ELi is a community project that since its inception in 2014 has benefited from the labor of literally hundreds of people in and around East Lansing! Here is a look at the folks who currently work regularly for this public news service.
Natalie Rose, Executive Director and Publisher
Natalie Rose was named Executive Director and Publisher of ELi in a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors on April 30, 2020. For six months before that, as Associate Publisher she was already doing a lot of the organizational leadership work for our team. Natalie functions as the CEO of ELi, managing our financial and story budgets, writing grants, working with all staff on their assignments, and handling strategic reporting initiatives, including ELi’s current focus on social inequities and disparities and the local effects of climate change. A native of Flint and New York City, Natalie completed her graduate education in history at Michigan State University where she studied gender, sexuality, and religion. With a background in non-profit management, documentary film production, and writing, Natalie’s teaching of women’s studies during the political movements of the last three years pushed her to return to her roots in the media.
Alice Dreger, Managing Editor
Alice founded ELi in 2014 and currently serves as the Managing Editor for the team. She also produces general Government reporting and special investigative reporting for ELi. She has lived in East Lansing longer than any other place in her life, but as the holder of the record for most FOIA requests made to the City of East Lansing, you can tell she’s a native New Yorker. Her national bylines include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, WIRED Magazine, and The Atlantic. Among other honors, she has received the Heterodox Academy’s inaugural Courage Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship for her third book, Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Truth (Penguin, 2015), named a New York Times Editor’s Choice.
Jodi Spicer, General Manager
“Team work makes the dream work!” That’s what Jodi cheerily reminds us every time she catches and corrects some error we have made. At ELi, Jodi oversees bookkeeping and payroll, prepares our weekly newsletter, and expertly manages our fundraising campaigns. Somehow she does this part-time for us while also working full-time as a public health consultant for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The mother of two sons (one now in ELHS, one in college), Jodi is known around East Lansing for her volunteer leadership in East Lansing schools, particularly in relation to the water polo teams.
Morgan Lees, Tech Manager
Morgan created our new website (.news) based on the Largo theme from INN Labs, and they now manage the ongoing design and maintenance of the ELi website. If everything is going right with the site, they should be invisible, and that’s how they like it. Morgan is a freelance illustrator and writer – when not wrangling websites – who grew up in and still resides in East Lansing (along with family and three cats). They were involved with All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre from a young age, directed six shows for the company, and served four terms on the AECT Board including two years as President and one year as Secretary. In their spare time, Morgan reads, plays computer and roleplaying games, dabbles in photography, karts, and enjoys getting outdoors.
Lisa Lees, Tech Manager
Since ELi began its nonprofit public service in 2014, Lisa has provided what the editorial team considers lifesaving technical support for ELi’s web hosting and its content management system. Lisa moved to Michigan in 1977 to teach computer science at UM-Flint, and has since lived and worked in Ann Arbor, Lansing and East Lansing. Like most techies, Lisa had many jobs and job titles as computers evolved from room-filling, card-eating monsters to hand-held communicators, including a dozen years doing various things with various computers at MSU. Retired and with nothing but spare time on her hands, Lisa now lives with her two imaginary muses, surrounded by anime, books and comics (many in French or Japanese), board games, Playstation games and a variety of music.
Gary Caldwell, Photojournalist
Gary has been working with ELi since 2019, but his love of photography stretches back to when he first started working with cameras in the second grade. In addition to shooting portraits and local scenes for ELi, Gary regularly attends public meetings to capture for ELi’s reader the feel of the decision-making processes in our City government and public schools. He also does drone photography for ELi, providing aerial images of development project sites, public parks, and more. The work of his company, Gary Caldwell Productions, can be found on Instagram.
Jim Pivarnik, Photographer-at-Large
In his day job at Michigan State University, Jim is a professor in the Departments of Kinesiology and Epidemiology & Biostatistics, and is also the MSU Research Integrity Officer. He received his Ph.D. in exercise physiology from Indiana University and completed an NIH Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, Department of Physiology. He has been President of the American College of Sports Medicine and the North American Society for Pediatric Exercise Medicine. He is a free-lance photographer, with a primary interest in sports and nature photography, two areas he regularly covers for ELi.
Mark Meyer, General Editor and Reporter
Mark’s East Lansing Public Schools sports reporting is highly valued by the Trojan family, but Mark also reports for us on community sports, crime, government, and more! He also works for us as an editor. Mark and his family moved to East Lansing during the 2001-02 school year, when he accepted a position as assistant features editor at the Lansing State Journal. At the LSJ, he served as sports editor from March 2007 until June 2011. He has since held positions with the public relations agency of Truscott Rossman as well as Michigan State University. His wife, Christine (whom he met in a central Illinois newsroom more than 30 years ago), works for the Capital Area District Library’s Outreach department and his three daughters all graduated from ELHS and his fourth (well, kind of), Sandy, is a terrier mix whom the family adopted from the Ingham County Animal Control shelter. Mark grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated from St. Mary’s College in Winona, Minnesota.
