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John founded Seeds of Change in 2010 with support from Dr. Cameron Currie and his former graduate student, Dr. Adrian Pinto. Together they conceived of the experiential learning concept for high school students that linked basic research and solutions to real-life problems (like antimicrobial resistance). The idea was to develop science research immersion programs to accelerate their science learning and to create motivation for science careers.
Doleman is furthering the development of this program to include a tropical rainforest research site in the Costa Rican dedicated to high school STEM learning. His vision is to utilize high school students to make discoveries of value to mankind.
John graduated from South Dakota State in 1962 with an EE degree. He went to work for Control Data (the first company to make solid state computers) where he was assigned to help customers including the CIA, NSA, DOD, our National Laboratories and NASA utilize supercomputer technology. Resource companies around the world used the technology developed by his group to locate and develop mineral resources, especially from space. His final assignment before retirement was to serve as the program manger on the design of our nation’s Space Station after the conclusion of the NASA Apollo program.
Founder & Executive Director
James was the leader of the very first Seeds of Change program in 2010 and has been involved every year assistant teacher, lead teacher, and SOC On-Ste Coordinator. James is a lifelong learner and believes that the SOC programs impact students for life. In his free time, he works with the Minnesota master naturalist volunteer program sharing my time and knowledge with local nature centers that are understaffed and underfunded.
James graduated from St. Cloud State in 2003 with a degree in Biology Education and obtained his master’s in Natural Science and Environmental Education from Hamline University in 2017. He has been teaching science and coaching wrestling at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in Crystal, MN for fifteen years.
Andy earned a master’s in Entomology in 1998 and a Ph.D. in Entomology and Zoology in 2003 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and conducted Post-doctoral research at the University of Florida. His research interests include social insects and evolutionary ecology, as well as STEM pedagogy and discipline-based education research.
Lead Tropical Field Biology Scientist
Andy’s connection to Seeds of Change comes from his longtime friendship with Dr. Adrian Pinto, whom he met in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. He has been a lead instructor for the Tropical Field Biology program since 2013.
Andy has conducted field research in Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, and has received several honors for excellence in research and teaching, including the George C. Eickwort Award for his thesis on social insect biology, and the WHICH Cooperative For Educational Technologies (WCET) Outstanding Work (WOW) Award for his teaching.
Beth brought her first group of students to Costa Rica with Seeds of Change in 2015: three days into the program, she suggested the founder of Seeds of Change, John Doleman, contact her when he was ready for some help running the non-profit. Three years and 12 SOC groups later, Beth became the Assistant Director.
Beth brings nearly 20 years of teaching experience to Seeds of Change. Early on she recognized that students engage more deeply and passionately when given time to investigate a topic of their choice for class projects. This led her to work with colleagues to pioneer an advanced science research class at St Paul Academy and Summit school, a top private school in the Twin Cities.
Beth served as a research mentor to these research students helping them win multiple awards at regional, national and international science fairs and competitions.
Beth graduated from Dartmouth college and has a master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She has over a decade of experience working to characterize and remediate hazardous waste sites through engineering controls. Her master’s research project was on the biodegradation of petroleum products in subsurface soils, groundwater and soil gas.
Cindy has collaborated with Seeds of Change since 2016 as an On-site Coordinator and is an expert in butterfly care for the recent construction of the UCR Butterfly Research Lab (Mariposario) in Colonia Libertad, Costa Rica.
Petersen has spent her summers raising thousands of monarch butterflies while doing research at the University of Minnesota. She also mentored St. Hubert middle school students interested in nature and ecology. For the past 13 years, Petersen took a group of St. Hubert students to observe the migration of the monarch in Mexico, the Galapagos Islands and Costa Rica.
Cindy graduated from St. Olaf College with a major in biology and earned a master’s degree in teaching from St. Catherine. Her passions are teaching science and doing scientific research. She has traveled to more than 30 countries and every continent except Antarctica. Petersen spent a month at sea on a research vessel and experienced a day 2 miles beneath the ocean surface in the submersible ALVIN.
Dr. Gabriel Vargas
Gabriel has been the Lead Scientist for the Seeds of Change Bioinformatics program since its inception in 2014. This program teaches students how to run comparative analysis of genome and metagenome sequence data related to their unique research questions using the Integrated Microbial Genomes and Metagenomes database (IMG) and related tools.
Recently he helped launch the Insect-Microbiome Bioprospecting Lab program by leading the pilot teacher training and helping develop the teacher training manual for the program.
Gabriel graduated from the University of Costa Rica with a degree in microbiology (2009) and stayed to earn his master’s, also in microbiology (2014). He completed his doctorate in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago (2020). Gabriel’s research at the U Chicago Coleman lab focused on biogeochemistry and microbial systems. He developed an expertise in computational genomics through his research and has taught several workshops at the University of Costa Rica related to DNA sequence analysis and phylogenetics.
Gabriel is now a post-doctoral research with the Currie Lab at UW-Madison and also works with the Pinto Lab at the U. of Costa Rica.
Lead Bioinformatics Scientist
Dr. Adrian Pinto
As our Chief Scientist, Dr Pinto is responsible for developing the Seeds of Change leafcutter ant tropical field biology and bioinformatics curriculum, directing instruction, and establishing ant colony management for student researchers.
Dr. Pinto played a key role in the discovery of Selvamicin (2016), an antibiotic isolated from a bacteria obtained from a fungus-growing ant colony – forming a direct connection between Seeds of Change curriculum and solutions to the global issue of antimicrobial resistance.
Adrian graduated with a degree in Microbiology and Clinical Chemistry from the Faculty of Microbiology of the University of Costa Rica in 2000, earned his master’s degree in microbiology with an emphasis on cell and molecular biology from the University of Costa Rica in 2002 and obtained his doctorate in Microbiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison based on work he did in Dr. Cameron Currie’s lab in 2009.
