Leadership Fellows
Emerging Leaders Prepare to Build Our Future

The Hauenstein Center’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy is a leader development program for 40 Grand Valley undergraduate and graduate students. The program is co-curricular and cross-disciplinary — this year representing 52 different areas of study — and it provides numerous opportunities for students to expand their horizons and engage the community.

Cook Leadership Fellows — our students — gain access to Hauenstein Center events and receptions, high-profile community events, professional training from Varnum Consulting, and other unique opportunities for leadership development.

They have been face-to-face with four U.S. presidents, two vice presidents, six first ladies, five secretaries of state, seven state governors, numerous business and nonprofit executives, multiple Pulitzer Prize winning writers, the world’s most decorated academic, a Grammy Award winner, and a national championship basketball coach.

The Cook Leadership Academy is built around four core programs:

The Wheelhouse Talks
Build community at the helm
Leader Lens
Challenge your perspectives
Consult collective wisdom
Find your spark
The Wheelhouse Talks Leadership Lens Guru Muse
Talks by a distinguished cross-section of leaders, where fellows: Engage with local leaders and the community- Collect perspectives, models, examples, and values of leadership- Create a shared vision for the community.

Wheelhouse Event Page

Intimate gatherings, where fellows: Explore leader ideals and ethical perspectives with Hauenstein Center Director Gleaves Whitney- Tell stories and test ideas- Engage, advise, and coach one another.


Mentor program, where fellows: Access the advice, guidance, and expertise of community mentors- Intersect with mentors at live events and in a dynamic, personalized, online environment- Tap into (and contribute to) the program’s collective wisdom.


Reflection-based, authentic leadership program, where fellows: Explore their personal narratives and fundamental values, goals, and motives- Discover their strengths and weaknesses as leaders- Envision their futures and desired legacies.



Fellow Spotlight

Abigail DeHart

The Hauenstein Center is excited to announce that Cook Leadership Academy Fellow Abigail DeHart of Saginaw, Michigan has been selected to receive a prestigious 2014-2015 Josephine DeKarman Fellowship. A double major in classics and philosophy, DeHart was one of eight undergraduate and graduate students from across the nation to receive this fellowship for the next academic year. The vast majority of awards go to students at top-tier schools.

The Josephine DeKarman Fellowship Trust was established in 1954 by the late Dr. Theodore Von Karman, world-renowned aeronautics expert and first director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, in memory of his sister, Josephine, who passed away in 1951.

DeKarman fellowships are only open to undergraduates and PhD candidates, and competition is extreme. For the 2013-2014 cycle, the committee reviewed 434 applications and awarded eight fellowships. Undergraduate applicants have exceptional recommendations and grades, with a compelling record of original research or scholarship.

Before beginning at Grand Valley State University, DeHart spent a year with AmeriCorps NCCC which involved traveling the country and working with different nonprofit organizations. This service learning experience—the good and the bad—sparked her interest in public policy and the potential interrelatedness of the business and nonprofit worlds.

As a student she is involved with the Philosophy Club, CLAS Student Advisory Committee, and volunteers with the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center.

DeHart is currently finishing up a year abroad in Varanasi, India as a Barbara H. Padnos International Scholar where she is studying language, music, Indian culture, and conducting a yearlong research project concerning equality within the Indian educational system.

Grad school is assuredly in the future, and she hopes to continue working toward promoting the understanding that educational equality is a necessary underpinning to global peace and security.


Leadership Fellows in the 2013-14 Cook Leadership Academy

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

- A -

Holly Anderson - Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Holly Anderson is pursuing her masters of Public Administration, with a concentration on Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Raised in Spring Lake, Michigan, Holly graduated from Kalamazoo College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Social Relations. As an undergraduate, she served as a Civic Engagement Scholar, studied abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland, and received the National Howard R. Swearer Humanitarian Award for her commitment to community service. Professionally, Holly has worked as a Site Coordinator at Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, and as a coordinator for service learning at Elon University in North Carolina. Currently, Holly is serving as President of Grand Valley’s Nonprofit Professionals Graduate Student Organization. Through participation in the Cook Leadership Academy she looks forward to learning from the fellows and mentors alike, as well as opportunities for continued growth and development.



Mohamed Azuz – Communications engineering, Computer Information Systems – GVSU, BS ’14

Mohamed is an international student from Tripoli, Libya. He studied Communications Engineering at Tripoli University and is now pursuing a degree in Computer Information Systems at Grand Valley State University. Mohamed serves as president of the Photography Student Organization. His photography can be seen on the GVSU website, and most recently, was displayed at the Red Wall Gallery in Allendale. He is the Vice President of the International Student Club, and also a peer mentor in the GVSU International House. Having been an Eagle Scout in Libya, he volunteers his time with the Cub Scouts in Jenison. He is honored to serve as a US Department of State Alumni, having been a student in the NESA UGRAD Program. His interests also include cancer awareness, and he has served as a team leader in the Libyan Cancer Society. Joining the Cook Leadership Academy will help him to develop leadership, communication, and community engagement skills, which will help him attain his future goals of assisting in rebuilding Libya after the revolution.


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Elizabeth (Lizzy) Balboa – Journalism, Biomedical Science, Writing, Religous Studies – GVSU, BA ’14, BS ’14

Elizabeth is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Journalism and Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Religious Studies. Although her family recently moved to Royal Oak, she is from Grand Ledge, Michigan, where she graduated as valedictorian of her Lansing Catholic High School class. Elizabeth is currently serving as the editor-in-chief of GVSU’s student newspaper, the Lanthorn. Her proudest accomplishments during her time at GVSU include her development of an intercollegiate Catholic mentor program, recognition as the 2013 Undergraduate of the Year in Journalism, involvement in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, and reception of various scholarships including the GVSU Presidential Scholarship. As her interests far surpass her academic pursuits, Elizabeth has entertained various vocational calls through employment or volunteer work with a hospital, legal firm, bank holding company, and state representative’s office. While her career goals could more accurately be described as a “bucket list,” she most seriously aspires to become a leader in the universal Catholic community and, as St. Francis put it, become a “channel of peace.” To actualize her dream, Elizabeth is considering pursuing post-graduate education in peace studies. Elizabeth is eager to work with the members of the Cook Leadership Academy to realize these goals.

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Austin Calloway – Political Science – GVSU, BA ’14

Austin is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Political Science. He is also a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan and graduated from East Kentwood High School. During his time at East Kentwood he played varsity football and was a member of the 2010 ‘We the People’ team that represented the state of Michigan at the National Finals. At Grand Valley, Austin has been a member of the Student Senate Educational Affairs committee and has participated in various campus activities like the First Year Leadership Experience and intermural athletics. During the Winter 2013 semester, he became a founding member of a debate club that focuses on improving professional communication and general public speaking skills. Austin plans on attending law school and pursuing a legal career after the completion of his undergraduate degree. He looks forward to building more relationships with mentors and fellows while continuing his ongoing education toward becoming an effective and adaptive leader.



Inchan Choi - Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Inchan Choi was born in Sangju, South Korea, a rural city which had only 100,000 people in 1986. He is the first son in a family of 2 children, 1 boy and 1 girl. He considers himself to be very fortunate from childhood. Inchan comes from a background where his mother ran a small supermarket and was a very practical woman. He was able to learn a sense of problem solving and overcoming challenges from her. This helped him when he went abroad because he became more capable of facing new challenges. While spending 8 months in Australia, Inchan learned more about English than he would have learned in 8 semesters of classes in Korea. Inchan’s father is a philosopher who has studied Confucian philosophy and is a large-minded person who’s thinking focuses on the biggest issues. He has enabled Inchan to see the world broadly. Thanks to his philosophical father, Inchan has been able to maintain his curiousity about everything in the world. Such curiosity led him out of the South Korea. Inchan has also been to the Philippines for volunteering efforts and as a result felt a keen need to learn more about philanthropy. He is now studying for a master’s in NGO & Leadership at GVSU. Inchan believes all of the things that have happened to him have come from pure luck. He looks forward to working in the NGO field after graduation. Given his many opportunities, he feels a sense of responsibility to give back to the world.


Kyla Cieslak – Marketing, International Business

Kyla Cieslak is a senior at Grand Valley State University, pursuing a major in Marketing and a minor in International Business. She is also a member of the Honors College. Kyla grew up in Livonia, MI where she graduated from Livonia Franklin High School in 2010.  On campus, Kyla is the president of the Zeta Epsilon chapter of Phi Chi Theta. She has been active in the co-ed business fraternity since her freshman year at Grand Valley, and is proud to have contributed to its growth and success. This past summer, Kyla fulfilled one of her dreams of interning and studying in London, England. She jumped at the chance to travel through parts of Europe while she was there. In the future, she plans on having a career in multinational marketing, and hopes to continue exploring the world. Kyla has always been actively involved in the community she lives in, whether in a leadership or volunteer role. During her time in Grand Rapids, she has developed a love for the city and is excited for the opportunities the Cook Leadership Academy will offer.


Max Corning II – Allied Health Sciences, Speech Language Pathology – GVSU, BA ’13

Max received his bachelor’s degree at GVSU for Allied Health Science this past fall. He is currently pursuing a master’s program for Speech Language Pathology.  He is an Army veteran who completed a tour in Afghanistan in August of 2010. Max was a technical engineer who was responsible for the design and layouts of large construction projects. He is the former vice president for Grand Valley’s chapter of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association. Max is a part of the Student Veteran’s Organization and a Member-at-Large representing Students for the Michigan Speech and Hearing Association Advisory Assembly. He currently works at a Baxter laboratory as a Senior Processing Center Technician and recently transitioned into the Air Force Reserve. Max continues to affiliate with the Cook Leadership Academy so that he may learn from modern innovators and develop relationships with future leaders.


Evan Crain – Finance, Operations Management, Accounting – GVSU, BBA ’13 – David and Carol Van Andel Leadership Fellow

Evan is a senior at Grand Valley State University with majors in Operations Management and Finance and minors in Mathematics and Accounting. He is passionate about leadership, numbers, and business. Evan has held internships at two global industry leaders: Dow Corning Corporation and Steelcase, Inc. He is also currently working in logistics continuous improvement at Steelcase. Evan recently traveled to Nicaragua as a business facilitator for the Applied Global Innovation Initiative and serves on the board of directors of both APICS-Grand Rapids and APICS-GVSU. He believes that character – humility, wisdom, and integrity – should drive servant leaders. Evan is honored to learn from the experiences of accomplished leaders at the Hauenstein Center who are building a foundation for servant leadership and are thoroughly committed to active philanthropic engagement in our community. Evan is originally from Midland, Michigan and enjoys relaxing with family, martial arts, and reading. A fun fact: Evan has operated a stage camera at professional concerts with audiences of over 1,800 people.


