Van Snider Award for Distinguished Partnerships

Michigan Sea Grant’s Van Snider Award for Distinguished Partnerships recognizes individuals who exemplify what it means to be a partner and friend of the organization. MISG established the Van Snider Award in 2010 to honor the memory of Van Snider, former president of the Michigan Boating Industry Association and a long-time collaborator. Through his work, he exemplified what it meant to be a partner — considerate, willing to help, diplomatic and a great, all-around resource.

The inaugural award was given to Snider and has since been awarded regularly to recognize individual partners who have gone above and beyond. Recipients are nominated by MISG staff and selected by the MISG Management Team.

Lois Wolfson (2024)

Senior Specialist in Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

For more than 40 years, Lois Wolfson – in her role as a Senior Specialist in Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife – dedicated her career to the advancement of water resource protection and management. She built networks among water resource stewards in Michigan and nationwide while contributing her own expertise and enthusiasm.

For 33 years, until her retirement last year, she served as the main organizer of the annual Great Lakes Conference. When the event was held in person, MISG used the conference as a professional development program for Michigan teachers. MISG staff often participated by serving as session speakers or moderators at the conference.

Lois also developed and delivered long-term outreach and Extension programs, including the Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute, a leadership training program, and the popular online Introduction to Lakes course. She also contributed to the award-winning Water School program, developed by MISG and Extension to help public officials understand more about water management and water issues.

Lois’ wealth of knowledge and experience surrounding water resource protection, and her years of partnering with MISG, makes her a deserving candidate to receive this Van Snider Award.

Jamie Racklyeft (2024)

Founder and board member of Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium

In 2012, Jamie Racklyeft nearly drowned in a rip current while swimming in Lake Michigan. This life-changing experience prompted him to begin advocating for safer practices among Great Lakes beachgoers and public safety managers. While working as the communication director for the University of Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, Jamie began building a network of water safety advocates. In 2015, he teamed up with MISG and other regional organizations to found the Great Lakes Water Safety Consortium (GLWSC). GLWSC now has more than 1,000 members, including first responders, community leaders, scientists, drowning survivors, meteorologists, and more. The organization provides free water safety materials for public use, hosts conferences, and pushes for policy changes to make beaches safer for swimmers and rescuers.

Jamie served as GLWSC’s director until 2023, when he moved to a new role at the U-M College of Engineering. Jamie now serves as a GLWSC board member under the leadership of educator and boat captain Drew Ferguson. MISG recognizes Jamie’s dedication to making sure Great Lakes beaches are safer for all. Read more about his journey from drowning survivor to anti-drowning advocate in this University of Michigan article.

Don Carpenter (2024)

Principal at Drummond Carpenter, PLLC, and director of the Great Lakes Stormwater Management Institute at Lawrence Technological University

Many Michigan communities have benefited from the work of Don Carpenter, principal at Drummond Carpenter, PLLC, and director of the Great Lakes Stormwater Management Institute at Lawrence Technological University. He has led a series of MISG-funded research projects designed to help small waterfront communities become more economically, ecologically, and socially sustainable. This long-running Sustainable Small Harbors project is now operating with support from state partners, and Don continues to lend his expertise by creating toolkits, hosting webinars, and coordinating with participating communities.

“Don has been a pleasure to work with in that he is very responsive, dedicated, and an excellent speaker,” said Heather Triezenberg, MISG associate director and Extension program manager. “During our Sustainable Small Harbors project visits, when working with village or town governments, volunteers, and the general public, he is a great listener and is able to convey the process and concepts in a way everyone can understand. Under the quick deadline of a [community visioning meeting], he is calm and cool and has always delivered a great product.”

An accredited green design professional and practicing professional engineer, Don’s expertise and research interests include engineering ethics, low-impact development, stormwater management, hydrologic modeling, and more. MISG is grateful for Don’s dedication to helping Michigan communities move toward a prosperous and sustainable future.

Diane Doberneck (2024)

Director for faculty and professional development within the Michigan State University Office for Public Engagement and Scholarship, adjunct associate professor in the MSU Department of Community Sustainability

Engaging with communities can be a critical way for researchers to identify needs, give greater depth and relevance to their work, and ensure that their findings inform solutions to tricky problems. Diane Doberneck has been a powerful ally in MISG’s commitment to training the next generation of community-engaged scholars and practitioners. She serves as the director for faculty and professional development within the Michigan State University Office for Public Engagement and Scholarship and as an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Community Sustainability. She also directs the National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement and coordinates the MSU Graduate Certification in Community Engagement.

