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Board of Directors

Dr. George S. Bullerjahn, President

Dr. George S. Bullerjahn is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences at Bowling Green State University and the Director of the NIEHS/NSF Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health. He earned an A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1977 and a Ph.D. University of Virginia in1984. Dr. Bullerjahn is a molecular biologist and microbiologist whose work is focused on the physiology of aquatic microbial communities. Specifically, for over 30 years he has studied the physiology and stress responses of cyanobacteria in fresh water and marine environments. More recently, these studies have been applied to understanding the characteristics of bloom-forming toxic cyanobacteria in lakes. Regarding Ohio watersheds, Dr. Bullerjahn has studied both Grand Lake St. Marys and western Lake Erie.  These ecosystems have been plagued with seasonal toxic cyanobacterial blooms that have severely degraded water quality and yielded significant negative economic impact to the lakeshore regions. Dr. Bullerjahn’s laboratory has published recent studies demonstrating the likely origin of toxic cyanobacterial species, as well as the nutrient requirements of bloom formation.  Whereas it is well known that phosphorus loadings from agriculture have contributed greatly to the expansion of cyanobacterial blooms, more recently the role of nitrogen in triggering bloom events has become increasingly clear. In recognition of the work by his students and his collaborators, Dr. Bullerjahn and his colleagues have been awarded funds from the NIEHS and NIH to establish the Great Lakes Center for Fresh Waters and Human Health.

Dr. George S. Bullerjahn

Dr. Laura Johnson, President-Elect

Dr. Laura Johnson is Director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio. At the NCWQR, long-term monitoring of streams and rivers is used to examine the influence of human activities on water quality and help decide actions that lead to healthier ecosystems. Laura is best known for research examining the linkages between agricultural runoff and harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. As director, she has overseen expansion of the monitoring program, curriculum development in Watershed Science, revitalization of the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition, and has been part of numerous workgroups and advisory boards. Under her guidance since 2016, the NCWQR continues to be the gold standard for research in nonpoint source pollution in watersheds. 

Dr. Laura Johnson

Dr. Silvia Newell, Past President

Dr. Silvia Newell is the current President of LEARN. She is an Associate Professor at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. She has a Ph.D. in Geosciences from Princeton University and did a postdoc at Boston University. She has worked on biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen in aquatic environments from Gulf of Mexico and the Arabian Sea to Lakes Erie and Taihu. Currently, her work at Wright State focuses on nitrogen as a driver of harmful algal blooms in eutrophic Lake Erie, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Taihu (China), and Estonian lakes, as well as local research on Ohio wetlands through the H2Ohio program partnership with ODNR and LEARN. She was also the co-Chair of the Great Lakes HABs Collaborative from 2018-2020.

Dr. Silvia Newell

Dr. Kristen Fussell, Secretary-Treasurer

Dr. Kristen Fussell began working for Ohio Sea Grant (OHSG) in 2014 and is currently the Associate Director. She is responsible for the administration of OHSG’s research portfolio and fellowship programs and has a true passion for research coordination and collaboration to effectively use federal and state dollars to meet the most pressing needs of our coastal communities. This enthusiasm for research coordination also led her to successfully secure National Science Foundation funding to develop the Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN), which is a group of field stations, scientific laboratories and diverse researchers within Ohio working together to promote collaborative research, education and networking to address the challenges and opportunities facing Ohio’s freshwater resources. Kristen also takes great pride in continuing to support, mentor, and develop the next generation of scientists and policy leaders by growing state and federal fellowship programs, research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and implementing strategies to address workforce diversity and ensure that all feel valued for their individual talents and unique perspectives. In addition to research and fellowship coordination, she leads annual reporting efforts and plays a leading role in fiscal budgeting for OHSG. Kristen has served on several boards and committees, and most recently is serving as Past-President of the Ohio Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, President of the National Sea Grant Research Coordinators Committee, University of Toledo College of Natural Science and Mathematics Advisory Board Member and Board Member of the Ohio Academy of Sciences. Kristen received her M.S. and Ph.D. in ecology from the University of Toledo and her B.A. in zoology from Ohio Wesleyan University. Her research interests are benthic ecology, invasive species, and food-web dynamics in freshwater systems.