Amber Cullison - Hospitality and Tourism Management, Business, Spanish

Amber Cullison is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management, minoring in General Business and Spanish. Born and raised in Waterford, Michigan, she graduated with honors from the International Academy, the #1 International Baccalaureate high school in the nation. Upon entering GVSU, Amber immediately sought opportunities to become involved on campus. She joined Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity in the fall of 2010 through which her passion for community and public service grew in her term as Philanthropy Chair. She now serves as the Chapter’s President. Some of Amber’s proudest accomplishments come from her involvement in Alpha Omicron Pi and the Panhellenic Association, including being recognized as the 2012 GVSU Sorority Woman of the Year. Amber is also a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, a Transitions Leader, and works for the 2020 Information Desk in the Office of Student Life. She has completed internships with the Walt Disney Company, Emerald City Designs, and spent her summer interning at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. In her spare time, Amber enjoys reading, crafting, and is an avid Detroit Tigers fan. She looks forward to the personal and professional development the Cook Leadership Academy will bring!


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Abigail DeHart – Philosophy, Classics, Business – GVSU, BA ’14 – Dick and Betsy DeVos Leadership Fellow

Abigail is a senior at Grand Valley, majoring in Philosophy and Classics. Her hometown is Saginaw, Michigan. Before beginning college, she spent a year with AmeriCorps NCCC which involved traveling the country and working with different nonprofit organizations. This service learning experience–the good and the bad–sparked her interest in public policy and the potential interrelatedness of the business and non-profit worlds. Currently she is spending a year abroad in Varanasi, India where she will be studying language, music, Indian culture, and conducting a yearlong research project concerning equality within the Indian educational system. When she returns, she looks forward to participating in Cook Leadership Academy events while reflecting on what it means to be a leader with global perspective. As a student she is involved with the Philosophy Club, CLAS Student Advisory Committee, and volunteers with the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center. Abigail plays music as much as she can in her spare time, but also enjoys good conversation, traveling, and reading. Grad school is assuredly in the future and while specifics have yet to be decided, she hopes someday to work toward promoting the understanding that educational equality is a necessary underpinning to global peace and security.


Jeff Domagala - Master of Higher Education, College Student Affairs Leadership

Jeff Domagala is currently pursuing his master’s of Education with a concentration in College Student Affairs Leadership. Originally from South Lyon, Michigan, he attended Saginaw Valley State University where he received his bachelor of arts in Secondary Education. While at SVSU he held many leadership positions across campus, including the creation of a leadership development student organization. His most influential undergraduate experiences included being a resident assistant, being president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, being in the top one percent of residential leaders on campus, and attending three National Association of College and University Residence Halls (NACURH) conferences across the country where he presented about leadership development, and being named “Student of the Year.” Jeff’s passion for leadership began when he received his Eagle Scout award in high school. Since then, he has been following his desire to change the lives of others through inspiration, meeting new people, and speaking in front of large crowds. He is currently a member of Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK), and a graduate assistant for the Office of Integrative Learning and Advising at GVSU. Because of those who invested in him, Jeff hopes to direct his own leadership development program one day to help students find their own passions.


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Dana Eardley - Liberal Studies: Urban Sustainable Food Systems, Environmental Science

Dana is a sophomore majoring in Nonprofit Administration and Liberal Studies with an Emphasis in Sustainable Food Systems and a minor in Environmental Studies. She grew up in San Antonio, Texas where she attended high school at the International School of the Americas. There she participated in Big Brother Big Sisters, Model United Nations and the National Honor Society. Through the Rotary Club, she earned the opportunity to study abroad in Sweden as a senior in high school and has hopes to participate in another study abroad program during her time at Grand Valley. She is currently involved in the Sustainable Agriculture Project, the Student Environmental Coalition and volunteers with an organization called “Thrive” working to help assimilate refugees to the Grand Rapids area. She is interested in food justice and is looking at how we can create a sustainable food system that provides people in low income areas with local and affordable food. She furthers this interest by supporting the YMCA Farmers Market and by volunteering at Baxter Community Center and the Well House. Dana is excited to be a part of the Cook Leadership Academy and feels that this will allow her to further develop her leadership skills and understand social issues from multiple perspectives.


Justin Ebert - Classical languages, Economics, Environmental Studies

A junior at Grand Valley, Justin is pursuing majors in Classical Languages and Economics, with a minor in Environmental Studies.  He hails from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, where his family lives presently.  Justin is an officer and varsity member of Grand Valley Rowing, which competes on a national and international level.  During his time at Grand Valley thus far, he has become increasingly involved with the Sustainable Community Development Initiative, and is passionate about the need to alter how our culture views its relationship with the environment.  He is currently a student representative for the Sustainability Reinvestment Fund Advisory Committee as well as the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Student Advisory Board.  It was his privilege to present at the 2012 International AASHE Conference: “Investing in the Future”, where he was also introduced to the anomaly that is vegan sushi.  He hopes that his college experience will enable him to become an agent of change, with tentative aspirations toward reform in economic policy, education, and/or environmental law.  He enjoys problem solving and relishes the opportunity to collaborate with others.  Frisbee, philosophical discourse, and playing music are included on his list of preferred activities.


Jason Escareno - Master of Public Administration

Jason Escareno is a graduate student studying Public Administration and Public Policy at Grand Valley State University. Jason is preparing to become a city manager. He is a graduate of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. He has been a two-time recipient of the Archie McCrae Scholarship. He has been awarded the John H. Logie Fellowship for the City of Grand Rapids where he worked with the Michigan Munincipal Services Authority to create a virtual city and performance-based budgeting metrics. He has also received the Michigan Local Government Management Association Fellowship from the Village of Spring Lake and the City of Ferrysburg. He is also the current President of International City/County Management Association Graduate Student Chapter at Grand Valley State University.




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Mohammed Ghannam – Biomedical Science – GVSU, BA ’14

Mohammed Ghannam was born and raised in Grand Rapids, MI. As the child of two immigrants from the Middle East, Mohammed had the opportunity to grow within and experience two cultures, both of which provided him with unique insight and inspiration. Mohammed graduated from Forest Hills Northern High School in May of 2010 and began his university studies at Grand Valley State University in the fall of 2010. He is pursuing a career in medicine with the intent of serving in an underserved field in a less privileged area. In addition to volunteering as a mentor to underprivileged children in his local community, Mohammed taught young men and women at his local faith center to cultivate the necessary foundations required to lead healthy and productive lives. Mohammed also volunteers at Spectrum Health hospital as well as Mercy Health hospital. In the Grand Valley community, Mohammed holds leadership positions in three prominent registered student organizations, all of which have actively engaged in meaningful activities to encourage and raise awareness about pertinent local and global issues. Additionally, he holds a research position at the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Though Mohammed aspires to be a physician, he enjoys reading and discussing politics, policy, and world affairs. Among his hobbies are reading, basketball, and weight-lifting.


Rachel Gregg - Health Communications, Nonprofit Administration, Psychology

Rachel’s passion is building community. Hailing from a small town near Kalamazoo, Michigan, she was deeply involved in local issues and activities from the beginning. She served alongside the staff of a local women’s resource center, made music on the marching band field and theatrical stage, and worked to involve the community in a public transportation initiative for Kalamazoo County.  In order to continue her community involvement in a more meaningful way, Rachel is studying Communication, Nonprofit Administration, and Psychology at Grand Valley State University. She is now in her senior year and is also in the Meijer Honors College. In 2012, she received the Mawby Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Her research focused on the most urgent professional development needs of nonprofit organizations within the west Michigan community. Additionally, she recently completed an internship with the communications director of an international nonprofit. On campus, Rachel serves as a community coach with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, holds membership in Omicron Delta Kappa Honors Leadership Society, and works as a faculty assistant in GVSU’s Calder Art Center. After graduation, she hopes to contribute her skills in writing and speaking to an organization that builds community and develops people. Rachel believes that people are an organization’s greatest resource. She considers her membership in the Cook Leadership Academy to be a valuable asset to the development of her leadership skills.


- H -

Jamillya Hardley - Master of Higher Education, College Student Affairs Leadership

Jamillya Hardley was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is the daughter of Kimberly Barker and Jeremiah Hardley, with one younger sibling, Javin Hardley. Jamillya attended Kentwood Public Schools for both elementary and middle school. Jamillya completed her four years of high school at Grand Rapids Christian High School where she was a 4 year varsity letter winner for both basketball and track and field. Jamillya earned a full athletic scholarship to play for the University of Michigan’s Women’s Basketball team. After four years (2008-2012), Jamillya received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology. During her undergraduate years, Jamillya developed a passion for working with students on a one on one basis and decided that she would pursue a career in student affairs. Jamillya is now a second year graduate student at Grand Valley State University pursuing a master’s degree in the College of Student Affairs Leadership Higher Education Program. Jamillya also accepted a graduated assistantship position to be an Assistant Living Center Director for Housing and Residence Life. Jamillya has been a recipient of several awards including: the Big Ten All-Academic Award (2011), the University of Michigan Academic Achievement Award (2011), the Positive Black Woman Award (2013), Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor (2013), and the King, Chavez, Parks Award (2013). She also serves on GVSU’s Women and Sport Committee. Her career interests center around working with students, especially first generation, at-risk students, and student athletes in areas of education.  Her hope is to help aid in the transition into college and serve as an advocate, mentor and advisor.


Amber Hendrick – Social Work, Nonprofit Administration, Psychology

Amber Hendrick grew up in West Michigan attending Reed City Public Schools.  She is currently an undergraduate at Grand Valley State University studying Social Work, Psychology, and Nonprofit Administration.  She is actively involved in student organizations and has held leadership positions in many of them. She has been the Bachelors of Social Work Student Organization President, the International Justice Mission President, on the Laker Traditions Team, and is also a Women’s Center Ambassador.  Amber is involved in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as a U-link Representative, which is a student liaison position between NASW and GVSU. She was also recently elected as the BSW Representative for NASW Michigan Chapter for the 2013-2014 year.  Her future plans are to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s of Social Work. Her future careers goals include entering the field of social work in her areas of passion such as child welfare, international relations, domestic violence, and healthcare. She eventually hopes to become involved with the policy aspect of social work at the local and state levels. Through Amber’s previous involvement and experiences, she has learned the importance of leadership within a community and is excited for the opportunity to be involved with the Cook Leadership Academy and experience what it has to offer.  Amber joined the Academy in 2013.


