Our Ocean Advocates

J. Bruce Neill, Ph.D. (Doc Bruce), Co-Founder and Executive Director

Growing up in Miami, Bruce explored the diverse ecosystems of southern Florida and the Bahamas, and developed an appreciation for the ocean early on. This fascination eventually led him to study zoology at the University of Georgia, earn a master's degree in coral reef biology and sea urchin behavior on Guam, and later complete a Ph.D. in conservation biology at Montana State University. Doc Bruce has held academic positions at colleges and field schools, as well as at elementary schools and the American Museum of Natural History. His true passion is teaching, and it is his hope that by sharing the wonders of the sea, he will be able to provide his students with a lifetime of discovery and ocean stewardship.

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Evelyn Monroe Neill, Co-Founder

A biology groupie and the daughter of a science teacher, Evelyn spent years pursuing an interest in marine science before falling into a career in advertising. She has been a creative director for Nike, Microsoft, Coke, Visa and Glass Is Life among other brands and has overseen communications throughout the world – in Pakistan, India, Europe, and Latin America. Advertising itself is a lesson in the staggering power of communication. That power comes from the blending narratives of how we live our lives and what we incorporate into our stories. It is Evelyn's deep desire to make the ocean and ocean conservation a vital part of everyone's life story.

Together, Evelyn and her partner in life, Doc Bruce, have devoted themselves to creating a school where people can come to learn about the ocean. The rest of the story is what they will build with, they hope, your involvement.


 
We are the Ocean Tribe.
– Doc Bruce –
 

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Nicole Finnicum, M.S., Director of Operations

Nicole began her journey as an all-around naturalist at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio where she studied plant biology and ecology. Soon after, she obtained her master’s degree in environmental studies while researching the impacts of urbanization on bird diversity in Edinburgh, Scotland. After studying abroad in Borneo, volunteering in St. Eustatius, and teaching in The Bahamas, she quickly found her niche in marine science education. Nicole has been thrilled to share the ocean with kids over the years at Sanibel Sea School and is excited to be pursuing her second master's degree in Nonprofit Management with the University of Central Florida. She hopes to broaden her knowledge of the business side of Sanibel Sea School, and to help grow our institution into a sustainable organization for future generations. 


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Shannon Stainken, M.S., Director of Education

Shannon grew up moving from place to place every two or three years – the one thing that remained constant was the deep connection she felt to the ocean, and she decided early on to pursue a career that would allow her to research, conserve, and protect it. She went on to obtain a degree in marine biology from the University of Miami, and a Master of Professional Science in marine conservation at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Shannon found her true calling in marine science education and outreach while working in the education department at Miami Seaquarium, and believes that education is the key to a better future for our seas. She is excited to continue pursuing her passion for marine science education at Sanibel Sea School. 


Chrissy Basturk, Director of Development

Chrissy has been a Sanibel resident for over 25 years, and her sons Metin and Peter have attended Sanibel Sea School since early childhood. After a long career in retail management, she is feeling enthusiastic about this new opportunity. "I look forward to finding new ways to support this organization that I have been passionate about since the beginning," she said. "I am so thankful for the programs Sanibel Sea School has brought to our island community and want to see them continue for many more years." Chrissy will lead our Sustainability Campaign, oversee all fundraising efforts, and guide our retail operations.


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Leah Biery, M.Sc., Director of Communications

Leah spent her childhood summers exploring Sanibel’s rich ecosystems with her father and a dip net. Later, she studied zoology and nonprofits at NC State University, and baboon behavior in Tanzania. After a stint as the lead educator at Sanibel Sea School, Leah moved to Vancouver, Canada to write a thesis on the shark fin trade, and earned a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of British Columbia. She then worked as a marine scientist for the nonprofit Oceana in Belize before returning to our organization. Leah’s passions include travel, learning, yoga, and making science accessible to the average citizen. 


