Our Academy:

Cook Leadership Academy Fellows
Where Emerging Leaders Prepare to Build Our Future

Welcome to the Cook Leadership Academy! The Hauenstein Center’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy is a leader development program for 60+ Grand Valley undergraduate and graduate students during the academic year. The program is co-curricular and cross-disciplinary — this year representing 52 different areas of study — and it provides numerous opportunities for student fellows to develop leadership excellence.

Cook Leadership Academy Fellows — our students — are put through a rigorous curriculum of training, assessment, and practice designed to instill leadership excellence. Fellows are admitted to the Cook Leadership Academy for one or more years. Each applicant must meet the criteria of high academic achievement, active involvement in the campus community, dedication to the public good, a passion to lead, and a commitment to personal growth.

Through observation, mentoring, and practice, the fellows learn the behaviors and attitudes of ethical, effective leaders through more than 70 contact hours per fellow per year.
Our fellows gain access to a myriad of opportunities to advance their leadership skills. They…

  • Explore leadership with a cohort of more than 40 diverse, highly motivated student fellows during the academic year.
  • Build mentor relationships with community leaders from business, higher education, nonprofit, and government organizations.
  • Learn from and interact with accomplished local leaders through our Wheelhouse Talks speaker series.
  • Reflect on their own qualities as an authentic leader based on Strengths Finder, DiSC, Reflected Best Self, Emotional Intelligence, or mindfulness workshops.
  • Engage in valuable public speaking training in our Leader Lab as well as through Varnum Consulting.
  • Deepen their understanding in our “Grounded Leadership” coaching with Dr. Dev Butler from Thinc, Inc.
  • Pursue intensive leadership development through service learning projects, Washington Campus Week, and other high-impact initiatives.
  • Attend hallmark events through the Hauenstein Center and meet nationally recognized speakers. Our fellows have been face-to-face with four U.S. presidents, one U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 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.
  • Network and participate in vibrant downtown Grand Rapids through partnerships with the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, and our accomplished alumni.

If you would like to learn more about the Cook Leadership Academy, please contact Chadd Dowding at dowdinch@gvsu.edu or (616) 331-7087.


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

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Fatouma Abdoulaye – Cell and Molecular Biology

Fatouma is a senior student who transferred from Washtenaw Community College (WCC) to study Cell and molecular biology at Grand Valley University. She is an international student from Niger and she has been living in the USA for 4 years. Fatouma’s dream is to eradicate Obstetric Fistula from the world. Obstetric Fistula is a disease that makes thousands of victims each year. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Fatouma intends to return home and volunteer for several months at the National Hospital of Niger. She then will go to a medical school where she will first study gynecology and then she will study uro-gynecology. She was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke undergraduate transfer scholarship, which helped her to enroll at GVSU. Fatouma spends her free time working at peer help sessions and volunteering at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. She was the president of the international students peer group at WCC. In addition, she has organized fundraising events for the Nigerien Association of Michigan. Fatouma is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, which was listed in Who’s Who among American Colleges and Universities in 2013. Furthermore, she earned a listing on WCC’s High Honors. She is a member of the African student council and the International Student Organization at GVSU. Fatouma feels that being a member of the Cook Leadership Program will not only allow her to build more leadership skills, but also meet with other leaders and extend more of her worldview.

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

Mohamed is an international student from Tripoli, Libya. He studied Electrical Engineering at Tripoli University and is now pursuing a degree in Computer Information Systems at Grand Valley State University. Mohamed serves as president and founder 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 also served as President of the GVSU International Student Organization, and the Financial Committee Chair of the Association of International Students Organizations in the United States. 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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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.


Kristen Childs - International Relations

Kristen is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University majoring in International
Relations with a minor in International Business. She is also a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College and is a mentor to freshmen. Kristen grew up in Plymouth, Michigan, where she graduated from Canton High School in 2012. Before attending Grand Valley, she was able to fulfill her dream of being a foreign exchange student by living abroad for a year in Arequipa, Peru as part of a Rotary Student Exchange. At Grand Valley, she continues to interact with international students by participating in the English Conversation Partner program. She is also a member of the ANCHOR Community Council and the Resident Housing Association. Kristen completed a summer internship in Elastomers Engineering at Ford Motor Company in 2012 and taught conversational English for a period while in Peru; however, her future career aspirations are focused on international business and developing her language skills to work with representatives from around the world. Kristen looks forward to fostering her education and leadership skills through the Cook Leadership Academy by learning how to work with a group of passionate students and current community and global leaders. In her spare time, Kristen can always be found singing, enjoying the outdoors, or striking up a conversation with new people!


