Our Staff

Kristen Sarri

President and CEO

Allison Alexander

Vice President

Shannon Colbert

Policy and Conservation Director

Carol King

Director of Development

Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communications

Trevor Jones

Human Resources and Operations Manager

Laura Stone

Conservation Manager

Alexandra Puritz

Exploration Education Manager

Ian Nawalinski

Chapter Engagement Manager

Deanna Balistreri

Grants and Contracts Manager

Jamie Smith

Events Manager

Lynn Wisniewski

Accountant

Taylor Berry

Development and Operations Coordinator

Melanie Herrera

Communications Coordinator

Ben Charo

Policy Outreach Coordinator

Becca Alcenius

Executive Assistant

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Kristen Sarri

President and CEO

Kris joined the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation as President and CEO in October 2016. A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Kris formed an early, life-long connection to environmental stewardship growing up surrounded by the Great Lakes. Her interest in marine conservation began when, at nine years old, Kris’ family moved to Australia and she spent endless hours exploring the life in tide pools. Kris’ lifelong passion is finding innovative ways to promote environmental stewardship through community engagement in conservation.

Kris’ career spans over 19 years working on ocean, land and climate policy. Kris most recently worked at the Department of the Interior, where she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget from 2014 to 2016. Prior to joining the Department of the Interior, Kris was the Associate Director for Legislative Affairs for the Office of Management and Budget. She also served as Deputy Director of Policy and Strategic Planning for the US Department of Commerce, acting as the Secretary’s principal advisor on the ocean, fisheries, climate, and energy issues, and as a policy liaison for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Kris also spent eight years in the US Senate where she was on the Professional Staff of the Senate Commerce Committee with responsibility for the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee; she was Senior Policy Advisor of the Office of Senator Jack Reed; and the Legislative Director of the Northeast-Midwest Senate Coalition.

Kris received a B.A. in Biology from Washington University, St. Louis and an M.S. and M.P.H. from the University of Michigan. She is an avid SCUBA diver.

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Allison Alexander

Vice President

Allison Alexander joined the Foundation in 2007 and works to ensure the Foundation maintains its values and fulfills its mission. She is the primary liaison for the Foundation’s federal financial assistance awards, and provides oversight of externally funded grant programs. She has more than fifteen years of experience in fundraising, public relations, and non-profit management.

A native of coastal Georgia, Allison received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia in Athens.

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Shannon Colbert

Policy and Conservation Director

Shannon Colbert has an interdisciplinary background with experience in policy, conservation, and economics. Prior to joining the Foundation in November 2013 as the Policy and Conservation Manager, Shannon served as a Communications Specialist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) focusing on the agency’s efforts to assess injuries to natural resources and to restore the environment following oil spills, hazardous waste releases, and ship groundings. She has also worked in a U.S. Congressional Office, the California Natural Resources Agency, Georgia Sea Grant, and the non-profit organization, San Diego Coastkeeper. Shannon received her Master’s degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego and her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Economics and Management from the University of Georgia

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Carol King

Director of Development

Carol King joined the Foundation in June, 2017 as Director of Development. Carol oversees all aspects of the Foundation’s development program, including corporate philanthropy and individual giving, and is focused on growing the organization’s capacity to fulfill its mission and strategic goals. Prior to joining the Foundation, Carol served as the Director of Community Philanthropy at the Humane Rescue Alliance, Washington D.C.’s premier animal sheltering and welfare organization, where she managed annual and bequest giving, donor relationships, and grants. A passionate advocate for the role that donors can play in creating opportunity and improving our world, Carol recently became SCUBA certified, and is looking forward to exploring more of our blue planet.

Carol is an alumnus of American University, a native of Connecticut, and enjoys hiking and exploring in her off-time with her rescue Pitbull, Teddy Tyler Roosevelt.

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Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communications

Plans, develop and implement communication strategies to promote and support the Foundation’s work in traditional and new media.

Leads brand messaging development and management; development and execution of strategic communications plans to inform, educate, activate, and inspire key audiences, which include the press, existing and potential funders, partners, government leaders, our Board of Trustees, and employees; vendor management; and budget management.

Serves as a spokesperson and advocate for the organization, engaging the public and media in
functions that underscore and advance the value of Foundation and national marine
sanctuaries in the eyes of constituents.

Manages the Foundation’s digital communications platforms, including the website and social
media.

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Trevor Jones

Human Resources and Operations Manager

Trevor joined the Foundation in March of 2018 as the Human Resources Manager. He is responsible for the recruiting and onboarding of new employees, coordinating benefits administration, and developing and maintaining a positive employee relations program for all staff located in Silver Spring and at field sites. Trevor joins us from the Human Resource departments of Target and JCPenney, and most recently opened and sold his own business, a Nestle Toll House Cookie Franchise in Silver Spring, MD. Trevor has as passion for oceans and Great Lakes from growing up in both San Diego, CA and Green Bay, WI.