Christina Gould, Office Coordinator

As a child, Christina enjoyed exploring the shores of Maryland and Delaware and the Chesapeake Bay. She attended York College of Pennsylvania, where she studied criminal justice and Sociology, then worked for the family courts in the Philadelphia area for 16 years. Christina recently relocated to Sanibel with her husband and daughter to escape the northern winters and be closer to family, and is excited for her daughter to grow up by the ocean. 


Johnny Rader, Marine Science Educator

Johnny grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and often traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where his love for the ocean began. He attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, studying plant biology and wildlife conservation biology. After finishing school, he rediscovered his passion for the ocean while teaching marine science at a field station on Andros Island in the Bahamas, which is bordered by some of the world's most beautiful coral reefs. He is a certified Divemaster who believes that everyone has something to teach and something to learn, and that education is the most important tool for inspiring young people to love and protect our oceans.


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Kalli Unthank, M.S., Sundial Campus Site Manager

Kalli spent her childhood exploring mountains and beaches all over the country, which sparked her interest in the outdoors. She wanted a career where she would be outside every day, which led her to study marine science at Jacksonville University. She then studied geosciences at Florida International University during graduate school, where she conducted water quality research in the Everglades. During this time, Kalli enjoyed talking with the public about her research, and decided to pursue a career in science education. This led her to discover the ocean tribe at Sanibel Sea School, where she is excited to share the wonders of the ocean with her students!


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Dani Lacy, M.S., Marine Science Educator

Dani grew up in landlocked Louisville, Kentucky. At the age of 12, she went on her first dive while visiting Small Hope Bay in Andros, Bahamas and has been fascinated with the ocean ever since. Dani attended Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where she majored in biology and marine science and studied abroad in San Salvador, Bahamas at the Gerace Research Center. After college, she worked at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, then earned a master's degree in tropical marine ecosystem management at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami, Florida. Part of her research looked at the effectiveness of various approaches to environmental education. Dani couldn’t be more excited to work for Sanibel Sea School, where lesson plans are designed to help students learn, understand, and fall in love with the ocean. 


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Emmett Horvath, Marine Science Educator

Emmett spent much of his childhood in the forested, mountainous land of New Hampshire but also traveled extensively with his family, one of the benefits of a homeschooled education. In 2007, he and his sisters took several classes at Sanibel Sea School, which ignited his love for the ocean. He began volunteering at Sea School as a CIT two years later, then became a senior CIT, and eventually a full-fledged camp counselor. Emmett attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he majored in marine biology and minored in studio art, and spent a summer working at a shark research station in the Bahamas. After taking some time to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and complete his EMT certification, Emmett is excited to be back at Sea School once again, because he believes that education, adventure, and exploration are the keys to fostering better stewardship of the waters and lands around us.

 


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Sam Lucas, Conservation Initiative Coordinator and Marine Science Instructor

Sam was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, but spent her childhood summers exploring Florida’s Gulf Coast. From a young age, Sam knew she wanted to pursue her interest in marine science. She went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science in biology from Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. While at school, Sam worked as a naturalist at a local discovery center, where her passion for environmental education was ignited. After graduation, she continued to pursue this passion and moved a little farther down the shore to work as a master educator at a field station on the coast of Virginia. Sam is ecstatic to start a new adventure at Sanibel Sea School, and cannot wait to share her enthusiasm for the ocean.


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Kealy McNeal, Outdoor Education Coordinator

Kealy grew up in Iowa and spent her childhood vacationing in Florida, where she fell in love with the ocean. As a young girl, her career aspirations ranged from dolphin trainer to marine biologist. Eventually, Kealy attended the University of Tampa, where she studied environmental and marine science. After her studies, she worked for The Audubon Society, monitoring and protecting nesting shorebirds on beaches in Florida and Massachusetts. Environmental education is very important to Kealy, and she can’t wait to share her ocean knowledge and enthusiasm with others at Sanibel Sea School.


Interested in job or volunteer opportunities with us?