Elizabeth (Lizzie) Heyboer - International Relations, French, Political Science

Lizzie is a senior at Grand Valley State University, majoring in International Relations and minoring in French and Political Science. Most recently, she received the Paul Henry Congressional Fellowship from the Grand Valley Political Science Department and spent her spring term interning with Senator Carl Levin’s office in Washington D.C. Lizzie is also passionate about the Middle East and is President of the Model Arab League Club at GVSU, twice serving as the Secretary General for the Michigan Model Arab League. During the winter of 2011, she received a fellowship from the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a group of eight students. While in Saudi Arabia, they toured the country and visited with diplomats, business people and students. Along with her involvement at school, Lizzie has worked for three years at Apple Inc. in the Woodland Mall as a ‘Creative’, training customers on how to best utilize their technology at home and in their businesses. Upon graduation, Lizzie hopes to find a career that combines her passion for international politics and the Middle East, her love of teaching, and her interest in innovative technology.


Joe Hogan - English, Film, French, Philosophy

Joe is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in English and Film with minors in French and Philosophy.  Raised in Lansing, MI, Joe began writing freelance articles for Faith Magazine, a local Catholic publication, just after graduating from Lansing Catholic High School.  Since then, Joe has worked as a lead writing consultant at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors, volunteered as an English instructor at the Literacy Center of West Michigan, and founded Cinesthesia, a student-run journal of cinema studies.  Currently a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College and involved in various service and community-engagement activities, Joe plans to do humanitarian work immediately following his undergraduate studies and, after, pursue a graduate degree in English literature.  For now, Joe looks forward to working with the other Cook Leadership fellows in order to form strong professional relationships and develop as a leader.



Ryan Hoogmoed - Cell and Molecular Biology, Mathematics

Ryan is a junior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology. A Grand Rapids area native, Ryan was homeschooled during high school and had the opportunity to dual enroll at Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Community College. At Grand Valley, Ryan is a student of the Fredrick Meijer Honors College and a member of the Campus Lions Club and Microbiology Club. In addition, Ryan is a student investigator in the lab of Rachel Powers, PhD, where he studies methods to prevent bacterial resistance to many commonly used antibiotics. Ryan also volunteers weekly in the Emergency Department at St. Mary’s Hospital. His passion for science and health is leading him to seek a career in healthcare.  As a part of the leadership academy, Ryan is excited to learn from the experience and expertise of accomplished leaders.  The relationships and leadership skills he acquires from the program will benefit him as he enters his career, and will give him the tools to contribute to a stronger society.



Nicole Horne – Chemistry, Aquatic Biology – UM, BS ’94; GVSU, MS ’12 – David and Carol Van Andel Leadership Fellow

Nicole M. Horne is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward & Theresa Horne and hails from Muskegon, Michigan. Upon graduating from Muskegon High School, she matriculated through and graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry (’94). She was then employed at Pfizer Global Research & Development in Ann Arbor & Holland, MI. as an organic chemist for eight years, performing pharmaceutical synthesis and producing, isolating, and purifying recombinant DNA proteins for disease enquiries. In February 2004, Nicole entered full-time ministry as the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church of Muskegon and has served in this capacity for the past eight years. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Math and Physical Sciences Department at Muskegon Community College, where she teaches Chemistry and Math. Nicole is currently a graduate student at GVSU in the Biology Department under the direction of Dr. Bopi Biddanda. Her thesis research is in the area of aquatic microbial ecology, with respect to aquatic biofilms and their role in the inexpensive and family-scale BioSand Biofilter water filtration system, which is used to provide safe drinking water in developing countries, improving human health and well-being.


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Kevin Joffre – English, Writing, History

Kevin is a senior at Grand Valley State University. He is majoring in English, minoring in both History and Writing, and is a member of the Frederick Meijer Honors College. He is originally from Midland, MI, where he completed the International Baccalaureate Programme, an international honors program that emphasizes intercultural understanding and critical thinking skills. In his senior year of high school, he became an Eagle Scout through the Boy Scouts of America, which fostered his love of the great outdoors. This past summer, Kevin worked as a Ranger at Philmont, a high adventure Boy Scout camp in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico. Kevin is currently a Lead Writing Consultant at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors. He plans to join the College of Education to become a high school English teacher. He is also helping to co-create a volunteer program for college students to tutor K-12 students in reading and writing. After graduation, Kevin plans to teach English abroad.



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Jepkoech (Jay Jay) Kottutt – Biomedical Science, Women and Gender Studies – GVSU, BS ’15 – Peter C. Cook Leadership Fellow

Jepkoech (Jay Jay) Kottutt is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science, with minors in Chemistry and Women and Gender Studies.  She was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and raised in Eldoret, Kenya. She is a member of the Fredrick Meijer Honors College and is involved with the pre-medicine club, Multicultural Cohort Program, Study Abroad Alumni, Iota Iota Iota Honorary Society, and the Women’s Center Ambassadors’ Program. In the Spring/Summer semester of 2012 she went on a study abroad to South Africa and she had the opportunity to work as an intern in a student led service-learning program called SHAWCO (Students Health and Welfare Centers Organization), which is based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has also participated in various service projects in Kenya and she is currently working on her own project called KIWI (Kenya Inter-regional Water Initiative), which is aimed at providing clean water for villages across Kenya. Jepkoech aspires to be an obstetrician and gynecologist so that she can make an impact on the healthcare of women in Africa. In her spare time she enjoys volunteering, updating her travel blog, reading inspirational books, and spending time with her family.


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Melissa Lankin - Therapeutic Recreation

Melissa is a junior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Therapeutic Recreation and is a member of the Sigma Alpha Lambda National Leadership and Honors Organization as well as Dance Troupe, and Colleges Against Cancer. She also just received her certification in College Positive Volunteering.  Born and raised on the East side of Michigan, she went to Royal Oak High School where she was a scholar athlete and was recognized for academic excellence all four years.  She was also an active member of the National Honors Society, the Varsity Girls’ Basketball team, the St. Mary’s Catholic Youth Group, and Challenge Day. She also received an award from the Detroit Association of Phi Beta Kappa for outstanding ideals of friendship, morality, and scholarship.  Melissa loves working with children and hopes to continue her education by pursuing a master’s in Occupational Therapy.  She also believes that leadership is an important trait to have, and she hopes that the Cook Leadership Academy will help her to develop her strengths and be able to form a community with her peers who are striving to achieve similar goals.  She is very thankful to be a part of this wonderful academy.


Tendo Lukwago - Business, Economics, Finance

Tendo is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying Finance and Business Economics. While attending Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, MI, he was very active in student council and athletics—serving as class president, vice president of his school’s DECA chapter, as well as receiving all-state honors in track and field. In coming to GVSU, Tendo accepted a scholarship to compete on the Grand Valley track team where he is an eight-time All-Conference honoree, a two-time All-Region honoree, and the school record holder in the triple jump. Additionally, he served on GVSU’s Student Senate as the Executive Vice President this past year. Tendo hopes to pursue a career in corporate finance and hopes that his time in the Leadership Academy will prepare him by engaging him with the ideals, beliefs, and values of other aspiring leaders.




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Nathaniel Mehmed – Geography and Planning, Environmental Studies, Public Management – GVSU, BS ’12; GVSU, MPA ’15

Nathan Mehmed grew up and attended high school in the Southeast Michigan town of Hartland. He is a 2012 alumnus of Grand Valley State University where he studied Geography and Urban Planning and minored in Environmental Studies. He is a member of the International Geographic Honor Society, Gamma Theta Upsilon, and a founding member of the Kappa Sigma – Sigma Kappa Chapter at GVSU. Nathan has held several leadership positions with clubs on campus as an undergraduate and graduate student including the positions of Treasurer and Vice President of the Association of Student Geographers & Planners, and Vice President of the ICMA Graduate Student Chapter at GVSU. Nathan is dedicated to public service. With that in mind, he started the group GVSU Students for Sidewalks during his junior year to advocate for the addition of sidewalks along 48th Avenue and Pierce Street next to the Allendale campus. During Nathan’s senior year he participated in the Michigan Association of Planning – Student Conference, acting as a student liaison to the steering committee representing GVSU’s Geography and Planning Department. To further his passion and interest in public service, Nathan is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Grand Valley with a concentration in Public Management. Nathan is also currently employed as a planner and GIS technician at the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission. His future career goals include maintaining a position as a planning professional, GIS professional, public manager, or government analyst with the ultimate goal of becoming a city manager. As a participant in several internships, Nathan is a strong supporter of experiential learning, and is excited to attend and learn from the many events the Academy has to offer. Nathan joined the Leadership Academy in 2012.


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Xinyi Ou – History, Sociology, Archaeology – GVSU, BA ’15, BS ’15

Born and raised in Beijing, China, Xinyi identifies strongly with immigrant communities. During high school, she discovered a passion for working with ELL students and helping others communicate effectively through written and verbal language. Currently, she is a Lead Writing Consultant for the Frederik Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan, where she can work with students of all backgrounds. Xinyi is also beginning her second year as a Math Teaching Assistant for Grand Valley’s Structured Learning Assistance program. After graduation, Xinyi hopes to enter a graduate program for History, specializing in Digital Archiving. Beyond her academic pursuits, activism is a vital part of Xinyi’s life. She plans to continue addressing issues of access to education and housing for LGBTQ youth in the West Michigan area. As a second year fellow, she looks forward to meeting the new participants!




