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Meet Our Advisory Board

Jess Ashmore

Jess Ashmore Headshot

Jess Ashmore is a Northern Michigan native, having grown up in nearby Kingsley, MI, where she attended high school. Jess attended Northwestern Michigan College and earned her Associate's Degree in Business Administration. She graduated from Ferris State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a certificate in Human Resources in 2013. Since then, she has continued to progressively grow in the financial services industry. Jess has experience in retail and business banking with a focus on local businesses. She currently holds the position of Vice President and Branch Manager at Honor Bank, where she manages the Union location in beautiful Downtown Traverse City. Jess resides in Kingsley, MI, and spends most of her time working on her home and volunteering in the community. Her passion lies in people and photography. She owns and operates her own small business, Jess Lynn Ashmore Photography LLC, specializing in portrait photography. She has volunteered for various events, including the Kingsley Heritage Days Parade and The Journey TC Back to School Block Party, where she provided photos for families. Jess also serves on the boards for Brickways, Grand Traverse Industries, and the Kingsley Downtown Development Authority.  

Mary Bevans Gillett

Mary Bevans Gillett HeadshotMary Gillett is a writer and the Convener/Director of the Northwest Michigan Arts & Culture Network, which serves the individuals, organizations and community project that drives the creative sector in NW Michigan's 10-county region. Mary has been an EES instructor for many years, teaching the grant writing series and work of art workshop. She is always seeking opportunities to create stronger connections to further arts, culture, and our 'up north' communities. 


Annie Callahan

Annie Callahan HeadshotAnnie has worked in Education for over 25 years. She has spent time teaching dance lessons and was a preschool teacher, a special education paraprofessional, and for the last 4 years a junior high science and STEM teacher at Grand Traverse Academy. She loves STEAM education: especially Engineering Design. Annie coaches JH/HS Robotics and is a facilitator for Girls Who Code. She's been teaching College for Kids classes at NMC since 2013 and loves it! 


Jeffrey Cobb

Jeffrey Cobb Headshot

Jeffrey Cobb is the Director of Music Programs and Choirs at Northwestern Michigan College, Artistic Director of the NMC Children’s Choirs, and Director of Music at Traverse City Central United Methodist Church. He holds a M.M. in Choral Conducting from Oakland University and a B.A. in Music Education from Western Michigan University. Jeffrey has held positions at Traverse City Central High School, Judson ISD in San Antonio, Texas; Parchment Schools in Parchment, Michigan, and the Leysin American School in Leysin, Switzerland. Choirs under his direction have toured throughout Michigan, Texas, Chicago, New York, Salzburg and Vienna, and have been invited to perform at State and National Conferences, including the Michigan Music Conference, the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, the ACDA Michigan Conference, and the ACDA National Convention. Jeffrey is a frequent clinician, adjudicator, and guest conductor, working with school groups, Honor Choirs, and All-State Choirs.

In addition to his work as a conductor, Jeffrey is also a regularly commissioned composer. His pieces have won several awards, including honors from the Phoenix Boys Choir New Works Rising Composition Contest, the Ithaca Choir Composition Contest, the New York Virtuoso Singers Choral Composition Contest, the Measure for Measure Choral Competition Contest, the Vanguard Premieres Choral Composition Contest, the Summit Chorale’s Composition Contest, the Outside the Bachs International Choral Music Competition, the C7Prize, and the Composition Competition of the Chiayi City (Taiwan) International Band Festival. Jeffrey’s arrangements and original compositions are regularly performed by college ensembles, community groups and high school ensembles throughout North and South America, Europe, and Oceania. His choral works are published through his own publishing company Mysterium Music, as well as G. Schirmer, Santa Barbara Music, Walton Music, Colla Voce, and Roger Dean Publishing. 
James Dake

James Dake HeadshotJames is the Education Director at Grass River Natural Area. He has studied science education at Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University, holds a teacher certification in the state of Michigan, and has a Master of Arts in Science Education. He is a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation. James has taught environmental studies & science in the classroom, as well as with nature centers and museums in Michigan and New York. He spent over two years in New York State and authored a field guide of the flora and fauna of the Finger Lakes Region using his own photography. Additionally, he is the author of Grass River's Field Guide to Northwest Michigan. 
Nicole Fewins

Nicole Fewins HeadshotNicole Fewins currently serves as an instructor within NMC's Business Administration program, where she teaches a variety of business classes. Her role extends beyond the classroom as she guides and advises business students in selecting their future courses. Nicole often finds herself recommending EES classes to her students due to their wide array of business topics and condensed format, which aligns well with their needs. She has a genuine enthusiasm for the value EES classes provide. In addition to her teaching and advisory roles, Nicole is also an enthusiastic learner. She consistently enrolls in at least one EES class each semester, taking on more whenever her schedule permits.
Lisa K. Hockin