Board of Trustees

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Nik Khakee, President

Nik Khakee is a Managing Director at Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services LLC and is responsible for credit risk analysis of financial institutions and investment funds. Nik received his Master’s degree in Public and Private Management from Yale University’s School of Management in May 1996 and his Bachelor of Arts from New York University in 1992, where he graduated with honors. Nik has been coming to Sanibel since 1977, first with his parents (who now reside on Sanibel), and now with his wife, Elissa, and sons, Jivan and Suraj. Sanibel Sea School fills a void Nik experienced as a young visitor to Sanibel. Nik was aware of the importance of the nature and ecology of Sanibel but wished for ways to learn more and supplement walks, paddles, and bike rides. Nik is delighted to serve as a board member to support Sanibel Sea School’s efforts to help fill that void and advance broader understanding of the importance of ocean conservation.     


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Mark Marinello, Vice President

Mark Marinello is a longtime Sanibel resident who got his start in Naperville, Illinois.  He served as president and founding principal of Metro Resource Investments, Inc. and was a founding shareholder of Penchant Consulting, Inc.  For over 20 years he has been a commercial real estate investor and a principal in a Southwest Florida multi-chain restaurant.  As a father of two, Mark devotes time to several charitable organizations in addition to the Sanibel Sea School. These include the Children’s Hospital of SW Florida, the American Cancer Society, the Canterbury School and The Sanibel School.


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Jody O'Konski, Secretary

Jody O'Konski graduated Harvard College with an AB in English. She received a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in France for a year. After completing a Master's Degree in Public Administration at San Diego State University, she obtained her J.D. from the University of San Diego in 1986, and practiced employment and healthcare law in California, before moving to Florida in 1991 with her husband, Dr. Mark O'Konski. After becoming a member of the Florida Bar, she continued to practice law, and to conduct mediations. Her son, Sam O'Konski, discovered the Sanibel Sea School, first as a camper, and later as a counselor in training. Having discovered the perfect blend of unconditional love, ocean conservation, challenging water activities, and lasting friendships, he continues to volunteer at the Sea School during the summer. Jody was greatly moved by her son's experience at the Sanibel Sea School, and was thrilled to be invited to play a role in its future growth and sustainability. She became a member of the Board of Trustees in 2012, and was recently named Secretary.


Charles Massie, Finance Committee Chair

Chuck holds a BS in Pharmacy from University of Oklahoma and has studied accounting at the University of South Florida. He began his career as the owner and operator of several pharmacies, while simultaneously building a software company specializing in medical accounting and records management and launching mailing and printing companies to support his growing business needs. After selling these companies, he further pursued his interest in accounting to found Massie & Reilly, CPAs, PLLC in Fort Myers. He is an Enrolled Agent (EA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA), and Certified Financial Planner (CFP). Chuck has also owned a yacht dealership and is a licensed pilot and captain. 


Mark Summit

Born in California, Mark has been immersed in the sea since boyhood. He received an Aquatic Biology degree from U.C. Santa Barbara and became an aquarist, commercial diver, and ship captain, before teaching scuba, sailing, and science. He has spent most of his professional life working in and founding outdoor marine science programs. Along with his wife, Cara, Mark teaches science at Canterbury School.  In 2010, they relocated from their live-aboard sailboat to Sanibel where their two young children will soon tromp through the island’s ecosystems as Sanibel Sea School campers. Mark is certain that, somehow, all his life experiences will further Sanibel Sea School’s mission.