Jennifer Oza – Integrated Science, Elementary Education, College Student Affairs – GVSU, BS ’12, M. Ed. ’14 – John R. DeYoung Leadership Fellow

As an undergraduate and new master’s student at Grand Valley State University, Jen strives to better herself as well as support the betterment of those around her. Throughout her undergraduate experience, Jen became interested in student development across all age groups. Her time in the classroom was spent evaluating learning goals and potential assessment outcomes that students can achieve when given the proper tools. Fostering positive learning experiences is pivotal when developing true understanding of content, confidence in oneself, and companionship among a group. Jen is looking forward to learning how these concepts are applied to higher education in her master’s program, College Student Affairs and Leadership. While working as a Student Supervisor for Freshman Orientation as well as a Campus Tour Guide in the Office of Admissions, she began to acknowledge her true passion which is working with students’ growth throughout their collegiate years. During her time in the Cook Leadership Academy, Jen is eager to meet a new group of colleagues and diversify her own learning experience.


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Kristin Rahn - Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Kristin is in her second year at Grand Valley, pursuing her Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Leadership. Kristin was born and raised in Grand Rapids and received her Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University in Interior Architecture and Design. Kristin’s study of the built environment led her to a passion for community development and affordable housing. After graduating, she served a year with AmeriCorps*VISTA researching and developing a green affordable housing program for Habitat for Humanity in Matthews, North Carolina, helping them to build one of the first LEED-certified affordable homes in the southeastern United States. After completing her AmeriCorps service year, Kristin continued to work with Habitat Matthews in an operations strategy capacity, focusing on sustainable construction and neighborhood development issues. Ultimately, her love for Grand Rapids brought her to study at Grand Valley, where she has served as a graduate assistant for Grand Valley’s Office for Community Engagement and currently works as the graduate assistant for a nonprofit research project in SPNHA. Her academic and future career interests revolve around nonprofit political advocacy, affordable housing, and sustainability—in essence, her passion lies in seeing effective research methods give way to creative, impactful policies and initiatives.


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Genevieve Sabala – Sociology, Literature, Social Work, Nonprofit Leadership – GVSU, MSW ’11, MPA ’13

Genevieve Sabala obtained a Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Public Administration (MPA), with a focus in Nonprofit Management & Leadership from Grand Valley State University. Originally from Kenya, Genevieve obtained her Bachelor of Arts from Egerton University. While pursuing her graduate studies at Grand Valley, Genevieve worked as a graduate assistant at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy. She was involved with various organizations on campus including Omicron Delta Kappa National Honor Society, International Students Organization, Graduate Student Association, I am Grand Valley, and was Vice President for the Master of Social Work Students Organization. Her extensive community service includes participation in WMCAT human-centered design project, Cultural Service Learning Projects in New Orleans and Grand Rapids, the AIDS and Hunger walk, and Habitat for Humanity. Genevieve was the Program Manager at West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center (WMRECC) before accepting her current position as an Employment Specialist at Bethany Christian Services, where she works directly with newly resettled refugees to help them overcome barriers and become self-sufficient. Genevieve will be a board member of Holistic Global Partners, a nonprofit organization focused on creating global partnerships with organizations and ministries that operate from a holistic ministry perspective and are working toward sustainability.


Olga Sarayeva - Advertising, Management

Olga Sarayeva is an international student from Kazakhstan. She is currently a senior at Grand Valley, pursuing a bachelor’s in Advertising and minoring in Management. She is also interning with the Transportation Department at GVSU, and working for Pew Campus Operations. In addition, she is on a team of young creatives developing an advertising campaign for Hello West Michigan. Olga first came to the United States for her senior year of high school as a cultural exchange student, receiving a Future Leaders Exchange scholarship. She fell in love with Grand Rapids and decided to return for college. Before coming to Grand Valley, Olga attended Grand Rapids Community College. While at GRCC, she worked at the Disability Testing Center, helping students with special needs succeed in their studies. In her free time, Olga loves meeting new people and learning about different cultures. She enjoys spending time outside traveling, visiting new places, and hiking. Olga is excited to become a part of the Leadership Academy and further her interest in leadership. She is looking forward to working with other fellows and mentors, developing her communication skills, sharing her experiences, and learning from others.


Elizabeth Strach - Mathematics, Statistics, International Business

Elizabeth Strach is a senior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley, double majoring in Mathematics and Statistics. She is from St. Joseph, Michigan, and has lived there all her life. This will be Elizabeth’s third year as a writing consultant at the Frederik Meijer Writing Center, and this fall she will also be a data analyst intern at Meijer Corp. She is very active within the Honors College community. She has been involved with the annual honors Scholar’s Institute since her freshman year, and this past year was the Director of Mentors. Additionally, she has been an Honors Mentor to incoming honors students since her sophomore year, and this year is a member of the Honors Mentor Council. Elizabeth has a passion for traveling and learning about foreign cultures, and has been fortunate enough to study in Europe the past two summers.  She keeps her mind open to new people, ideas, and concepts, and is always looking for the next person to help her knowledge and perception of the world grow. She looks forward to creating relationships through the Cook Leadership Academy that will help her achieve her personal and career goals. After graduating this spring, Elizabeth plans on pursuing a graduate degree in statistics or data science.


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Joanne Tan - Master of Higher Education, College Student Affairs Leadership

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Joanne Tan moved to the United States in 2004. She graduated with a dual-degree in Communication Studies and Chinese Studies from Grand Valley State University in 2012. Currently, she is pursuing her Masters of Higher Education with an emphasis in College Student Affairs and Leadership. Joanne discovered her passion for working with international students and students who have interests in studying abroad when she studied and interned abroad in Shanghai, China in 2010 and 2011. Throughout her undergraduate experience, Joanne developed a strong interest in student development utilizing high impact practices and education abroad. With her current graduate assistantship at the CLAS Academic Advising Center, Joanne is passionate about providing support to help students succeed and achieve their goals. She is also committed to having strong leadership skills by utilizing her skills and passions. Joanne aspires to move her career goals forward by expanding the views and benefits of education abroad, and bringing the domestic and international communities together. Joanne also looks forward in her participation in the Cook Leadership Academy by further developing her communication, leadership, community involvement and networking skills.


Trevor TenBrink – Political Science, Business – GVSU, BA ’13

Trevor graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2013, with a B.S. in Political Science and a minor in Business. While at Grand Valley, he served as the Student Senate’s vice president for political affairs for three years, and was also involved in the Law society, Pi Sigma Alpha, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and held a seat on the Newspaper Advisory Board. In 2012, he spent a semester working for Congressman Bill Huizenga in Washington D.C. Trevor is passionate about making a positive impact on people’s lives. He hopes to use the political platform to continue to impact others and make this country a better place for all. He believes that as leaders we are called to serve and “to whom much is given, much is required.” Trevor hopes to eventually work within a field related to politics where he can have an impact on legislation and ultimately, people’s lives.




Noah Thelen – Business Finance, Philosophy – GVSU, BS ’15, BA ’15

Noah Thelen is a junior at Grand Valley State University studying Finance and Philosophy. In addition to being a student at GVSU, he is the treasurer for Catholics at GVSU and serves as vice president of membership services of Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honors Society. On top of that, he is involved in University Christian Outreach and was a recent inductee into Beta Gamma Sigma International Honors Society. He also enjoys volunteering his time with St. Luke University Parish by helping out with the youth program. This past summer Noah worked at Domino’s Pizza World Resource Center as a finance intern. This year, he is looking forward to bringing the lessons he learned at Domino’s back to the Cook Leadership Academy as well as the classroom. This is Noah’s second year in the Cook Leadership Academy and he is most looking forward to building relationships with both mentors and other fellows. Last year his favorite part was meeting and getting advice from mentors. He is passionate about leadership, problem solving, learning, and being a role model to the younger generation.


Ashley Trocinski - Political Science, Business Administration, Writing

Currently, Ashley J. Trocinski calls Hastings her hometown. She attends Aquinas College and is an officer of the 2016 Class for the Insignis Program. At Aquinas, she studies Political Science and Business Administration with the intent to add a minor in Writing. This academic year she is a part of a Living Learning Community called ‘Domus House’. The community offers peer tutoring, peer mentoring, community service opportunities, and cultural events to the campus. In sum, Domus Houses’ focuses are on Academics, Community, and Culture. Their motto is: Your Community, Your Home. Ashley hopes to graduate within two-and-a-half years. With that additional semester, she aspires to work internationally with a nonprofit organization. She hopes to work with citizens of developing countries, helping them form business plans that pair well with their local economy and are sustainable. She is also considering plans to obtain her masters degree in Political Science or pursuing an alternative career. As of now, Ashley’s ideal careers are to work as a lobbyist or within a city department forming economically and environmentally sustainable policies. A few hobbies she enjoys include running (one day she hopes to run a half marathon), reading (currently her favorite author is Ayn Rand), and writing fiction novels.


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Rachel VanderStelt - Master of Higher Education, College Student Affairs Leadership

Rachel VanderStelt was born and raised in the Grand Rapids area.  She completed her bachelor’s degree at Hope College in International Studies, Spanish, and Music.   She also spent a semester at the University of Seville in Seville, Spain.  Currently, she is pursuing her master’s degree at Grand Valley State University in Adult and Higher Education. Rachel is employed as the Student Affairs Specialist at Compass College of Cinematic Arts.  There, she works with a diverse population of students helping ensure academic success, facilitating large events, and promoting community and student engagement. In Rachel’s free time she enjoys working on film projects with her husband and has served as producer, videographer, craft services, and musician.  She also enjoys playing the piano, doing puzzles, and raising her puppy to be a Future Assistance Dog through the nonprofit organization, Paws with a Cause. Rachel is excited to learn and network through the Cook Leadership Academy in order to enhance her community leadership skills.



Claudia Vargas Meza - Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Claudia is currently studying for a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis in Nonprofits and Leadership. She serves as a communication official for the International Student Graduate Students Association and holds a grad assistantship with the Padnos College of Engineering and Computing. Claudia is an international student from Nicaragua. In her home country, she studied International Commerce, and did additional studies in Diplomatic Services, University Administration and Finance. After graduating, she worked for a university in her home town of Managua, as a financial assistant. In addition, she had the opportunity to coordinate international programs and serve as an English tutor within that academic institution. In 2010, she began a career in the Italian Embassy in Nicaragua, where she served as an administrative and consulate assistant, as well as a scholarship coordinator. Claudia enjoys learning new languages, for her, they are an essential instrument to learn about cultures and other societies. She received a scholarship from the Italian Embassy in 2008 to study Italian language and culture in Tuscany. This was an opportunity for her to meet people from around the world and develop new respect for each culture.  Claudia is a native Spanish speaker who is also fluent in Italian, French, and English. In her free time, she is working toward the development of MedRunners, a nonprofit organization that brings medical supplies to Nicaragua, for which she has held a volunteer position for three years.  Claudia currently calls Grand Rapids, MI home and looks forward to working within the community as she pursues her professional ambitions.