Kathryn Christopher – Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering

Kathryn Christopher, more commonly called KC, is a senior pursuing a major in Product Design and Manufacturing Engineering. She was born and raised in Portage, Michigan and graduated from Portage Central High School with an International Baccalaureate Diploma. She received her Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Kalamazoo Valley Community College where she was also the recipient of the Presidential Award for student athletes in 2011. She then transferred to Grand Valley State University that same year. She strives to be involved in a variety of activities on campus and in the Grand Rapids community. She played on the varsity softball teams at both KVCC and GVSU and is still actively involved with both teams. KC started a company, Fluition LLC, with four other GVSU students in 2014, and they are currently creating a medical device that they hope to have on the market within the next year. She has also spent time working as an intern at Eaton Corporation, Xaerus Fluids, and Charter House Innovations. Her curious and creative spirit have sparked her interests in a variety of fields including law, sustainability, entrepreneurship, and design. KC has a passion for learning and plans to continue her education after graduating with her B.S.E. in 2015. KC also enjoys running, camping, and crafting and you can find her frequenting the downtown breweries with friends, jogging around campus, or attending one of the many local sporting events.


Jonathan Cook – Finance and Accounting

Jonathan Cook is an innovator, problem solver, and a change-maker. Currently a junior at Grand Valley State University, Jonathan is pursuing a degree in Finance and Accounting. His intends to use his education and skills to develop sustainable solutions for society’s problems. He enjoys his time learning within the classroom, but actively seeks opportunities outside of the classroom as well. He currently serves on Grand Valley’s Student Senate as the Vice President for Senate Resources, Vice President for the Dean’s Undergraduate Student Advisory Board within the Seidman College of Business, Founder/Vice President of Net Impact GVSU, Student Vice President of the Mid-East Honors Association, Founder/President of the Ballroom Dance Club, and a site leader for Alternatives Breaks. In his free time, Jonathan enjoys ballroom dancing, experimenting with new recipes, and service opportunities.

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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, double majoring in Philosophy and Classics. Her hometown is Saginaw, Michigan. Before beginning college, she spent a year with AmeriCorps NCCC, a national service organization for young adults that allowed her to work on service projects addressing societal problems across the country. 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. Recently returned from studying abroad in Varanasi, India where she conducted a yearlong research project concerning educational equality within the Indian educational system, she is eager to reflect this year on what it means to be a leader with a global perspective. As a student she is President of the Philosophy Club, and is passionate about pursuing and promoting community engagement opportunities alongside academic instruction. She volunteers each semester with the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center teaching humanities courses, and also works as an intern for the Koeze Business Ethics Initiative at the Seidman College of Business. Abigail plays music as much as she can in her spare time, but also enjoys traveling, and reading. Grad school is assuredly in the future and while specifics have yet to be decided, she hopes to someday pursue her goal of removing obstacles in the way of achieving educational equality worldwide.


Katherine Durham - International Business

Katherine (Katie) Durham is a first year fellow and a leader in training. Currently residing at Aquinas College as a junior, she is studying Art and Business in the pursuit of a profession in which she will be able to work with her true passions: art, travelling, and ice cream. At Aquinas, she was a member of the Regina Area Council, is the On Campus Public Relations Manager and Vice President of the Art Club, and a dedicated feeder of the resident ducks and squirrels. Before she transferred to Aquinas, she spent her freshman year at Western Michigan University. There, she was accepted into the Lee’s Honor College, was a member of the Student Leadership Advisory Board, Alpha Lambda Delta (NHS), Campus Activities Board, Western HEROES, and the reputable Squirrel Club. Every semester of college, thus far, she has been on the Dean’s List. These days she balances her busy days of class, extra curricular activities, and schoolwork with family, friends, and the frequent consumption of desserts.


Michael Dykstra – Physics

Michael was born and raised in the town of Hopkins, MI, which is so tiny it lacks even a 4-way stop. At GVSU, he is a student in the Frederik Meijer Honors College pursuing a physics major in addition to taking premedical courses. In the future he hopes to obtain both an MD and a PhD in biomedical engineering through a dual-degree MD/PhD Program. Academically, he has contributed to research projects in physics and engineering at Stanford University, the Van Andel Institute, and The Ohio State University. On campus, Michael founded and directs the Pre-MD/PhD Club along with serving in leadership positions with the Pre-Med Club and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He has also contributed to and learned about health in Latin America through a 4-month-long internship in Cuzco, Peru and a 2-month-long internship with Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance in Tecpán, Guatemala. Michael’s ultimate goal is to integrate these experiences by using engineering and health to improve the lives of marginalized populations on a global scale. He anticipates that his involvement in the Cook Leadership Academy will help prepare him to achieve this goal.

