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.
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.
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.
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.
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 A\J, 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.
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.
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.
Iman Saleh, Contributor
From nursing to engineering, Iman Saleh explored myriad majors in college before she realized that only one was her true calling; writing. During her time as an undergraduate at Wayne State University, Iman has taken on multiple internships including positions at TechTown Detroit, BLAC Magazine, the Arab American National Museum, WDET-FM/WDET.org Detroit public radio. She was the cover model for National Geographic’s “Muslims Thriving in America” feature story. Currently, she is the production intern at Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now initiative.
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.
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.
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.