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Nick Woodward - Master of Higher Education, College Student Affairs Leadership

Nick Woodward is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Higher Education in GVSU’s College Student Affairs Leadership Program. Nick attended Central Michigan University where he earned his BA in Interpersonal and Public Communication.  He supplemented his interest in communication as a member of the Speech and Debate team.  Nick competed all over the country in intercollegiate speech competitions receiving many accolades in his four-year career with the team.   Nick realized his passion for working with students when he worked for Freshman Orientation.  As both a mentor and program assistant he was able to utilize and enhance his communication skills, all the while growing more and more excited about a future in higher education.  Nick has thoroughly enjoyed his time at GVSU and is proud of what he has accomplished in his first year at a new institution.  He is a member of the Student Affairs Graduate Association and was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, National Leadership Honorary this past spring.  Nick is looking forward to the Cook Leadership Academy so that he can meet more student leaders and increase his understanding of leadership styles and theories.



Mentors for the 2013-14 Cook Leadership Academy

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

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Fred Antczak Higher Education, political rhetoric

Full: Dr. Fred Antczak is dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Grand Valley State University. Prior to coming to Grand Valley, he taught and served in leadership positions at the University of Iowa, University of California, Berkeley, and University of Virginia. Outside of the Academy, Dr. Antczak is a commentator on political rhetoric for a variety of news publications around the country.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? The first 90% of success is showing up. Of course if you do bother to show up, bring your whole brain and your whole heart.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Big picture vision, integrity, courage, ability and willingness to communicate, ability and willingness to reach out to difference, ability and willingness to work with those who have disagreed, an inquisitive mind, willingness to learn and change, ability to accept criticism and to roll with the punches in hard times, broad perspective, no acute need for getting attention or credit, a sense of irony, stamina, loyalty, and optimism.


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Rosalynn Bliss Local politics, nonprofit leadership, child welfare, domestic violence

  • Director of Residential Services at DA Blodgett – St. Johns; adjunct professor of social work at Grand Valley State University; and member of the Grand Rapids City Commission since 2006, serving the Second Ward.
  • Currently serves as a board member with the YMCA Corporate Board, Huntington Bank Women’s Advisory Council, Kent County Land Bank, Uptown Corridor Improvement District, Uptown Business Improvement District, Friends of GR Parks, Dyer-Ives Foundation, and Chair for the Federation for Children and Families Residential Treatment MIN.
  • Holds a B.A. in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Alabama, and a Masters in Social Work from Michigan State University. 

Full: Rosalynn Bliss earned a B.A. in psychology and criminal justice from the University of South Alabama and an M.A. in social work from Michigan State University. She is certified as a Child Trauma and Loss Consultant, and serves as an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University’s School of Social Work.

In 2005, Bliss was elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission and began serving as Second Ward city commissioner in January 2006. She was re-elected for a second term in November 2009. In addition, she works full time as the director of Residential Services at DA Blodgett – St. John’s. St. John’s Home provides emergency shelter and residential services for abused and neglected children. She has been with DA Blodgett-St. John’s for seven years, and before that worked at DeVos Children’s Hospital with the Child Protection Team. Prior to that she worked in the field of domestic violence as a victim advocate.

Bliss is currently a board member of the YMCA Corporate Board, Huntington Bank Women’s Advisory Council, the Friends of GR Parks, and Dyer-Ives Foundation. She serves as a member Uptown Corridor Improvement District, the Kent County Land Bank Authority, and the Uptown Business Improvement District. At the City, she is chair of the Fiscal Committee, serves on the Public Safety Committee, and serves on the Legislative Team.

In my free time I enjoy kayaking, walking my dogs Maddie and Cooper, reading, hiking, listening to live music and traveling. 

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Do what you love and love what you do – the best leaders are those who genuinely care about the work that they are doing.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Integrity, honest, persistent, strong work ethic, knowledgeable, communicates well, and follows through on what they say they will do. 


Peggy Bishop Accounting, Women Empowerment, the nonprofit sector

Full:Peggy Bishop graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.B.A. in 1980 and began her career at Beene Garter LLP upon graduation. Thirty-three years later, she is with the same CPA firm. She became the firm’s first woman partner more 20 years ago. She leads Beene Garter’s nonprofit team and specializes in serving a variety of nonprofit clients. Her board volunteer experience includes Quota International, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, Student Advancement Foundation, and others. Her husband, Joe, and her live in Grandville and are empty nesters. Her husband is recently retired from the trucking industry, so she is trying to make time for travel. She has 2 adult daughters who graduated from GVSU and are both employed in Grand Rapids in their chosen fields.


She is addicted to stamping and makes handmade greeting cards for any occasion. She makes about 800 cards each year and has a craft room to die for. Shea also loves to golf and search for short, easy courses.


What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Teamwork and the positive support of those around you will make us all grow and prosper. In my many years at Beene Garter I’ve had the honor of paving a path for females seeking to achieve their career aspirations, while maintaining a healthy balance with home and personal life. Never expect more from others than you are willing to do yourself. Each person has unique talents that should be nurtured. We can all make a difference.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Passion, vision, effective communication skills, and the ability to build consensus.


Bill Brennan Legal Studies, Law

Full: Bill Brennan currently serves as Vice President General Counsel for BISSELL Inc., where he has worked for the last thirteen years. Prior to joining BISSELL, Bill was a partner at Dykema Gossett PLLC. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the University of Michigan Law School.  Bill is also a member of the Legal Advisory Committee of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Outside of the legal world, he enjoys running in the Fifth Third River Bank Run each year and spending time cycling and golfing.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Honesty is easy to talk about but hard to practice, except when it is a habit in everything you do, and it’s the critical piece to any inspiring relationship.  A great leader needs to be a great communicator, speaking at a “real” and emotional level, with candor and tact.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Great leaders drive us to do more and better work than we would do if left to our own devices, and the best leaders allow us to enjoy that process, and not only the end result. Great leaders build trust through candor, humor, empathy, and high standards for ethics; they set specific, difficult goals; and then they hold you and themselves accountable.


Mary Dailey Brown Women Empowerment, the nonprofit sector, international work

  • President and CEO of, previous free-lance photographer
  • Holds a BA in Photography and Psychology from Southern Illinois University, a Cross-Cultural missions Certificate, A MPA from Grand Valley State University
  • Has traveled to over 50 countries; has led over 100 volunteer teams to over 30 countries

Full: Since 2006, Mary has been the President and CEO of SowHope. Org- an international non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring impoverished women in the developing world by promoting wellness, education and economic opportunities. Before that she was Director of Missions at Bella Vista Church in Rockford, MI for eight years.

She has a BA double majoring in Photography and Psychology from Southern Illinois University, a two year Bible and Cross Cultural Missions Certificate from International Teams, and a Master’s of Public Administration degree from GVSU.  I worked at the White House as a staff photographer in the early 1980’s and later ran a free-lance business for 10 years in the north suburbs of Chicago.

She has been deeply involved with overseas development projects on both a volunteer and professional basis and has traveled to over 50 countries and led over 100 volunteer work teams to over 30 countries.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? If you want to lead, begin by serving others. Then, when people start to follow you, and recognize you as a leader, keep on serving them by helping them to achieve their highest potential.  This gives any cause you are trying to promote its best chance of success.

What traits do you value most in leaders? My favorite leaders were all respectful, respected, and possessed natural authority.  It wasn’t their leadership titles, but more importantly, their good and decent attitudes that earned them the right to lead.  They won the hearts of their followers by being authentic living examples of the standard they required of others.  They had a plan and were able to communicate it in a way that made everyone want to work together to accomplish the expected goals.  They appreciated and liked the people they worked with. They understood the principal of “the sum is greater than the total of it parts”. That is, everyone working together can accomplish what would be impossible for all the same individuals working separately to achieve.


Dr. Dev Butler Consulting, leadership development, non-profit, health administration

Full: Dev Butler is partner at THINC Consulting, a Michigan-based firm specializing in executive coaching, group facilitation, and leadership training. He also serves as mediator for the Kentwood small claims court; mediator for disputes at Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan; and adjunct professor of public, nonprofit, and health administration at Grand Valley State University.

Dr. Butler’s previous experience includes a stint at Spectrum Health, where he was responsible for all non-clinical training and development. He built the Spectrum Health Learning Institute and ran the enterprise-wide performance management process. At Motorola, Dr. Butler served as instructional design and group facilitator. He designed and delivered training and communications for enterprise-wide process improvement effort.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? In my coaching work I try not to give advice.   People support what they create.  If we keep in mind that leadership is a relationship between the leader, followers, and the context in which they act, then the leader’s job is to invite others to co-create a future.

What traits do you value most in leaders? I most value the traits of integrity and continuous learning. People with integrity say what they will do and do it. Leaders with the mindset of a continuous learner are open to various options, seek input from others, and don’t believe they have a monopoly on the truth. This in turn energizes and engages their organization. Once the organization adopts the learner mindset, people are free to experiment, innovate, and improve.


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Laura Caprara Entrepreneur, Social Media Strategist, Public Relations

  • President/Owner Stellafly Social Media, previously Grand Rapids Social Diary
  • Calvin College, Class of 1992 East Grand Rapids High School, Class of 1985

Full: Laura is currently involved in the West Michigan community as a member of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce; a mentor for the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy at the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University; serving on the Advisory Board for the Grand Rapids Area Professionals for Excellence (GRAPE); Director for the Social Media Association of Michigan and with the Humane Society of West Michigan’s K-9 Cabaret Fundraising event.

She enjoys getting involved with organizations that are near and dear to her, while still keeping focus on her biggest achievement, her husband, Tony, and two sons, Anthony and Thomas.

In October 2011, Laura launched Stellafly Social Media. In less than a year it has grown into a successful social media firm with reach throughout West Michigan, the state, and the region. Recently, she added Detroit and New York areas to her demographic.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? There is so much! First, believe in yourself. Follow your heart. Understand that you will never please everyone. Have integrity. Be honest. Be loyal. Be transparent. Try your hardest every day. Great leaders have the innate ability to recognize special talent around them. Because of this, they tend to put together strong teams that make positive things happen. Great leaders are the front line and as there are many obstacles along the way, a great leader always gets up and tries harder each time.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Great leaders have passion for the work that they do. You can hear it in their voice and see it through their actions. They tend not to worry about themselves but focus on those that work for them. They inspire others to work harder and better — encouraging them to take ownership and become part of the outcome. 

