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New leadership announced at Sanibel Sea School

By Staff | Mar 26, 2020

PHOTO PROVIDED Nicole Finnicum

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation recently selected Nicole Finnicum to become the next director of the Sanibel Sea School when co-founder Dr. Bruce Neill retires.

In 2005, Neill, and his wife, Evelyn, founded the organization, which has since earned a national reputation for its special brand of experiential marine education.

“I feel so very fortunate and honored that I have the ability to continue the legacy of what Bruce and Evelyn created,” Finnicum said. “Sanibel Sea School is such a special place and I have always enjoyed sharing the magic of the ocean with people and to be able to carry that on is really important to me.”

On Jan. 1, the SCCF combined forces with the Sanibel Sea School, laying the groundwork for a sustainable future. The Sanibel Sea School now operates as part of the larger non-profit, which was established in 1967.

“Sanibel Sea School has such a great team,” SCCF Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera said. “Nicole has the right understanding of that team, management skills and passion to lead it into the future and to grow it in meaningful ways.”

PHOTO PROVIDED Shannon Stainken

Finnicum joined the Sanibel Sea School in 2013, working her way up from educator to the role of operations director. She recently earned her second master’s degree in nonprofit management from the University of Central Florida and also has a master’s in environmental studies.

“I am thrilled for the opportunity to lead an organization that has helped me grow into the person I am today. It has been so valuable to be able to flourish as a young professional within Sanibel Sea School and be able to lead an organization that has taught me so much personally and professionally,” Finnicum said.

To help fill the gap in Neill’s leadership role in education, Shannon Stainken has also been promoted. She will take on a more active role in developing course offerings and will oversee the Sanibel Sea School educational programming.

“I want to take our educational programs to the next level while maintaining the spirit of Sanibel Sea School,” she said. “There are many traditions and memories that are cherished by our students. I believe we can innovate and build upon these as we grow together.”

Stainken has a master’s degree in professional science, with a focus on marine conservation and has been with the Sanibel Sea School since 2017. She also started as a marine educator and was promoted to manage education within a year.

“Evelyn and I feel that we have achieved a goal to ‘grow our own’ as we pass the torch,” Neill said. “Both Nicole and Shannon are ready to carry forth the legacy in a sustainable way within SCCF.”

Finnicum is honored to take the helm.

“I truly appreciate the leadership skills and mentoring that Bruce has provided me over the years and hope to be that person for the rest of our staff. I am also thankful for the relationships that I have built over the years and am looking forward to integrating further into our community. I hope that my new role will provide the continuity that will keep Sanibel Sea School strong as Bruce steps down,” she said.

The mission of the Sanibel Sea School is to improve the ocean’s future, one person at a time.

“We are doing so much more than teaching marine science, we are connecting with kids and connecting them to the ocean on a deeper level,” Finnicum said. “I saw how effective and important our work was right away and knew that this was the place that I wanted to be for a long time.”

Stainken is excited to extend the mission to more adults and pursue more community science.

“I have a vision of creating a structured continuing education program for adults, where they can progress through and achieve different levels of mastery,” she said. “The courses would all be focused locally – Sanibel and Captiva’s abiotic and biotic factors, its history, and conservation efforts.”

As he winds down his time and hands off his leadership, Neill is happy to see them take charge.

“They share our vision of a world where all people value, understand and care for the ocean, as do all the staff at SCCF,” he said.