He has a BBA in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater.

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Laura Stone

Conservation Manager

Laura Stone grew up in Scottsdale, AZ where although living in the desert, first fell in love with the ocean through documentaries like Blue Planet and Marine Biology summer camps in the Florida Keys and Monterey Bay, CA. As an avid angler and explorer of our nature’s wonders, Laura always finds a way to get out on the water to fish, kayak, snorkel, boat, or float. She has a strong connection with and passion for our oceans, making work and play largely one in the same. 

Laura earned her undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. Laura studied a semester in Turks and Caicos as part of the School or Field Studies program. After college, she ventured down to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to work in the Fisheries Ecology Lab. She began graduate school in 2015 receiving a Master’s in Marine Science with a thesis estimating discard mortality rates of Greater Amberjack using biotelemetry methods. 

Previously, Laura accepted a position as the Program and Grants Coordinator with local non-profit organization, Mobile Baykeeper, an organization that protects the Mobile Bay Watershed and coastal communities. During her time there she led new programs like citizen science water quality monitoring and marine debris campaigns.

As the Foundation’s Conservation Manager, Laura is responsible for developing projects and programs by identifying and researching science, conservation, and restoration needs and opportunities at different sanctuary sites. She works closely with the Policy and Conservation Director to strategize conservation priorities and foster collaborative partnerships that support the Foundation’s mission.

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Alexandra Puritz

Exploration Education Manager

Alexandra joined the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in 2020. Her favorite thing about national marine sanctuaries is that they cultivate a sense of stewardship by providing opportunities for people to connect with these special places. Alexandra will always remember the first time she went snorkeling and saw the underwater world teeming with life. At the Virgin Islands National Park, she had an unforgettable experience with Caribbean reef squid, green sea turtles, nurse sharks and other incredible wildlife that sparked a desire in her to protect and conserve our blue planet.  

As the Foundation’s Exploration Education Program Manager, she serves as the primary liaison between the Foundation and the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, managing completion of education projects with multiple partners in ocean exploration. Previously, Alexandra worked as a Program Associate at The Ocean Foundation, where she helped coordinate the International Ocean Acidification Initiative. Alexandra received her Master’s degree in Marine Affairs and Policy from the University of Miami and her Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and International Relations from Connecticut College. She is passionate about marine conservation and stakeholder engagement.

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Ian Nawalinski

Chapter Engagement Manager

Ian joined the Foundation in 2020 as the Chapter Engagement Manager. He is responsible for assisting chapters in enhancing local activities including promoting best practices related to Foundation policies, chapter governance, development, and communications. Ian grew up in Philadelphia but spent his summers tracking hurricane swells and chasing waves throughout the Atlantic. Over the years, surfing helped foster a deep appreciation for ocean conservation. Ian believes protecting marine sanctuaries is crucial because of the potential for our lakes and oceans to serve as our own personal sanctuaries. Something he has experienced first hand throughout his life. 

Ian’s love for the ocean eventually brought him to the island of Oahu where he studied journalism at the University of Hawaii. He graduated from West Chester University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. Prior to joining the Foundation, Ian organized state-level campaigns in support of marijuana legalization during the 2016 election and worked closely with defense lawyers advocating for criminal justice reform. Ian brings extensive non-profit experience with a diverse background in development, event planning, communications, and public relations.

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Deanna Balistreri

Grants and Contracts Manager

“If you come to the beach on a full moon night, you will see the selkies come upon the shore, remove their seal cloaks, and dance as naked women under the moonlight.”

Growing up next to the Monterey Bay, Deanna was obsessed with the legends of the selkies and their representation of the unknown, the undiscovered, and the freedom they represented. As a child, she quickly memorized how to tell the difference between the Pacific harbor seal and the California sea lion. She would often wonder at the secret world they visited under the waves of the cold Pacific, and if they were actual selkies in disguise. While the legends of the selkies got Deanna initially interested in marine life, it also gave way to a passion for environmental sustainability. The national marine sanctuary system ensures that the mystery and intrigue will be there for future generations.

Deanna joined the Foundation in March of 2019 as the Grants and Contracts Manager. She is responsible for managing the application, reviewing, awarding, and reporting tracking and analysis for Foundation-funded grants and contracts. Deanna joins the Foundation  from a USAID implementing partner in developmental agriculture. She has a MPA from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and her BA from the University of California, Merced.