Chris Root, Government Editor and Reporter
Chris reports on Government (and sometimes gardening) for ELi and also helps edit our Government reporting. Chris registered as a lobbyist at the age of 18, when she began working on anti-apartheid and southern Africa issues for a church- and union-sponsored non-profit, the Washington Office on Africa. After moving to East Lansing, Chris provided staff support for the Democratic caucus of the Michigan House of Representatives on a bill to divest state public employee pension funds from companies operating in South Africa. Chris continues her focus on this movement by helping to build the Africa Activist Archive Project. Holding bachelors and masters degrees in Economics from American University, Chris worked at MSU for 15 years helping faculty obtain grants. She now devotes a lot of her time to monitoring economic development and financial issues in East Lansing, gardening, and spending time with family.
Ken Sperber, Wrangler
Ken is co-editor of the ELi Calendar of Events, occasional reporter, organizer of content, discoverer of problems and solutions, and calmer-in-chief when the Excel demons rise. Ken has worked in a variety of early childhood education and care programs from MSU campus preschools to Head Start and then the Ingham County Office for Young Children and Great Start. Parents of two ELHS and UM graduates, Ken and his spouse Val Thonger divide their time between East Lansing and Sacramento CA, home of their first grandchild. Ken enjoys working on ELi as it brings back memories of working from the basement of his house with his roommates and friends in the 1970s on Lansing’s first underground alternative newspapers, the Joint Issue and then the Lansing Star.
Valerie Thonger, Calendar Editor and Proofer
Valerie is the Calendar of Events co-editor, a proofreader, and occasional reporter for ELi. Valerie worked at East Lansing’s non-profit Eastminster Child Development Center for over 31 years in a variety of administrative positions. At ECDC, Valerie was responsible for keeping the accounts for the revenues and expenses for what grew to be a million-dollar budget. As a retiree, Valerie has volunteered at Everybody Reads bookstore, and at the East Lansing Public Library. Valerie divides her time between East Lansing and Sacramento CA, home of their first grandchild. Valerie’s hobbies include reading, gardening, biking, walking, soccer, and traveling.
Ann Nichols, Reporter, Columnist, Public Editor
Ann has been with ELi since it started. In fact, our first published article in August 2014 was Ann’s report on the bells starting to ring again at Peoples Church. A Buddhist, Ann lives just north of Peoples Church in the Oakwood Historic Neighborhood, where she and her husband Rob raised their son. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College and her law degree from Suffolk University Law School and now works at the law firm of Willingham & Cote, PC. That puts her in downtown East Lansing, where she keeps an eye out for subjects for her beloved Ann About Town placemaking column. She has had a rich professional life, working as a professional writer and editor, a professional cook, and as ELi’s Managing Editor from 2015-2019, a critical period of ELi’s growth. Besides writing her column, she continues to help ELi out with legal reporting and social media management, serving on our Board of Directors as our Public Editor.
Emily Joan Elliott, Reporter
Emily Joan Elliott is a transplant to Michigan from the Bronx, NY. After attending SUNY Binghamton, she moved to East Lansing to attend graduate school at Michigan State University, earning her doctorate in 2019. Her dissertation research included research time in Moscow, as her research focused on temporary labor migration to that city from other parts of the Soviet Union. Besides being a regular “hard news” reporter for ELi – reporting on everything from public health to local political controversies – Emily is a fixed-term assistant professor at the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at MSU and a tutor training facilitator with the Capital Area Literacy Coalition. She also works for the Michigan Historical Society. In her personal life, she enjoys traveling, cooking dinner with her partner in crime, and reading fiction.
Anaiis Rios-Kasoga, Reporter
Anaiis reports for ELi on a variety of topics including schools, government, and policing. She will graduate from East Lansing High School in 2021 and is active in her school community as co-president of the ELHS Black Student Union, School Board liaison to the student council, and a member of the Encore Strings as well as symphonic orchestra program as a violinist. Her sophomore year, she helped to organize professional development for teachers at ELHS consisting of student led small groups covering content such as race and mental health. Her main passion is writing and she is currently pursuing her English education through classes at MSU and LCC. Anaiis has been with ELi since graduating from the 2019 ELi Summer Youth Journalism Program. Outside of academic extracurricular activities, she enjoys making music, making clothes, reading, and writing.
Chris Gray, Reporter
Chris grew up on the Buckeye side of the Michigan-Ohio line in Defiance, but has deep ties to the Mitten State and fulfilled a lifelong dream by moving to the state in June 2019, renting a house in Lansing. He has over ten years of journalism experience, and has always been focused on government reporting. For ELi, he has been covering the East Lansing City Council, the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Downtown Development Authority, and more. He also writes for us on outdoor and environmental issues, including trails, parks, environmental stewardship, alternative energy projects, and climate change. Chris spent nine years working and living in Oregon, primarily as a healthcare reporter in the state capitol at the nonprofit watchdog news site, The Lund Report. He has an English degree from Miami University in Ohio and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.