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

Dana is a junior in the Frederik Meijer Honors college. Double majoring in Public and Nonprofit Administration with an emphasis in Budgeting and Finance and Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Sustainable Food Systems, Dana sees great value in receiving an interdisciplinary education that allows her to employ systems thinking when addressing complex problems. Growing up in San Antonio, Texas Dana attended high school at the International School of the Americas where she participated in the Big Brother Big Sister program, Model United Nations and the National Honor Society. Dana is working towards identifying ways that we can work across the boundaries of nonprofits, businesses and governmental organizations in order to resolve social inequities, specifically those relating to food justice. She has further explored this concept by interning at Good Life Ranch, Baxter Community Center and the YMCA Farmers Market. She has been working at the Sustainable Agriculture Project at GVSU for two years and this year she is serving as the Farm Club president. In this role she hopes to engage the community in the work of the SAP and promote dialogue surrounding issues of food systems. She is currently interning with Local First, working to assistant manage the YMCA Farmers Market and is a student assistant with the Hauenstein center. Dana has been fortunate enough gain sponsorship to study abroad in Sweden and India and has a strong desire to travel the world. This is Dana’s second year as a CLA fellow and she is looking forward to engaging with new fellows while learning more about the work of her colleagues.


Justin Ebert - Classical languages, Economics, Environmental Studies

Justin is currently in his fourth and final year of undergraduate study at Grand Valley State University, pursuing majors in Classical Languages and Economics (with Honors) and a minor in Environmental Studies. He was raised in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, where his parents and younger sister still live today. While attending GVSU, Justin has been deeply involved with the rowing program, serving as a board member and competing at regattas in Boston, San Diego, Philadelphia, Gainesville, and Henley on Thames (U.K.), among others. His passion for sustainability in general, and environmental responsibility in particular, has led him to engage with various campus actions via the Sustainable Community Development Initiative. Recently Justin interned for the NJ League of Conservation Voters, an organization that advocates for sound environmental policy, and creates political accountability around environmental issues, in part through voter awareness and education. Some of his favored leisure activities include Frisbee, chess, sculpting, and swing dancing. Two years ago he was introduced to the delightful anomaly that is vegan sushi.


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Hannah Fernando – Liberal Studies

Hannah Fernando is 19 years old and finished the first semester of her sophomore year as of spring, 2014. Since beginning a new stage in her education at Grand Valley State University, she has started a major in Liberal Studies where she is composing her own program centered on Sustainable Food Systems. Being raised in a diverse home with a mother from Egypt and a father from Sri Lanka, she has been exposed to very different cultures, foods, and traditions. Growing up, food was the blood of her heart and soul, the first thing she can remember feeling zealous for outside of family. Her love for food has matured with her, evolving from a love of good food, to a passion for good nutrition, to a conviction for food justice. She is currently combining a collection of consciously selected classes, thoroughly researched internships, and diverse network of extraordinary community leaders to build a foundation for her future. She is excited for the chance to learn more in the Cook Leadership Program so she can go into her community and offer her education as a means to gain welfare in the city.


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Brenda Garcia – Legal Studies

Brenda Garcia is a senior at Grand Valley State University. Her major is in Legal Studies with a minor in Spanish. She graduated from Grand Rapids Union High School and is a first generation college student. She periodically visits her high school to encourage other students to attend college. She is currently involved in the new Legal Studies honor society, Lexis Epsilon Chi. She is also a founder of a new multicultural sorority on campus, Delta Tau Lambda, which focuses on community service, academic excellence, and professionalism. During her free time she loves volunteering in her community. She believes that it is essential to dedicate time to your community so you can see it flourish. For two years she has been working at Warner Norcross & Judd as a Human Resources Assistant. After graduation she plans to attend law school to become an attorney that practices law in Grand Rapids. She is proud to become part of the Cook Leadership Academy and is looking forward to meeting new people and gaining new knowledge and experience.