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Jamie Smith

Events Manager

Jamie Smith started with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in March 2020 as the Events Manager. In this role, Jamie will be managing logistics and planning of Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the Ocean Awards Gala, DC Ocean Week and assisting with the Blue Beacon Series. Prior to joining the foundation, Jamie has managed events and volunteers for the Aga Khan Foundation and the Salvation Army. Throughout her time in the events field, she has worked on fun interactive events like Djing with Biz Markie, Paint & Sip Classes, Fashion shows, weddings and fundraising dinners.

Jamie graduated from Towson University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications.

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Lynn Wisniewski

Accountant

Lynn Wisniewski has over 30 years of accounting and related experience. Prior to joining the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Lynn worked for a variety of industries including construction, marketing, technology, and government. Lynn grew up in the Washington DC area and is thrilled to be working for a company with a mission that she can be proud of.

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Taylor Berry

Development and Operations Coordinator

Taylor Berry joined the Foundation in September 2018 as the Development Coordinator. She is responsible for managing incoming donations, representing the Foundation at workplace giving campaigns and providing fundraising support to sanctuary sites and Foundation chapters. Taylor works on our Development team to find ways to engage and connect donors to our programs and projects. 

Before joining the Foundation, Taylor lived in the Dominican Republic, where she designed, implemented and managed a red mangrove restoration project and worked with the village community to build out long term sustainability and conservation programs. Upon returning to the United States, she worked as a land use paralegal and received her master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School. Taylor believes deeply that meaningful conservation starts with community engagement with the local environment. To Taylor, ocean health, restoration and conservation is critical to maintaining all sorts of healthy environments (terrestrial or marine) and she hopes to continue her career protecting these ecosystems.

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Melanie Herrera

Communications Coordinator

Growing up in the Maryland suburbs, Melanie found her love for the ocean by chasing down the perfect beach with her family. The surf and sand always felt like home, whether it was Thailand’s remote Railay Beach, or the more common (and close by) Rehoboth Beach. You could most likely find her combing the beach for shark teeth or snorkeling with marine life. Despite the different hues of blue, she found the wonders in our waters were just as inspiring, no matter where you are in the world. 

As the Foundation’s Communications Coordinator, Melanie plays a key role in executing the Foundation’s messaging and outreach, with an emphasis on social media and digital presence, and supports the Director of Strategic Communications.  Previously, she was executive assistant to the Foundation’s President and CEO, Kris Sarri. Melanie came to the Foundation with a background in scientific research focused on the conservation of fisheries and the impacts of invasive species in South Carolina. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.S in environmental science and policy and focus on marine and coastal management and GIS. She hopes to continue a lifelong journey of advocating for our ocean and Great Lakes.

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Ben Charo

Policy Outreach Coordinator

Ben Charo joined the Foundation in January 2020. As Policy Outreach Coordinator, he is responsible for planning, developing and implementing Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the nation’s premier marine and Great Lakes public policy conference, as well as its associated Blue Beacon Series. Ben also supports the Policy and Conservation Director.

Ben grew up in Northwest DC and became passionate about marine conservation when he was in high school after attending a tropical ecology program on Eleuthera Island, Bahamas. As an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, Ben studied Biology and graduated in 2018. Soon after, he left the U.S. to travel under the auspices of a year-long Watson Fellowship, which he spent studying the effects of coral reef decline on coastal communities in Australia, Micronesia, Palau, Tuvalu, and Belize.

Ben vividly remembers the awe and emotion he felt seeing coral reefs for the first time. His excitement hasn’t faded. These underwater landscapes – where neon hues advertise the complexity and beauty of marine life –  are the strongest reminder to him of how small humans are in the context of our rich, intricately connected planet.  Though he misses diving, Ben is happy to be working in his hometown and enjoys exploring marine conservation issues within a national (vs. international) context. When he’s not in his office, you’ll likely find Ben running in Rock Creek Park, taking photos, or walking his dog Otto around the neighborhood.

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Becca Alcenius

Executive Assistant

Although born and raised in the Midwest, the ocean never seemed foreign to Becca. She grew up endlessly watching VHS tapes of her parents’ scuba diving trips and begging them to recant the stories of their dive adventures. While studying International Affairs at George Washington University and earning her own dive certification, Becca’s admiration for marine environments grew into a passion. She observed the frequent disconnect between science and legislation and became devoted to helping bridge this gap for the global ocean community. She is excited to begin her career serving marine environments and the communities they support. 

At the Foundation, Becca is the Executive Assistant to the Foundation’s President and CEO, Kris Sarri. In this role, she assists the CEO with the general operations of the Foundation and serves as a liaison to the Board of Trustees. Becca has experience both in the political and non-profit spheres, having worked in several legislative offices and organizations such as the North American Marine Environment Protection Association and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Becca cultivated her passion for marine conservation during her undergraduate studies at George Washington University, where she majored in International Affairs, concentrating in International Environmental Studies. In her free time, Becca likes to bake, craft, and hang out with her dog, Scuba.