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Instructor Bios

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Margaret Bennett, CYT, RYT, M.A.-psychology, is a certified yoga instructor and therapist. She has taught yoga at NMC since 1997, is a Reiki Master, and has formal training in meditation traditions. She is director of Crooked Tree Yoga and Therapy in Acme.

Emily Burke has been a Conservation & Education Specialist at Grass River Natural Area since 2019. She grew up in Traverse City and attended Duke University and Southern Oregon State (M.S. Environmental Education). Research areas include the investigation of the overlap in habitat preferences between invasive barred owls and native great gray owls in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. She and the rest of the GRNA team focus on protecting wetlands - one of the most globally threatened habitats. She is thrilled to be able to share GRNA's amazing resources with people of all ages.

Laura Cavender beloved Innkeeper with Glen Arbor Bed & Breakfast and Private Chef, also comes with years of stories cooking on boats and extensive adventuring. In all of this, food and story are major themes. Food can be work, art, therapy. In a classroom setting, these weave together with folks from all backgrounds. It's this magic that makes Laura come alive! She teaches cooking classes with Oryana Community Co-op, Fustini's and NMC. She is also a great fan of campfires, storytelling, sailing, backpacking, jam making and naps.

Gary Cook, M.S.-architecture, AIA, is an award winning architect and builder specializing in energy efficient timber frame homes in Northern Michigan. He has extensive training in energy efficiency and passive solar design. 

James Dake is the Education Director for Grass River Natural Area, studied science education at Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University. He is a certified teacher in the state of Michigan and is working towards a Master of Arts in Science Education. He is a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation. 

Les Eckert CEPC, CCE, AAC, Director of Great Lakes Culinary Institute, has an MBA with an emphasis in Hospitality Studies, is a Certified Executive Pastry Chef, Certified Culinary Educator and a member of the American Academy of Chefs. Eckert has over 25 years of foodservice experience, 13 years in higher education, and over five years in higher education management. New to NMC in June 2019, Eckert now calls Traverse City home. 

Erwin (Duke) Elsner, Ph.D., is an Agricultural Agent for MSU Extension and has assisted GT area farmers and home horticulturists with their insect problems. Dr. Elsner has conducted university research on insect pests. He is also an instructor for the MSU Master Gardener Program and MSU/NMC Plant Science Program. 

Jennifer Ewing, has been practicing human resources and health and safety management for thirty years in both union and non-union environments. Jennifer is a strategic contributor in developing cultures of employee engagement, wellness and people-based safety. Her expertise includes human resources and safety policy/procedure development, leadership training, and lean office processes. Jennifer is certified as both a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and a Senior Certified Professional through the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM-SCP). She holds her MBA from Michigan State University and her BSBA from Central Michigan University. 

Jennifer Flynn, SEEDS EcoCorps Program Director, is an ecopsychologist, herbalist, permaculturist who has been working with individuals, businesses and organizations to lean into carbon-clean living for over twenty years.

Andrea Gerring is adjunct faculty in the Fine Arts Department at NMC.

Karen Goike, PMP, is Senior Business Advisor of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (MMTC).

Vanessa Grasset was born and raised in France. She graduated from the Great Lakes Culinary Institute in 2015. Three years later she opened Crêpes and Co in the State Street Market, downtown Traverse City. At the creperie, Vanessa uses regional Michigan foods to make authentic French crêpes plus other French comfort foods and baked goods from scratch.

Eleonora Hayes, M.F.A., has been teaching and creating art since 2000. Her art has appeared in the Grand Rapids Art Prize competition since 2013. 

Kerry Kelly has been on the board of directors for the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes since 2006. He retired from Dow Chemical in 2004 and is involved in a wide variety of volunteer projects at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Coreene Kreiser, B.F.A., is an adjunct instructor in NMC’s Humanities Area. A professional photographer, Coreene has many publications and years of experience in the field.. 

