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. He was named one of Crain’s Detroit Business’s “40 Under 40” for 2019 and one of DBusiness Magazine‘s “30 in Their Thirties” for 2020.

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, Supervising 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.

Anna Sysling, Producer

Anna Sysling is a lifelong Michigander. She has worked as a reporter and producer in both commercial and public media since 2013 with a special focus on creating compelling live news and talk programming focused on history, policy, current events, culture and social equity. She’s written for a variety of print and digital publications and has worked as a producer for “The Mitch Albom Show” on 760 WJR, and produced “Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson” on WDET Detroit’s NPR station. During her tenure at WDET, Sysling wore many hats, including host of Weekend Edition Saturday, produced live remote broadcasts from Eastern Market and in 2020 launched, produced and hosted the intersectional environmental series “Rooted.”

Sysling graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in Print and Digital Journalism. She is a voracious reader, yogi, gardener and rock climber forever falling more deeply in love with the city of Detroit and the wonderful people, plants and animals who also call this place home. When she’s not working, Sysling is probably nerding out about an heirloom bean variety, fermenting something in her kitchen or trying to find the latest hangout for the bald eagles who nest on Belle Isle.

David J. Ruck, Producer

David J. Ruck has been focusing his camera on the Great Lakes since his first documentary project, “This is Not a Chocolate Factory”, which explored the toxic history of a chemical company near his hometown Whitehall, Michigan.  He became fascinated with the drama of real life and has been focusing more and more intently on issues of justice – especially environmental justice – since this first experience.

David spent time in Nepal during the mid 2000’s documenting stories from victims of the civil war that was ravaging the country before returning to work focused on science, innovation, environment, and space.  He was hired as the video storyteller for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and covered a range of narratives throughout the sanctuary system, both above and below the waves in Alpena, Michigan; American Samoa; Olympic Coast, and the Florida Keys.

He has since launched Great Lakes Outreach Media, servicing mainly government and government funded organizations, focusing more intently on issues facing the Great Lakes.  He spent the summer of 2019 capturing a plurality of perspectives on the toxic algae blooms endured by citizens living near Lake Erie and is currently finishing a documentary with the material.

David is an avid runner, enjoys photography, and loves his cattle dog, Billie.

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.

Nick Austin, Narrator and Field Producer

A native Detroiter with a post graduate degree from Wayne State, Nick Austin is a on-air personality and program host for Soul Saturday on WDET. Also an attorney by trade, prior to landing with WDET, he got his start in radio and TV serving in various on-air and leadership positions for his college stations. As a classically trained musician who developed his love and interest in a diverse array of musical styles at a young age. Nick’s background ranges from performing as scholarship member of the university’s jazz band, symphonic band, and orchestra, publishing 2 full-length albums. As a contributor to Great Lakes Now, Nick shares his love of the area, assisting with narrating, producing and introducing viewers to the wonders of the Great Lakes.

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.

Doug Clevenger, Videographer

Doug Clevenger is an award-winning director of photography, licensed drone operator and underwater cinematographer. His work has taken him around the globe for National Geographic, Discovery Networks, PBS and many others. Based in Chicago, he regularly shoots for Great Lakes Now in Illinois and Wisconsin for stories about Lake Michigan and its watershed. He also was the videographer on the “Polluting with Purpose” segment in Ontario, Canada.

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.

Mila Murray, Digital Content Coordinator

Mila Murray graduated with two degrees from Michigan State University, where she was heavily involved in journalism and the behind-the-scenes of journalism. From working as a reporter at her student publication – The State News – her freshman year to helping lead it as an executive editor in her senior year, she has been recognized for multiple awards through the Michigan Press Association, the Associated Collegiate Press, the State News Alumni Association and more.

After dedicating most of her college career to student journalism, she moved on to report on major news stories such as the Flint water crisis as an intern with MLive Media Group. She also has extensive experience in digital media from starting The State News’ first-ever news roundup podcast, to managing a Toronto-based startup’s social media platforms, to making educational content more accessible while interning for the IT department’s DigitalX Team her final year at Michigan State University.

Mila grew up in Michigan and loves everything the Great Lakes region has to offer.

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.

Gary Wilson, Senior Correspondent 

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.

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.

Kathy Johnson, Contributor

Kathy Johnson is a diehard Great Lakes gal, so her family and friends were not surprised when they received an invitation to her underwater wedding which took place on a shipwreck in lower Lake Huron.

