Project Wingspan State Coordinators and Team Members

  • Connie Crancer

    Connie has a BS in Horticulture from Michigan State University and received her MS in Terrestrial Ecology from the University of Michigan where she was employed for twenty-six years at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. At the beginning of her career at the Gardens and Arboretum her main focus was growing plant material for the UM Biology Department and the School of Natural Resources along with maintaining the Helen V. Smith Wildflower Garden.

    Her interests grew towards native plants when she joined the Michigan Botanical Club and later became Vice President and Program Director for six years. As her interests grew in ecology with the completion of her Masters; her responsibilities shifted to the natural areas focus at the Gardens and Arboretum, specifically native plants. Her duties included seed collection, plug production, the installation of bio-swales, native gardens and plantings, and participation in restoration efforts including prescribed burns and seed dispersal, all of which was made possible by the help of her many dedicated volunteers.

    She retired from her University job and moved back to the west side of Michigan where she originally lived and now resides on a 200 acre organic farm. Her contributions to the farm include establishing pollinator/insect strips and islands with entirely MI genotype native plant species. She enjoys vegetable gardening, especially extending the growing season in her hoopette. She shares her native plant knowledge by giving nature hikes for the Chamber of Commerce and private organizations, and conducting seed cleaning workshops. She enjoys watching sunsets over Lake Michigan, riding her bicycle, walking her sheep, gathering with her girl friends and sitting a variety animal friends while their people are away.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Michigan, please fill out this form and Connie will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Connie via email.

  • Holly Frainer

    Holly Frainer is a nature enthusiast, whether it be for hobby or occupation. Holly graduated from Western Illinois University with a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Science with an emphasis on Horticulture and Dendrology. She had the liberty of completing her internship at one of Chicagoland’s leading landscaping firms, Acres Landscaping Group. Previous experiences include a Forester for Davey Resource Group with Davey Trees, Greenhouse and Garden Center management, and owning and operating Barefoot Roots landscaping. Outside of Holly's professional experiences, she is a contributing member to various gardening societies such as Land of Lincoln Water Gardening Society, Sangamon Gardening Society, and Springfield Garden Society. In her spare time, she greatly enjoys gardening, growing and caring for plants, hiking trails, single-track mountain bike riding, kayaking, camping, and anything involving the outdoors.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Illinois, please fill out this form and Holly will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Holly via email.

  • Joe Hovis

    Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Joe has worked in conservation for the past 3 decades with a wide variety of agencies and universities in 10 different states. For the last 20 years, he has had the pleasure of being a wildlife manager at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA’s largest occurrence of native grassland and the only home in the East for the Regal Fritillary Butterfly. In order to restore grassland habitat using seed from plants adapted to growing in PA, he partnered with Ernst Conservation Seeds to collect, propagate, and make commercially available PA-ecotype plant species critical to the restoration of PA native grassland habitat.

    While most of his early research experience was with vertebrate wildlife, he firmly believes native plants and pollinators are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. A key step toward this journey was managing a 2,500 hive honeybee operation while in graduate school; this invertebrate experience led him down the pollinator path. Whether giving a presentation or leading a nature tour, Joe is sure to talk about pollinators and plants that some people call “weeds.”

    He is excited to take his experience gained over the years and use those skills as the Project Wingspan Pennsylvania State Coordinator and spread more PA native seed across the state.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Pennsylvania, please fill out this form and Joe will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Joe via email.

  • Lara Roketenetz

    Lara has a Master’s in Biology from John Carroll University and a Ph.D. in Integrated Bioscience from The University of Akron. She is currently in school at Cleveland State University to get a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management. She is on the boards of several nonprofits (Dunham Tavern Museum, Green Triangle, and Society of Ecological Restoration - Midwest Great Lakes Chapter). She was the recipient of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Conservation Educator of the Year in 2017.

    Lara is currently the manager for the University of Akron Field Station (UAFS). The field station encompasses three sites: The Martin Center for Field Studies and Environmental Education at Bath Nature Preserve, Steiner Woods, and Panzner Wetland Wildlife Preserve. Although she wears many hats as the UAFS manager, her true passion is the community engagement program she’s spearheaded to increase UA’s involvement with local area K-12 schools. She also plans, leads, or recruits other local experts for outreach events for the general public – topics include: garlic mustard pulls, owl prowls, pollinator and moth hikes, woodcock walks, nature-inspired art classes in collaboration with the local library, etc. Lara understands the importance of connecting people to nature in order to inspire stewardship and community action.

    Lara lives in Lakewood with her partner Josh, three dogs (Emmy, Finn, and Cricket), two cats (Charley and Elsie Mae), three chickens (Brownie, Betty, and Becky), two turtles (Ollie and Sip), cockatiel (Gertie), and fish (Sunny). She loves gardening, hiking, crafting, and all things nature.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Ohio, please fill out this form and Lara will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Lara via email.