Saralyn Coupe Economics, Business, Arts

Full: Saralyn Coupe is a financial advisor and vice president with Sherwood & Coupe Wealth Management at Morgan Stanley.  She has been servicing clients’ financial needs in Grand Rapids for over 12 years.  Prior to that, Saralyn was part of the investment banking group with Merrill Lynch, located in both the New York, NY and Chicago, IL offices.

Saralyn has an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and a BA from Albion College. She has earned the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification, as well as the Certified Private Wealth Advisor® designation through the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and IMCA.  

Saralyn is involved in a number of ways in the community, in addition to being a mentor for the Cook Leadership Academy.  She serves as a board member of St. Cecilia Music Center; a board member of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Foundation; an advisory cabinet member of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies; and a member of the Women’s Committee of the Grand Rapids Symphony.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Have a passion for what you do. Enjoy the day-to-day as much as the long-term value of your success. Always be fair to others and yourself.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Perseverance. The belief that anything is possible. The ability and the courage to make vision a reality.


Kathy Crosby Nonprofit Administration, women’s empowerment, Business, Organizational Leadership

Full: Kathy Crosby has worked for the Goodwill Industries organization since 1980. She is currently the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, a $30.1 million organization serving eight counties. Goodwill of Grand Rapids operates sixteen retail stores for donated goods including an ‘outlet” where goods are sold by the pound; an on-line store through; on-line book sales through; and a recycling center. The organization employs 560 people on a long-term basis and another 200 transitional ‘trainees’ at any point in time. In 2011, Goodwill provided vocational-related service to 3,353 people and placed 978 into community employment.

Kathy’s first alma mater is Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI where she earned a B.A. in Business Administration and her M.A. in Organizational Leadership. She also earned an Executive M.B.A. at the R. H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland in November 2006. She attended the Aspen Institute Leadership Seminar in Aspen, Colorado in 2009.

Kathy sits on the Board of Directors for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, serving as the Chair of the Essay Committee and a member of the Executive Committee. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Michigan-wide non-profit association, MARO. She is active with MARO in developing a Leadership Academy. She is on the Women’s Advisory Board for Huntington Bank, Varnum’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council, Grand Valley State University’s Health Advisory Board, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Business Advisory Board, and the CEO Leadership Council of Talent 2025. She is a member of Inforum of West Michigan and actively supports the Michigan Women’s Foundation. She mentors for-profit executives through the Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program and students through the Hauenstein Center Mentoring program.

In 2011, Kathy received the Athena Award from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and in March 2012 was named one of the “50 Most Influential Business Women in West Michigan” by the Business Journal.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? If you aspire to lead, you must first know yourself. Invest time and energy in learning as much as you can about yourself through reading, listening, assessment, introspection. Self-knowledge really empowers us to maximize our strengths and decide which parts of ourselves we may want to develop or work to improve. We should know our True North. Bill George is eloquent in his writing about the importance of knowing what is at your personal core and how it drives your actions and decisions. And we should clarify and understand our personal values. The better we know who we are the more effectively we can present ourselves to others and align our thinking with the group or organization we aspire to lead. If it isn’t a good ‘fit’, we cannot lead effectively. We will be perceived as simply talking the talk, not walking the walk. People willing to follow are often very astute in their assessments of potential leaders.

What traits do you value most in leaders? First and foremost, authenticity. It engenders trust, engages people, and fosters transparency. Second, optimism. The importance of a leader who believes in tomorrow and its opportunities cannot be measured. Fear can paralyze people. Optimism and positivity can give people hope and inspire them to move forward through the most challenging times. Third, generosity. You can never be too generous. It isn’t about financial giving. That is a single aspect of generosity that not all can afford. All leaders can afford to be generous with time, with talent, with their willingness to hear another point of view, in assuring they and their employees give only their best to customers, community, and corporation. Generosity is a state of being that shares the best of oneself with the people touched each day.


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Brandon Eisentrager Entrepreneurial mentoring, business

  • Executive Director of Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring (JEM).
  • Part of Entrepreneurial Support Organization (ESO)
  • Holds a B.B.A. in Finance and General Business at Grand Valley State University.

Full: Brandon graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2007 with a B.B.A. degree, double majoring in finance and general business. Currently, he serves as Executive Director of the Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring program (JEM) in Grand Rapids, MI.  JEM is a young non-profit organization started in 2009, that works with established CEO’s and presidents of companies with revenues of $1 million or more, looking to grow as leaders and their businesses.

Previously, Brandon worked for Universal Forest Products (UFP) as an Account Manager building new customers and maintaining existing ones. While based out of Wisconsin and then Minnesota, his work included conducted training sessions, representing products at trade shows and traveled to various distribution clients within the Texas, Colorado, Utah, North Carolina and New England areas.

Brandon enjoys business, sports, politics and being involved with various organizations in the Grand Rapids community.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Decide on the goal and empower others on getting there.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Hard work, good communicators, able to lead by example, building relationships, and are passionate about a goal.

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Jack Iott  Business Development, Mergers & Acquisitions, Politics
  • Analyst – Blackford Capital
  • Holds B.B.A Degrees in Finance and Business Economics from Grand Valley State University. During his tenure at Grand Valley, he served as Student Body President and earned All-Conference honors as a high jumper for the University’s Track and Field Team.
  • Recognized by Grand Rapids Magazine as one of West Michigan’s ‘Best and Brightest’ leaders.
Full: Joining Blackford Capital in 2013, Jack is responsible for the execution of the transaction process overseeing the acquisition process. This includes, deal sourcing management, relationship management and financial and operational due diligence, growth strategy development. Jack’s other responsibilities include portfolio company goverance and analytical support.
Blackford Capital is a private equity investment firm that acquires, manages, and grows middle-market manufacturing, distribution, and service companies. The firm puts an emphasis on employees, customers and communities of businesses with the belief that business success and growth is based on character, discipline and experience.
Additionally, Jack has organized and participated in several successful political campaigns and is involved with several Grand Rapids based organizations including Grand Rapids Young Professionals and the Association of Corporate Growth West Michigan.


Kyle Irwin Nonprofit sector, philanthropy

  • Active member of the philanthropic community in West Michigan.
  • On the board of directors of the John Ball Zoo Society, Dwelling Place Inc, the VanAndel Institute Foundation, the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, the Friends of the Opera, the Children’s Assessment Center, and the GVSU Foundation.
  • Holds degrees from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University.


Full: Kyle Irwin is an active member of the philanthropic community in West Michigan. In addition to her service on the Hauenstein Center’s advisory cabinet, she is a board member of the Dwelling Place, John Ball Park Zoo, Van Andel Institute Foundation, and various other institutions. Ms. Irwin holds degrees from Michigan State University and Western Michigan University.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? They won’t make you the boss in the first year, so use the time to listen and learn.

What traits do you value most in leaders? The ability to lead by example not title. Those who use the word we when referring to accomplishments. The art of looking at a situation from multiple view points not just your niche. The confidence to just do what it takes to get a project done.


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Katharine Kane Development, Nonprofit sector,

  • Director of Development & Membership at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
  • Holds a B.A. from Aquinas and a M.A. from Fordham University in New York, NY
  • Enjoys walking, yoga, reading, and gardening


Full: Katharine Kane received her Bachelor of Arts from Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and holds a Master of Arts from Fordham University, New York, New York.  Her career with non-profit organizations spans more than twenty years as a communications and fundraising professional.  During her tenure as a Development Director for cultural arts organizations in the greater Grand Rapids area she has managed several large successful capital campaigns.

She is a member of and actively participates in the Association of Fundraising Professionals organization.  She also volunteers with the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA) as a panelist evaluating grant requests for funding by statewide arts organizations.

She is an avid walker, loves yoga, enjoys reading different types of books, and finds “getting her hands dirty” while gardening very satisfying.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? It is important to know yourself, be yourself.  Do the work that feeds your passion.  The energy that comes from a person who is confident and feels passion for their life’s work is unbeatable.  The strength and integrity in your work will follow.

What traits do you value most in leaders? The ability to stop and deeply listen to your staff and to those you serve is of vital importance because it is human nature to want to be heard and to be recognized.  Leaders who listen can better evaluate the needs of a business or organization; they can more often respond appropriately to various concerns; and, they find their staff works as an effective team.  Success comes from team effort.  I value the leader who acts as a facilitator pulling together the talent and resources for the best result.  And, of course, a good sense of humor helps smooth the rough patches.


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K. V. Lacks Business, management, human resources

Full: K. V. Lacks is currently a Program Manager at Lacks Enterprises, a local, privately owned automotive manufacturing firm, where he previously served as a buyer and Human Resource Manager. He is responsible for the Nissan and Toyota accounts. He is also active in the Grand Rapids community, sitting on the boards of St. Mary’s Doran Foundation, Goodwill Industries, and the Conductive Learning Center. He received his B.S. from Indiana University, Bloomington. 


What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Don’t be timid – don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to take a risk & don’t be afraid of failure. With risk, comes reward. Set goals that you can believe in. Life is short – enjoy yourself & have fun while striving to achieve your goals.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Perseverance, honesty, risk-takers, humorous, humility, dedication, confidence, HARD, HARD WORKER!!


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Jennifer Maxson Business and Leadership Consulting

Full: Jennifer currently serves as the Practice Group Leader for Varnum Consulting. Jennifer joined Nancy Skinner & Associates in 1996, which was acquired by Varnum Consulting in 2003. She provides consulting services to clients in Michigan and throughout the United States to help develop their leaders. As a coach, Jennifer has been designing and delivering customized individual coaching, executive coaching and group training for clients. Jennifer is the lead coach for Executive Level presentations and Sales Training.

Jennifer is a board member and chair of the Strong Kids Campaign for the Wolverine World Wide Family YMCA. Her recent honors include: Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA® Young Professional Nominee, September 2011 and September 2010, Forty Under 40 Business Leaders, Grand Rapids Business Journal, November 2010.

Her background prior to Varnum Consulting was in public relations and marketing in the public sector. Jennifer is a graduate of Grand Valley State University and received her Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Seek an internal mentor (a well respected individual) that can help you understand the culture of the organization. “Seek first to understand before being understood” – Steven Covey.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Honesty, integrity, inspiration, and forward-looking.