Joni Krolczyk is a Certified Small Business Consultant having been with the Small Business Development Center since 2015, working with both start-up and existing businesses across various industries. With a background in marketing, including product and brand development, as well as industry experience in agriculture, agritourism, and value added ag-product development,  Joni brings a unique and well-rounded perspective to her client engagements and business trainings. Joni holds a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from The Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.

Stephen Lewis, Ph.D., has authored eight print novels. His most recent, Murder Undone, the sequel to Murder on Old Mission, was published in 2017. His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous journals. His sixth college textbook, Templates, was published in 2014. He retired as Professor of English Emeritus from Suffolk Community College and taught online composition courses for Ferris State University. 

Zack Light, M.S., holds an ACE Trainer certification as well as certification as a personal trainer. He winters in Florida and during the summer months is employed as a police officer in Antrim County. Zack has had success locally and internationally as a weightlifter and bodybuilder. 

Nancy McRay, M.F.A., has been teaching and producing a wide variety of fiber arts since the mid-1980s. She is a former yarn shop owner and Fine Arts Coordinator for East Lansing Recreation and Arts. 

Robert Meisner, J.D., B.A., is a nationally known condominium specialist. He has been a practicing attorney since 1968, is general legal counsel for United Condominium Owners of Michigan, and is co-draftsperson of the Michigan Condominium Act. Mr. Meisner has been teaching condominium law courses since 1981, is an adjunct professor of law, and authors a syndicated column. 

Ginny Mello received her Pilates certification through the United States Pilates Association (USPA). For many years Ginny was a long distance competitive triathlete and Marathon runner until a back injury and subsequent surgery changed her overall approach to fitness. Pilates became a crucial part of her life and ultimately the way back to doing all the things she loved; living with a motto: “Not missing what you can’t do, but rather love what you can.”  Ginny decided to become a Pilates instructor as a way to give back to others. She loves the opportunity to encourage others to lead a more active, powerful life. Ginny enjoys living life with her amazing husband (Joe) and Enzo (Portuguese Water Dog).

Phillip Mikesell, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, taught comparative politics at Wabash College for more than 40 years. He lived, worked, and traveled extensively in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. He retired from active teaching in 2009 and is currently working on the topic of democracy and economic development.

Sarah Montgomery-Richards has an abundant experience in cultural and religious studies. She studied Comparative Religion, and has an M.A. in Interfaith Action. Her experience includes: teaching at Western Michigan University in the Department of Comparative Religion during graduate school, and a current adjunct faculty role in the Philosophy Department at NMC where she teaches Western and Eastern Traditions, as well as a seminar on Global Citizenship and Religion. She is currently serving as the Director of Lifespan Experience for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Grand Traverse, has made multiple trips abroad, and participated in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, UT. Sarah has a background in world religions, history of religion, psychology of religion, philosophy of religion, interfaith action, mindfulness, religion in the public sphere, and myth and ritual just to name a few. She enjoys teaching in an academic setting, as well as leading group meditation and ritual, and participates in celebrations of a variety of world spiritual perspectives.

Jan Oliver, M.A.-communications, is the designer/owner of Grand Traverse Arts ( She is a watercolor painter, illustrator, graphic designer and educator. She is currently illustrating a children’s book and has sold many paintings, illustrations and logo designs. Jan has taught as an adjunct instructor at NMC.

Maggie Quinn, Certified Personal Trainer, Pilates, Jacki Sorensen instructor and Zibrio Balance Specialist. Maggie's passion for living an active lifestyle developed from her dance experience as a child and young adult. That love of dance introduced her to the Jacki Sorensen Aerobic Dance, Step and Workout programs when she and her family moved to Traverse City in 1979. She introduced those programs to NMC in 1990 and has expanded the offerings to students over the past 30 years. She created the Forever Fit, and now the Forever Virtually Fit, programs which provide the proper mix of exercise modalities and classes that reflect the latest exercise research and the role that daily exercise plays in achieving and maintaining a healthy active aging life.

Libby Robold, M.A., E-RYT, PRYT, AHC, has been teaching yoga for NMC since 1984 and yoga therapy for many years. She and her husband co-direct Yoga for Health Education in TC.

