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Lobdell to step aside from managing day-to-day operations at NESS

Stonington — New England Science & Sailing Foundation announced Tuesday that its founder and longtime CEO, Michael "Spike" Lobdell, will retire from the day-to-day leadership of the organization in a few weeks and then become the chairman of its board on Jan. 1, 2023.

In addition, the board announced that current NESS President Eric Isselhardt will succeed Lobdell as CEO. The change takes effect  June 1.

Lobdell founded NESS in 2002 as a community sailing program with just 14 students. Now, 20 years later, NESS has transformed itself into an organization that uses the ocean to teach science, technology, engineering and science (STEM) programs. It reaches 9,000 students a year with an annual budget of $3.5 million and 28 full-time employees and 10 Americorps members. Its staff swells by 40 more people in the summer.

During the past two decades, NESS has won many awards and became the first non-school to be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Last year, the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce named Lobdell as its Citizen of the Year for his contributions to the community. In 2020, the United States Sailing Association gave its highest honor for community sailing programs to Lobdell for his contributions to further public access sailing.

Since 2012, NESS has also made a commitment to the city of New London and its students, providing sailing and STEM programming either in school or after school and had dedicated NESS classrooms in the school system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it created a tutoring program to support students, will offer free sailing lessons to New London residents this summer and has run New London Community Boating since 2015. Over the past 10 years it has raised $4 million to support programs in New London. NESS is also partnering with the New London Recreation Department to create a mobile classroom to deliver programming to students in parks close to their homes.

"NESS has been providing access to the water for kids who live by it but don't get the benefit of it," Lobdell said, adding NESS remains "very committed" to New London.

Lobdell said Tuesday that while it's a bittersweet moment to turn over the daily operations of the organization to Isselhardt, the time is right.

That's because, he said, NESS is about to go national as it works with teachers across the country to integrate the NESS curriculum into their classrooms and then partner with local boating organizations.

"He has the educational background to take this to that next level," Lobdell said about Isselhardt, who has led the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and Calvert Education. 

"And I'm going to focus on what I'm good at, such as developing strategic partnerships and fundraising," he said.

Isselhardt said, "Spike's energy and passion for NESS are not going away. As board chair, he will continue to be integral to what NESS is and how we live our core values of inclusiveness, experiential learning, personal growth, and stewardship—the foundation stones on which NESS is built."

In a statement announcing the changes, Jane Leipold, the board's current chair, said the changes announced Tuesday "reflect planned succession of leadership ensuring the continued success of this highly respected educational organization."

"This transition signals an important step for NESS. Under Eric's direction, NESS will continue its commitment to partner with schools and organizations to provide transformational experiences for students through innovative STEM education," she added.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects that Lobdell is the sole founder of NESS

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