CCESS 2021 Speakers

Key Note Speakers

Jothsna Harris Image

Jothsna Harris

Jothsna Harris (she/her) has 7 years of experience building capacity for the climate justice movement, most recently as the Director of Special Projects and Partnerships at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, designing, implementing award-winning climate change programs that are rooted in community, and center personal narrative and other values-based ways that resonate. Jothsna led the creative process for and co-edited the book, Eyewitness: Minnesota Voices on Climate Change; an anthology of community-sourced stories, poems, and art, and developed a campaign that utilized the book to build public will and share testimony with legislators to help move climate justice policy. 

Jothsna is an Independent consultant for climate storytelling and other climate-related projects. She currently serves on The Great Northern Board of Directors. In her spare time, Jothsna is a small-scale organic farmer and proud member of the Midwest Farmers of Color Collective.

Alison Waske Sutter Image

Alison Waske Sutter

City of Grand Rapids Sustainability and Performance Management Office

Alison Waske Sutter is the City of Grand Rapids’ Sustainability and Performance Management Officer. She joined the City in September 2017. Alison has nearly 20 years of experience in the sustainability field and is a licensed attorney. She is responsible for managing the City’s sustainability programs as well as the creation and implementation of the citywide Strategic Plan. 

Before joining the City, Alison’s career included sustainability positions with SpartanNash, a Fortune 400 food distribution and retail business as well as sustainability consulting for the healthcare industry. She began her career as an environmental attorney with Warner Norcross and Judd in 2006. Governor Whitmer appointed her to the inaugural Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice in 2020. Alison received her law degree and a Masters of Public Affairs from Indiana University and her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Cincinnati. 

In her free time, Alison enjoys hiking and exploring nature with her husband, 2 sons, and dog. 

Erik Nordman Image

Erik Nordman

Associate Professor of Natural Resources Management at GVSU

Erik Nordman, Ph.D. is a professor of natural resources management at Grand Valley State University. He is also a faculty affiliate at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop and an adjunct professor in Grand Valley’s Economics Department. As a visiting scholar at the Ostrom Workshop in 2019-2020, Nordman wrote the book The Uncommon Knowledge of Elinor Ostrom: Essential Lessons for Collective Action, published by Island Press. The book was featured in Science magazine’s 2021 summer reading list. Nordman was a Fulbright Scholar in 2012-13 and taught at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.

George Heartwell Image

George Heartwell

Former Mayor of Grand Rapids, MI

George K. Heartwell is a former Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan. During his 12-year tenure as Mayor, the city was recognized by the United Nations as the country’s first Regional Center for Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development, by the US Chamber of Commerce as the nation’s most sustainable mid-sized city, and Heartwell was recognized by the US Conference of Mayors with the first place award for climate protection in the large city category. He has spoken widely throughout the globe on the subject of sustainability and is recognized as a content expert in this field. Heartwell has received Gubernatorial appointments from both Democrat and Republican Governors of Michigan, including his current appointment as State Transportation Commissioner, and was appointed by President Obama to serve on the State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Resilience. Heartwell has professional background in business (both for-profit and non-profit), government, and higher education.  He completed his undergraduate studies at Albion College and holds the Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary. Heartwell is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.


Monica Lewis-Patrick Image

Monica Lewis-Patrick

President & CEO, We the People of Detroit

Monica Lewis-Patrick is an educator, entrepreneur, and human rights activist/advocate. Along with the other four founders of We the People of Detroit (WPD), she, with the leadership of volunteers and community experts, placed herself and WPD at the forefront of the water justice struggle in Michigan, across the country and globally. Lewis-Patrick is known throughout the environmental justice community as The Water Warrior. She is actively engaged in the struggle for access to safe, affordable water for all under-resourced communities. 