Diane has partnered with MISG since 2015, when it began offering the MSU Extension Graduate Fellows Program. She has provided Michigan State University graduate students an opportunity to grow as community-engaged scholars through the graduate certificate program, which includes a seminar series and portfolio project.

In 2017, MISG partnered with Diane to host a week-long community engagement training for graduate students, fellows, and faculty in aquatic sciences from around the country. The training was held again in 2019 through the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health. As a result of the program evaluations for these collaborative engagement training, MISG’s work was published in Fisheries and the Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education.

MISG thanks Diane for working to empower researchers to serve communities in meaningful ways.

George Leshkevich (2018)

Physical scientist at NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

George retired from NOAA after nearly 45 years of federal service. In addition to his outstanding science career, he was the longstanding manager of the Great Lakes CoastWatch Program. For over 30 years, Michigan Sea Grant partnered with NOAA GLERL and George to make CoastWatch data available for recreational, charter, and commercial anglers through our Michigan Sea Grant CoastWatch site. The availability of Great Lakes CoastWatch data to anglers in the region helped make fishing trips safer, optimized fuel use, and informed strategic fishing locations, so their time spent fishing on the Great Lakes is successful and enjoyable. In recent years, many other users from swimmers, emergency personnel, to educators and students have used CoastWatch data to better understand our Great Lakes. 

Marcia Daily (2017)

Educator and Great Lakes Education Program organizer

In 1998, Steve Stewart formed a developmental team downriver to begin implementation of GLEP education, which began in 1991 on Lake St. Clair. Marcia Daily, a 4th grade teacher at Meridian Elementary on Grosse Ile, was among the teachers on that developmental team. Since 1998, when she was one of the first teachers to pilot GLEP education on the lower Detroit River, she participated with her class each year, and as of 2017 her class facilitated the participation of nearly 600 students in the Great Lakes Education Program. In addition, throughout the years she was a constant encouragement to her colleagues at Meridian, helping to ensure the participation of all 4th grade classes each year. Her dedication to advancing Great Lakes literacy and stewardship over the past 20 years was both remarkable and commendable.

Emily Finnell (2016)

Great Lakes senior advisor and strategist in the Office of the Great Lakes (OGL) within the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)

Michigan Sea Grant would like to recognize Emily Finnell with the Van Snider Outstanding Partnership Award. Emily was instrumental in helping to develop the State of Michigan’s Water Strategy, which set important targets for the future of water management in Michigan. She also facilitated our partnership with three offices of the State – MDEQ, MSHDA and MDNR in projects on Small Harbor Sustainability. In addition to these recent activities, Emily worked with Michigan Sea Grant on a number of projects since late 1990s, including many invasive species publications and supervision of a NOAA Coastal Management Fellow on working waterfronts. For all of these activities dedicated to protecting and sustaining our Great Lakes Resources, we are proud to recognize Emily Finnell with our outstanding partner award.

Megan Dodson (2015)

Meteorologist with the National Weather Service

Megan Dodson is a leader in coastal hazards outreach and a great partner to Michigan Sea Grant. She is an inspiration to others with her water safety education efforts, participating in the Life of Lake Superior Youth Program and other community-based committees. She has partnered with Michigan Sea Grant for many years on various dangerous current projects. In 2013, she helped with the agenda and presented at three full-day educational workshops to train park personnel about dangerous currents. Megan, along with Michigan Sea Grant, also developed a searchable Great Lakes Current Incident Database. Her ongoing research has determined that structural currents are a significant factor in fatalities in Michigan and the region. This has been a game changer for our outreach efforts. Our Sea Grant team has come to rely not only on Megan’s expertise, but her enthusiasm for her work.

Jim Thannum (2014)

Natural Resource Development Specialist for the Great Lake Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission

 Jim worked with Ron Kinnunen on implementing the Seafood HACCP Training Program in all the tribes served by GLIFWC in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, training over 550 commercial fishers, processors, and aquaculturists. Jim also served as an advisor to the Great Lakes Whitefish Marketing Project and was an integral player in getting this program off the ground. He secured extra grant monies to help implement specialized marketing efforts for the tribal fishermen they serve, and developed their own web site:

Gerald (Jerry) Smith (2014)

Curator Emeritus of Fishes, Curator Emeritus of Lower Vertebrates, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences

 Jerry was an advocate for fisheries education for more than 35 years. In addition to his expertise in fisheries science, Jerry had a passion for educating students, anglers, and others about Great Lakes fishes. Jerry assisted with three versions of the Life of the Lakes book, helped develop the popular “Fins, Tails, and Scales” poster and authored the Guide to Great Lakes Fishes, published by the University of Michigan Press. Jerry’s good nature and ability to communicate complex issues to lay audiences made him a valuable resource and great partner in fisheries education.

