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SDI Staff

Posoh! Thank you for your interest in reading about the Sustainable Development Institute staff. We are a hard-working group dedicated to tackling difficult issues related to sustainable development, climate change, and any other challenging projects we get to work on. Take your time, read a little bit about each one of us and we hope you stop by the SDI building in-person to say posoh or see what exciting research, education, and outreach initiatives we’re working on.


Chris Caldwell

Chris Caldwell is the Director of Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) at College of Menominee Nation (CMN). He started this position in October 2012 and is responsible for coordination of SDI staff and resources in the delivery of nonacademic programming, research, contractual services, and other projects in support of the Institute’s mission, and the broader mission of CMN. Chris is an enrolled member of the Menominee Nation and has worked in the sustainable forestry field for over twenty years.

His work experiences include time on a Wisconsin Conservation Corps (WCC) Crew, a couple summers of work in the Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE) sawmill, several years of work as a forestry technician in the MTE Forestry Department, a few years as a forestry student/ intern with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a couple years spent in different work units with the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory, and seven more years as Director/ Compliance and Enforcement Officer for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin’s (MITW) Department of Trust Resources. During that same time period, he also returned to school to earn an Associate’s Degree in Sustainable Development from College of Menominee Nation (CMN), and a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Chris recently earned his Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. He currently resides in Keshena, Wisconsin with his wife and kids.


Cherie ThunderCherie Thunder

Cherie Thunder is the Sustainability Education Coordinator at the Sustainable Development Institute at College of Menominee Nation. She is a member of the Menominee Nation and grew up on the reservation. She received her associate’s degree in Sustainable Development from College of Menominee Nation and then went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Community and Environmental Sociology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shortly after graduation she moved back to the area and began working at SDI in August 2014. Cherie coordinates the Sustainability Leadership Cohort Program, a high school summer internship program focused on STEAM and place-based hands-on learning.

Through her journey at UW she became more interested in education. She worked with a project called POSOH as a Wisconsin Fast Plants student worker while completing her undergrad degree. POSOH introduced a new way of learning, teaching and doing that guides her current work.

RebeccaRebecca Edler

Rebecca Edler is the Sustainability Coordinator at the Sustainable Development Institute at the College of Menominee Nation. Working with recruitment, admissions, and advising at the College for 5 years before moving into this position, she is familiar with various aspects of higher education, primarily Student Services.

Before working at the College, Rebecca was the director of the American Indian Center of the Fox Valley, a program of Goodwill Industries of Northeast Wisconsin. It was here that she worked with off-reservation American Indians and identified education, sustainability, and cultural knowledge, as means to improve the lives of American Indian families and communities. Rebecca brings her experience of working in research and development, to the Sustainable Development Institute as well as her passion to strengthen American Indian families.


Scott Kalafatis

Dr. Scott Kalafatis started a year in residence at the Sustainable Development Institute in August. He is postdoctoral researcher sponsored by a National Science Foundation grant that SDI shares in partnership with researchers at Michigan State University.

Scott will be continuing the work he started this past year at Michigan State studying collaborations between Federally-Recognized Native American Tribes and climate scientists that are intended to help Tribes throughout the United States deal with climate change. The goal of this work is to understand these collaborations better so that they may be as effective, ethical, and supportive of Tribal communities’ interests as possible. Before beginning his work on this project, Scott received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment.


Sara Smith

Sara Smith is the Midwest Tribal Climate Science Liaison hired by the College of Menominee Nation as part of the Sustainable Development Institute. Sara will be stationed at the US Forest Service’s Northern Forest Research Station on the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul, Minnesota along with our Deputy Director, Olivia LeDee. In this capacity, Sara will serve as a direct liaison between Tribes in the Midwest, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and climate science researchers to identify and address research gaps in climate, natural, and cultural resources as well as improve outreach and capacity building.

Sara is a direct descendent of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Biology (Ecology and Conservation) and First Nation Studies from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay as well as a Master’s of Science degree in Ecology from the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Her experience is in research and development, natural resources, ecology, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), and working with indigenous communities in the Midwest. Sara’s interests include forest ecology and dynamics, bridging the gap between science and indigenous knowledge, climate resilience education, and community outreach.

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