Board Spotlight – Melanie Welch

Posted on May 27, 2021 by

Melanie Welch is currently a Board Member of Freshwater Future and the Deputy Director of the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, where she develops national informal education programs and professional development opportunities for libraries, and librarians, of all types throughout the United States. Melanie is a veteran non-profit professional, with additional experience in outcomes-based work at museums and environmental organizations, including several years on staff with Freshwater Future. She has expertise in informal education, public programs and community engagement and outreach. She received a BS degree in environmental biology from Bradley University and a MS degree in biology from Northern Illinois University, and is a member of the Second Nature class of Catto Fellows at the Aspen Institute. She lives in Chicago with her family.

I grew up in a south suburb of Chicago, not too far from the Indiana border. My parents always made time in the summers to take us to the Indiana Dunes. I loved to swim, but I would always spend some time hiking the dunes and exploring the area. I was always fascinated by what I saw: oak forests growing in the sand dunes, cactus growing in Indiana. I also remember dead alewives on the beach, and a display about sea lamprey that scared me half to death. Those experiences, plus a love of PBS nature programming and being inspired by trailblazing women scientists like Jane Goodall sparked a deep curiosity about the natural world and science.

In 1990, during the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, a lightbulb went off: I wanted to help our environment. I majored in environmental biology, and I immediately went on to pursue a master’s degree in biology. I started my career in environmental education in museums and eventually founded the Great Lakes conservation program at Shedd Aquarium. While engaged in Great Lakes work at the aquarium, I got to know other organizations working in the space, like Freshwater Future. I enjoyed getting to know the staff, the mission of the organization and was delighted to serve on an ad hoc committee to help with their strategic planning.

Eventually, I accepted an opportunity to join the staff of Freshwater Future. For nearly four years, I got to know many amazing people doing critical work on the ground in communities large and small all across the Great Lakes region. One of the groups I started helping very early on while on staff at Freshwater Future is Sturgeon for Tomorrow – Black Lake Chapter. I still follow them on Facebook and keep up with their activities to restore and protect lake sturgeon, one of my favorite Great Lakes fish.

Now that I work at the American Library Association, I’m proud to maintain my connection to the work of Freshwater Future and its many grassroots advocates and members as a board member. I like that I’m still connected to ensuring the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region in this governance role. The health of the environment and specifically, the Great Lakes region where I live and raise my family, is a personal passion of mine and I still learn so much from the work of this organization. As I get involved locally in organizing efforts around issues such as replacing lead service lines (Illinois has the most lead pipes in the United States), I draw upon the knowledge and resources Freshwater Future offers.



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.