Tom Kelly (2014)

Founder and Executive Director of the Inland Seas Education Association

 Tom had been a passionate advocate for Great Lakes education for almost 40 years. He was the first Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator, serving in Traverse City with the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s. In the late 1980s, Tom’s passion for exposing and educating the next generation of students on the waters of the Great Lakes led him to charter a schooner and begin taking school classes out on Grand Traverse Bay. He founded the Inland Seas Education Association and was successful in fundraising and obtaining a key matching grant to design and build a science schooner, The Inland Seas, which was delivered in 1994. This ship became a platform from which many students launched lives devoted to stewardship of the Great Lakes, and many have gone on to graduate school science careers because of their exposure from the Schoolship experience. On top of the students educated about the Great Lakes, a perhaps relatively unknown fact is the thousands of adult Schoolship instructors that have been trained in Great Lakes ecology over these many years. Tom collaborated with Michigan Sea Grant on Schoolship education from 1991, when his expertise helped in the development of the Great Lakes Education Program. He and ISEA continued to work with Michigan Sea Grant since that time.

Jim Johnson (2014)

Station Manager and distinguished Fisheries Research Biologist for the Lake Huron Fisheries Research Station in Alpena

As a Great Lakes scientist, Jim was among the greatest and was well known, widely published, and greatly respected for his contributions advancing Lake Huron fisheries research – particularly as the Lake Huron fishery underwent dramatic ecological changes resulting from introductions and impacts of aquatic invasive species. Critical to our coastal communities and businesses dependent upon these fisheries was building an understanding, communicating, and responding to these changes – both ecological management, but also social community and business responses to these changes. Jim’s contributions added value to nearly every aspect of our Lake Huron investments, including Spring Lake Huron Fisheries workshops, annual Great Lakes Fisheries Leadership Institute, Lake Huron Biodiversity Conservation, Marketing Lake Huron Fisheries and Businesses: Sustainable Coastal Tourism planning and promotion, COSEE Great Lakes teacher workshops, and the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

Cap'n Denny Grinold (2014)

Charter fishing boat captain

Cap’n Denny Grinold was a happy man who spent at least half of his time outdoors in the fresh air helping people have fun. As such, Denny became the foremost charter boat captain, fishing Lake Michigan for world-class trout and salmon. He helped thousands of people enjoy the Great Lakes he so tirelessly helped to protect and enhance. But much more than that, he become a person who is highly knowledgeable and passionate about Michigan’s Great Lakes and its fisheries resources, and a constant friend and promoter of the Michigan Sea Grant Program. In spending so much time on the water, Denny observed the changes that take place every season — be it water quality or fish populations. Many of us only get the chance to hear about the health of the Great Lakes; Denny lived it and, by so doing, was able to transfer this knowledge in practical and meaningful ways to our students, staff, and partners. It is impossible to list all of Denny’s accomplishments, but he had a history of determined participation and leadership in, and cultivation of, partnerships between anglers, environmental groups, the charter boat industry, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Sea Grant, and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Overall, Denny served on more than 20 boards and commissions and has held numerous appointments. Cap’n Denny was one of the most successful charter captains in the Great Lakes (awarded a top 20 angler in the world award), and we were fortunate to have him as a friend and colleague.

Van Snider (2010)

President of the Michigan Boating Industries Association (MBIA)

Van Snider received a prestigious award at a Michigan Sea Grant College Program meeting held at MacRay Harbor. It was Snider’s leadership qualities that led Sea Grant to honor him by naming this and future Sea Grant awards the Van Snider Award. Snider had led MBIA for 20 years and is a strong advocate for the boating industry.

“Van represents the boating industry as a gentleman, as a professional and as steward,” said Jim Diana, then Director of Michigan Sea Grant. “He is the type of partner that builds bridges, recognizes opportunities and understands the balance of industry and environment.”

As one of the founders of the Michigan Clean Marina Program, Snider promoted participation in the Clean Marina effort at boating industry conferences, with legislators, natural resource managers and others. He also promoted education efforts, both among the boating industry members, and at Michigan’s universities. “Van understands that encouraging Michigan marinas to voluntarily adopt best practices that exceed regulatory requirements will make the boating industry stronger,” said Chuck Pistis, then Extension Program Leader for Michigan Sea Grant. Michigan Sea Grant management, staff, leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Sea Grant, as well as other friends and guests of Michigan Sea Grant were on hand to congratulate Snider on receiving this award.