  • Laura Jach Smith

    Laura is the Project Wingspan State Coordinator for Wisconsin. As an agroecologist and ecosystem ecologist, she strives to advance the conservation and ecological enhancement of our natural and agricultural resources. Her past experiences include working for organic CSA vegetable and fruit farms, the Native Plants Project with the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, UW-Extension, and the UW-Madison Grassland Ecology Lab. She studied natural resources at Northland College (B.S.) and holds graduate degrees specializing in ecosystem nutrient cycling and plant-soil-fungal relationships in Tallgrass Prairies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Agroecology M.S. and Environment and Resources Ph.D). She also co-owns Resilient Ecological Services, LLC with her husband, Matt, in southeastern Wisconsin and provides ecological restoration and consulting services to landowners. During her free time, Laura loves gardening, cooking, running, spending time on the shores of Lake Michigan, and can most often be found outside raising her two young children on their land.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Wisconsin, please fill out this form and Laura will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Laura via email.

  • Kyla Tripp

    Like many before her, Kyla developed a lifelong passion for the environment by paddling through clear waters and laughing around a campfire in the BWCAW of Minnesota. However, over time, wild places became more than an adventure and more than an amazing ecosystem to behold. She became an environmental steward; working day-to-day to guide governmental agencies, scientists and communities toward a sustainable and responsible outcome. Kyla believes collaboration plays a key role in the success of environmental conservation efforts and that lasting conservation is achieved through partnerships with a range of extraordinary allies who can share their strengths to make continual progress.

    Today, Kyla is P2’s Project Wingspan State Coordinator for Minnesota. She works with various state partners to address the decline in pollinators and the fragmentation of habitat through seed collection, technical training, enhancing and securing long-term habitat.

    Kyla’s work in the conservation field has led her across the globe: from the coastal headlands of San Francisco tracking raptor migration, trudging through hip-deep mud and muck monitoring diversity of wetland species in the Midwest, and through the rolling hills of Rwanda where she supported the development of a national forestry monitoring information system with IUCN and heads of the Rwandan National Government. Kyla is also a PMI certified project manager, has logged hundreds of hours leading nature outreach programs and is an avid rock-climber. Kyla holds a Bachelors degree in Biology, Environmental Science, and Chemistry from Coe College and received her MS in Environmental Conservation from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Minnesota, please fill out this form and Kyla will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Kyla via email.

  • Sara Wittenberg

    Sara received a BS in zoology from Auburn University. While at Auburn, she worked at the Southeastern Raptor Rehabilitation Center. She served as the Director of Rehabilitation, and had the great honor of releasing numerous orphaned and injured raptors back into the wild. Her honors thesis examined the causes of mortality of birds admitted to SERRC. Sara spent a summer in Costa Rica interning under the veterinarian at the national zoo. She spent another summer in the field trapping, tagging, and tracking gopher tortoises.

    Sara then attended the University of Arkansas, where she used stable isotopes to attempt to determine where raptors migrating southward through the Florida Keys had originated. In conjunction with collecting data for her thesis, she co-ran a HawkWatch International raptor banding station. During and post-graduate school, Sara worked as a land bird monitoring surveyor for the USFS for 5 summers in the Ouachita National Forest, and spent one spring assisting in Cornell University’s search in the White River NWR for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, thought to be extinct since the 1940s. Before graduating with her MS in biology, Sara completed a Tropical Ecology course in Costa Rica through the Organization for Tropical Studies.

    Post-graduation, Sara taught at a fairly new public charter high school, before moving to the most remote wildlife refuge in the continental United States. While living on the refuge Sara conducted surveys for the USFWS on sandhill cranes and sage grouse. Sara, her husband (a herpetologist and current high school headmaster) and two children moved to one more remote refuge in Nebraska, then returned to Arkansas in 2015 where they now reside with their hound dog Scooter. Weekends often find them spending time in the beautiful Ozark mountains. This summer Sara plans on adding pipevine to her yard’s ever expanding collection of native butterfly host plants.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Arkansas, please fill out this form and Sara will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Sara via email.

  • Emily Yates

    Emily Yates, P2’s Project Wingspan State Coordinator for Indiana, has served various conservation initiatives for 20 years in non-profits and public gardens. A native Midwesterner, Emily was educated in botany, ecology and geography in Illinois and Iowa studying habitat fragmentation, GIS, and endangered and rare species at Missouri Botanical Garden and serving for 12 years as coordinator of the Dixon Nat’l Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank at Chicago Botanic Garden. She developed seed collection networks across the Midwest and Great Plains focusing on preservation of tallgrass prairie species and habitat in association with the Millennium Seed Bank Project at Kew Gardens, UK and the Nat’l Seeds of Success Program in cooperation with the US Bureau of Land Management. Emily has fieldwork experience in grassland and forest ecosystems in Montana, Nevada, the Midwest and Great Plains and has worked for Nevada’s Great Basin Institute leading bat surveys, butterfly inventories, and native seed collection efforts. She is a science communicator and freelance editor, public lands advocate, and just plain loves to be outside in the beauty of nature. In her off-work hours Emily is an avid cake baker and Bakery Road Trip blogger, artist and painter, and enjoys travel, growing food and community gardening and is a map and cartography enthusiast.

    If you'd like to volunteer with Project Wingspan in Indiana, please fill out this form and Emily will get in touch with you with more information. You can also reach Emily via email.