Lisa K. Hockin HeadshotLisa Hockin has a BA in Graphic Design and Advertising from Michigan State University. She also received her teaching degree for K-12 arts from MSU. She has been teaching art in public schools for 26 years. Lisa's experience teaching at the collegiate level has been with CMU for the past three years. NMC EES has been a part of her summers for 17 years as a College for Kids clay instructor. Kevin is her husband of 27 years and they will celebrate the marriage of their 21-year-old son, Noah this April. 
Holly Kazim

Holly Kazim HeadshotHolly was born and raised in Traverse City, Michigan. She has worked in long-term care for 25 years and currently serves as the Director of Clinical Services at Grand Traverse Pavilions. She holds a Master's Degree in social work and is licensed as a clinical and macro social worker. Additionally, she has obtained her Nursing Home Administrator's license. Holly resides in Traverse City with her husband, Haider.  
Brian Lillie

Brian Lillie HeadshotBrian Lillie is the Director of Hospitality and Distribution at Chateau Chantal Winery. He has been active in the Michigan Wine Industry since 2005. In 2013, he chaired the MiCast (Michigan Certified Alcohol Service Training) Program, which received the 2015 Pure Michigan Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration Award in Education and Training. Brian is the Vice President of the Michigan Wine Collaborative and currently leads the Taste Michigan branding initiative for the Michigan wine industry. He is also collaborating on the Inclusion and Expansion Education Fund initiative called The DREAM Project, which offers education and opportunities to underrepresented populations. Additionally, Brian is founder of Brian Lillie & Company LLC. 
Carly McCall

Carly McCall HeadshotCarly has been with NMC since 2013. Prior to her current role as Director of Alumni Engagement, she served as the coordinator for NMC's Be What's Possible comprehensive campaign. Her extensive experience in the non-profit and education sectors includes work with Old Town Playhouse, Traverse Symphony Orchestra, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Carnegie Hall, Columbia University, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. She holds an MA from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BA from Albion College. Carly is actively involved in choral music and theatre in the area. She is currently singing with Canticum Novum and serves on the Board of Directors of the Old Town Playhouse. 
Brenda McLellan

Brenda McLellan HeadshotBrenda is the Director of Investor Engagement for the Economic Development Organization Traverse Connect in the Grand Traverse Region of northern Michigan. She has experience in several business sectors, including hospitality, technology, banking, and most recently, non-profit. Above all, she is passionate about building relationships and connecting people. Brenda has years of fundraising experience and currently serves on Northwestern Michigan College’s Engineering Technology Advisory Board. She also serves as the Secretary for The Helm Foundation, which supports women leaders by advancing access to business and leadership programming. In her free time, you can find her spending time with her two children or staying active with the abundant outdoor recreation opportunities in the Traverse City region, which she calls home. 
Nancy McRay

Nancy McRay HeadshotNancy McRay holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan with an emphasis on Fiber Art. She has worked as a studio artist and community arts organizer since 1994. While living in East Lansing, McRay served on the East Lansing Arts Commission, The East Lansing Art Festival Board of Directors, the East Lansing Art selection committee, and the Greater Lansing Arts Council. She also served as on-site juror for awards presented at the East Lansing Art Festival. After moving to Williamsburg, MI, McRay continued her involvement with local arts as the Education Committee Chair on the Board of Directors of Art Rapids. She worked with Shanna Robinson to curate a Fiber Show for the Jordan River Arts Council in October of 2018. Robinson and McRay also curated another exhibit for JRAC in October of 2020, called “Elemental”, in which invited artists created work in response to our natural environment. Robinson and McRay continue to work together to curate fiber shows for Lansing Art Gallery and JRAC. As an award winning Fiber Artist, McRay’s current works include Tapestry, Rigid Heddle Weaving and compound weave structures. She enjoys branching out to other media including printmaking and painting, as a way to “cross train” and enlarge her skill set.  
Beth Milligan

Beth Milligan HeadshotBeth Milligan is a journalist and head writer for the Traverse City Ticker, an online daily news outlet in Traverse City. She serves on the Leelanau Conservancy's LC Collective board and recently served as the marketing chair on the board of directors for LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Up North Pride. Beth has worked in marketing and PR roles for numerous community organizations, including the Traverse City Comedy Fest, Traverse City Film Festival, Traverse Connect, and Traverse City National Writers Series. 
Sarah Montgomery-Richards

