Don’t miss our incredible lineup of speakers!

Conference Speakers:

Visionary Leaders from Across the Country

Schedule | Tracks and Workshops | Field Trips | Accommodations | Sponsorships | Scholarships


Don’t miss our incredible line up of speakers at Choosing to Lead! Prepare to be inspired as you hear their powerful stories of advocacy and how they’ve chosen to lead for the world around them.

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Wallace ‘J.’ Nichols as our lunchtime keynote speaker!

Called “Keeper of the Sea” by GQ Magazine and “a visionary” by Outside Magazine, Dr. Nichols is an innovative, silo-busting, entrepreneurial scientist, movement maker, renown marine biologist, voracious Earth and idea explorer, wild water advocate, bestselling author, sought after lecturer, and fun-loving Dad. His experiences as a sea turtle scientist, teacher, mentor, parent, and advisor all support his quest to build a stronger and more diverse blue movement.

Dr. Nichols has authored more than 200 scientific papers, technical reports, book chapters, and popular publications; lectured in more than 30 countries; and appeared in hundreds of print, film, radio, and television media outlets including NPR, BBC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic, Animal Planet, Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Elle, Vogue, Fast Company, Surfer Magazine, Scientific American, and New Scientist, among others

His current focus is on what he refers to as Blue Mind, a powerful new universal story of water. In this story, he describes all of the physical, ecological, economic, cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social benefits of healthy oceans and waterways. His book Blue Mind quickly became a national bestseller and has been translated to numerous languages and inspired a wave of media and practical application.

Dr. Nichols will give the lunchtime keynote and lead an afternoon workshop (The Seven Ages of Water) in the “Our Coastal Way of Life” track.

Closing Keynote: Dr. J. Drew Lanham

Dr. J. Drew Lanham is a wildlife ecologist at Clemson University, with a research focus on songbird ecology, as well as the African American role in natural resources conservation. In his teaching, research, and outreach roles, Drew seeks to translate conservation science to make it relevant to others in ways that are evocative and understandable. His “connecting the conservation dots” and “coloring the conservation conversation” messages have been delivered internationally.

Drew strongly believes that conservation must be a blending of head and heart; rigorous science and evocative art. He is active on a number of conservation boards, is an inaugural Fellow of the Audubon-Toyota Together Green initiative, and is a member of the advisory board for the North American Association of Environmental Education. Drew is a widely published author and award-nominated poet, writing about his experiences as a birder, hunter and wild, wandering soul. His recently published memoir, The Home Place-Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, won the 2017 Southern Book Prize. Dr. Lanham will give our closing keynote – read more of his work here.

Workshop Leaders and Panelists: Complete List of Speakers and Bios Coming Soon!

Reverend Mary Beene, M.Div, M.P.A., Openings: Let the Spirit In
Rev. Mary Beene, M.Div, M.P.A. is a spiritual director, coach, speaker and retreat leader with Openings: Let the Spirit In. She also coordinates the M.K. Pentecost Ecology Fund, which makes small grants for coastal environmental work. After 12 years of environmental fundraising and nonprofit management, she served 10 years as a small church pastor, joining her Christian faith and commitment to justice and sustainability. She is now in private practice helping individuals and organizations discover their passions and pursue success. Her work builds on storytelling and vision casting to help clients identify blocks, achieve financial objectives, and align personal and professional goals for better living.

Laura Chamberlin, WHSRN Executive Office — Manomet
Laura Chamberlin, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHRSRN) Executive Office — Manomet, coordinates the Celebrate Delaware Bay project and its collaborative strategies for engaging new audiences in shorebird and horseshoe crab conservation. Using experiences on the Delaware Bay and social marketing best practices, Chamberlin is creating a community engagement toolkit to aide other WHSRN sites in the development of strategic community engagement programs. Prior to Manomet, Laura managed the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative at the Alice Ferguson Foundation and co-founded the Trash Free Maryland Alliance, which focuses on social marketing, policy, and enforcement solutions for litter and waste. Chamberlin has also worked on public land conservation in eastern California and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa.

Reverend Deacon Leeann Culbreath, Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL)
Leeann is based in Tifton as a permanent deacon in the Episcopal church serving in the Diocese of Georgia. She founded and leads the Creation Care Commission for the diocese and also serves on the Province IV Grace for Creation Council, a group developing Creation care ministry in the Episcopal Church in the Southeast. For GIPL, Leeann assists with outreach to faith communities across South Georgia and keeps an eye on the problem of coal ash in our state. A graduate of Wheaton College and University of Montana, she is raising two boys along with her husband Albert, a banjo-playing peanut pathologist. Together, they co-steward 160 acres of wetland swamp and enjoy outdoor adventures, cooking, making music, and backyard homesteading.

