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

Veronica Ali

Director of Finance

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 Manager

Megan Fraser

Mission: Iconic Reef Restoration Implementation Manager

Greg Wells

Gear Innovations Manager

Teresa Mackey

Communications Manager

Laurie VanBenschoten

Development Manager

Ben Charo

Policy Outreach Coordinator

Trish Albano

Office of Exploration and Research (OER) Internship Coordinator

Liz Hoadley

Web Development & Logistics Specialist

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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Veronica Ali

Director of Finance

Veronica joined the Foundation in February 2021 as the Director of Finance. Veronica is a certified association executive with extensive experience serving in various capacities in the not-for-profit world. She ensures integrity of the financial information customarily accepted in the 501(c)(3) environment. She partners closely with the leadership team and will lead all initiatives to strengthen, rebuild and expand the association’s financial resources to ensure continued vitality and growth.

Prior to joining the Foundation, she held the position of Director of Finance at the Consortium of Catholic Academies, where she led the restructure, rebranding, and strategic planning for operations in the organization’s finance and human resources (HR). Veronica has devoted over 20 years serving in the not-for-profit sector, where she has gained an expansive knowledge in accounting, finance, HR, IT, endowments, and grants management.  She also gives back to the not-for-profit sector by facilitating sessions and trainings during national association meetings and events. She is also a new Board Member of The Arc – Prince George’s County.

Outside of the Foundation, Veronica enjoys spending time with her husband and two children, attending her children’s many sporting events, and planning her family’s next outdoor adventure. One of her family’s favorite past time is biking around Mackinac Island, northern Michigan, which is situated in Lake Huron.

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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

Deanna Balistreri grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, next to Monterey Bay. Deanna earned her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at the University of California, Merced. After graduation, Deanna worked for an environmental non-profit in the Silicon Valley.  She began graduate school in 2016 and received her Master of Public Administration from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. While getting her Master’s, Deanna worked at a local non-profit in Carmel-By-The-Sea that focused on beach restorations and educational programs within the Monterey Bay national marine sanctuary. In 2017, Deanna moved to Washington, DC to work on USAID-funded international agricultural programs. Overall, Deanna has traveled to seven of the National Marine Sanctuaries in the United States and is excited to learn about the other ones she has yet to visit.
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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 Manager

Taylor Berry joined the Foundation in September 2018. As the Development Manager, she is responsible for managing partnerships, sponsorships, and 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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Megan Fraser

Mission: Iconic Reef Restoration Implementation Manager

Megan Fraser joined the Foundation in November 2020 as part of a joint partnership between the Foundation, NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and United Way of Collier County and the Keys, to partake in Mission: Iconic Reef’s initiative to restore the Keys reef tract. Megan’s marine background is multidisciplinary in both education and experience–with research in marine diseases, genomics, and human dimensions of subsistence coastal communities, as well as established experience in the more social sciences of communications and outreach, public speaking, and project management. The Iconic Reefs initiative essentially marries these varied disciplines, enabling the most robust approach toward collective, well-researched, and sustainable reef restoration. Megan’s personal motto of ‘happy heart, happy mind, hard work,’ continues to provide the drive to seek approaches to conservation work that are evermore innovative, engaging, and forward-thinking. Prior to joining the Foundation, Megan worked in several marine environmental consultancies and volunteered in various reef restoration conferences, initiatives, and working groups. She continues active involvement in the Coral Restoration Consortium’s working groups and is a feature author for ECO Magazine.

Megan received her B.S. in Marine Science and Biology–with additional minors in Spanish and Chemistry–from the University of Miami RSMAS, during which time she also lived abroad studying the Galapagos Islands’ marine ecosystems. She then obtained a MSc in Marine Biology and Ecology from James Cook University in Australia, where she had a particular focus in applied sciences through marine management and consultancy work. At the Foundation, Megan works closely with the Policy and Conservation Director to collaboratively work towards achieving Iconic Reefs’ goals.

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Greg Wells

Gear Innovations Manager

As Gear Innovations Manager, Greg oversees a collaborative project to test and evaluate fishing gear to mitigate marine life entanglements in collaboration with Dungeness crab fishermen, state and federal resource agencies and other partners in California.