Sarah Montgomery-Richards HeadshotOriginally from Ludington, MI, Sarah studied Comparative Religion at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI. She also holds an M.A. in Interfaith Action from Claremont Lincoln University in Claremont, CA, and is currently a doctoral candidate in Maryville University's Higher Education Leadership program in St. Louis, MO. Sarah has experience teaching in the Department of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University and is currently an adjunct faculty member in the Philosophy and Communication Departments at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), where she teaches courses on Western and Eastern Religions, advanced studies in Comparative Religion, and introductory English. She also teaches for the religion department at Adrian College in Adrian, MI. Sarah has served as faculty advisor for the NMC Global Citizenship and Religion Student Group and co-advisor for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Student Group. She has co-lead NMC students on study abroad trips to Ireland (2018) and India (2018 and 2019). Sarah also serves on the NMC Faculty Council, and is the author of A Student’s Introduction to World Religions. She has participated in the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, UT, and the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. Sarah is a presenter at the annual Community Colleges for International Development (CCID) conference in Washington, D.C. in Feb. 2023. Her background includes world religions, philosophy of religion, interfaith action, mindfulness, religion in the public sphere, myth and ritual, and has a keen interest in international education. Sarah enjoys teaching in an academic setting, leading group meditation, and participating in the celebration of a variety of world spiritual perspectives. She loves music and food, spending time with her family, traveling, and reading just for fun as much as possible! 
Esther Nance

Esther Nance HeadshotEsther Nance is the Office Manager for Food Services, which encompasses both the Hagerty Center and the Hawk Owl Café. She enjoys the fast paced student and community-facing environment. Esther is a Northwestern Michigan College alumna and is currently pursuing her Bachelors in Business Administration at the University Center with Ferris State University. Outside of the office, you can find Esther enjoying the outdoors with her husband and Australian Shepard.  
Thomas A. Obrecht

Thomas A. Obrecht HeadshotThomas is retired after working for 40 years in the steel industry. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Xavier University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a blacksmith at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. Thomas enjoys bicycling, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. His main hobby is painting landscapes and portraits using soft pastels and oil paints. 
Brett Sinclair

Brett Sinclair HeadshotBrett Sinclair is an Interculturalist, Marketer, and Project Manager who just wants to help people overcome barriers while pursuing their passions. He achieves this goal through his marketing agency, Raven & Lotus, by adopting a storytelling approach that prioritizes core values while communicating with customers and communities, with a focus on meeting their needs. As a neurodiverse, indigenous, black, and white individual, Sinclair has observed how systems can affect people's ability to fully participate in society. He recognizes that inclusion challenges are critical factors in both community and individual health, and he strives to utilize his background in project management and teaching to foster positive human relationships. His ultimate dream is to establish a teashop and brewery in a lighthouse with a bookstore, which can serve as a hub for these values.  
Jason Slade

Jason Slade HeadshotIn this executive role, Jason Slade leads the execution of the college’s new strategic plan, NMC Next, as the college works to meet the future needs of its learners and the community. Jason also oversees workforce and professional development, as well as University Center partnerships. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering from Michigan State University. Previous career experience includes serving as a program coordinator and lead faculty for the Electronics and Electrical Program at Mott Community College and working as an electrical engineer in the automotive industry. Jason's passion is connecting students and the community with high-demand careers in technology. Like any good engineer, he sees an opportunity to build an even more effective network to support students and businesses to expand employment opportunities and fuel a thriving Grand Traverse region. He’s excited to collaborate with other leaders across all sectors to achieve this goal!  
Alison Thornton

Alison Thornton HeadshotSince moving to Traverse City in 2002, Alison has worked at NMC, where she is presently employed in Technology Support and Training. She regularly leads training sessions on Google Productivity Tools for EES and serves as a host for Explore NoMI Tours. Alison holds a Community Development certificate from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor's degree from American University in Washington DC, with a specialization in International Service, and focus in Spanish and Latin American Studies. Alison has taken a multitude of culinary classes at EES, and has an ongoing practice as a yoga student there since 2007.  
Emily Umbarger

Emily Umbarger HeadshotWith her roots in northern Michigan, Emily is a native of the Great Lakes region. Emily completed her undergraduate degree in Education from Michigan State University, her Master’s degree in Education from MSU and Converse College, and her doctoral studies in Education from Michigan State University. She is now completing a Master’s program in Global Sustainable Systems - Agriculture from Colorado College. Emily is the Sustainability Director and Instructor of Agricultural Sciences and Regenerative Ag Biology at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where she has spent the past 13 years. During her tenure at Interlochen, she has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in the world of sustainability on the institution’s campus, receiving numerous rigorous certifications for the school in the field of regenerative, sustainable, and earth-friendly practices. In 2019, she led the institution through the US Department of Education’s Green Ribbon School award, where they were awarded prestigious national recognition for advancements made in sustainability across campus. She oversees the school’s campus-wide initiatives in composting, recycling, sustainability-related outreach and community education, and manages the school’s R. B. Annis botanical laboratory and school garden complex. She is currently working on a campus-wide Climate Action Plan 2028. Emily is a trustee on the Allen Foundation board, on the advisory board for the Great Lakes Incubator Farm, and is a member of Michigan Association for Environmental and Outdoor Educators and the Michigan Association for Environmental Professionals. She is a lover of the outdoors and nature. Emily is the proud mother of two boys: Jake and Joey. She is a Michigan State University certified Master Gardener, a passionate cast iron chef, a devoted beekeeper, and a lover of our Mother Earth.  
Brittany VanderBeek