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Amber Hendrick – Social Work, Nonprofit Administration, Psychology

Amber Hendrick grew up in West Michigan attending Reed City Public Schools. She is currently a graduate student at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) studying School Social Work. She received her undergraduate at GVSU in Social Work. As an undergrad, Amber was involved with many organizations and held multiple leadership positions within them. She was elected as the BSW Representative for NASW Michigan Chapter for the 2013-2014 year where she represented all BSW’s in Michigan. Amber is currently involved in the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) as a U-link Representative, which is a student liaison position between NASW and GVSU, Omicron Delta Kappa, Graduate Student Affairs, and with the Masters of Social Work Student Organization as well as having multiple involvements within the community such as with Adoptive Family Support Network, Covenant House Academy-GR, Red Project, and more. Her future careers goals include entering the field of social work in her areas of passion including schools, child welfare, international relations, domestic violence, and advocacy. 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 again and experience more of what it has to offer.


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 senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology. A Grand Rapids area native, Ryan was homeschooled during high school and dual enrolled at Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Community College. At Grand Valley, Ryan is a student of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, a member of the Campus Lions Club, and student facilitator at the Science Success Center. In addition, Ryan is a researcher in the lab of Rachel Powers, PhD, where he studies methods to prevent bacterial resistance to many commonly used antibiotics. Ryan also volunteers regularly at St. Mary’s Hospital Emergency Department and at Oasis of Hope, a healthcare clinic for the underserved. 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.


Tobias Hutchins – Public and Nonprofit Administration, Political Science, Music

Raised in Fennville, Michigan, Toby is entering his senior year at GVSU. During his undergraduate experience Toby has been a member of the GVSU Laker Marching Band, an award-winning saxophone quartet, Student Senate as well as other groups. This past summer, Toby served as a campaign manager in a highly competitive State House primary in West Michigan. He has also been active in the Wes Leonard Heart Team, a nonprofit that donates automated external defibrillators to schools across Michigan. Through the Cook Leadership Academy he looks forward to creating meaningful professional relationships as well as expanding on different ideas and viewpoints in a positive environment.



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Yah-Hanna Jenkins-Leys – Master of Public Administration

Yah-Hanna Leys was born and raised on a small island in the West Indies, St. Kitts. She left in 2008 to pursue studies at the City College of the City University of New York, where she graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and English Literature. During her time as an undergraduate, she participated in a number of international and domestic policy oriented activities. She then went on to pursue her graduate degree at the City College in Public Administration. However, after marrying her husband in 2013, she decided to continue her graduate career at Grand Valley where the MPA program offered a concentration more specific to her interest—nonprofit management and leadership. Yah-Hanna currently serves as the secretary on the Graduate International Student Group’s board and continues to seek out opportunities to be involved in various community and church initiatives. Yah-Hanna has spent most of her college career working as a Writing Consultant. Her current position as a Graduate Assistant with the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors has inspired her to translate these experiences into becoming a consultant for nonprofit organizations across the world. Yah-Hanna looks forward to developing lasting relationships with fellows and mentors in the Cook Leadership Academy.

Kevin Joffre – English, Writing, History

Kevin is a senior at Grand Valley State University. He is majoring in English and Education, minoring in both History and Writing, and is a member of the Frederik 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 conducted independent research on the reading habits of teen mothers in Grand Rapids, and created a reading intervention program based on his findings. He will be disseminating his findings at the annual AATC conference in Tampa, FL, in October 2014. In addition to his class work, Kevin is currently a Lead Writing Consultant at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors. After graduation, Kevin plans to teach English in a high school setting.



Meghan Jordon – Nursing

Meghan’s leadership development began in the small town of Brooklyn, Michigan. During her time attending Columbia Central High School, Meghan held leadership positions in National Honors Society, Student Senate, and several varsity athletics programs. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in addition to studying in the Frederik Meijer Honors College. She has been an active leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since her freshman year of college and has played an essential role in the planning of a new branch of ministry among nursing students. Meghan will be serving as an Honors Mentor for a third time in the fall of 2014. Her contributions to this mentoring program include the implementation of an Honors Mentor Council, which works to create accountability and incorporate student input into the program. Meghan is looking forward to integrating her leadership training from the Cook Leadership Academy, InterVarsity, Honors Mentoring, and Student Nurses Association into her future nursing practice.