Chris Dixon, Author, Journalist, and Film Researcher
Chris Dixon is a senior writer for and the founding online editor of Surfer Magazine. His writing and reporting regularly appears in titles as diverse as The New York Times, Garden & Gun, Outside, The Surfer’s Journal, Popular Mechanics and Men’s Journal. Bookwise, Chris is the author of Ghost Wave, the Discovery of Cortes Bank and the Biggest Wave on Earth. He is a contributing author to Taschen’s newly published Surfing: 1778-Today, and is a contributing writer to New York Times Bestselling works, The Southerner’s Handbook, and 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada, from the editors of The New York Times. His writing also appears in the anthology The Big Juice: Epic Tales of Big Wave Surfing. His next ocean-related book will be published by Chronicle Books in 2017.

Dr. Dionne Hoskins, Associate Professor at Savannah State University
Dr. Hoskins-Brown was born in Hampton, Virginia and began her education in the Savannah Chatham County Public Schools at Gould Elementary when her family settled in Savannah in 1980. In 1999, shortly after college and graduate school, she worked briefly as a Marine Science Postdoctoral Fellow at Savannah State University. Soon after she was assigned by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) of NOAA Fisheries to develop a Cooperative Marine Education and Research (CMER) program at the university, the first of its kind at a historically black university. Her research with undergraduate and graduate students focuses on the ecology of marine invertebrates. Her program also hosts a marine science camp for local students and the African American Fisherman Oral History Project. Her work with students garnered her the Emmeline Moore Prize from the American Fisheries Society in 2016, their highest award for an individual whose life work has contributed to diversity in fisheries.

Amanda Jameson and Junaid Dawud, The Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers
Amanda and Junaid are on the road for their first year as Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers, teaching the principles of Leave No Trace throughout the East Central region. For Amanda, teaching, learning, writing, and hiking are a way of life. She particularly enjoys engaging communities by relating her real-life experiences of practicing Leave No Trace into her teaching. Junaid is passionate about instilling Leave No Trace principles in generations young and old. He loves passing along knowledge from his thru-hiking and guiding pursuits to those looking to minimize their impact when spending time outdoors. They are both excited to teach, camp, explore, and empower others to protect and preserve our public lands this year as Traveling Trainers.

Jackie Kendall, Midwest Academy
Jackie Kendall is a longtime organizer and trainer and former director of the Midwest Academy, a leading national training institute for the progressive movement for social justice. Jackie has worked on numerous issue campaign involving environmental, healthcare, housing, civil and human rights, and other social justice issues. Currently semi-retired, she is consulting with several organizations, providing strategic planning, organizational development, and training.

Alice Keyes, One Hundred Miles
Alice Keyes is the Vice President of Coastal Conservation at One Hundred Miles. She and her family have lived in coastal Georgia since 2009. Alice is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Biology. She also received a Master’s degree in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia. Before joining One Hundred Miles, Alice focused largely focused on water issues – working as a policy advisor to the Director of the State of Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Director of Water Resource Programs at the Georgia Conservancy. She also served as a program officer for the R. Howard Dobbs, Jr. Foundation. She is a graduate of the Institute of Georgia Environmental Leadership and was honored with the Georgia Association of Water Professionals President’s Award for her work in water conservation. Alice lives in Brunswick with her husband Tim and four children. They are active members of Taylors Chapel United Methodist Church, canoe as much as possible, and watch a lot of birds.

Eamonn Leonard, Coastal Wildscapes
Eamonn was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama earned a BS in Horticulture (2000) from Auburn University. He worked at the J.W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway and the USGS in Idaho before attending graduate school at Utah State University, where he obtained an MS in Plant Ecology (2007) with a focus on invasive species. Eamonn currently works as a biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and sits on the Conservation Task force for Cannons Point on Saint Simons Island, chairman of Coastal WildScapes, chairman of the Coastal Georgia Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, vice chair of the Savannah Pest Risk Committee, treasurer for the Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council, and secretary for the Coastal Plain Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society. Eamonn currently resides in downtown Brunswick and enjoys being out in nature as much as possible be it hiking, camping, kayaking, or gardening.

Hope Moorer, Georgia Ports Authority
Hope Moorer, general manager for Navigation Programs at the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), is responsible for the coordination of navigation projects in both Brunswick and Savannah. Hope began her career with GPA in September 1999 as manager of public affairs in the External Affairs Department and began working on the Savannah deepening in 2000. Hope served as Chair of the Harbors and Navigation Committee of the American Association of Ports Authorities (AAPA) from 2015 to 2017. She previously served as a co-chair of the AAPA and Corps of Engineers Quality Partnership Initiative and participated in both Leadership Savannah and the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL). A native of Reevesville, South Carolina, Ms. Moorer earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Broadcast/Film Communication from the University of Alabama and a Master of Public Administration Degree from the University of Charleston.

Jami Nettles, Weyerhaeuser Company
Dr. Nettles is a Research Forest Hydrologist with 20 years of experience with Weyerhaeuser Company, working to understand the effects of forest management and best management practices on water quality and quantity. The hydrology platform includes long term research sites, such as in Carteret County, NC, primarily conducted with NC State University and the US Forest Service. Additional research has looked at effects of forest management such as road building and fertilization, and external processes such as climate change and mercury deposition. The recent work on bioenergy from managed forests looked at effects of interplanting a dedicated energy crop in pine plantations to reduce demand on food crop production. Dr. Nettles attended the University of Alabama in Civil Engineering, and has an MS in Fluid Mechanics and a PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering. In addition to being active in state and national groups, she is working with the UN’s FAO Forest and Water Network to identify global research needs and solutions in reforestation and forest management.