He is a Professor at the University of Costa Rica's School of Medicine. Dr. Pinto’s research is in the area of microbial ecology and studies the symbiotic interactions between social insects and microorganisms, particularly those with potential applications in biotechnology and medicine.
Dr. Cameron Currie
Dr. Currie became a world reknowned scientist early in his career while working on his PhD studying leaf cutter ants. He discovered that the leafcutters utilize antibiotic producing bacteria to help treat virulent pathogens of their fungus gardens. Dr Currie has received numerous awards in his career including the Presidential Early Career Award for young scientists from President Obama.
Cameron was the inspiration for the creation of Seeds of Change providing support from his lab and with his PhD students, one of whom ultimately became the chief scientist of Seeds of Change.
Cameron’s lab continues to make discoveries that will shape our future while he supports our endeavors. His talks and his lab scientists provide inspirational sessions and career guidance for our students who are learning about the wonder of these ants and the possibilities of pursuing science in their future careers.
Cameron graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in biology in 1992 and stayed on to earn his master’s degree in entomology there in 1994. He then earned his doctorate in botany from the University of Toronto in 2000.
Dr. Currie’s research focuses on the ecology and evolution of symbiotic associations between animals and microbes. He utilizes a cross-disciplinary approach incorporating ecological, evolutionary, behavioral, genetic, and microbiological approaches and employs molecular ecology and phylogenetic techniques to examine how microbes shape the biology of higher organisms.
His main study system is the quadripartite association between fungus-growing ants, their fungal cultivars, mutualistic bacteria, and specialized garden pathogens.
Dr. Heidi Horn
Heidi came to Seeds of Change through the Currie Lab at UW-Madison. As a researcher in Costa Rica, she collected ant colonies at nearby Selva lab and successfully isolated Selvamicin, an antibiotic – forming a direct connection between Seeds of Change curriculum and solutions to the global issue of antimicrobial resistance.
Heidi graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in biology. She obtained her PhD in Zoology at UW-Madison in the Currie lab in 2018. Heidi grew up in Wisconsin and received her BSc in Biology from UW-Madison. Heidi’s research focused on the dynamics and specificity of host-microbe symbiosis in fungus-growing ants; exploring the evolution and diversity of secondary metabolite production in host-associated microbes.
Heidi is an Assistant Professor at Edgewood College in Madison, WI where she teaches microbiology.
Lead Tropical Field Biology Scientist
Dr. Jennifer Powers
Dr. Powers and her research team have recently begun collaborating with SOC on an ecology research activity and ongoing quadrat data collection effort by SOC students that mirrors some of her research efforts at Horizontes.
Dr. Powers has been conducting research in tropical dry forests since 2011 and her research funding maintains a permanent facility at Horizontes Experimental Forest Research Station.
Dr. Powers obtained her bachelor’s degree in biology from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1991, her master’s from the department of Forest Science at Oregon State University in 1995 and her Ph.D. from Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC. In 2001. Dr. Powers is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior (75%) and Plant Biology (25%) with research interests in biogeochemistry, ecosystems processes, plant functional traits and tropical ecology.
Dr. Pilar Santidrian
Bibi has collaborated with Seeds of Change since 2011 at Playa Cabuyal where she leads a sea turtle nesting research study. She has allowed SOC students to work alongside her research team installing sea turtle satellite transmitters, collecting sea turtle nesting data and using drones to assist in sea turtle observation.
Bibi obtained her bachelor’s degree in biology at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. She holds an MPhil from University of Wales Swansea, U.K. and a Ph.D. from Drexel University. Bibi has worked with sea turtles for 17 years and has been part of the Leatherback Trust team since 2000. Her main research lines are on the population biology, nesting ecology and conservation biology of leatherback turtles. Bibi and Dr. Gabriela Blanco started the sea turtle project at Playa Cabuyal, Costa Rica in January 2011.
Veronica has collaborated with Seeds of Change since 2017 primarily as a sea turtle expert that educates students about sea turtle nesting research conducted by the Leatherback Trust at Playa Cabuyal and now her own research on the habitat and movements of sea turtles in Santa Helena Bay.
A graduate of the National University of Costa Rica in marine biology, Veronica is currently in a master’s program with the Research Center in Marine Sciences and Limnology at the University of Costa Rica. Her Master's project involves using acoustic and submersible video equipment in Santa Helena Bay, Costa Rica to study the habitat and movements of sea turtles.
Maike has collaborated with Seeds of Change students to collect research data since 2017. With more than 12 years of experience in sea turtle research, she currently focuses on the population connectivity and migratory routes of green and hawksbill turtles, using stable isotope and genetic analysis.
Her main project resides at El Jobo, Guanacaste, where she founded and is president of a local NGO (Equipo Tora Carey), composed by fishermen, local tourism operators and biologists to pursue their common goal of a sustainable development of marine resources through science, community empowerment and education.
Maike obtained a master’s degree in biology with emphasis in Molecular Biology and Genetics of the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and a bachelor’s degree in Biology with emphasis in Ecology and Sustainable Development. She is currently in process of conducting her PhD in Science at the University of Costa Rica in collaboration with Purdue University under the supervision of Dr. Frank Paladino of The Leatherback Trust. At the same time, Maike is research associate at the Research Institutes of Cellular and Molecular Biology (CIBCM) and of Marine Sciences and Limnology (CIMAR), both at UCR, where she conducts numerous sea-turtle related projects under the umbrella of the Network of Integrative Study of Sea Turtles in the Eastern Pacific (RITMA), which she coordinates.