IDEAL Center Director
Liesl has directed professional development at the Science Museum of Minnesota since 2005. She has served in significant leadership positions in university, school district, and museum settings. Prior to her work with SMM, she oversaw science for the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) from 2003–2005 and served as the Executive Director of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Science & Health Education Partnership (SEP) from 1994–2003.
At the Science Museum of Minnesota, Liesl initiated and directs the IDEAL Center; oversees the Science House; initiated the Educator Resource Center, an extensive $1.5 million professional development and materials center for educators; initiated Nexus, a state-wide leadership program specifically designed for school district leaders working on inclusion and equity in STEM education; and the National Science Foundation-funded PAGE, a regional leadership program focused on inclusion and equity in STEM education; and the iPAGE Professional Development program for leaders in informal science institutions.
For over a decade, Liesl led an extensive and nationally recognized partnership program at UCSF between biomedical scientists and San Francisco's public school teachers that was initiated by UCSF faculty members including Bruce Alberts, former President of the National Academy of Sciences; J. Micheal Bishop, UCSF Chancellor and Nobel Laureate; and Harold Varmus, former Director of the National Institutes of Health and Nobel Laureate. She has served as Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on major awards addressing professional development, partnership, and diversity issues from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the California Science Project, 3M, and the Medtronic Foundation.
Before her work in professional development, Liesl taught elementary school in SPPS, coordinated educational programs at the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Bell Museum of Natural History, and apprenticed under the late Todd apJones, noted hand-lettering artist. Proud alumna of the University of Minnesota, Liesl has a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Minor in Linguistics. Liesl is also an inveterate graphic journaler and has been visually chronicling science education reform since the early 1990's.
Erin Villegas Strauss
IDEAL Center Project Lead
Erin joined the professional development team as a Project Lead in 2007. She has been a contributing author on multiple grants and served as co-designer and facilitator for many programs for teachers and educational leaders including PAGE, funded by the National Science Foundation, Nexus, and custom professional development for districts and schools. Erin is passionate about exploring the relationships between current and historical social justice issues and the societal role of formal and informal education in maintaining and/or disrupting oppression.
Prior to joining the IDEAL Center, Erin was a Science Instructor at the Perpich Center for Arts Education where she taught Chemistry and Science in Society to 11th and 12th grade arts students. While at Perpich, Erin worked extensively on using Science Notebooks as an effective instructional and assessment tool and on incorporating a specific focus on ethics and social justice into the chemistry curriculum. From 1997–2003 Erin was a Senior Academic Coordinator at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Science & Health Education Partnership (SEP). She was on the leadership team of the NSF-funded Local Systemic Change Initiative known as City Science and the NSF-funded gender equity program, Triad, and focused on the design of professional development and partnership programs involving scientists. In addition, she was a Co-Site Director for the California Science Project, was instrumental in the design of an effort funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) that combined professional development and content learning in biology for elementary teachers, and pioneered action research and Lesson Study Teacher Groups. Prior to working at SEP in 1997, Erin designed and facilitated science education programs at the Museum of Life and Science in North Carolina and worked as an elementary science specialist in a design technology magnet program in the Durham County Public Schools. She holds dual masters degrees in Analytical Chemistry and in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of California, Riverside.
IDEAL Center Project Lead
Travis joined the professional development team in 2006, and is currently a Project Lead. Professionally, he is particularly interested in challenging and reconstructing the beliefs, attitudes, and values that undergird STEM and advantage some groups of students and ways of knowing over others in our educational systems and society at large.
Travis began his career at the SMM after graduating with honors from Macalester College with a Bachelor of Science in Geology and a Physics minor and earning his masters in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University. He was a Youth Program Manager in the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center, the SMM youth development program, where he worked with youth traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. At this time he was also the SMM Earthscapes Outreach Teacher and worked with researchers at the University of Minnesota's National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics to translate their work into experiences for students and teachers.
Travis has been a contributing author on multiple grants, and served as co-designer and facilitator for many programs for teachers and educational leaders: including PAGE, funded by the National Science Foundation and Nexus: A Statewide Professional Community for District-Level STEM Leaders funded by the Medtronic Foundation; and Science House and the SMM Educator Resource Center, funded by the 3M Foundation. As an adjunct faculty member at Hamline University, he has been an instructor of record for many school-level, teacher-focused summer institutes.
Nils C. Halker II
IDEAL Center Specialist
Nils joined the SMM staff in 1996 and has worked extensively with teachers and students in the Upper Midwest. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology and music from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Science in ecotoxicology from the University of Durham, England. He has been an instructor on many projects and institutes, including a six-year collaboration between the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, Bemidji State University, and the SMM, to support culturally competent science teaching and learning with Native American students. He has worked extensively with the Nexus program, PAGE, and school- and district-based projects, to help make STEM classrooms places where each and every student can have success. Prior to coming to SMM, he taught science and math in the Special Education Department of Edina High School, and was Director of Education at the Freshwater Foundation, where he also was editor of a national journal published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He is widely recognized as having the most extensive collection of plastic dinosaurs in the Science Museum of Minnesota.
IDEAL Center Fiscal Coordinator
Linda joined the professional development staff in 2009. She brings many years of accounting/financial experience from a variety of industries. After graduating from Bethel College (now Bethel University) with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration and an accounting minor, she has worked in the travel industry, financial services industry, and at a production company.
IDEAL Center Coordinator
Babette joined the team in March of 2011, bringing a critical set of project planning and communications skills to our group. Her prior work includes video and meeting production, corporate communications, and presentation design. She graduated from Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) with a BA in Communications (film and video production), has earned Business Writing & Project Management certificates from the University of Minnesota Continuing Education Department, and has completed a graduate-level certificate in Instructional Design. She has a Short-Call MN Teaching License and has a passion for high expectations in Special Education classrooms.
Aki Shibata, Demetrios Vital, and Ricardo Beaird
IDEAL Center Specialists
Aki Shibata, Demetrios Vital, and Ricardo Beaird are IDEAL Center Specialists who joined the IDEAL Center team in 2018, supporting the design and facilitation of professional development programs.
Aki is a behavioral artist from Tokyo, Japan. She has taught at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, Minnesota Center for the Book Arts, Saint Paul and Minneapolis Public Schools, Walker Art Center, White Bear Arts Center and Lebanon Hills Nature Center. Aki joined SMM in 2012 as part of the Life Long Learning Department where she managed the NSF-funded LinCT project, working with youth and pre-service teachers on computational thinking. Aki has expertise in community engagement; youth development; and equity and inclusion with a focus on gender, race, culture, and compassion.
Demetrios has worked in art, museums, and education in various capacities, most recently directing and coordinating education in the Jewish community and at the UMN Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Demetrios has expertise in the intersection of pedagogy, identity, and ethics; genocide studies and post-Holocaust education; scientific illustration; artifact conservation; and Hebrew calligraphy.
Ricardo is the most recent member or the IDEAL team and has a background as a theatre practitioner and teaching artist. Prior to joining the IDEAL Center team, he toured prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers in a production of Scapin with Ten Thousand Things Theater. At Penumbra’s Summer Institute program, his primary role was connecting passionate young leaders with educators to bring theatre for social change into their classrooms. He has expertise in facilitating intervention theater and conversations around rape culture, diversity, and substance abuse.