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Katie Kirouac – Master of Public Administration, Nonprofit Management and Leadership

Katie Kirouac is pursuing her masters of Public Administration, with a concentration in
Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Katie is a graduate of the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, where she received a degree in Political Science in 2010. She spent more than two years serving in the Peace Corps in Ghana, West Africa, where she collaborated with NGOs to educate communities on health, water, and sanitation issues. After returning to the states, Katie co-founded a nonprofit organization called the Grand Rapids Learning Foundation, where she continues to serve as vice-president. She is also currently working as a graduate assistant at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at GVSU. Through participation in the Cook Leadership Academy, she looks forward to connecting her own passions with new opportunities for growth.

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

Jepkoech Jerop Kottutt (JJ) is a senior at Grand Valley State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science, with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and raised in Eldoret, Kenya. She is a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College and is president of the Women’s Honorary Society, Iota Iota Iota. She is a member of the Women’s Center Ambassadors and the Resident Assistant for the Women’s Leadership House. She is involved with the Niara mentoring program and an alumni of the Study Abroad group. In the Spring/Summer semester of 2012 she went on a faculty-led study abroad program 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 and arsenic free water for villages across Kenya. She is a recipient of the Student Legacy Scholarship, the Jean Enright Scholarship and the Robert B. Annis Undergraduate Research Internship. Jepkoech aspires to be an obstetrician and gynecologist so that she can make an impact on the healthcare of women in Africa. She is planning on pursuing her masters in Public Health with an emphasis in Epidemiology before matriculating into medical school. In her spare time she enjoys giving talks on women empowerment, working with the underserved, reading inspirational books, and spending time with her family.

Rachel Krug – Human Resources Management

Rachel Krug is graduating in December 2014 with a BBA in Human Resources Management, combining her passions for leadership, education and her Catholic Faith in pursuing a career in Catholic Youth Ministry. She is currently the full-time Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Jenison, MI, and is looking forward to implementing what she will learn within the Cook Leadership Academy in her role leading and supervising several hundred Middle- and High-School youth per year. She is also the swim course coordinator for both the Grand Rapids Triathlon and the Michigan Titanium Triathlon, and greatly enjoys supporting and organizing these races. Calling Grand Rapids home, Rachel earned an Associates of Arts at Grand Rapids Community College, is completing her final semester at Grand Valley, and is planning on pursuing a Masters of Catholic Theology after graduation.

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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.

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Connor McLaughlin – Political Science

Connor McLaughlin is currently pursuing a B.A. in Political Science, while double minoring in Philosophy and Public Relations and Advertising. He grew up in Midland, MI, and spent his freshman year at Delta Community College before transferring to GVSU, and couldn’t be happier with his decision. Connor currently works at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy as both the student assistant to the Our State of Generosity project and as one of two Dr. Kathy A. Agard Fellows in Community Philanthropy. This work has him researching and writing about Michigan’s vibrant nonprofit sector, and has opened his eyes to the professional world of philanthropy. Outside of work and school, Connor’s passions lie in literature, movies, philosophy, and soccer. He was recently elected president of the Grand Valley English Society, a student organization that gives students a place to discuss all things literature-related. Looking forward, Connor is unsure of where his future will take him, but he is very interested in the intersection between the nonprofit sector and government, and is very excited at the prospect of living and working abroad for a time.

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, The National Leadership Honor Society – Omicron Delta Kappa, 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 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 adjacent 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 and Urban and Regional Policy & Planning. Nathan also currently splits his time employed as a planner and GIS technician at the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission and community planner at Williams & Works. 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 multiple internships, Nathan is a strong supporter of experiential learning and is excited to attend and learn from the many events this year’s Academy has to offer. Nathan joined the Leadership Academy in 2012.

