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.

  • Nicole Messacar

    Nicole Messacar, a native of Michigan City, Indiana, grew up exploring the beautiful Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan. She has a Bachelor of Science in Public Affairs with a major in Environmental Management from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. She’s worked for the LaPorte County Soil and Water Conservation District as the Education Coordinator for 14 years. For 8 years, she’s served on the Board of the City of LaPorte Park and Recreation Department. She serves as the Youth Outreach Director, the Letha’s Fund Program Coordinator and the Native Plant Wizard Patch Program Manager for the Indiana Native Plant Society. One of her favorite roles is with the Trail Creek Watershed Partnership, where she’s served for more than a decade. In the past, Nicole has managed 120 acres of woods, wetland and grassland at Tryon Farm, a neighborhood that seeks to exist in harmony with the natural environment.

    Nicole fell in love with native plants while on a college trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Learning the plants’ botanical names, discovering the unique habitats and communities all seemed magical. She attempts to share this magic with anyone on a hike with her, often to their dismay. She currently lives in LaPorte, IN with her husband, two youngest children, and her dog Hazel. She has a postage stamp sized urban yard, where she is constantly adding pollinator-friendly native plants and attempting to educate her neighbors on their value. Nicole has serious wanderlust and loves to find and explore new places, always looking for birds and plants.

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

  • Eleanor Schumacher

    Eleanor began her career in agriculture and conservation in 2010, serving as an apiary inspector with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Fascinated by the correlation between pollinator habitat quality and bee health, she pursued studies in Pollination Ecology and received a Master’s Degree in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from University of Illinois in 2018. She worked as Resource Conservationist for the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District from 2017 through 2019, where she enjoyed conservation planning, engineering, event planning, and leading a prairie management collective, the Madison County Prairie Partners. She will be serving Illinois not only as the Project Wingspan State Coordinator, but also as P2's NRCS Pollinator Liaison for the state.

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

  • Holly Frainer

    Holly Frainer is a nature enthusiast, whether it be for hobby or occupation and oversees Project Wingspan's seed cleaning, processing, and grow out activities. 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.