Greg has more than 15 years of experience supporting fisheries management and conservation initiatives, working with diverse stakeholders including fishermen, state and federal managers, non-government organizations, scientists and the concerned public. His experience includes coordinating strategic outreach and policy campaigns to advance ecosystem-based fisheries management in New England, supporting stakeholder-centered approaches to fisheries management in southern California, and working with small-scale fishermen to create community managed marine areas in Mozambique.

Greg also has experience working on commercial fishing boats as a fisheries observer in California and Alaska and served as a US Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, working on community-based coastal resources management. He holds a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a bachelor’s degree in marine biology from Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska.

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Teresa Mackey

Communications Manager

As the Foundation’s Communications Manager, Tess 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. Before joining the Foundation, she was the Programme Manager for the Sargasso Sea Commission through The Ocean Foundation and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Her previous experience also includes working with Virginia Sea Grant and the Virginia Coastal Policy Center as a correspondent, and with an environmental consulting firm specializing in science communication.

Tess graduated from the College of William & Mary with a B.A. in English and minor in Marine Science through the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She also participated in a field research course through the Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences in Wales.

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Laurie VanBenschoten

Development Manager

Laurie VanBenschoten joined the Foundation in June 2021. Growing up, she spent her summers on the shores of Cape Cod where she developed a love for the ocean. Laurie is SCUBA certified and loves spending time in, on, and around any body of water she can find.

In her capacity as Development Manager, she supports the Foundation’s fundraising efforts through the administration and development of the Foundation’s Salesforce NPSP CRM and related systems. She is also responsible for managing partnerships, sponsorships, and incoming donations, and providing fundraising support to sanctuary sites and Foundation chapters.

Laurie is an alumna of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY where she was captain of the William Smith Rowing team and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in both Sociology and French & Francophone Studies.

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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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Trish Albano

Office of Exploration and Research (OER) Internship Coordinator

Growing up in South Florida, Trish’s life was intertwined with the ocean from a young age. Spending her early years exploring mangrove forests and coastal reefs, her love for the ocean became a major force in her life.

While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, Trish was part of the Shark Research & Conservation Program. She conducted research in Miami and the Bahamas and served as Outreach Coordinator. Trish continued at the University of Miami for her Master’s in Marine Ecosystems & Society and managed the shark lab’s internship programs. As a graduate student, she worked in a remote town in South Africa with resource managers and the local community to build a research project evaluating the efficacy of a marine reserve for shark protection. Trish’s unique experiences with public engagement and protected area research make her excited about the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s mission to preserve these special areas while connecting people, especially young scientists, to the marine environment.

Trish joined the Foundation team in 2020 as the OER Internship Coordinator. She works closely with the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER) to facilitate OER’s student internship program involvement and promote opportunities for students from underrepresented
communities in STEM. Fun fact: Trish has worked with 25 different shark species and her favorite ocean memories include spending time in/on the water with whales, penguins, great white sharks, and leatherback turtles. On the weekends, you can find her exploring local
waterways on her paddleboard!

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Liz Hoadley

Web Development & Logistics Specialist

Liz joined the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation as a Web Development and Logistics Specialist in August 2020. Through a cooperative agreement with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Liz is responsible for coordinating the development of a new collaborative ocean exploration education website that will bring together educational resources from several partners in ocean exploration for easy access for teachers. Liz grew up in Delaware, where she spent every summer as a child at Rehoboth Beach looking for horseshoe crabs, boogie boarding in the waves, and building sand forts. She credits these early life experiences as what set her on a path to want to inspire the next generation of ocean stewards.

Liz has a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences Education from the University of Delaware. After graduating, Liz taught high school marine biology in Delaware for a few years, before moving out to Monterey, CA. There she worked as a naturalist and later the program coordinator of Camp SEA Lab, an outdoor school along the coast of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. One of her favorite parts of ocean education is being able to be a part of bringing students to the beach for the first time and sharing the wonder of the ocean with these future stewards. She is excited to be coordinating efforts for the collaborative ocean exploration education website and sees it as the perfect opportunity to bring the ocean to students near and far from the shore.

Many of Liz’s best ocean memories are from when she lived in Monterey, CA where she could suit up at home, walk out her front door, and be snorkeling or diving in the kelp forest within 5 minutes. Her favorite kelp forest find was a baby mola mola that swam right up to her and followed her around for a bit during one of her dives. Liz now lives in Dauphin Island, AL, where her favorite hobbies are kayaking, looking for sharks teeth on the beach, and cooking.

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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.