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meet our school board of directors!

abbie frank, executive director

Abbie is the founder of bluestem hall nature school and serves as executive director of our non profit organization. She is a designer and artist by trade, which helps her approach systematic issues through the lens of "if this is broken, how can we re-design it?". Abbie is a protector of wild things big and small, she waits all year for yellow tomatoes, loves to be in/near/on water, is a wife, and mama. 

"I grew up along a creek and spent countless days exploring the shallow waters spotting fish, crawdads, skipping stones, and running barefoot. When my twin sister and I weren't hopping fences and hiding in neighbors trees, we could be found wading in the creek telling stories of buried treasure and mermaids."

amber barnhart,  board member

Amber is a family physician and professor of clinical medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. She grew up in Philo, Illinois as the 4th generation on the same property the school is located!  She helped establish the Barnhart Prairie and serves as Board President of this state protected nature preserve. She has been interested in the world of education throughout her life as a student attending the innovative University High School, as a teacher of family medicine, and as a physician doing extensive research in medical education at a national and international level . She is the mother of 5, grandmother of 4, and lives in Springfield, IL with her husband, dog, and her beloved flower and vegetable gardens.


"Growing up on our family farm, I played outside with my five younger siblings constantly, exploring a whole world inside a brush pile, building forts in the barn lofts and snow banks, making stick nests, and running towards the willow wetlands in the spring to see the migrating Canadian Geese. My grandpa who was born in 1895 helped farm the land and taught us a deep and undying appreciation for ecology and the natural world. Even after he went blind, he could still "see" and feel the beauty in nature. He took his afternoon nap under a tree every day that still stands on site. He was the best storyteller and I feel lucky to still see the world through his eyes."

tim voelker, finance + facilities director

Tim is the prairie steward (aka plant expert!) and building director of bluestem hall nature school. He is a skilled industrial designer and woodworker who has a mastery in making ideas come to fruition. He is what some people call an "animal whisperer," lives on site with his wife, Abbie,  and child, and has never met a potato he didn't like. 

"Some of my favorite childhood memories were spent exploring the Maine coast and beaches or summer nights at home in new jersey with my family. growing up near the Atlantic ocean was a source of wonder as I frolicked in the waves and built drip sandcastles with diligenceI also think fondly of late nights stargazing at the wonders of the universe with my parents."

laura van buer, board Secretary

Laura Van Buer has worked in higher education for her entire career and is currently an Academic Advisor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  She has also spent time volunteering with community and philanthropic organizations.  Laura calls Iowa home, but now lives in Champaign with her husband and two young kids, and loves getting out and exploring what the community has to offer. Her favorite thing to do is go for long hikes and also enjoys running and traveling. She is a parent of a former Bluestem student and has loved getting to know more about the importance of outdoor experiences for children.


"I remember spending many summer days playing in a nearby creek with friends, stomping through the water, catching small creatures, and creating it into our secret hideout. As a family, we spent time fishing in a nearby lake, flying kites in an empty field and even ice skating on a frozen pond. The neighborhood was our playground and we often ran yard to yard playing made up games for as long as our parents would let us."

nina carmichael, board vice president

Nina has worked as a private childcare provider for 15+ years coinciding with a decade in the non-profit and social service sector primarily as a crimes victims advocate for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. More recently however, she spent 3 years as a lead teacher at a forest preschool in Olympia, WA which changed the trajectory of her career and is now pursing a Masters degree in Early Childhood Education with a duel focus in anti-bias and nature-based education. 


"Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I spent a lot of time in the Puget sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean and part of the Salish sea. I was notorious for being the first person in the water and the last to get out! Some of my fondest memories of being outside as a child include: circus camp on Vashon Island, weeping with a bison in Yellowstone National Park, tree climbing in my dad’s front yard in Tacoma, playing house with friends in the back of my mom’s red Nissan truck in Seattle, and harvesting produce from the garden with my Aunt in Putney, Vermont."

Maura Stutzman, board member

Maura Stutzman is the program and events librarian at the Champaign Public Library. She has previously worked as a children’s librarian and an early childhood educator for 10 years. When she’s not hyper fixating on a new hobby, she can be found reading, planning a Disney vacation, or napping. She is passionate about child led and inquiry based learning, cultivating relationships, and connecting people to information and resources.

"Growing up in Champaign, many of my outdoor memories involve making potions, pretending I was in the middle of nowhere, and truly believing I could control the wind. I have fond memories of the make believe world my siblings and I invented and feeling a deep sense of ownership over our backyard and every part of it. "

Tomas Delgado, Board Member

Tomas Delgado works as a program manager for a national nonprofit that connects local food and agricultural education to k-12 and early childhood education centers and is passionate about building community resilience through food & environmental justice initiatives. Tomas’ background is in geography, public administration, and food service. Tomas cares deeply about environmental conservation while working to increase BIPOC community access to our natural areas and views nature-based education as one important tool for those efforts.

“Despite growing up in the suburbs, I was still fortunate to have many moving experiences within nature and working with the earth. I have many fond memories of my mother taking me to our community parks to show me local wildlife. As a young boy, my father would also bring me to his landscaping projects, where I tried my best to contribute to the work but took greater joy in playing in the dirt. One of the most awakening memories I have of nature was visiting the mountain valleys outside Monterrey, Mexico, with family. I remember being amazed by the insects and plant life in the area. I also have heartfelt memories of family reunions in rural Mississippi forests and jumping in rivers and grilling catfish with family.”

Tiffany Armas, board member

Tiffany currently oversees programming and operations for a team of 80 students working on emerging technology projects in her role as Associate Director of the University of Illinois Gies College of Business Disruption Lab. Prior to this role Tiffany held various local education and non-profit board positions and was the founding Scoutmaster of a local troop of girls in Scouts, BSA, growing the troop from 8 original scouts to over 30 current scouts. Tiffany’s adventures in scouting have taken her on many hikes, camping trips, and summer camps as well as scuba diving in the Florida Keys and canoeing in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota. Tiffany studied International Business and started her career in Purchasing at General Motors and moved into roles of additional leadership responsibility at Donaldson Company, culminating in her role as General Manager of Advanced Filtration Systems, Inc. in Champaign. In this role, Tiffany held leadership and P&L responsibility for two global manufacturing facilities in this 50/50 joint venture which manufactured high volume engine filters for Caterpillar.

“I grew up within 5 miles of the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan in Berrien County, which is in the southwestern corner of Michigan. It’s here that I developed a love for animals, nature, fresh fruit and snow. Growing up, I kept busy taking care of barn cats, family dogs and horseback riding through local farm fields and forests on the weekends. I spent countless hours outside observing frogs, turtles, salamanders, tadpoles, crayfish and other habitat of local ephemeral ponds and creeks. I also enjoyed swimming and canoeing on the Paw Paw River with my family.”

professional images on this page by wright photographs

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