Our Team | Science Museum of Minnesota

Our Team

The Science House Team has a broad range of expertise and experience. Collectively, we have taught in K-12 public and private schools, developed programs in informal STEM institutions, served as faculty in higher education institutions, developed successful grants from private, state, and federal institutions, conducted research in scientific and social disciplines, and lead extensive partnerships.

Science House Professional Development

Liesl Chatman 
Director of Professional Development
Liesl Chatman has been Director of 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 the Museum, 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 has initiated Science House: A Resource Center for Educators, an extensive $1.5 million professional development and materials center for STEM educators; 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.

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 alumni 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
Professional Development Project Lead
Erin Strauss joined the staff 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 institutes 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 department, 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.

Travis Sandland
Professional Development Project Lead
Travis Sandland joined the Professional Development Group in 2006 and is currently a Project Lead in the department. 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 Museum 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 Anderson Youth Science Center, the Museum's youth development program, where he worked with youth traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. At this time he was also the Museum's 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 the Peer Alliance for Gender Equity (PAGE) funded by the National Science Foundation, Nexus: A Statewide Professional Community for District-Level STEM Leaders funded by the Medtronic Foundation, and Science House: A Resource Center for Educators funded by the 3M Foundation. As an adjunct faculty member at Hamline University, he has been the instructor of record for many school-level, teacher-focused summer institutes.

Nils C. Halker II
Professional Development Specialist
Nils Halker joined the Science Museum of Minnesota 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 Science Museum to support culturally competent science teaching and learning with Native American students. He has also 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 the Museum, he taught science and math in the Special Education Department of Edina High School and then became 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 Museum.

Michelle Manno
Professional Development Specialist
Michelle Manno joined the Science House team in October 2016. Michelle has taught at the undergraduate level at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Emory University and will be bringing that experience to her professional development work at the Science Museum.

Prior to joining Science House, Michelle was the Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Diversity at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In this role, she worked on developing and implementing campus-wide diversity initiatives. She also served as co-chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of LGBTQ People and Allies, an advisory group focused on issues facing the LGBTQ campus population. And she was the co-founder of the Gender Affirming Procedures (GAP) Advocates Initiative, a peer health advocate program created to assist students in accessing gender-affirming healthcare.

Michelle is passionate about issues of equity and views education as a transformative, lifelong, social justice act. Michelle received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Emory University and is currently working on a manuscript tentatively titled Full Court Pressure: Female Athletes and the Policing of Identity.

Lyncy Yang
Professional Development Specialist
Lyncy Yang joined the Science House staff in 2015. Prior to her work at the Museum, she taught English Language Arts at North Saint Paul High School to 9th and 12th-grade students. At North, she also served as an AVID Elective Teacher and was an active equity committee and AVID site team member. She studied teaching at Hamline University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Minnesota.

Lyncy met her mentor at an after-school program in second grade, the start of a life-long relationship with teachers and teaching. This friendship inspired her to become a teacher, and now, to teach teachers and address the systemic issues related to equity and access.

In her role at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Lyncy continues her work in supporting education for all students. Trained as an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Educator, Lyncy has prepared traditionally underrepresented students for success in higher education. She also served as a primary advisor for the annual Hmong Youth Development Conference (HYDC), supporting cultural knowledge, leadership, and access to college resources for local Hmong youth.

A Minnesota native, Lyncy has unstoppable excitement regarding outdoor activities. She regularly bikes to work, shares vegetables from her garden, and in her free time explores the world of rock climbing, canoeing, and camping.

Linda Green
Professional Development Fiscal Coordinator
Linda Green 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.

Babette Kelley
Professional Development Coordinator
Babette Kelley 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), and 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.

Maximillian "Max" Rowntree
Science House Visitor Assistant
In the spring of 2011, Max Rowntree volunteered at the museum, working in the Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery as an interpreter during the week, and at Science House on Saturdays. In the spring of 2012, he became a staff member at Science House. Max loves to go fossil hunting over at Lilydale Regional Park and all over St. Paul. He lived in New Mexico until a few years ago; he worked for several years in the New Mexico State Senate as an assistant to the Senate Education Committee. Max was born with Spina Bifida, and it has made it so he thinks and learns in a different way. It has also made it so he understands what other people with disabilities go through.

Max loves his job; it makes it so he learns new things each and every day. His job is very important to him. He's lucky getting to work with the most amazing team at the Science House. It makes him feel needed and a part of a team. He gets to show teachers where things are, help the staff, and help teachers get their equipment to their cars.

Karla Ollanketo
Science House Libarian Coordinator

Karla has been at the Science Museum since 2007. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences Education from the University of Minnesota. At the Science Museum, Karla has developed and taught classes for learners aged 6-60+.

Karla taught high school biology for 8 years, primarily with at-risk students. She is also an environmental education facilitator with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Karla is an avid game player and enjoys all varieties of games. Her current favorites are Dominion and Catan. Karla also has many and varied interests. She is a seamster, soap maker, newbie knitter and estate sale junkie with an eye for upcycling and repurposing the treasures she discovers. Karla also enjoys making Ukrainian-style decorated eggs and greeting cards. Wood-working is another skill she is working on.

Karla has her own collection of skulls, animal bones, tarantula shed, snakeskin, rocks, and is currently working on a rabbit skeleton preparation.

Karla is a lifelong learner who loves sharing that passion for learning, discovery and making science accessible and fun for all.

Contact Us

To reach any of our staff, contact us at [email protected].