Moriah Muscaro – Biomedical Science

Moriah is a senior at Grand Valley, majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Biology. She is from Walled Lake, Michigan, where she graduated a Valedictorian from Walled Lake Northern High School. Moriah is a national champion baton twirler, having twirled for over 15 years. She was a 2010 United States Baton Twirling Ambassador to Peru, where she spent two weeks twirling for citizens of Trujillo, Peru and bringing humanitarian aid to those in need. Some of Moriah’s twirling accomplishments include: 6-time Miss Majorette of Michigan, 2-time Miss Majorette of the Great Lakes, 4-time National and 5-time Michigan 3-Baton Champion, 6-time National Baton Twirling Association National Champion, 3-time World Twirling Association National Champion, 5-time Twirling Unlimited International Champion, 8-time AAU Junior Olympic Gold Medalist, and Congressional and Las Vegas Tournament All Around Champions. At Grand Valley, Moriah is the Feature Twirler, performing with the “Pride of the Midwest” Laker Marching Band at every football and basketball game. She also has run two Twirler for a Day clinics to allow local young aspiring twirlers to perform at GV and raise money for the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Moriah is a student of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, a leader of a freshman Bible study with Campus Crusade for Christ, a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Phi Kappa Phi, and a participant in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Committee. Moriah also does research with Melissa Tallman, PhD, on primate cadaver dissections, and volunteers at a medical clinic for the underserved called Oasis of Hope. Moriah has been blessed to learn a tremendous amount about medicine in her time at Grand Valley, but more importantly she has learned about the responsibilities associated with leadership, working hard to stay on top of her studies and twirling, and giving back to the community. She is honored to be a fellow in the Cook Leadership Academy and is looking forward to furthering her knowledge of leadership amongst some of the brightest students that Grand Valley has to offer.


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

Xinyi is a senior at Grand Valley State University, majoring in History and Computer Science. 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 works with students of all backgrounds. 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 third year fellow, she looks forward to meeting the new participants!



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Andrew Plague – Political Science

Andrew Plague is a junior at Grand Valley State University. He is majoring in Political Science with minors in LGBTQ Studies and Philosophy, and is a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. He currently serves at the President of Student Senate. In this role he hopes to motivate and empower the Senators he leads as well as promote change that makes Grand Valley a better place for all faculty, staff, and students. Outside of Senate, he works to improve the campus climate as a representative for the Speak Up Campaign. Andrew is also a Lead Research Consultant at the Mary Idema Pew Library where he enjoys helping students develop their academic research skills.



Allyson Putt – Psychology

Allyson moved to Grand Rapids in 2007 to study at Aquinas College. During her undergraduate career Allyson was President of the History Club, studied abroad in Perpignan, France, and was a member of the Insignis Honor Society. Her senior project for the Honor Society was conducted through the Hauenstein Center. Upon graduating, Allyson turned her focus to philanthropic organizations and community building. She has worked for both locally- and internationally- focused nonprofit organizations. She recently made the decision to return to school to study psychology. She hopes to use her degree to study conflict resolution and the peace-building process.


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Micah Rahn-Tiemeyer - Master of Social Work

Micah Rahn-Tiemeyer is pursuing his master of Social Work. A true advanced generalist; Micah is interested in both the policy and administrative side of social work as well as the individual therapeutic side. Micah has a wealth of experience working directly with adults and children with developmental disabilities and is currently working as a community living supports aide at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s. Micah graduated with his bachelor of Music from the University of North Texas in 2010, where he studied music history and classical string bass. While there, Micah was recognized as outstanding music history student, and studied the music of Franz Schubert in Vienna, Austria. Micah was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and lived in Denton, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina before returning to Grand Rapids with his wife, Kristin, in 2012. He looks forward to networking with fellows and mentors and building a capacity for leadership in the field of social work in order to be a catalyst for social change and address individual and social problems.


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Laura Sample – Liberal Studies

Laura is not good at writing autobiographies, especially in third person. She obsessively consumes words and likes to regurgitate them in a variety of formats, including short story, prose, sketch, speech and song. She believes in people, the colors of the sunset, pizza and Jack Kerouac. She is currently pursuing a degree in Liberal Education with an Emphasis in Interaction and Experience Design (ask her about it- she can’t wait to tell you her dreams and ideas). Her longest-lasting leadership position- twenty years and running- has been as a big sister to four outstanding young ladies who currently reside in her hometown of Imlay City, Mi, with her/their parents. She hopes you are happy. She hopes you know goodness. And she hopes you find these words, from Kurt Vonnegut, as cool as she does. “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”


Kimberly Schoetzow - Master of Communications

Kimberly is pursuing her Master’s degree in Communication with an anticipated graduation date of April 2015. She accompanies her studies with a Graduate Assistantship with the Sustainable Community Development Initiative. She is passionate about growing, sharing and celebrating food within and across communities. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 2009 with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism and Environmental Studies, she went on to the National Resources Conservation Service, W.K. Kellogg Biological Station and National Public Radio. She spent several years as the Communications Coordinator at Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes – Kalamazoo County’s primary food assistance organization. She has also spent the past ten years as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters, travelling, and recently teaching yoga classes at the YMCA. She plans on developing strong connections with fellow members of the Cook Leadership Academy and sharing ideas for a more sustainable Southwest Michigan.