Rob McCarty Business/Marketing, Graphic and Web design, Social Media, Local Business

  • Founder and owner of The Image Shoppe in Grand Rapids
  • Degrees in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Grand Valley State University and a degree in Business/Marketing from Aquinas
  • Involved in many Grand Rapids organizations: Local First, Green Drinks GR, and West Michigan Environmental Coalition


Full: Rob McCarty is the “Jack of All” at the Image Shoppe, an innovative, full-service marketing company in Grand Rapids. Rob has two Bachelor’s degrees from Grand Valley State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice. He also has a degree from Aquinas in Business/Marketing. Before starting The Image Shoppe, Rob worked with West Grand Neighborhood Organization doing Community Development and Business Marketing.

Rob is very active in the Grand Rapids Community. He is the Co-Founder of Local First and Green Drinks GR, volunteers and is on the Marketing Committee for the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, and is Project Manager of Gateways Group.


What is your favorite advice to give to aspiring leaders? We need you to consider a bigger picture then many of your predecessors have. You need to do your own research, and do your best to find unbiased resources for that research. You need to know that this isn’t easy, and all indications lead one to believe to do it right, NOTHING will be easy. You need to be bold, but you can only truly be bold when you are in command of your subject and topic.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Transparency in motives. Honest and straightforward thinking. Thoughtful in big decisions, the ability to delegate, and not attacking people for every mistake that is made. Leaders who serve their teams as their teams serve them. Leaders that share the same values as their teams. Leaders who care about more than huge profits.


Tom McGovern Construction, Business Administration, Management

Full: Tom began with Rockford in 2003 as a Project Manager and then was promoted to Project Executive of the retail division. In 2010, Tom was named President due to his vision for the future of the company and strong leadership skills.

Prior to joining Rockford, Tom was Manager of New Store Construction for Meijer, Inc., a large discount retailed named by Forbes as one of the Top 100 of America’s Largest Privately Held Companies.  Tom provided oversight of new projects averaging $20 million with Meijer.  Tom was Director of Distribution for Gantos Corporation for 10 years prior to Meijer, in charge of a $30 million transportation and routing budget for 114 store retail chain.

Tom earned his B.S. Degree from Grand Valley State University in Business Administration &Facilities Management, is a LEED accredited professional, and a member of Lean Construction Institute.

A few of Tom’s professional Associations are:

- Shareholder & Board Member – Rockford Construction Company, Inc.
- Member of Economic Club of Grand Rapids
- Advisory Council Member of Grand Rapids Public Schools Academy of Design & Construction
- Member of the Principal’s Advisory Council – Catholic Central, Grand Rapids
- Member of the International Council of Shopping Centers
- Finance Council Member of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Grand Rapids
- Board Member & Facilities Chair – Grand Rapids Catholic Secondary Schools
- Board Member of Gilda’s Club, Grand Rapids
- Team Member for American Heart Association Heart Gala

Tom enjoys the outdoors, golf, riding dirt bike and his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and spending time with his wife and three children.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? If you can create clarity as to the corporate goals and the desired means and methods of obtainment, the only thing left is to ensure that the staff believes and trusts in you as a leader.  True buy-in allows leadership to move forward with a minimized auditing of employee performance.  The most inspiring leaders that I have experienced were genuinely approachable and interested in employee feedback and questions.  This creates a trusting relationship founded in dignity and respect.  The ultimate situation is when the entire team is working with personal commitment to the corporate plan.  The best leader is the one who is setting the pace by example and rarely has any need to “act” as a leader.  The role is simply understood and respected by the team.

What traits do you value most in leaders? I feel it is critical that leadership has the respect of their subordinates.  This requires consistency.  It is important to be sincere and be clear in a commitment to ethical behavior, honesty and integrity. High performing employees are desirous to be on a winning team.  It is important to win while treating employees and clients with dignity and respect.  It is also critical to have a staff that trusts you. This will lead to more transparent communication.  Innovation and success require an atmosphere where ideas flow freely.


Noreen Myers Civil rights, women’s empowerment, politics

Full: After receiving her B.A. in political science from GVSU in 1972, she did graduate studies in political philosophy at Loyola University and Georgetown University. Thereafter, she received a J.D. from Thomas Cooley Law School
and has been in private practice in the Grand Rapids area since 1983, specializing in the area of employment law. 

While serving in fundraising leadership roles in Presidential, Gubernatorial, and Senate campaigns, she became a founder of the Progressive Women’s Alliance and currently serves on the board. In 2005 she was appointed to the Board of Trustees of GVSU and served both as chair of the Academic Affairs Committee and, subsequently, as the first alumnus board chair. She continues to serve as a mentor in the Cook Leadership Academy and looks forward to her role in our Hauenstein Center’s Common Ground Initiative. In 2013 she was awarded GVSU’s Presidential Leadership Award.   Along with her ongoing political fundraising activities, her current non-profit board participation includes Flat River Outreach Ministries and the Adoptee Family Network. 

She is married to Charles Myers, a retired banker, and has 2 daughters, Melissa and Kelsay.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Learn who you are and be comfortable with your self-awareness. Authenticity provokes confidence.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Integrity, which is singularly the most critical component inspiring trust and confidence in your leadership. The ability to take complex situations and simplify them to become understandable and the advocacy skills to persuade others to do what they would otherwise reject.


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Glenn Niemeyer Higher Education, Academic Affairs, History

Full: Dr. Glenn Niemeyer has served in many roles at Grand Valley State University, from a history professor, to dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, vice president of Academic Affairs, and then finally to provost, where he retired in 2001. In the Grand Rapids educational community he has served on boards of trustees of GVSU, Calvin College, and LOVE, Inc. Dr. Niemeyer received his Ph.D. from Michigan State University.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? “Your best is never too good.”

What traits do you value most in leaders? Honesty, integrity, humility, enthusiasm.


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Kristin Revere Consulting: business, nonprofit; women’s empowerment

  • Owner- Revere Consulting LLC since January of 2011. Prior to that she worked for both the Michigan House and Senate as well as on a variety of campaigns.  She also has 12 years of experience in advertising sales.
  • Graduate of Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with a minor in political science. She also received a Master of Management in marketing from Aquinas College.
  • Enjoys spending time outdoors and is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts.

Full: Kristin heads Revere Consulting, which serves nonprofits, political candidates and small business owners. She sits on the Executive Committee of the Democratic 3rd Congressional District and the regional board for the Michigan Political Leadership Program. She is also a precinct delegate. Kristin is Entertainment Chairwoman for the Waterfront Film Festival in Saugatuck. She also is active in the following organizations: Girls on the Run, Healthy Kent Breastfeeding Coalition, Mothering Justice, Progressive Women’s Alliance of West Michigan, and Women & Girls Lead. Kristin is on the Midwest Finance Team for Obama for America and is involved in campaigns at all levels of government.

Kristin received the Top 40 Under Forty award from Grand Rapids Business Journal in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. She was an Grand Rapids Chamber Athena Young Professional Finalist in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Do what you are most passionate about and follow your instincts. It is important to be personally accountable for your actions.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Courage, honesty, patience, and composure.


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Hilary Snell Law, Political Science

Full: Hilary Snell has been an attorney at the Varnum law firm since 1959, serving as its elected Managing Partner twice, for a total period of 6 years.  He specialized in Estate Planning.  Active in Republican politics, he served as Republican County-District Chair and as Chair of Gerald R. Ford’s last Congressional Reelection committee in 1972. Served as Chairman of Michigan Department of Natural Resource Commission  and Chairman of the Boards of Spectrum Health, Priority Health, and Blodgett Hospital.  He has been a Trustee of multiple charitable foundations.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Set goals. Surround yourself with people who are more intelligent and better people than you.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Personal and intellectual integrity, coupled with vision.


Megan Sall local government, non-profit sector, business development

  • Business Development Manager at The Right Place, Inc.
  • Board member with Hello West Michigan, Greater Wyoming Community Resource Alliance, Goei International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, and committee member with the Women’s Resource Center
  • Holds a B.A. in International Relations and an M.P.A. from Grand Valley State University

Full: Megan Sall currently serves as the Business Development Manager at The Right Place, the local economic development organization representing Kent County and the greater west Michigan region.  Prior to joining the Right Place, Megan spent some time with ICMA in Washington, DC, where she worked on a USAID project that focused on local government capacity building in Afghanistan.  Megan has worked on several state and congressional campaigns, and she got her start in local government at the City of Wyoming where she served in administrative and economic development positions.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders?  Don’t be afraid to jump in and get involved!  West Michigan is home to extraordinarily generous people who freely give of their time, resources and ideas.  Don’t hesitate to get involved with the initiatives that interest you and access the amazing leaders who are at the helm.  In this community, leadership and service go hand in hand.

What traits do you value most in leaders?  Humility, honesty, integrity, passion, generosity.


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Jacqueline D. Taylor, Ph.D. Leadership Consulting, Higher Education

- Consultant and Executive coach for Pondera Advisers

- Past Vice President of Davenport University

- Recognized as one of the most influential women in West Michigan in 2004, 2006, and 2008

Dr. Jacqueline Taylor served as a college and university senior administrator for over 30 years, most recently as Vice President of Davenport University.  She served colleges in New York and Pennsylvania, as well as Michigan.  She currently serves as a Consultant and Executive Coach for Pondera Advisors, a Leadership Consulting Practice.  An active community and state volunteer, she serves on the boards of directors of Michigan Women’s Foundation (Chair-Elect & Executive Committee); Michigan Nonprofit Association; and also chairs the International Committee as a member of the YMCA Corporate Board in Grand Rapids.   She is Past President of the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids and the World Affairs Council of West Michigan. Dr. Taylor is Chair of Rotary District 6290 Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship Committee.