Doug Parsons, America Adapts: The Climate Change Podcast
Doug Parsons is the host of America Adapts:  The Climate Change Podcast. The podcast hosts some of the most innovative and leading adaptation thinkers in the country to talk about how we as a society should adapt to climate change. Prior to hosting this podcast, Doug was the North America Policy Director for the Society for Conservation Biology. Doug was also the Climate Change Liaison with the National Park Service’s Climate Change Response Program, where he worked with other federal agencies on the emerging issue of adaptation. He was also the state of Florida’s first Climate Change Coordinator, working at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Doug first started working on climate change issues while living in Queensland, Australia and got his start professionally in the early 2000s doing land conservation with The Georgia Conservancy.

CheFarmer Matthew Raiford, Gilliard Farms and The Farmer and The Larder
(CheFarmer = Chef & Farmer!) CheFarmer Matthew Raiford returned home to Brunswick, Georgia in 2011 to become the sixth generation farmer on his family’s’ land, which they have owned since 1874. His children are the seventh generation to have planted, harvested, and eaten from crops on Gilliard Farms, a sibling-run certified organic farm. He is also co-owner of The Farmer and The Larder, a culinary mixed use space specializing in E.A.T. (educational adventures in taste), done through culinary classes, events, kitchen retail, and supper club. He is now working on opening his second project: Strong Roots Provisions, a Port City Food, Jazz Rhythm & Blues Restaurant in Downtown Brunswick. CheFarmer also serves on the Chefs Collaborative Board of Directors and is active in his local Coastal Georgia Slow Food Chapter. He enjoys planting heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs, traveling, and teaching, whether it be cooking or gardening. His passion lies in creating food memories for others by preparing local, organic and flavorful foods.

Jim Renner, Southern Ionics Minerals, LLC
Jim Renner is a geologist and environmental planner with 30 years of experience in natural resource consulting. He has worked on a wide variety of projects related to water supply, environmental impact assessment, mining and mineral processing, and natural resource management. Examples include planning and permitting ground water and surface water supply systems throughout Georgia; developing consistent wastewater treatment standards for Coca-Cola’s global operations; assessing environmental liabilities at Imerys’ talc mining facilities around the world; identifying long-term conservation and recreation options for The Nature Conservancy’s 8000 acre Doe Mountain Recreation Area; and modeling impacts of a new dredging technique in Savannah Harbor. As Manager of Environmental Stewardship, Jim has managed Southern Ionics’ mining environmental and stakeholder involvement activities since project conception. He works to advance a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and community engagement as Southern Ionics operates its mines and mineral processing facilities. Prior to joining Southern Ionics, Jim was a principal with Golder Associates Inc. a global earth science and engineering consultancy.

Stephanie Stuckey, City of Atlanta Office of Resilience
Stephanie Stuckey received both her undergraduate and law degree from the University of Georgia.  She graduated cum laude from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1992.  After law school, she served as a public defender and then went into private practice before being elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1999.  Stephanie served as a State Representative from the Decatur area for 14 years, during which time she was a member of the Judiciary and Natural Resources Committees.  She then went on to serve as Executive Director of GreenLaw, an Atlanta-based public interest law firm dedicated to giving Georgia’s environment its day in court.  In May 2015, she was appointed by Mayor Kasim Reed to be Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta. In November 2016, Stephanie was named the Chief Resilience Officer for Atlanta, working in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities.” Stephanie’s legal expertise was recognized in 2011 when she was given the Outstanding Lawyer in Public Service Award by the Atlanta Bar Association.  Stephanie serves on the Boards for the Green Chamber of the South, EarthShare of Georgia, and the Olmsted Linear Parks Association.  She is a member of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2013.

Ryan Szvetecz, Greening Forward
After a baseball-filled childhood in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ryan Szvetecz is currently attending the University of Georgia to pursue degrees in Finance and Environmental Economics and Management. He is the oldest of 3 siblings, and has two beautiful dogs back at home. In his free time, he enjoys dominating the competition in intramural sports, exploring the many incredible restaurants Athens, Georgia has to offer, and relaxing with friends. In high school, Ryan knew that he wanted to work in the business world, but after taking an environmental science class, he became fascinated by the environmental problems facing the world today. He is excited by the role businesses can play in becoming a more sustainable society, and in the future, wants to help companies embrace a triple-bottom line approach.

Cary Lynne Thigpen, Greening Forward
Cary Lynne Thigpen is currently a Political Science/Pre-Law major at the University of Georgia. She is passionate about environmental protection as a direct result of the numerous family trips to National Parks she has taken in the past 20 years. In addition to schoolwork, Cary Lynne’s days are filled with dogs, volunteering for various campaigns, spontaneous travel, and A Capella. Cary Lynne hopes to pursue a career in the lobbying field, and eventually wind up in politics.