Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative


The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative is one of the most comprehensive place-based education programs in the country. I’m completely impressed with how the program directors have devised strategies that simultaneously increase student engagement, improve academic achievement, and contribute to the improvement of environmental quality in the Great Lakes’ ecosystems. It’s like feeding a whole flock of birds with one hand." - David Sobel, Center for Place-based Education, Antioch New England Institute

Program Type

Curriculum/Instructional Materials
Teacher Development/Training
Hands on/Project-Based

Target Audience

All Students

Teachers/Educational Leaders




Pre-K - 5
Grades 6 - 8
Grades 9 - 12

 Accomplished link

Program Impact

Since 2007, more than 1,000 teachers and 98,000 students have participated in place-based stewardship education supported by the GLSI.  In 2015-16, we offered 15,985 K-12 students from 108 schools the chance to engage in robust, inquiry-based projects that drew on the expertise and resources of community-based organizations. Many of these schools have worked with the GLSI for several years and are fielding increasingly sophisticated projects of great value to their communities.

Documented positive impacts on students include: an improved ability to use STEM practices, enhanced civic capacity, gains in skills related to teamwork and collaboration, learning gains on environmental issues that are a focus of place-based stewardship education projects.


Program Overview

The Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative develops knowledgeable, active stewards of the Great Lakes by supporting hands-on environmental learning in communities.

A network of nine sites across Michigan supports place-based education for K-12 students; offers professional development for K-12 teachers; and facilitates school-community partnerships. Students—with their teachers and local partners—plan and conduct projects about environmental issues in their communities. In the process, they learn academic content and gain skills in critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and teamwork.

The GLSI helps teachers incorporate STEM practices by a) offering a variety of professional development opportunities; b) providing coaching and guidance on the design of place-based stewardship education projects; c) convening meetings/conferences and creating publications that share best practices and exemplars; and d) facilitating school-community partnerships, which bring working scientists into K-12 education in direct support of students and teachers.

Our Guiding Principles for Exemplary Place-based Stewardship Education and a related Self-assessment Rubric describe the nature and development of teaching and learning that we wish to see in K–12 schools and communities, and how it may develop. Case studies of exemplary place-based stewardship education show what the work looks like in real schools and communities across the urban-rural spectrum (see

How To Get Involved

Hubs regularly draw on local STEM professionals, who share heir expertise during field- or classroom-based interactions with students or during professional development sessions/consultations with teachers.  STEM professionals also help design place-based stewardship projects, provide access to sites, materials, equipment, or data, for students’ projects.

Options for investment include: funding a place-based stewardship project ($500-$2,500);  offering a teacher scholarship for a GLSI summer institute ($400); sponsoring the GLSI’s annual Place-based Education Conference ($500 basic sponsorship-$10,000 key sponsorship); supporting a regional, public showcase, where students communicate the results and impact of their projects ($1,000-$3,000).

Funders and Partners

Major Funders
Great Lakes Fishery Trust
Wege Foundation
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
NOAA B-WET Program
Frey Foundation

Other Partners
Community Foundation for Northeast Michigan
Copper Country Intermediate School District
Eastern Michigan University
Grand Valley State University
Inland Seas Education Association
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Education
Michigan State University
Michigan Technological University
Muskegon Area Intermediate School District
Superior Watershed Partnership
University of Michigan–Flint


Mary Whitmore, Coordinator

View website

Design Principles

The programs in this database clear a high bar. STEMworks reviewed each program against the Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

  • Accomplished
  • Developing
  • Undeveloped

Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.