James T. Smit - Master of Biology

James T. Smit is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jim and Susan Smit, and is from Byron Center, Michigan. After graduating from Byron Center High School in 2008, he attended Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL where he obtained a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. While at ONU, James served as a Resident Assistant, Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department, and as the president of the Biology Club. Continuing on from ONU, James enrolled at Grand Valley State University, and obtained a Master of Science degree in Biology with a focus in Aquatic Science in the summer of 2014. The research for his thesis took place at the Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon, MI under the direction of Dr. Alan Steinman. James’ research centered around understanding nutrient dynamics in restored wetland environments, and how those nutrient dynamics may change in the future due to climate warming. While a student at GVSU, James was an active member of the Biology Graduate Club, and served on the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Board. He currently works as a Research Technician at the Annis Water Resources Institute in the Steinman Lab. In his spare time, James thoroughly enjoys spending time outdoors and participating in activities such as mountain biking, hiking, fishing, as well as reading. He is looking forward to the Cook Leadership Academy and the opportunity to learn more about leadership from highly regarded leaders in the community, as well as around the world.

Scott St. Louis – History

Scott St. Louis (BA ’16) is entering his fourth and final year at Grand Valley, studying history with a double minor in political science and French. He is a student of the Frederik Meijer Honors College and a former Vice President for Educational Affairs on the GVSU Student Senate. A passionate and ambitious emerging humanities professional, Scott has presented his research at meetings of many academic organizations, including the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and two of its regional affiliates. As an advocate for more open systems of research communication, Scott has contributed to planning efforts for OpenCon 2014 and 2015, international conferences placing students and early-career professionals in the offices of Congress and the European Parliament. His writings, interviews, and translations have been published on websites associated with such prestigious organizations as the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution), the Society for U.S. Intellectual History, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, and the Right to Research Coalition. He also holds an editorial position for a scholarly journal, The Eighteenth-Century Current Bibliography (ECCB). A Fellow of the Cook Leadership Academy since Fall 2014, Scott is looking forward to continuing his personal and professional growth while building strong relationships with other leaders in the West Michigan community.

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

Noah Thelen is a senior at Grand Valley State University from Grand Haven studying Finance and Business Economics with a minor in philosophy. In addition to being a student, Noah spends much of his time serving as President of the Catholic Student Association. Within that role, he provides leadership and vision while also planning various events ranging from service days to retreats. This past summer Noah interned at Crowe Horwath LLP, an accounting and consulting firm, within the risk consulting group. In the winter he worked at Perrigo in Allegan as a financial analysis intern in the Consumer Healthcare area. Last summer he worked in the Data Insights teams at the Domino’s Pizza world resource center in Ann Arbor. This is Noah’s third year in the Cook Leadership Academy. What he is looking forward to most is meeting other fellows and hearing about what the “best and brightest” are doing to shape their school or community. In the prior years, Noah has also enjoyed the mentor program and is thankful for the impact of those mentors on his life.


Alexa Victoria Thompson - Master of Social Work

Alexa Victoria Thompson is currently pursuing a dual master’s degree in Social Work and Public Administration, with a concentration in Public Management. She graduated from Michigan State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. As an undergraduate, Alexa was awarded the Kate Pew Wolters Award for Policy Practice and Advocacy, was selected as the keynote speaker for the MSU Women’s Leadership Conference, acted as Fundraising Committee Leader for the Students for Social Work, and volunteered as a Sexual Assault advocate and peer educator for three consecutive years. In 2011, she began working in research, assisting in program evaluation of ‘Project Return Home’ at Bethany Christian Services. She is in the process of completing an outcome article from the work entitled, “Barriers to Trauma Treatment for Biological Parents.” As a graduate, Alexa works as a graduate assistant at the Community Research Institute, within the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, primarily working in evaluation of Network 180′s Wraparound program. In the future, Alexa hopes to pursue a career in public policy and systems change. The Cook Leadership Academy will serve as a vital tool for her professional development, connecting her with mentors and professionals within the field that can help guide her in developing the necessary skills in leadership.


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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 with an anticipated graduation date of April 2015. 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 spending time with her dog, Barnum. Rachel and her husband are expecting their first baby in March! Rachel is excited to learn and network through the Cook Leadership Academy in order to enhance her community leadership skills.