Ann Kammerer, Features Writer
Ann Kammerer regularly reports on local people for ELi’s readers. Her personalized portraits of folks around town tell us about good people doing good work. Ann says, “I’m fascinated by people who make a difference through their work, art and everyday kindness.” In 2016, she reported on a musical composition by Billy Childs designed to promote human rights awareness, and since then she has written about teacher Conni Crittenden, Officer Steve Whelan, recycler Drew Choma, a mobile health clinic, the Firecracker Foundation, and much more. In 2018, she did a special series for us on ELHS alum and their advice to the graduating class and in 2020 she took up the “Little Local Joys” series for us during the pandemic stay-at-home order.
Alex Hosey, Reporter
Alex is known for his leadership in civil rights in East Lansing and beyond. An Honor Roll student-athlete at East Lansing High School, Alex sparked a city-wide conversation that led to a formal acknowledgment by the City Council of East Lansing’s history of racist housing discrimination. Since that time, Alex has worked to change Michigan school curricula to include more meaningful material about the history of Black people, including the history of inequities and inequalities. Alex’s public speaking has included events hosted by the NAACP, MSU, Rotary Club, and the Obama Foundation. His many honors include having been named “Athlete of the Week” by ESPN’s “The Undefeated” and “Peacemaker of the Year” by the Peace Education Center of East Lansing. A graduate of ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program and a member of our Community Advisory Board, Alex works as a general reporter for ELi.
Sarah Spohn, Arts & Cultures Reporter
Sarah is a little bit of a rock ‘n’ roll rebel, almost always at a concert (when there isn’t a pandemic going on). With degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications, at ELi Sarah reports on a variety of arts and cultures topics, from video game tournaments to small business features to poetry slams. She loves to soak up the local scene at boutiques, libraries, diners, and record stores. She still buys CDs and borrows music documentaries from the library. Just don’t call her a hipster. (She says she’s never been that stylish.) The editorial team loves assigning Sarah a story because we know she’s going to make us feel like we are personally talking with the people she has interviewed. And we love that she’s always up for an adventure!
Amalia Medina, Reporter
Amalia has been writing for ELi since the summer of 2018, when she completed ELi’s Youth Summer Journalism Program. Amalia mainly writes feature stories about events and people in the East Lansing community, bringing forward the human experience here. Outside of writing for ELi, Amalia spends most of her time writing and editing for the ELHS yearbook and doing art. She plans on taking her passion for writing and journalism with her to college, as she plans to study journalism at MSU after she graduates from ELHS in 2021.
Christopher Wardell, Reporter
Christopher is a freelance writer who lives in East Lansing where he is raising a son with his wife Nicky Mason-Wardell, an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at MSU. Christopher manages the popular Lansing-based rock band, From Big Sur, and has a once-a-month guest appearance on the All-Request Saturday Night radio show on Classic Rock 94.9 WMMQ, where he features a record from his extensive collection. He also features a record on a semi-daily basis on his Facebook page, which he calls “What’s On My Turntable Today.” He previously reported for the Lansing State Journal and was a regular contributor to City Pulse, Jambands.com, Relix Magazine, Etch Magazine, and Music Review. His extensive reporting for ELi has ranged from covering the East Lansing Arts Festival to East Lansing’s Summer Concert Series to the Bailey Ice Cream Social and beyond. We can always count on him to profile visiting artists in a way that really captures their music and purpose.
Noa Kuszai, Reporter
Noa graduated from ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program in 2018 and since then has been someone we call on when we need a smart, clear report in a short amount of time. She generally reports for us on Government activities but she cheerfully takes any assignment we hit her with. Noa is a native of East Lansing and has lived in Chesterfield Hills her entire life, in a household where ice cream is considered a vegetable. She will graduate from East Lansing High School in 2020, at which point we expect to lose her to a great college. Besides writing, Noa loves to paint and play her several instruments, which include piano, alto and bari sax, and tenor ukulele.
Cody Harrell, Director of ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program
As Director of ELi’s Summer Youth Journalism Program, Cody has developed and led both our “introductory” and “advanced” classes since the program’s inception in 2017. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2015, he assumed the role of journalism and English teacher at East Lansing High School, where he currently advises the Ceniad yearbook and Portrait newspaper. In his four years of teaching, the programs have collected over a hundred state interscholastic press awards and have been featured in national publications that highlight outstanding journalism programs around the country. He also serves as a trustee of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) executive board and serves the press association as a summer workshop instructor, one-day workshop instructor and conference speaker. In his free time, he sings and travels in an internationally-competitive barbershop quartet and chorus.