Sea Grant 50th Anniversary: Celebrating the work of our Extension educators

Brandon Schroeder is passionate about place-based education.

Brandon Schroeder works with youth during a place-based education program. Michigan Sea Grant

Brandon Schroeder works with youth during a place-based education program. Michigan Sea Grant

In 2016, the National Sea Grant College Program celebrates 50 years of putting science to work for America’s coastal communities.

Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership that turns research into action by supporting science-based, environmentally sustainable practices that ensure coastal communities remain engines of economic growth in a rapidly changing world. There are 33 programs across the country working to help build and grow innovative businesses along America’s oceans and Great Lakes, protect against environmental destruction and natural disasters, and train the next generation of leaders.

Established in 1969, Michigan Sea Grant, is a collaboration between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. We offer research, education and community outreach on topics such as aquatic invasive species, coastal development, commercial and sports fishing, and environmental stewardship for youth. 

Our MSU Extension educators live and work in coastal communities around Michigan. We celebrate their hard work and take this opportunity to introduce each of them during this anniversary year.

Brandon Schroeder, located in Alpena, serves five coastal Lake Huron counties in northeast Michigan and has been an extension educator for more than 10 years. Brandon’s background is in fisheries management and aquatic education programming, with both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Before joining the Michigan Sea Grant team in 2004, he served as a fisheries resource and policy specialist with Michigan United Conservation Clubs. 

Brandon’s current Sea Grant Extension efforts involve fisheries science, sustainable coastal tourism development, Lake Huron biodiversity conservation, and promoting Great Lakes literacy and education opportunities. He serves on the national Sea Grant Education Network’s executive committee, and as member of the regional Sea Grant Center for Great Lakes Literacy team.  He provides leadership for the statewide 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp, a teen science and leadership camp in Michigan, and locally for a regional place-based stewardship education network, the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative.

What made you decide to be an extension educator?

Growing up near Lake Huron I developed a passion for Michigan’s amazing water resources while fishing, swimming, scuba diving, taking on aquatic studies at school, and generally exploring my local Great Lakes coastline, streams, and farm pond. In contrast, several amazing teachers during my high school experience inspired me toward a career in education. Why choose between two exciting careers? A mentor and advisor, Dr. Shari Dann at Michigan State University, helped me to realize an opportunity to cross-connect Great Lakes and natural resource sciences with education and outreach through careers like Extension. I quickly discovered an amazing career path connecting science with people through education, including fisheries policy with MUCC, natural resources education through 4-H, Project F.I.S.H. and Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, and eventually a rewarding career with Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension.

How has Michigan Sea Grant made a difference in the Northeast Michigan?

Northeast Michigan is rich in Great Lakes natural resources and in my Sea Grant Extension role it is been extremely exciting to work in partnership with communities to think about how science can help us sustainably benefit from our coastal resources. 

In our Extension role, and as part of the community, I believe we are uniquely positioned on the frontline of emerging issues that are most relevant and pressing for our communities. For example, the Lake Huron fishery has witnessed dramatic ecological changes resulting from invasive species introductions. Many communities and businesses – from charter fishing to bait shops – were negatively impacted when important salmon fisheries collapsed as a result of these ecological changes. Michigan Sea Grant was able to help connect scientists and management agencies with anglers and coastal communities to help understand and respond to these ecosystem changes. 

More broadly than fishing alone, coastal tourism is extremely important to the economy in northeast Michigan, and several years back, we invested in a regional coastal tourism research and planning project, the Northeast Michigan Integrated Assessment. It is been great to work with agencies, such as the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and state Department of Natural Resources, along with tourism partners through the U.S. 23 Heritage Route to bring some of the dreams and diversity of tourism development opportunities identified in this planning effort to life. We are proud of our investment to promote sustainable coastal tourism across northeast Michigan.

Finally, and perhaps most exciting, has been our work in Northeast Michigan to connect youth – through their learning – in environmental stewardship projects that make a difference in their communities. Through our Center for Great Lakes Literacy and our leadership for the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative partnership, we provide support for schools, educators and youth. Through this work students are engaged as leaders and valued partners in their community addressing important issues of water quality, habitat restoration, invasive species monitoring, biodiversity conservation, marine debris prevention, ecotourism development opportunities, and more! Through their projects youth are not only the future for northeast Michigan but serving as valued leaders and partners in Great Lakes stewardship today.

What challenges does your area of the state face as you look to the future?

Northeast Michigan rural communities benefit from many undeveloped areas from woodlands, waterways, and Great Lakes coastline. Access offers residents and tourists alike a wealth of experiences from hunting and fishing, wetlands and birding, kayaking and maritime heritage. These assets define the region’s sunrise side identity. Northeast Michigan communities continue to look to the Great Lakes as an opportunity to promote economic development but in a resource-responsible way. A challenge will be finding ways to develop resource opportunities, such as through ecotourism, without compromising the quality of life and sense of place this region so much enjoys. 

How will you and Michigan Sea Grant help?

The most energizing part of my work with Sea Grant is the opportunity to facilitate new partnerships, where we can bring together new networks of people and partners together in ways that catalyze new opportunities. It continues to be rewarding to think of the many new opportunities that may arise when we connect fisheries stakeholders as part of a coastal tourism development initiative; or when we cross-connect school students as citizen scientists working alongside Great Lakes scientists to accomplish a coastal biodiversity mapping project. 

Do you have any advice for students who might want to pursue a career with an environmental focus?

I have found my fisheries and Great Lakes science career to be entirely rewarding. Where my passion lies in fisheries science and education, I would challenge students to explore the wide diversity and variety environmental careers to be explored. Careers may range from research to management to law enforcement to even education opportunities. I would encourage students to explore the possibilities, reflect on their passions, and grab opportunities to job shadow or work alongside the professionals currently in these careers. This is not only a great opportunity to explore a potential future career, but also potentially contribute to environmental stewardship opportunities today.

If you could get people to follow just one piece of conservation advice what would it be?

In Michigan, we are extremely rich in Great Lakes and natural resources – they define our sense of place and who we are. Leveraging science can help us care for our Great Lakes, and in trade they will take care of us.

We collectively share responsibility to protect, conserve, and care for these amazing freshwater seas – one fifth of the world’s surface freshwater – found right in our own backyard. Yet, we also gain great benefit from this investment – both personally and as a state – through the many social, ecological, and economic values these resources trade back to us. After all, if we can apply science to enhance water quality we gain clean drinking water, if we reduce marine debris entering our lakes we gain clean beaches on which to swim and play, and if we manage our fisheries and address issues like invasive species than we gain a wide diversity of Great Lakes fish to be to be caught for fun and for food.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.