As a research diver, she helped rescue an endangered species of freshwater mussel, located important lake sturgeon spawning grounds, and designed fish habitat structures as part of a shoreline restoration project in one of the Great Lakes Areas of Concern.

As a field producer on the IMAX film Mysteries of the Great Lakes, Kathy was responsible for coordinating all the underwater film crews’ needs with the topside support team. She has also worked with the Discovery Channel and produced educational videos for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Sturgeon for Tomorrow.

As an advocate for native freshwater species, Kathy regularly speaks at professional conferences, dive industry shows, to service groups and clubs, and in K-12 classrooms. Her freshwater films have been featured at film festivals in Chicago, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Kathy has published a wide range of articles, from stories on the round goby invasion for Michigan Natural Resources Magazine to pieces on sea kayaking in Belize for Ocean Sports Magazine. Her first book, A Diving and Snorkeling Guide to the Great Lakes was published as part of the Lonely Planet series. Kathy has also contributed to numerous scientific and academic publications including Quagga and Zebra Mussels – Biology, Impacts, and Controls; Second edition.

Kathy earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University. After an internship with Great Lakes Now, Kathy joined the team as a producer for the monthly show, a website contributor and writer of the monthly column, “I Speak for the Fish.”

James Proffitt3

James Proffitt, Lake Erie Contributor

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.

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.

Andrew Reeves, Contributor 

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.

Taylor Haelterman, Contributor

Taylor Haelterman grew up in a tiny town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She spent her time exploring the beautiful nature Michigan has to offer and touched every Great Lake along the way.

Taylor earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University in May 2021 after finding a passion for sharing environment-focused stories. She remains a full-time student there while pursuing a master’s degree in environment and science journalism.

Along with Great Lakes Now, she is a contributing writer for the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism’s Great Lakes Echo. And she received a 2020 Society of Professional Journalists Detroit Excellence in Journalism Award in environment reporting for her audio work at WKAR Radio in East Lansing.

Alex Hill, Contributor

Alex B. Hill is GIS director at Wayne State University and project director of the Detroit Food Map Initiative, which has been mapping nutritional access of Detroit grocers, small stores and farmers markets since 2011. He started the website DETROITography in an attempt to bring together various Detroit cartographers and their great work. He is the author and cartographer of the book, Detroit in 50 Maps, from Belt Publishing.

Capri S. Cafaro, Contributor

Capri S. Cafaro is the former minority leader of the Ohio Senate. During her 10 years as a State Senator, Cafaro represented part of Ohio’s North Coast on Lake Erie, co-authored Ohio’s tourism promotion law and worked on a variety of important issues to the region including Great Lakes Compact implementation, U.S.-Canadian relations, agriculture and economic development.

Since her time as a public servant ended in 2016 due to state mandated term limits, Cafaro is now an executive in residence and professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and holds visiting fellowships at both the University of Toronto and the London School of Economics.

Last year, she released her first cookbook, United We Eat, and launched the podcast Eat Your Heartland Out, a show about the intersection of food and culture in the American Midwest.

Capri splits her time between Ohio and Washington, D.C. You can follow Capri on both Twitter and Instagram.

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

Noah Bock, Great Lakes Now Intern – Summer 2021

Noah Bock is an undergraduate student planning to study economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. He enjoys all kinds of outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking, camping, canoeing, or trying something new. In his spare time, you can find Noah running, reading, playing the piano, gardening, or playing a board game. Growing up in Michigan, he has fond memories of visiting the Great Lakes, and he is excited to learn more about them and share his love for them with others at Great Lakes Now!

Rachel Duckett, Great Lakes Now Intern – Summer 2021

Rachel Duckett is an undergraduate student studying broadcast journalism at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. She was previously a student writer for The Washtenaw Voice, where she focused on stories about local history and the effects of climate change in Washtenaw County. In addition to being an intern for Great Lakes Now, she works as a copy editor at the Spartan Medical Research Journal. In her free time, she enjoys watching scary movies, listening to podcasts, camping, cooking and hanging out with her cat!

Grace Dempsey, InternGrace Dempsey, Great Lakes Now Intern – Winter 2020/Spring 2021

Grace Dempsey is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan studying architecture, the environment and Spanish. She’s passionate about the Great Lakes after growing up near one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Back home, she participated in water testing of rivers in the Lake Michigan watershed and wrote for her school paper, so she can’t wait to continue her education at Great Lakes Now!

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.