Terra Tarango is an accomplished executive in the education industry with more than 15 years of experience in educational publishing and services. Prior to joining VAI, Tarango served as President of SDE, one of the largest providers of professional development for pre-K through 12th-grade educators in the U.S. Before that, she developed award-winning print and digital curriculum with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the largest educational publisher in the nation. She is an expert in instructional climate and culture and has devoted her career to increasing curiosity, creativity and critical thinking in the classroom.
As Van Andel Education Institute Director and Education Officer, Tarango oversees VAEI and its efforts to improve science and inquiry-based instruction in K12 education. She and her team provide innovative science programs for students and world-class professional development for educators. She also heads up the global expansion of NexGen Inquiry®—VAEI’s web-based, interactive teaching and learning platform designed to support professional development and engage students in self-directed, hands-on science investigations.
Randy offers 27 years of teaching experience with a diversity of students – disadvantaged to gifted and talented, including sixteen years teaching middle school general science, earth science and space sciences; four years teaching high school earth science, biology, and physics; and seven years teaching in the VAEI Biodiversity and Human Health student programming and teacher professional development. An early adopter of inquiry teaching methods, Randy taught in an urban setting in both middle and high school, translating local, state, and national outcomes, and inquiry-based teaching methods into everyday classroom practice, while emphasizing the relevance of class material to the world beyond the classroom. He was also instrumental in introducing science teaching reform where he assisted and trained teachers in inquiry-based teaching and learning.
Randy holds a bachelor’s degree from Hope College. His areas of focus were geology, biology and science education. In addition, Randy has a master’s degree in Science Education from Western Michigan University. Beyond this, he has earned graduate hours in scientific inquiry and in curriculum and instruction. As head coach of award-winning First Robotics, Middle and High School Science Olympiad, and Rocketry Teams, Randy recognizes what it takes to create a culture of success.
Janyce Huff spent 11 years teaching science at East Grand Rapids High School where she taught Chemistry, wrote and implemented the AP Biology curriculum and was recognized as a leader in instituting flipped classrooms. She worked in partnership with the VAEI to create innovative student-led independent research projects with her AP Biology students. She also integrated the VAEI Community of Practice Inquiry model into her Chemistry classes.
Janyce served as the High School technology coordinator, taught technology integration to practicing educators and pre-service teachers, served on two district-wide strategic planning committees and was a member of the science curriculum committee. Prior to becoming a teacher, Janyce was a microbiologist and food technologist for 12 years, during which time she managed quality control labs in the food, drug and medical devices industries and developed new products in the food industry.
Janyce earned her bachelor’s degree from Albion College in Biology, Chemistry and Music and her master’s degree from Aquinas College in Science Education. As a part of her Master program she performed research on “Inquiry-based Learning in the High School Chemistry Laboratory.” She has additional graduate education in technology integration, science education methods, Chemistry and AP biology instruction. She was recognized with the ViChem Nicolas Plastics Excellence in teaching award in 2003.
Robin holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations and Marketing from Northern Michigan University. Robin most recently worked for Fox-17 based in Grand Rapids, MI, creating and managing successful marketing campaigns and solutions for businesses on a local, regional and national level. She also has experience in radio and internet sales as well as customer service from two previous jobs in Marinette, WI, and Boulder, CO. Robin loves running, beach volleyball, delicious local fare and traveling.
As a daughter of two public school teachers, she has a great passion and appreciation for the programs and support that VAEI offers students and teachers. She is very excited to lead NexGen Inquiry’s marketing and community functions supporting teachers utilizing the NexGen Inquiry platform.
Dawn devoted over twelve years to teaching science at Grand Haven High School where she taught multiple classes including Earth Science, Physics, Astronomy and Project Science. During her tenure, Dawn had the opportunity to work with diverse learners, from various academic and personal backgrounds. She started her career as a Science Olympiad coach and proceeded to become heavily involved in curriculum and instruction for the district. Dawn served as a district Design Team chair for eight years and a member of the Balanced Assessment team at Grand Haven High School for 6 years, in which she was chair for her last 3 years. Most recently, Dawn enjoyed working with staff as a trained Cognitive Coach and Classroom Learning Lab Facilitator.
Dawn holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University with endorsements in Biology and General Science. She received her master’s degree from Grand Valley University in Educational Technology. Dawn is very excited to be able to utilize both her classroom experience and education in her role as a Technology Based Learning Specialist. She is also looking forward to sharing her passion of scientific inquiry with teachers and students in both face to face and online settings.
Emily has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology with an Education emphasis from GVSU. She previously worked with Hoffmaster State Park as a park Interpreter. This included creating and implementing park programs with visitors and caring for the protected and endangered animals that the visitor center hosts in the summer. She was part of the VAI Operations team working in Glassware and Media for almost 2 years. There she helped researchers by cleaning and distributing the glass equipment and mixing and delivering the media/chemicals they used. Then she transferred to VAEI to be the best help she could be to the Institute with her knowledge and skills. She now preps the programs for students and teachers, maintains the equipment, and cares for the over 200 organisms we use for classroom observation. She loves spending time outdoors, traveling, painting and rock hunting.
Lisa Neeb earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in Biology and Environmental Science, teaching certification through Concordia University – Wisconsin and is pursuing her master’s degree in Advanced Inquiry offered in conjunction between Miami University and the Brookfield Zoo (Chicago). Lisa began her career working in the Education Department at Discovery World, a science and technology museum, in Milwaukee, WI where she managed the summer camp program and delivered school-age science programming. Her passion for animals and the environment lead her to a marine mammal training position with Oceans of Fun where she cared for California sea lions and harbor seals. In her time at Oceans of Fun, Lisa performed alongside the animals to teach about environmental science and animal behavior in educational presentations and later became the Educational Specialist responsible for curriculum development of interactive programs. Her interests in education lead to the pursuit of a secondary science teaching certificate in Life Science in 2012. Lisa taught high school biology and biomedical sciences for 2 years in Wisconsin before relocating to West Michigan.
When Deb Verlin joined the team 5 years ago as a Senior Administrative Assistant, the spoken words “tarantula,” “bearded dragon,” or “pill bug” would curl her toes and cast her into a frozen state. Today, while Deb navigates through the Education Institute carrying out her various responsibilities, you’re likely to see her stopping by the organism habitats to observe, or just offer a greeting, and she is always anxious to share her excitement with others. When she’s not playing with the critters, she enjoys her more serious operational tasks. She is personable and effective in resolving A/R, A/P, and any general project challenges or questions.
Job enthusiasm is not a rare commodity at VAEI, and whether Deb is completing expense reports, procuring product, or writing correspondence, she would be happy to show you around and introduce you to Toby the Tortoise.
Cory’s passion for animals is obvious in his role as Lab Technician at VAEI. He has worked in some type of laboratory for the past 10 years, starting with chemistry labs at Grand Rapids Community College and moving to the biology side for the last six years, here at VAEI. Cory received two Associate’s Degrees during his time at GRCC. He then moved on to Grand Valley State University where he pursued his Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resource Management.
Cory also has extensive experience working with students of multiple ages. From coaching track at the elementary level, to working with college students in chemistry labs, and everything in between at the Education Institute, Cory has been exposed to all age levels.
Even with his work with students, Cory still finds his passion to be animals. Currently, Cory is responsible for the health and well being of around 60 animals at VAEI’s Science Academy. Cory also serves as an aide in all of the lab experiments being performed here.