Board of Directors

Barbara Johnson, now retired, holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Oregon State University. Her work experience includes: Home Solutions Director of Community Building with NeighborWorks in the Greater Omaha and Council Bluffs Areas; Agency Development Officer and Fundraising Director with the Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership. She also served as an Ambassador in the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce, representing Global Eco Services as a community ambassador to new businesses and various community events in Council Bluffs. Barbara is a talented, results-oriented professional with a proven track record of obtaining funding from donors, private foundations, corporations, and government. She believes in leading through actions and words. Volunteer activities include Heartland Latino Leadership Council, Neighborhoods USA, ThanksGiving Lutheran Church and other neighborhood development projects. Barbara volunteers with Nebraskans for Solar as Grants Co-Director.

David E. Corbin is an Emeritus Professor of health education and public health at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He is currently on the board of the Public Health Association of Nebraska where he is the Nebraska Affiliate representative to the Governing Council of the American Public Health Association. He is the Vice Chair of the Nebraska Sierra Club and is on the executive committee of the Missouri Valley Sierra Club and Live Well Omaha Kids. He has written many successful grants and has been the project director of several grants. Most recently he was involved with the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant from the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) with the Douglas County Health Department as the fiscal agent. He authored six chapters of a high school textbook entitled Health for Life, which was published in the spring of 2014 by Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. David is a Past President of Nebraskans for Solar and maintains the organization’s Facebook page.

Donnis Arens is a retired educator (dual degrees in Special Education and Elementary Education), having taught in the Millard Public Schools for 30+ years. Groups with which she has been involved as a consultant, board member, or volunteer include the Omaha Children’s Museum, Rose Children’s Theater, American Heart Association, Methodist Hospital, Board of the Intergeneration Orchestra, Nebraska StoryArts (current president), and Omaha Stroke Club (current president). Donnis serves as a volunteer for Earth Day and other Nebraskans for Solar events.

Eric Williams graduated from Rice University with a degree in Civil Engineering. His career and community work are both focused on sustainability, energy efficiency, and clean energy. In 2008, he founded the Omaha Biofuels Cooperative, “to produce, use, and promote biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels.” He currently works as the Natural Resources Planner at the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (NRD), and oversees bicycle and pedestrian trail development and urban watershed rehabilitation projects. In 2014, he installed a 3,000 W solar PV system on his own home in Dundee, as well as an off-grid 300 W system at the Dundee Community Garden. Eric is Past President of Nebraskans for Solar for 2017.

Gunnar Nelson is in the Class of 2018 at Creighton University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Energy Science and Physics. He researches thin film technologies in the Physics department at Creighton University. He is the President of Creighton’s Energy Science Club. He is very passionate about bringing Energy Science to the Creighton Community. Gunnar and Teresa Kooima serve as student liaisons between Nebraskans for Solar (NFS) and Creighton University, with the goal of getting more energy-conscious students involved with events outside of Creighton through NFS. Gunnar and Teresa also keep NFS updated on student activity in Creighton’s Energy Technology Program. Gunnar hopes to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and eventually work on next-generation solar technologies.

Helen Deffenbacher served as Co-Chair of the Green Neighborhood Council of the Green Omaha Coalition from March 2011 to April 2013 and was named Volunteer of the Year in 2012. In 2011 she and her husband, Ken Deffenbacher, received the Sierra Club’s Missouri Valley Group’s Environmental Volunteer Service Award. Helen served as EcoKids Director of the Nebraska Sierra Club for 2012 and was writer and editor of a monthly column. In 2010 they formed a Kiva microfinance team called Green Partnerships, which currently has over 1000 members worldwide.  In 2007 Helen co-founded a nationally-accredited Earth Stewardship Program in their church, for which she received the district Adult Social Justice Award in 2008. In 2012 she and Michael Shonka co-founded Nebraskans for Solar. She and Ken, along with Michael Shonka and David Corbin, were honored as Green Bellevue’s 2016 Environment Champions for being “role models and pioneers for renewable energy.”  Helen has a master’s degree in education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). She currently serves as Coordinator of Nebraskans for Solar’s Events, Grants Co-Director with Barbara Johnson, and maintains the organization’s website.

Jared Friesen is a project manager at Morrissey Engineering Inc (MEI), who specializes in small commercial to utility-scale renewable energy projects. He provides consulting services in photovoltaic (PV) performance and economic analysis exercises, designs and specifies systems, and leads the construction of solar projects throughout the region and beyond. Additionally, he provides an American Institute of Architects (AIA) accredited presentation to the architectural community on how to best incorporate photovoltaic that appropriately optimizes power production, reliability, economics, and aesthetics. Jared is a licensed Professional Engineer with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL). He is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional and has received advanced training through Solar Energy International’s industry-recognized training program. In 2010 he was instrumental in bringing solar energy to Morrissey Engineering’s LEED Platinum certified office building at 4940 North 118th Street. A major expansion of that system was made in 2014, resulting in its current production of 20-25% of the building’s total energy needs. Jared is Nebraskans for Solar’s President for 2017.