She currently serves as a member of several organizations, boards, and committees dedicated to the advancement of water equity, including the National Water Affordability Table, All About Water/Freshwater Future - Subcommittee, PolicyLink- Water Energy Resource Caucus (WERC), Michigan Water Unity Table, End Water Poverty, and Healing Our Waters/Equity Advocacy and Action Committee. In October of 2015, she was named to the World Water Justice Council. In 2019 she was appointed to the International Joint Commission (IJC) Great Lakes Water Quality Advisory Board, and she received an appointment to the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice by Gov. Whitmer.

As a former Lead Legislative Policy Analyst for Detroit City Council, Monica has authored legislation, conducted research, and delivered constituency services to thousands of city residents. Lewis-Patrick attended the historic Bennett College. She is a graduate of East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor's degree in Social Work and Sociology and a Masters of Arts of Liberal Studies degree with a concentration in Criminal Justice/Sociology and Public Management. She has also received the honor of being selected as a Michigan State University Water Fellow and Ron McNair Scholar.

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Paul Clements

Professor of Political Science, WMU

Paul Clements is a professor of Political Science at Western Michigan University (WMU) where he directs the master’s program in International Development Administration and the graduate certificate program in Climate Change Policy and Management. He received a BA in Social Studies from Harvard and a PhD in Public Affairs from Princeton. He has conducted evaluations of development projects and worked on evaluation systems in many African countries and in Bangladesh, Brazil, and the Philippines. In 2014 and 2016 he was the Democratic candidate for Congress in Michigan’s Sixth District. He is a co-founder of the WMU Climate Change Working Group and founding member of the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition, and with one of his classes he drafted the original Climate Action Plan for the City of Kalamazoo. Publications include Rawlsian Political Analysis: Rethinking the Microfoundations of Social Science with University of Notre Dame Press, “Rawlsian Ethics of Climate Change” in Critical Criminology, and a chapter on “Contractualism and Climate Change” in Moral Theory and Climate Change: Ethical Perspectives on a Warming Planet.

April E. Lindala Image

April E. Lindala

Professor - NMU Center for Native American Studies

April E. Lindala, MFA is a professor at Northern Michigan University (NMU) in the Center for Native American Studies. She is also currently a PhD student at Michigan Technological University in Rhetoric, Theory, and Culture. Lindala has over twenty-five years of experience working with tribal nations and tribal citizens in the Upper Great Lakes Region. She served as the director of the Center for Native American Studies for over thirteen years and during that time oversaw the creation of a Native American Studies baccalaureate degree at NMU. She also secured multiple federal grants to develop curriculum connections between Indigenous studies and other disciplines. Her portfolio includes two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, two awards from the National Science Foundation, and one award from the Office of Victims of Crime. Lindala also served the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) as a peer reviewer and subsequently, is interested in exploring ways to Indigenize assessment. Lindala began her career at NMU at WNMU Public Broadcasting where she produces and hosts a weekly radio program, Anishinaabe Radio News. 


Jean-Paul Vanderlinden Image

Jean-Paul Vanderlinden

Professor of Ecological Economics and Director of the CEARC at the University of Versailles, France, currently Guest Researcher at the University of Bergen, Norway

I am currently developing a new research stream: local terminal risks as proxies for existential risks. I am exploring empirically, with human groups facing local terminal risks, the conditions under which action may induce a level of remanence that would be deemed acceptable. I am simultaneously exploring if, and if yes how, local terminal risk situations may be used as proxies for existential risks.

I have been engaged, for the past 15 years, in research activities on adaptation to climate change as a key thematic area. I worked and work with local communities, analyzing how climate change is impacting or will potentially impact their daily lives. I analyze adaptation to climate change using risk governance and land use planning as a conceptual entry point through the lens of integrated analysis. My main geographical focus is the coastal zone. I am also conducting research on the epistemic dimension of interdisciplinary work. In terms of method, I use grounded theory in order to analyze qualitative data (corpuses) and to develop theoretical propositions that are grounded in the heuristics of the research subjects I am working with. I have been using art and science integration as a data collection and analysis methodological device.