Dr. Justin Chaffin, At-Large

Dr. Justin Chaffin is the research coordinator at Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, a field station on Gibraltar and South Bass Islands in Lake Erie. Research in his lab focuses on cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and the environmental factors that promote bloom growth and toxicity. One current research project goal is to develop a forecast for Lake Erie cyanobacterial bloom toxicity that can be incorporated into the NOAA Lake Erie HAB bulletin. A toxicity forecast will help water treatment plants better prepare to remove the toxins and produce safe drinking water. Other projects include understanding the prevalence and environmental factors that promote saxitoxin (a lesser know cyanotoxin) production by benthic and pelagic cyanobacteria, investigations of central basin cyanobacterial bloom, and developing criteria of water quality impairment. Recently completed projects studied the interaction between nitrogen and light intensity in bloom toxicity, the effectiveness of data buoys to track cyanobacterial blooms, nitrogen cycling in Sandusky Bay, and internal loading of phosphorus in western Lake Erie. Dr. Chaffin coordinates a citizen scientist Lake Erie water quality monitoring program where charter boat captains collect data and water samples once a week. He also facilitates visiting scientists who conduct research utilizing labs and research vessels at Stone Lab, and deploy long-term monitoring equipment on the grounds, having assisted with many diverse projects including atmospheric mercury monitoring, PAH and PCB tracking in Lake Erie, fish sampling surveys, and projects relating to birds, bats, and crayfish. Additionally, Dr. Chaffin coordinates Stone Lab’s undergraduate research program and is a certified Merchant Mariner Credential (50 ton Master) (i.e., certified boat captain) by the United States Coast Guard.

Dr. Teresa Cutright, At-Large

Dr. Cutright is a Professor of Civil Engineering at The University of Akron. Dr. Cutright holds B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in Chemical Engineering with an emphasis on environmental remediation techniques. She has over 25 years of experience in conducting site assessments, soil characterizations, and treatability studies for a variety of environmental contaminants; phytoremediation (contaminant removal via plants); nutrient reduction; treatment of harmful algal blooms; and environmental regulations with over $5.9 million in research funding. Dr. Cutright has authored 5 book chapters, 112 refereed journal papers, 40 conference papers, and over 80 technical presentations. In addition, she is a member of Attorney General Yost’s Scientific Advisory Council and Associate Editor for Chemosphere.

Dr. Suzanne M. Gray, At-Large

Dr. Suzanne Gray is an Associate Professor in the School of Environment & Natural Resources at The Ohio State University (OSU) and recently became the Associate Director of Academic Programming and Research at Stone Laboratory. She joined OSU in 2013, having completed several years of postdoctoral work at McGill University (Quebec) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada after completing her PhD at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia) in 2007. Suzanne’s research and teaching focus on understanding the response of freshwater fishes to human-driven environmental change. Specifically, her lab group investigates the underlying behavioral and physiological mechanisms that allow some species to cope with environmental change while others cannot. While she works globally on these issues – from Indonesia to Uganda – her efforts now largely focus on Lake Erie fishes. Using OSU’s Stone Laboratory as a base, Suzanne and the students she works with are investigating how walleye, their prey and the anglers that seek to catch the walleye are affected by harmful algal blooms. Suzanne is passionate about teaching and training the next generation of freshwater stewards and has won national and international teaching awards for her contributions to providing experiential learning opportunities for students. Suzanne also served as the President of the Ohio Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, is an Associate Editor for the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences and has been a part of LEARN since its inception.

Dr. Doug Kane, At-Large

Doug Kane is an Assistant Professor of Biology (Ecology) and Research Scientist in the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University. His research interests lie mainly in the ecology of large lakes and their tributaries. Before coming to Heidelberg University, Doug was a Professor of Biology at Defiance College, where he was awarded the Richard W. Stroede Distinguished Faculty Citation in 2017. Doug has been a Visiting Professor at São Paulo State University in Brazil and a Visiting Researcher at the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center. Further, Doug has mentored students as a Visiting Scientist in The Ohio State University’s F.T. Stone Lab’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program for the past decade and a half. Doug has published peer-reviewed papers in Limnology and Oceanography, Freshwater Biology, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management, Inland Waters, Water, Harmful Algae, Journal of Environmental Sciences, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, Ecological Indicators, and Ohio Journal of Science. Doug is a former President of the Ohio Lake Management Society, former board member of the Ohio Academy of Science, and former board member and President of the International Association for Great Lakes Research and the Upper Maumee Watershed Partnership. Doug is currently on the steering committee of the Sandusky Watershed Coalition.

Xi-Zhi Niu, At-Large

Dr. Xi-Zhi Niu is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to UC, Niu was a postdoc research associate at the University of Arizona (2018-2021); he completed his PhD in Curtin University in Perth Australia and master’s degree in King Abdullah University of Science and Technology of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Niu Lab at UC focuses on environmental chemistry of emerging contaminants; more specifically the team currently work on the analysis and chemistry of contaminants of concern including but not limited to cyanotoxins, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), pharmaceuticals, and organic cations in surface waters, drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater runoff. The Niu Lab also actively works on the biogeochemistry of dissolved natural organic matter, another topic of interest for Lake Erie Research. Equipped with various LC-MS platforms, Niu Lab at UC has strong analytical capacity for complicated environmental matrix. More recently, Niu group works on projects to study the occurrence and fate of cyano-metabolites in the Great Lakes and novel PFAS in the Ohio River region.

