four of the Great Lakes and adventures in several foreign lands.

Gary Wilson, Lake Michigan Senior Correspondent (Chicago)

Gary Wilson reports from Chicago where he lives with his wife, Diane. He’s a Michigan native from the Downriver area of Detroit. He has worked for DPTV’s Great Lakes Bureau for 5 years.

He has covered the range of the region’s diverse environmental issues while specializing in the policy and politics of the Great Lakes at the national and state level.

Gary has reported extensively on the federal Great Lakes restoration program, water wars in Wisconsin, budding scientists on Beaver Island, environmental injustice in urban areas, algae in Lake Erie, and even the “6th Great Lake” – the groundwater of the Great Lakes, and all the problems associated with it these days.

Prior to joining Great Lakes Now, Wilson did commentary for Detroit Public TV’s Great Lakes Week coverage, commentary for Great Lakes Echo and contributed to the Great Lakes Month in Review segment for WKAR Public Radio in Lansing.

He is also an occasional contributor to WMUK Public Radio in Kalamazoo. Wilson became Great Lakes Now’s Senior Correspondent in September.

Lorraine Boissoneault, Contributor

Lorraine Boissoneault is a Chicago-based journalist who covers science, history and the outdoors for a number of publications. Formerly a staff writer for Smithsonian Magazine, her work has also appeared in The Atlantic, Hakai Magazine, Mental_Floss, Playboy Magazine, PassBlue, OnEarth and elsewhere. She is the author of The Last Voyageurs, which tells the true story of a group of teenagers and high school teachers who spent eight months living in canoes to retrace La Salle’s route to the end of the Mississippi River. The book was a finalist for the Chicago Book of the Year award.

An Ohio native, Lorraine grew up sailing on Lake Erie and visiting all the islands. These days she spends her time off traveling to new places, backpacking and kayaking.

Photo courtesy of fws.gov

Dr. John H. Hartig, Contributor

Dr. John Hartig is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor. He also serves as the Great Lakes Science-Policy Advisor for the International Association for Great Lakes Research and on the Board of Directors for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. In 2017-2018 he was a Fulbright Scholar serving as the Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Global Governance at Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario.

The focus of John’s multidisciplinary research is cleanup of the Great Lakes. From 2004-2018 he served as Refuge Manager for the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.

John has received a number of awards for his work, including the 2017 Community Peacemaker Award from Wayne State University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, the 2016 Edward G. Voss Conservation Science Award from Michigan Nature Association, the 2015 Conservationist of the Year Award from the John Muir Association, and the 2013 Conservation Advocate of the Year Award from the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications on the environment, including five books: Waterfront Porch; Bringing Conservation to Cities; Burning Rivers; Honoring Our Detroit River, Caring for Our Home; and Under RAPs: Toward Grassroots Ecological Democracy in the Great Lakes Basin.

John’s book titled Bringing Conservation to Cities won a Gold Medal from the Nonfiction Authors Association in the “Sustainable Living” category and a bronze medal from the Living Now Book Awards in the “Green Living” category.

Sharon Oosthoek, Contributor

Sharon Oosthoek is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about science and the environment. She has more than 20 years experience working for daily newspapers, magazines, online news services and non-governmental organizations.

Her writing has appeared in New Scientist, Canadian Geographic, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, cbc.ca, Chemical & Engineering News and Science News for Students. Before becoming a freelancer in 2002, she was a reporter for The Hamilton Spectator for 10 years covering social trends, education and crime.

Sharon lives in Toronto where far too many lanes of traffic separate her from Lake Ontario.

Brian Owens, Contributor

Brian Owens grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario in Kingston. He then spent 8 years in London, UK, studying science journalism at Imperial College London, then working as a reporter and news editor at the influential science policy magazines Research Fortnight and Research Europe, and at the international journal Nature.

He returned to Canada in 2012, and now lives on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, where he writes about science and the environment for a variety of international publications, including Nature, New Scientist, Hakai Magazine and Inside Science.

James Proffitt3

James Proffitt, Lake Erie Contributor (Marblehead)

James Proffitt was a freelance reporter for papers in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky before moving north to Marblehead, Ohio.

He worked for Gannett’s Newspaper Network of Central Ohio as a reporter and photographer for eight years and is now a frequent contributor to the Outdoor News Network.

He has work forthcoming in Lake Erie Living and Cooperative Living magazines.

Many of his news and photo features received AP awards and his verse and fiction have appeared in dozens of university and literary journals.

He writes and does videos about fishing, hunting, outdoors, conservation and all things Lake Erie, as well as its tributaries. In 2015 he published Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie: Ohio’s Historic Beacon (now in its second printing) with Arcadia Press.

Andrew Reeves, Contributor (Ontario)

Andrew Reeves is an award-winning, Toronto-based environmental journalist and the author of Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian Carp Crisis, his in-depth look at how the invasive fish Asian carp have spread throughout America to the Great Lakes.

Andrew is also the editor-in-chief of Alternatives Journal, Canada’s oldest environmental publication. Before AJ, he was an energy and resource reporter with Queen’s Park Briefing, part of the Toronto Star Media Group, and a political reporter with Queen’s Park Today. Andrew was also the environmental columnist at This Magazine from 2015-2017 and, when called upon, is a contributing editor at the Missouri-based journal The New Territory.

In 2009, Andrew received his Masters degree in human geography from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2016.