Michael Robold, M.A., CYT, has been teaching yoga since 2002, after assisting in classes for 15 years. He teaches for NMC and co-directs Yoga for Health Education, Center for Conscious Living, in TC. 

Sarna Salzman, M.S. has spent 20 years investing in the resilience of Michigan’s people and landscapes as SEEDS Executive Director. She is committed to a triple-bottom-line perspective on problem solving and adaptive leadership. 

Caroline Schaefer-Hills is a lead faculty for NMC in the Visual Communications program. She has been with NMC since 2000. 

Christina Schoenow is a graphic designer with over twenty years experience. She has worked both as a freelance designer and for design firms including Corbin Design, IdeaStream, and Brand Tonic. She has crafted brands and logos for many local businesses including Salamander Technologies and NMC’s Business Development Certificate. She lives in Interlochen with her husband and two daughters.

Elizabeth Sonnabend is a program coordinator for NMC Extended Educational Services and has over twenty years marketing experience working for various local companies in Northern Michigan and 10 years teaching Marketing for NMC. .

Steve Stanton, B.S., worked for IBM in sales then later developing training material to support the worldwide deployment of a major software tool for internal and IBM Business Partner users. Since retiring from IBM, along with teaching at NMC Extended Ed, he has been conducting technology-related training programs for various organizations in the Detroit and Grand Traverse area. He also has a computer service, repair and training business in Suttons Bay.

Jerry Sura, M.A., is retired from teaching high school mathematics, GED, and English as a Second Language. He hikes and bikes the region and recently earned the Northern Naturalist Certificate from NMC Extended Education.

Gretchen Swanson, SPHR and SHRM-SCP / MI SBDC Business Consultant is a senior certified human resources professional with both the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) and Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). She brings both executive and management level experience in hospitality, retail and healthcare. Like many, she grew up working in her family’s businesses and held leadership roles with other regionally recognized successful family businesses in her career.  

Alison Thornton is the Coordinator for Technology Support Services at NMC. She is a Google Certified Trainer and has worked in technology in higher education as well as in the legal and financial industries. 

Adam VanHouten, M.A.-curriculum and teaching, B.F.A.-art education, has been teaching visual art classes for TCAPS since 2004 and painting classes for NMC EES since 2010. Adam paints in a variety of media. As a watercolor artist, he exhibits his work widely and took 1st place in the 2014 Cherry Festival Poster Contest. 

Sarah Wangler, is a Communications Instructor at NMC. 

Gabby Waterman has been growing plants since she was 14. Her specialty is growing indoors, but she also has experience growing vegetables outdoors. She writes a blog where she posts all of her growing tips, recipes and latest interests. She also has a consulting business, helping people grow bountiful gardens indoors and out! 

Kirk Waterstripe, M.S.-ecology, is the Science Lab Manager at NMC and an adjunct instructor of Plant Biology. He has been an active organic gardener and compost maker since 1990.

Arlene Westhoven holds both an art degree from the University of Michigan and a Biology degree from Central Michigan University, but always wanted to be a teacher and a Forest Ranger. She spent her career owning and cooking at a restaurant and teaching environmental biology at Ferris State University. Arlene is now a naturalist at Grass River Natural Area. She loves watching, drawing, and learning about all aspects of the natural world from the miniscule to the monumental, and especially likes the observational aspects such as painting, photography, and writing.  Arlene enjoys sharing these with all ages and helping their appreciation and involvement grow. 

Jerry Williams served 8 years in the US Navy and was a professor at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy at NMC for 30+ years. He has been a member of the Grand Traverse Bay Sail and Power Squadron for 25 years and served as Treasurer and Squadron Education Officer for 6 years. 

Glenn Wolff, B.F.A., began his career as an illustrator for such clients as the New York Times. He is currently a full-time art instructor at NMC teaching drawing, watercolor, printmaking and 2D design. He has illustrated numerous books. His mixed media fine art and collaborative environmental work has been shown in numerous galleries, museums and public spaces.

We thank all of our wonderful instructors for sharing their time and expertise with our community!