Michael Back, Student

Michael is a second year PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at Kent State University, where he also received his B.S. in Biology. He is most interested in wetland biogeochemical and ecosystem restoration research. He enjoys uncovering the secrets that lie beneath the surface of anthropogenically impacted systems. In the past, Michael has worked on determining the effects of soil restoration on belowground physical and chemical properties of abandoned surface mines in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Currently, he is working to implement methods to measure sediment-surface water nutrient exchange at restored wetlands within the H2Ohio Wetland Monitoring Program. Coastal and floodplain reconnections have become of particular interest to him because of their reliance on land managers post-restoration. Land management decisions could drive the effectiveness of restoration efforts at varying spatial and temporal scales, so Michael hopes to study changes in wetland nutrient cycling due to these decisions.

Founding Board Members

We would like to acknowledge LEARN’s founding Board Members including those who now serve in current board roles, Dr. George S. Bullerjahn, Dr. Justin Chaffin, Dr. Suzanne Gray, Dr. Laura Johnson, and Dr. Silvia Newell, and the following:

Dr. Thomas (“Tom”) Bridgeman

Dr. Thomas (“Tom”) Bridgeman is the Director of the Lake Erie Center and Professor of Ecology at the University of Toledo. Dr. Bridgeman is the Past President of LEARN. He leads the UT effort to monitor and track harmful algal blooms (HABs) that form in Maumee Bay and then move toward the Toledo and Oregon. Dr. Bridgeman works with the Toledo water treatment plant intakes to develop warning networks for Lake Erie’s western basin, where harmful algal blooms are most common. Tom previously served on the LEARN Board as President-Elect, President, and Past-President.

Dr. Thomas (“Tom”) Bridgeman

Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello

Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Kent State University, where her lab group spreads the message that #mudmatters by exploring the biogeochemistry of freshwater aquatic ecosystems including urban wetlands, Great Lakes coastal bays, and arctic peatlands. Dr. Kinsman-Costello earned a BS in Environmental Sciences from the University of Notre Dame and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University, where I worked at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, in Zoology and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior. She studies study elemental cycling to better understand how ecosystems, especially muddy ones, work. She is currently the lead PI for the LEARN-ODNR H2Ohio Wetland Monitoring Program.

Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello

Dr. Kevin McCluney

Dr. Kevin McCluney is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Bowling Green State University, specializing in ecology. He received his PhD at Arizona State University, where he studied the influence of river drying on streamside animals. Subsequent work has focused on various aspects of global change in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, with an effort to provide important information for achieving sustainable solutions to ecological and societal challenges. His current aquatic research projects focus on pharmaceutical/contaminant effects on linked aquatic and streamside food webs; nutrient cycling in ditches, wetlands, and streams, with a focus on the roles of plants and animals; the use of phosphate isotopes to trace watershed sources of dissolved phosphates or the recycling of phosphate in agricultural soils; and connections between aquatic systems at large scales (e.g. via migratory waterfowl) and their influence on diversity-stability relationships.

Dr. Kevin McCluney

Dr. W. Robert (“Bob”) Midden

Dr. W. Robert (“Bob”) Midden earned a PhD in Biochemistry from the Ohio State University in 1978 and began his career in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University where he helped start a new PhD program in Environmental Chemistry. He came to BGSU in 1987 to join a team building the new PhD program in photochemical sciences and establishing BGSU as a national leader in photochemical sciences research. Since then, he has pursued multiple research interests including bioorganic photochemistry of some of the fundamental processes of carcinogenesis, the development of more effective methods of education at all levels, and now: the chemodynamics of water and soil, especially as it relates to restoring and maintaining water quality in our environment. The recipient of more than $20 million in grants from federal and state agencies and private foundations, he has led multiple intercollegiate teams in efforts to improve education in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Dr. Midden retired from all of his administrative roles in 2019 and now leads a science research group investigating problems that are threatening the environmental welfare and economic vitality of Lake Erie and other Ohio lakes, rivers, and streams. The focus is on improving understanding of the chemical processes in water and soil that determine environmental integrity and ecological health. This includes the development of technology to improve the environmental sustainability of the use of animal waste as a fertilizer for maximizing crop yield.

Dr. W. Robert (“Bob”) Midden

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