Melissa Walsh, Contributor

Raised on the shores of the heart-shaped Lake St. Clair, nestled between the St. Clair and Detroit rivers, Melissa Walsh delights in writing about the unsalted seas of the Great Lakes region. As a freelance writer, she has contributed to reference publications, local newspapers and regional magazines since the early 1990s.

As a kid, Melissa reveled in long family trips each summer exploring the Great Lakes by power boat, acquiring able sea legs and enjoying close encounters with the wonders of the Great Lakes region.

Though Melissa still loves cruising the lakes by power boat, she loves racing sail boats even more — a sport she threw herself into in 2017.

When the lakes freeze over, Melissa trades her boat shoes for hockey skates, competing in Detroit’s recreational leagues and coaching girls.

In 2018, Melissa moved back to the shores of her childhood, where she lives with the youngest of her four sons and their large German shepherd and small tabby cat.

Ian Wendrow, Contributor

Ian Wendrow is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he earned his Master’s in Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations.

When not reporting on environmental issues impacting the Great Lakes, he spends his time reading historical fiction, playing saxophone with friends, and attending concerts around the metro Detroit area.

Education Support

Great Lakes Now produces “An Exploration of the Great Lakes,” an introductory curriculum to the science and study of the Great Lakes. This collection aims to introduce students to basic scientific and geographic concepts about the Great Lakes. It includes lessons plans and activities for families.

Click HERE to see it along with the Virtual Field Trip videos.

Curriculum Author Gary Abud, Jr.

Gary Abud is an award-winning educator and double cornea transplant recipient who, since having his sight restored, was moved to use his teaching gifts to make science fun for kids. He is the author of Science With Scarlett, a children’s book about a young girl scientist and her teddy bear assistant who do experiments with the reader.

Gary lives with his family in Grosse Pointe and writes to inspire children, like his preschool daughter, to love science. When he’s not writing, Gary is an educational consultant specializing in ADHD, providing executive coaching for adults and kids in school.

Previously, Gary has served in education as a STEM teacher, principal and college instructor. In 2014, he was named Teacher of the Year for the state of Michigan. For more information on his educational consulting practice, visit SagaEducators.org or to learn more about his book, check out ScienceWithScarlett.com

Great Lakes Now Interns

Zalika Aniapam, Great Lakes Now Intern – Winter, Spring/Summer 2020

Zalika “Zee” Aniapam is a Detroit native who is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Wayne State University where she studies public relations and organizational communications. As someone who has a passion for writing, production and media relations, she is super thrilled to be a part of the public broadcasting community.

Alex Brisbey, Great Lakes Now Intern – Spring/Summer 2020

Alex Brisbey is an undergrad at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, studying Screen Studies and Digital Marketing. Moving to Michigan in 2013, Alex has grown to love the beauty of Michigan and all it has to offer. He is excited to be a part of the Great Lakes Now team and learn more about this great state. He’s focusing on video production during his internship.

Sam Cantie, Great Lakes Now Intern – Spring/Summer 2020

Sam Cantie is a rising senior at The University of Michigan studying English and Marketing. She’s passionate about all things multi-media storytelling: She works as an Arts editor for The Michigan Daily, and she’s also a producer/cinematographer for Filmic Productions. She’s extremely excited to illuminate the stories that matter in The Great Lakes region; growing up in Michigan, Sam’s most lively and fundamental stories of her friends and family are embedded in the landscape of The Great Lakes. You can always catch Sam hammocking or reading, with a coffee or a camera in hand!

Leah Purkiss, Great Lakes Now Intern – Spring/Summer 2020

Leah Purkiss is a full-time student attending Northern Michigan University studying Art & Design with a concentration in Digital Cinema. She is also minoring in Deaf Studies and hopes to one day combine her love for Deaf culture and film. During the school year, she partakes in her school’s broadcasting club with an all-student crew to produce a daily live show, Public Eye News, hosted through WNMU-TV in Marquette Michigan. While interning for Great Lakes Now, she hopes to learn more about local opportunities within the industry as well as gain an environmental understanding of the world around her. She is very thankful for this opportunity and the skills, connections, and knowledge she will be gaining through the internship.

Emily Simroth, Great Lakes Now Intern – Spring/Summer 2020

Emily Simroth is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan pursuing a double major in creative writing and environmental studies and a minor in water issues. She has interned previously with New Jersey Future, working on lead in drinking water, and with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. She is excited to combine her passions for writing and the environment through her work with Great Lakes Now and looks forward to exploring and sharing stories about the region that has become her second home.

George Elkind, Great Lakes Now Intern – Winter 2020

George Elkind is a graduate student in Wayne State University’s department of communication, specializing in media arts and studies. He works regularly as a film and arts critic for publications including The Comics Journal and the Detroit Metro Times, and has a working background that includes writing along with film and audiovisual production. While working at Great Lakes Now, he hopes to dig into stories that matter to the city and region he calls home while getting to know them both as well as he can in his spare time.

Kathy Johnson, Great Lakes Now Intern – Winter 2020

Kathy Johnson grew up playing on the shores of the Great Lakes. She learned to scuba dive in high school and immediately joined the St. Clair County Sheriff Department Dive Rescue Team. After graduating, she began working as a commercial-research diver. To date, she’s worked on habitat restoration projects with federal, tribal and state agencies across the Great Lakes Basin. She is currently completing a bachelor’s degree in journalism degree from Wayne State University and is “thrilled” to be starting an internship in public broadcasting and ‘looking forward to sharing my passion for all things freshwater as part of the production team at “Great Lakes Now.”