Fred Sitkins has come full circle as the Executive Director of the Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA) after it inspired him so early in life. Fred helped crew one of the ISEA's first tall ships back in the '90s, plus, Fred has served as an elementary educator and principal.
Fred Sitkins, Executive Director of the Inland Seas Education Association.
Using this experience and the vision of the ISEA's founder, Fred took the helm of the schoolship program in 2013. The program allows students to use cutting edge scientific equipment and to experience, first hand, what a job as a Great Lakes scientist looks and feels like.
The Inland Seas Education Association strives to inspire the future stewardship of the Great Lakes through exciting, engaging, hands on experiences on board tall ship schooners. They work with school groups from all around the Great Lakes basin, sometimes providing young people with their first time experience to access the Great Lakes.
Fred Sitkins, and Roy Lamphier, founder of Excelerate America, addressing the participants
of the school program last month on the Detroit River.
Last month, Excelerate America co-hosted an interactive event with the Inland Seas Education Association to support youth sailing and education. We believe in their vision and love their story, so we wanted to share it with you today.
Read more about Fred Sitkins and the Inland Seas Education Association in this month's Tenacity Tales.
What’s the obstacle that you’ve overcome that you’re most proud of?
Inland Seas Education Association is located in Suttons Bay, Michigan. While this location in beautiful northwest lower Michigan is an ideal location for inspiring a love and stewardship of our natural resources, the distance from metropolitan areas containing the students we most want to inspire is significant.
Therefore, the obstacle I am most proud of overcoming is the recent renovation of our waterfront facility to create a beautiful and unique dorm space for groups of up to 40 students. Our dorm rooms are nautical themed and the bunks mimic those that would be found on-board one of our ships. The space is fun and inspirational and provides everything a group would need to feel comfortable traveling long distances for a unique experience like Inland Seas provides.
While the distance barrier still exists, we have made the idea of traveling that distance more appealing by providing overnight accommodations. This new campus also opens up a broad range of extension activities that schools can engage with thereby providing a deeper more impactful experience. We are finding that it is easier for a group to commit to a Schoolship experience when they can also engage in an underwater robotics program and spend the night in our unique dorm space.
The recent renovation of the Inland Seas Education Association facility includes the addition of dormitory-style living quarters to serve
students, groups, and adults attending ISEA programs.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Running a non-profit organization involves spending so much time in a scarcity mindset. I’ve found that non-profit organizations have no shortage of good ideas or people willing to serve, but money is typically the limiting factor. While I was aware that the organization had to make a significant investment in our facility, I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to find the money to make those needed investments and consequently it took me a long time to act.
In the end, we launched a very successful $1.5 million capital campaign to undergo this complete campus renovation. I wish I would have had more confidence in the widespread support that our organization enjoys and that I would have realized sooner how many individuals and corporations believed in the importance of this initiative to our work and organization.
Students gain a unique insight into the basic ecology of the Great Lakes by becoming scientists for the day. T
hey collect and analyze samples, including fish, plankton and organisms that live along the bottom (benthos).
What’s your best advice to other small business owners?
I believe that I have to be a “responsible” leader at all times. Sometimes to me this responsibility means that I must always minimize risk. Advice that I would try to give small business owners is that when your organization has a strong need, being responsible means finding a way to address that need even if it can feel like a risky endeavor.
What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me involves living and breathing the business 24 hours/day. My morning coffee and breakfast time is spent catching up on email, finalizing my calendar for the day, and developing a list of priorities. When I get to work, I take advantage of the morning quiet to accomplish the task that needs the most uninterrupted time.
Once the day get’s rolling, people begin to show up and the phone starts ringing, I often find myself in a reactionary time. It is difficult in these later morning hours to devote much focused time on any one project. I typically spend my lunch re-evaluating my morning and adjusting plans for the afternoon. A typical afternoon for me involves meetings and proposal writing. I’m fortunate in that our work involves tall ships and the water so I typically am afforded a couple of opportunities each day to get outside on the water. I don’t get to sail everyday, but I certainly get enough time on the water with our programming to keep me engaged in the purpose of our work.
The 70' Inland Seas Schooner has been converted to include a full functioning bio-lab and outfitted with equipment for collecting environmental samples.
What’s next for you and Inland Seas Education Association?
We have instituted a broad range of changes with this campus renovation which have all opened up vast new markets and program opportunities for us. Our plan is to spend the next couple of years testing, revising, and fully implementing as many of these new opportunities as we can. We have provided unique learning experiences to over 125,000 participants in our 30-year history. Our next step is to reach the 250,000th program participant in the next 15-years.
Want to learn more about Fred and the Inland Seas Education Association?
Check out the Inland Seas Education Association website