During her years in college leadership, Dr. Taylor established international educational partnerships with colleges in Canada, China, Taiwan, The United Kingdom, Russia, The Netherlands, and Poland.   She also worked with Pittsburgh area superintendents to establish the first middle college in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Taylor holds an Associate’s Degree from Lansing Community College, a Bachelor’s Degree from Aquinas College, as well as M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees from Michigan State University.   She has been recognized as one of the most influential women in West Michigan in 2004, 2006, and 2008 and as an Inner Circle Member of INFORUM.  She received the YWCA Community Service Award in 2011, the 2002 ATHENA Award from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and Distinguished Alumni Awards from Lansing Community College, the MSU College of Education, and Michigan State University.   She has also received the Whitney Young Award from the Gerald R. Ford Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? To know yourself and your strengths is vitally important and a major talent that helps one become an authentic leader, a leader who can inspire others.  Understanding how to build teams and support each of the members in helping to take the organization to its vision is another vital aspect of leadership.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Integrity, openness, willingness to listen and learn from others, while keeping their eyes on the mission, vision and goals of the organization.  Trust is the foundation of leadership.


Jane Toot Biomedical Sciences and Health, Academic Administration/Affairs

Full: Jane Toot is a full-time professor at GVSU in the Honors College. Her baccalaureate degree is from U of M, Masters from George Washington University and Doctorate is from Wayne State.

Her professional interests focus around health care and the education of students to enter health care professions. Jane is on several boards including Porter Hills, Emmanuel Hospice and North Ottawa Care Center. She is also a consultant -evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission.

Jane’s interests are college football (season ticket holder for U of M), classical music and travel (primarily to China). She also serves as a consultant to the Ministry of Health in China. 


Selma Tucker Administration, Urban Development

(Change in workplace; bio not yet updated)

  • Contract Administrator and Regional Coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids’ Better Buildings for Michigan program.
  • Two time alum of Grand Valley State University and first president of the Cook Leadership Academy.
  • An avid urbanist that adores the character of cities and an explorer of the interplay between nature and human needs. Foodie, old house lover, political junky, novice snowboarder, singer and big time nerd.

Full: Selma Tucker is the contract administrator and regional coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids. Selma directs the City’s BetterBuildings for Michigan Program which is a $30 million statewide initiative charged with making residential and commercial buildings energy efficient and writing best practices for the country in this field. Remodeling urban service delivery is Selma’s passion and has been his focus at the City of Grand Rapids since finishing his undergraduate degree in ’09. Selma serves on several board and committees including Michigan Saves and the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Understand your vision and motivations early. Be honest about what you want to accomplish and what pushes you to get there. Memorialize those two things and never settle for mediocrity in the pursuit of either.

What traits do you value most in leaders? The best leaders exhibit sincerity, vulnerability and a willingness to take risks for their partners. Leaders are committed to an ethic that promotes excellence and stewardship.


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Ron VanSteeland Finance and administration, non profit sector 

  • Served in the Finance and Administration division at Grand Valley State University for 35 years, retiring as Vice President of Finance and Administration and Treasurer of the University.
  • Grand Valley awarded him the degree Doctor of Humane Letters in 2001 and dedicated the VanSteeland Living Center on the Allendale Campus in 2009
  • Community activities included service on the board of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and several City of Grand Rapids and Kent County boards and advisory committees.

 Full: For 35 years Ron VanSteeland served in the Finance and Administration division at Grand Valley State University. When he retired in 2001, he was Vice President for Finance and Administration with responsibility for the budget, business operations, facilities services and operations, campus planning, new construction, human resources, intercollegiate athletics, Grand Rapids Campus & Holland Campus operations, Meadows Golf Club and legal services.  He was also Treasurer of the Board of Trustees.

Grand Valley awarded him the degree Doctor of Humane Letters in 2001 and dedicated the VanSteeland Living Center on the Allendale Campus in 2009.

His community activities included service on the board of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and several City of Grand Rapids and Kent County boards and advisory committees.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Don’t spend so much time thinking about your next career move that you fail to concentrate on and excel in your present job.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Being a good listener – to your boss, to your colleagues, to those who report to you, to those who depend on you and who will be affected by your decisions. Having a good sense of humor. Doing the requisite homework before making important decisions. Willingness to innovate. Ability to develop and articulate plans.

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Kristen (Derridinger) Ward local politics, government

  • Chief Operations Officer for the Student Statesmanship Institute, a non-profit organization based in Lansing.
  • Former Executive Director for the Kent County GOP, with experience running multiple state house campaigns.
  • Formerly a vice president and marketing director in the contract design, textile and furniture industries.

Holds a B.A. in marketing and sales from Davenport University, with coursework at Michigan State University in chemical engineering and business.

Full: Kristen Ward’s college education began at Michigan State University in pursuit of a degree in chemical engineering. After realizing she needed to be in a field that would allow for creative thinking, she transferred to the School of Business for a degree in marketing. Two and a half years into her degree at MSU, she transferred to Davenport University where she earned a B.A. in marketing and sales.

The first twelve years of Ward’s career were spent the in the contract design field, with positions ranging from account representative for a contract textile design firm to VP of Marketing and Strategic Accounts for a furniture dealership selling product throughout the United States. After nearly three years of nationally-recognized sales performance, the furniture dealership (of which she was part owner) had to close its doors. It was a small business that fell due to the economic woes of the state mixed with the side effects of organized labor.

Ward has always had a passion for politics, and for many years treated it as a hobby. With experience running every aspect of three state house campaigns and consulting on a number of local and state-wide races, her long-time hobby has recently turned into a full-time career. She consulted with the Kent GOP as their Finance Director through August 2011 when she was promoted to Executive Director. Ward was offered the position of Chief Operations Officer for the Student Statesmanship Institute where she’s been serving since April 2013.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Always be quick to listen and slow to speak. Many of life’s greatest and most profound lessons will be learned in unlikely places.

What traits do you value most in leaders? True leaders do not wait for an opportunity to be presented, they make them. They have a willingness to take calculated risks as well as a willingness to realize when it’s time to lead as well as when it’s time to follow.


John Wardrop Education, Nonprofit sector, business

Full: John Wardrop is a former president of Dake, and Sparks Belting Co., and a retired secondary school teacher and coach at Forest Hills H.S.. At the Hauenstein Center, he serves on the Advisory Cabinet. He is active with helping to shape Cook Leadership Academy events and programs. In the Grand Rapids community, he currently sits on the board of Goodwill Industries Foundation. In his free time he enjoys reading, golf, and being a grandfather

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? (1) “Treat the ‘business’ like you own it!” Business owners and leaders are always looking for employees who exemplify a high level of personal “ownership” in their job & the company they work for. Doing this conscientiously and sincerely can really help a newer employee differentiate themselves. (2) Don’t ever turn down an opportunity to take on more responsibility . . . to “lead,” even if you are unsure of how qualified you are. (3) Always do more than you’re expected to do. (4) “Know thyself!” Understand your strengths and areas for improvement. Use your strengths for the maximum benefit of those you serve. Proactively work to reduce/eliminate your “weaknesses.”

What traits do you value most in leaders? (a) honesty; (b) conducting their professional and personal lives with the highest ethics; (c) decisiveness (making effective decisions under the most difficult of circumstances/conditions); (d) compassion, (e) maintaining an open mind.


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Michael Youngblood Construction, Operations, Management, Sales

  • Principle Account Manager, Gas Major Accounts at DTE
  • Holds a B.S., in Construction Management from Michigan State University.

Full: Michael Youngblood earned a B.S. in construction management in 2002 from Michigan State University.  During his studies there, he interned at General Motors with the Project Management team in charge of building the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant.  After graduating, he accepted a position with Centex Rodgers, one of the country’s premier healthcare building companies of that time.  While with Centex, Michael worked as a project engineer on the building and renovations of various medical research buildings on the Vanderbilt Campus in Nashville, TN.   In 2004, he accepted a position with Toll Brothers as a project manager where he worked for the following five years building luxury homes in SE Michigan.  In 2009, Michael moved into the “green” building industry taking a position with WellHome in SE Michigan.  In 2010, Michael relocated to the Grand Rapids area to start up and manage their West Michigan office.  WellHome is a Masco Corporation company that focuses on helping their customers achieve more energy efficient and comfortable environments within their homes. During this past summer, Michael accepted a position at DTE as their Principle Accounts Manager.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? 
Do your best to maintain a healthy balance to your work and personal lives.  Being out of balance in either of these areas has the tendency to compromise both. 

What traits do you value most in leaders? 
Integrity, Honesty, Perseverance, and the ability to find comfort outside of your comfort zone.



Leader Lens

In this innovative series of leadership seminars, Hauenstein Center Director, Gleaves Whitney explores the history, theories, and tools of leadership, along with their practical application. These theories will then be applied in the guest presentations of three other Cook Leadership Academy fellows. These presentations give these six fellows the opportunity to gain valuable public speaking experience while also giving other fellows an understanding of how their peers are applying their leadership skills in their own lives.

“There are four paths we walk if we seek to grow as leaders:
1. The path of observation — carefully watching what other leaders do and say “on the ground”;
2. The path of experience — when we ourselves have the opportunity to lead;
3. The path of correction — when we accept the constructive criticism, teaching, and mentoring of others who are in a position to evaluate how ethical and effective our leadership is;
4. The path of reading — taking in what observers of leaders, and leaders themselves, say in the books and articles they write.”
Gleaves Whitney


Consulting Collective Wisdom

Guru is a mentor program where fellows can tap into–and contribute to–collective intelligence. With Guru, fellows can access the advice, guidance, and expertise of community mentors in several different settings: at Hauenstein Center and Cook Leadership Academy events, by phone or email, or in a more personal setting like meeting for lunch or coffee. These mentors have selected to participate in the program and are expecting your phone call or email, so that you feel comfortable reaching out.

Mixer with Mentors
There are two events, one per semester, where fellows and mentors can mix! Mixer with Mentors is a great way to connect with community leaders as sources of wisdom. They have a lifetime of learning and are eager to guide you, connect you, and help you find your path.

Mentor Profiles
Read through the profiles of our mentors in the tab above to find those who will align with your values, goals, and interests. They will make themselves available for you to start a conversation with them at the Mixer with Mentor events as well as Hauenstein Center and Cook Leadership Academy events.

If you want any additional background information, or would like to receive suggestions on which specific mentors to reach out to, please contact the Hauenstein Center staff.


Find your spark
What stirs your passion? What are your goals, values, and motives? What are your strengths and weaknesses? These questions will be addressed in Muse, a self-reflection-based, authentic leadership program where fellows practice looking within. The unique character of each person means that there also exists a unique leadership style for everyone. In two events and two assignments, Muse will bring leadership and personality together to help fellows explore their personal narratives and discover where their leadership styles fit into their futures.



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