 


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Christine Szymanczyk

Christine has always been drawn to the beauty, serenity and diversity of the water. She grew up close to Lake Michigan in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago and has been visiting SW Florida since she was a little girl, when both sets of grandparents moved to North Naples. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, she moved to Australia for a year and spent time diving the Great Barrier Reef, sailing the Whitsunday Islands and traveling throughout both Australia and New Zealand. Afterwards, while studying to receive her Master’s in Education at the University of Indiana, one of her professors encouraged her to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship and after grad school Christine moved to Argentina to teach students who were studying to be English teachers at the Universidad de Villa María. During her time there she had the privilege to travel to Patagonia and to the Lake Regions of both Argentina and Chile. To see the vast and untouched landmasses of the national parks and the dedication to conservation was incredible. In 2016, after many years of teaching high school Spanish and subsequently raising two very active little boys, Christine, her husband Kyle, and their boys decided to move to Sanibel Island! After getting to know the Sea School through the eyes of her oldest son, who has been a camper for two years, and through Kyle’s family who has been involved for many years, she is very excited and honored to partner with the Sanibel Sea School which blends together her love of the water, education, and conservation. 


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Jennifer McMillen

Jennifer grew up in Indiana and has been visiting SW Florida ever since her grandparents relocated here 46 years ago. She holds two Bachelor's degrees in Public Relations and Speech Communications from Albion College and a Masters in Merchandise Marketing from FIDM. Jennifer and her daughter, Jesse, moved to the area in 1998 and have been enjoying the beaches here ever since. Jesse began attending Sanibel Sea School in 2006 as a camper, and has held CIT and Counselor positions every summer since 2010. Now, Jennifer’s 6 year old niece, Isabelle, attends Sea School as a camper, continuing the family tradition. Jennifer joined our Board in 2014. She also works at Mark Loren Jewelry Designs and likes to spend her free time in Colorado and Montana hiking and being outdoors with her family. 


Roseanne Giordani


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Jodi Rienzo

Jodi Schwartzel-Rienzo is a Florida native who grew up in Fort Myers and spent her summers on Sanibel Island. After attending Ringling College of Art & Design, she entered the world of advertising working for Wolf Atlanta and Ogilvy Los Angeles. Wanting to return to Florida, in 2004 Jodi took a new career path as a Financial Adviser, first with UBS Financial Services and now with Morgan Stanley. Jodi and her children fell in love with Sanibel Sea School when they walked through the door. She loves being involved in an amazing camp and organization that challenges kids (and adults) to step outside of our comfort zone and learn about the sand under our feet and the ocean we love to splash in through hands-on experiences.


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Scott Fischer

Scott Fischer’s love for the ocean began at age 16, when he starting scuba diving in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. During his undergraduate program at Georgia, he worked as an assistant instructor and accompanied countless groups of students on their first open water dives in the ocean. Like so many others in our community, his life in southwest Florida began with a quick, unplanned stop in Fort Myers before a dive trip. Now a full-time resident, he lives here with his wife, Jennifer, and 12 year old daughter, Michaela. Fischer is the founder and managing partner of SRI, a full-service advertising agency. His other interests include traveling, boating, and just about anything outdoors.


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Chip Roach

Chip graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1966 and is now retired from his lifelong career as a Realtor in the Philadelphia market, during which he helped grow the real estate firm started by his father and uncle from 30 to over 4,000 employees. In addition to Sanibel Sea School, Chip serves as a board member for the Captiva Chapel by the Sea, The Charitable Foundation of the Islands, and Fox & Roach Charities. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Nancy, and together they have three children and five grandchildren. 


John Grey


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Jenna Sullivan

Jenna worked as an educator at Sanibel Sea School for three years prior to beginning graduate studies at Oregon State University, where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in marine ecology while studying the impacts of climate change on near-shore ecosystems, with a focus on sea stars. She has also taught high school on Wotje Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and currently serves as the assistant to Dr. Jane Lubchenco in her role as the State Department-appointed Science Envoy for the Ocean. Jenna strongly believes in the ocean's power to change people's lives, and as a board member hopes to draw upon her personal experience as an educator and her intricate understanding of marine ecosystems to help direct a more sustainable and productive future for Sanibel Sea School. 


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Evelyn Monroe Neill, Board of Trustees Member and Founder

J. Bruce Neill, Ph.D., Ex-Officio Member, Executive Director, and Founder