James Clift

Deputy Director at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

James Clift, is a Deputy Director at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy where he oversees policy and engagement work for the department.  Within his group are the Offices of Climate and Energy, Great Lakes, Environmental Justice Public Advocate, Clean Water Public Advocate, Legislative Affairs and Communications. 

Prior to joining the department, he served as the Policy Director at the Michigan Environmental Council for 20 years. He started his environmental policy career as an Environmental Policy Analyst at the Michigan Senate. He is a graduate of Central Michigan University and Wayne State University Law School. 

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Margrethe Kearney

Senior Attorney at ELPC

Margrethe Kearney is a senior attorney at ELPC. She practices a broad range of energy and environmental law in ELPC’s Grand Rapids, Michigan, office. Margrethe regularly represents ELPC and other nonprofits in front of the Michigan Public Service Commission in both contested cases and stakeholder proceedings related to clean energy and grid modernization. She also protects Michigan’s unique natural places by engaging directly with state and federal agencies and representing clients in state and federal courts. Margrethe regularly appears in bankruptcy proceedings involving significant environmental decommissioning and remediation obligations. Margrethe was previously counsel at Latham & Watkins in the Environment, Land & Resources Department, focusing on environmental enforcement, environmental litigation and advising on environmental aspects of corporate and finance transactions. Before graduating from Harvard Law School, she worked as an associate research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Azizur Molla, Ph.D., M.P.H. Image

Azizur Molla

Professor for the Master of Public Health program

I am working as a Professor of Public Health in the Master of Public Health program of School of Interdisciplinary Health, College of Health Professions at Grand Valley State University. My area of interest includes environmental health, social & behavioral health, and community health. I have over 12 years of college and university level experience in teaching and doing research on public health issues in Bangladesh, in the U.S. and in Haiti. 


Sergio Cira-Reyes Image

Sergio Cira-Reyes

Climate Justice Catalyst with the Urban Core Collective

Sergio Cira-Reyes grew up in Los Angeles as a Mexican immigrant before settling in Grand Rapids. Sergio serves as Climate Justice Catalyst with the Urban Core Collective where he works to increase BIPOC leadership in environmental justice and systems change. His work and a dormant passion recently intersected when he started a local chapter of Latino Outdoors GR to bring Latinos from all walks of life to the outdoors. Sergio is a firm believer that the most pressing issue in the global climate crisis is the inability of BIPOC communities to meet their basic needs which keeps them from taking their rightful place as leaders of their own climate change agenda.



Yumiko Jakobcic

Director of Grand Valley State University’s Office of Sustainability Practices

Yumiko Jakobcic is the Director of Grand Valley State University’s Office of Sustainability Practices. She received a BS in natural resource management from Grand Valley State University, a MEM in conservation science and policy from Duke University, and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. She previously served as the Executive Director of the Winooski Valley Park District, managing eighteen parks across seven communities in Vermont. Her research interests include the transboundary management of natural resources, human diversity in conservation, and neighborhood cohesion supported by natural areas. She is passionate about engaging students in a more sustainable lifestyle.


Elena Lioubimtseva

Professor of Geography at GVSU

Dr. Lioubimtseva's research interests include human vulnerability and adaptations to climate change, food security, climate change scenarios, and applications of geospatial technologies for understanding climate change impacts. Elena has extensive field research experience in Russia, France, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. She is currently conducting research on the climate change adaptation planning by the local governments in the United States and in France and is actively involved in collaboration with the University of Versailles in France. Locally, she is active in her research on adaptation and resiliency planning in West Michigan. She was a special contributor to Grand Rapids Climate Resiliency Report and is a member on West Michigan Climate Adaptation Council.

This event is sponsored by the GVSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Regional Math and Science Center, Geography and Sustainable Planning Department, the GVSU Career Center, and the Office of Sustainable Practices.

For more information, please contact the CCESS Planning Committee Chair, Dr. Elena Lioubimtseva at [email protected]

Page last modified November 3, 2021