Sharing Words of Wisdom: Outgoing NSELA Board Members Leave a Lasting Impression on National Science Leadership

Posted: Apr. 25, 2020

Prepared by: James Blake, Ed.D.

We had to say goodbye to four “greats” who are stepping off of the board this year (pictured below).  I asked them a series of questions when I was preparing remarks for our annual membership meeting.  What I received back from these leaders was too good to be only for the meeting.  Check out their reflections - they are amazing. Thank you all for your service to NSELA! 


Ann Hammersly - Treasurer

 Eddie McGrath - Region B Director

     Kevin Niemi - Informal Science Committee Chair  


 Missi Zender-Sakach - Past President


How long have you been a member of NSELA?

  • Ann: 12 years.  My first experience with NSELA was the SLI in Asheville NC in 2008, where we learned about strategies for Professional Learning Communities. My colleague Erika Mills and I brought this information back to Arizona and taught workshops across the district (and I even did one at NSTA National) with what we’d learned. Erika and I both participated in and led Action Research groups over the years as well. You could say that this first SLI experience REALLY helped me grow as a leader since I put so much of it into practice to help the other teachers in my district.

  • Eddie: 6 years

  • Kevin: 11 years I just went back through scores of emails in my NSELA folder and discovered my welcome email in 2009  as an NSELA member. It was from President Brenda Wojnowski and Susan Koba was my regional director. I know Susan convinced me to join as she and I were on the NSTA PD committee together.

  • Missi: 22 years


What board positions have you held, in addition to your current role?

  • Ann: I was also Region D director for one term, and served on the PD committee for three years

  • Eddie: VESELS Mentor + Region B

  • Kevin: My membership led to many great friends in NSELA. This transitioned me to also serving on the NSELA PD committee from 2011-13. When Elizabeth Mulkerrin began her presidency years she asked me to serve as the chair of the informal education committee which I have done for the past six years.

  • Missi: Region E Director, Membership Committee, Professional Development Committee, President


Tell me about a highlight with NSELA.

  • Ann: My answer to #1 would apply here, but so would last summer’s SLI, where I really enjoyed working with/getting to know the VESELS winners. Mofungo with them and the presidential chain was an experience not to be missed!

  • Eddie: Besides every Leadership Summit (I never left without at least five ideas I tried out immediately):  A few years before I joined, I met Trish H. on a bus ride at NSTA to the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  She told me all about NSELA, and I joined based on what she told me!

  • Kevin: I think our committee’s greatest accomplishments were the committee’s sessions at the NSTA conferences which always drew a number of educators from the informal science community. We have different needs as leaders in the informal arena and these organized discussions at NSTA were needed and productive. I hope they can continue.

  • Missi: the LASTING friendships and the frolic---Nancy’s Inquiry Toolkit videos, BBQ/fire pit at Asilomar, lobster bake at Plymouth Plantation, killer mosquitoes in Dearborn with beverages carried in from our CA leaders, swine flu from Portland, four SLI’s with my parents by my side in Branson/Williamsburg/Austin/TN, jellyfish at Monterrey Bay Aquarium, feeding a giraffe in Omaha, and the list goes on…


What advice do you have for aspiring leaders considering getting more involved with national volunteer organizations - such as NSELA? 

  • Ann: The best way to learn to be a better leader is to DO IT! Don’t be afraid to step up and try something that is not currently in your skill set (like being treasurer) because you will learn and grow and will be a better leader and a better person for the learning experience.

  • Eddie: If you aren’t hearing the things you need to hear in your organization, it’s because it’s your turn to speak!  When you see a need, and decide you’re the person who can meet that need, you have become a leader.

  • Kevin: We are all too busy BUT the rewards of serving our professional organizations far outweigh the time commitment. Besides, the social community of NSELA is outstanding! 

  • Missi: We are all GREAT leaders in our own spaces, and in our own rights.  But how do you engage yourself to lead with further efficacy and integrity?  Where do you go to strive to improve, to be better, to learn, to grow?  NSELA is that network of resources for me.  It is where I find people to surround myself with that are so much MORE creative, driven, scientifically knowledgeable, etc.----and that support educators in different areas, different situations and different pathways.  In those moments, when I’m experiencing limitless learning from others, I realize how much further I have to “stretch” myself to become an even stronger leader.  Organizations, such as NSELA, give us these immeasurable educational opportunities to cultivate our professional networks and build interpersonal relationships; ones that will support each and every one of us in our mission to improve science education.