Jon Dixon opened Dixon Power Systems in 1999, to satisfy a growing interest in alternative power. He designs, sells equipment, installs and maintains residential and small commercial solar and wind turbine systems. Jon has taught courses on renewable energy at Southeast Community College and Union College for the International Rescue & Relief Major. He is a professional mentor for UNL Engineers Without Borders and collaborated with them on their first project in Madagascar and The World Energy Project installed in Kenya.  He has completed other projects for the USGS/North Dakota, UNL, Lincoln Electric Systems, St Louis Zoo and Prairie Hill Learning Center—Nebraska’s First Wind and Solar Powered School to name a few. In 2011 he was appointed to the City of Lincoln Code Study Committee and also worked several years with a group to get Nebraska’s first net metering law passed through the Legislature. Jon  serves as an expert advisor to Nebraskans for Solar.

Kenneth Deffenbacher is a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he was Chair of the Department of Psychology for 29 years. He has been active in the leadership of environmental and social justice organizations in the Omaha area, Co-Chair of the Green Neighborhood Council, co-chair of a nationally accredited earth stewardship program at his church, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Missouri Valley Group of the Sierra Club. He and his wife Helen are legacy members of the Nature Conservancy, as well. They, along with Michael Shonka and David Corbin, were honored as Green Bellevue’s 2016 Environment Champions for being “role models and pioneers for renewable energy.” Ken is a Past President of Nebraskans for Solar and currently serves as the organization’s Secretary/Treasurer.

Leo Arens is a graduate of UNL, with an accounting major. He was an army officer in Vietnam during 1967-1968, followed by a career in business, which included working as a Certified Public Accountant for a Big Eight accounting firm, Comptroller for Pacesetter Building Systems, a solar dealer and installer from 1979-1992, and a production specialist for CSGS International. He semi-retired in 2009, becoming a member of Nebraskans for Solar in 2012. Leo is a Past President of Nebraskans for Solar. Currently he serves as an expert advisor and is involved in grant writing.

Michael Shonka, owner of Solar Heat and Electric in Omaha, has been working with solar and wind systems since1983, installing and servicing equipment and working for the adoption of public policy favorable to the development of renewable energy. He is currently Vice-President of the Nebraska Solar Energy Society. He is also involved with the teaching of solar, wind, sustainability and energy conservation classes statewide. He has been a leader in updating city code for development of wind and solar, helping to pass a state tax credit for renewable energy and implementing the net metering law, which is vital for improving Nebraska’s use of renewable energy. He has also been teaching classes in Solar Energy Systems at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, influencing young minds and sparking interest in the solar technology fields. In 2012 he and Helen Deffenbacher co-founded Nebraskans for Solar. Michael is NFS’s President-Elect for 2017.

Syed Ali is President of the Foundation for Peace, Tolerance, and Non-Violence and creator of The Peace Story Project. He serves as Chief Statistician for Analytics Led Intelligence. Prior positions have included Senior Research Specialist for FMWR Command, IMCOM HQ, US Army from 2010-2011 and work at Gallup from 1995-2009 in various positions, including Senior Research Director and Senior Consultant. At Gallup he worked on Gallup World Poll projects, which required going to various Asian countries to set up the poll. He has conducted analysis, sampling and weighting for numerous countries around the world, from sub Saharan Africa to the Middle East, and East Asia. He has also worked on the Gallup landmark study of the Muslim world.  A strong advocate for green technologies, he has contributed solar LED lanterns to rural residents in Asia and provides micro loans for solar projects on Kiva and SunFunder. Syed serves as Fundraising Chair of Nebraskans for Solar’s Scholarship Program, which provides tuition fees and required textbooks for solar education classes to qualified students.

Teresa Kooima is in the Class of 2019 at Creighton University, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable energy. She does research in the energy technology department on thin films. She is Vice President of Creighton’s Energy Science Club, a community of students who gather to talk about energy-related current events and careers in energy, and host events on campus. She volunteers with Girl Scouts of Nebraska and an after-school tutoring program. After college, Teresa hopes to pursue a career in materials research that works to make solar energy more efficient and affordable.

Advisory Board

Blake Johnson is Construction Warranty Supervisor for Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, serving for four years with the nonprofit organization. He has over 10 years experience in home and landscape construction and construction management. His passions include working to build quality affordable housing to help end the cycle of poverty, and green, sustainable initiatives to protect our planet. Blake serves as an advisor to Nebraskans for Solar and liaison between the two partnering organizations. He and Michael Shonka installed the four solar hot water systems on Habitat for Humanity homes in Omaha.

Doug Perry, Asset Manager for Tenaska, Inc. Founded in 1987, Tenaska is one of the largest private, independent energy companies in the United States.