STONINGTON — Michael “Spike” Lobdell, the founder, president and CEO of the New England Science & Sailing Foundation, announced this week his plans to step down from day-to-day leadership of the organization he founded in 2002 to assume the role of “Chair- elect”.
“The timing is right,” Lobdell said on a phone call Wednesday afternoon about the transition. “I’ve never been so proud of our program.”
“In short,” Lobdell said, “I’m rising to be CEO.”
Lobdell, who was named Citizen of the Year by the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce last year – which is considered by many to be the top honor for business leaders in the two-state region – said he plans to remain involved with the organization and will continue to build partnerships while supporting fundraising and strategy execution with the NESS Board.
NESS is a nationally recognized program with a mission to instill in students a love of learning through water-based experiential programs. NESS began in 2002 as a community sailing program with 14 students.
Today, 20 years later, the program educates approximately 9,000 K-12 students of all backgrounds and in both urban and suburban markets, empowering them with “leadership, teamwork, confidence and problem-solving skills to ensure academic success.”
NESS was the first and only program of its kind to be accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
“We thrived when we introduced our water-based programs and our STEM concept,” Lobdell said, referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “It’s the social-emotional component.”
The NESS STEM-based curriculum includes the use of marine science, sailing, powerboating and adventure sports as learning platforms on and off the water for students from all walks of life, empowering them with leadership, teamwork, confidence and problem-solving skills.
“I think students need our brand of experiential education now more than ever,” Lobdell said, “especially post-COVID.”
“You can use geometry in sailing,” he said. “You can learn life skills.
“If you think about it, water is the big balance,” he said. “Kids who have never been on the water can learn a new confidence.”
High-risk youth, he said, who may never have been on a sailboat or surfboard.
“You can tell them ‘no, no, no’ all day, and here’s a program that tells them ‘yes, yes, yes,'” he said.
Independent research into NESS programming by Cambridge-based Goodman Research, he said, “confirms that students who have participated in our program are nine times more likely to experience significant changes in confidence than those who have not.”
Lobdell said that current NESS President Eric Isselhardt will succeed him as CEO.
“Eric has been with NESS for over three years,” he said, “and has over 30 years of experience in all types of educational organizations.”
“Spike’s energy and passion for NESS is not flagging,” Isselhardt said in a statement. “As CEO, he will continue to be an integral part of what NESS is and how we live our core values of inclusivity, experiential learning, personal growth and accountability – the cornerstones on which NESS is built.”
“This change reinforces NESS’s focus on education by partnering with schools and organizations to teach STEM using water-based platforms,” said Lobdell Teamwork, perseverance, confidence, self-control and communication.”
Jane Leipold, Chair of the NESS Board of Directors, said in a statement released this week that the changes “reflect the planned succession in leadership that will ensure the continued success of this highly respected educational organization.”
Effective January 1, 2023, Lobdell will become Chairman of the Board of NESS.