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Theodore Woodcock - Political Science

Hailing from West Michigan, Ted is a Political Science major with a minor in City and Regional planning. He attended Albion College for three years prior to transferring to Grand Valley State University in the fall of 2013. Throughout his college career, he has been involved in the campus community with leadership roles at both Albion College and now Grand Valley State University. He recently had been elected Executive Director of the GVSU College Republicans and appointed as a Senior Advisor with the Michigan Federation of College Republicans. Upon graduation from Grand Valley, Ted looks to continue his education with a Master’s in Public Administration. His career goal is still undecided, however, he looks to pursue a career in municipal management.


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Tyler Ziola – Human Resources Management

Originally from Corunna, Michigan, Tyler Ziola is a junior at Grand Valley State University studying Human Resources Management and Non-Profit Administration. In his first two years at Grand Valley, Tyler served as a Student Senator on the Finance Committee and worked as Promotions Coordinator for Laker Traditions. Tyler currently serves as the Vice President for Public Relations for Student Senate, continues his role as Promotions Coordinator for Laker Traditions, and is a Resident Assistant in the Secchia Living Center on the Pew Campus. In addition, Tyler sits on the Laker for a Lifetime Communications and Outreach Subcommittee, works in the Office of Student Life, and with the Charter Schools Office. He enjoys volunteering his time with Alternative Breaks, most recently going to Staten Island, New York to work on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. In his spare time, he enjoys being outdoors, traveling, and practicing yoga. Tyler looks forward to networking with his peers in the CLA fellowship program and believes that being a leader means you spend your time moving others to become leaders themselves.



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 |

Fred Antczak Higher Education, political rhetoric


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 it—bring your whole brain and your whole heart. Practice being wholly present.

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.

Peggy Bishop Accounting, Empowerment of women and girls, Nonprofit sector First female partner at Beene Garter Leads team of nonprofit specialists. Board volunteer with Quota International, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and Student Advancement Foundation.

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-four years later, she is with the same CPA firm. She became the firm’s first woman partner nearly 25 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. She and her husband Joe live in Grandville and are empty nesters. Her husband is 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 the proud grandmother of two young boys. 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. She 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 people 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.

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 Interurban Transit Partnership/The Rapid, Kent County Land Bank, Uptown Corridor Improvement District, Uptown Business Improvement District, Friends of GR Parks, Dyer-Ives Foundation, Trustee with the Michigan Municipal League, Chair for the Federation for Children and Families Residential Treatment MIN and is a member of the West Michigan Environmental Leadership Network.
  • 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.


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 and a third term in 2013. 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.

In her free time she enjoys kayaking, walking her dog 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 and where the work is aligned with their own values and passions.

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.

Mary Dailey Brown Women Empowerment, the Nonprofit Sector, International Work

  • Co-Founder, President, and CEO of SowHope.Org, a 501C3 Multi-national, Charitable, Non-Government Organization dedicated to inspiring women in the Developing World.revious free-lance photographer.
  • Holds a BA in Photography and Psychology from Southern Illinois University, a Two-year Cross-Cultural Missions Certificate from International Teams, and an MPA Non-profit Leadership from Grand Valley State University.
  • Has traveled to over 50 countries; has led over 100 volunteer teams to over 30 countries.
  • Previous free-lance photographer.


Over the past 25 years, Mary has visited and traveled to over 50 countries and been involved personally and vocationally with the poor. She is fluent in Spanish, having lived in Spain for nearly four years. Additionally, she has led over 100 volunteer teams to over 30 countries.

Mary earned a BA from Southern Illinois University with majors in Photography and Psychology. She completed a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) in Nonprofit Management and Leadership at Grand Valley State University, where she is now a part-time professor.

Mary worked at the White House as a staff photographer serving both Carter and Reagan. She owned a professional freelance photography business in the North Suburbs of Chicago for 10 years.

Mary served as the founding Executive Director of Love Inc (formerly, the US branch of World Vision) of Lake County, IL. She was the Director of Missions at Bella Vista Church in Rockford, MI for eight years. During that time that she traveled to many Third World countries and developed the vision to start SowHope.

Mary has been married to Doug Brown since 1981 and has two adult sons, John & Alex.

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 principle 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.

Mary Buikema

Mary Buikema is the Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, a global, Christian nonprofit that brings people together to build homes, community and hope. Under Mary’s leadership, Habitat Kent has completed the restoration of the historic Wealthy Heights neighborhood in Grand Rapids, celebrated its 30th Anniversary, and, in 2013, launched the $5 million Building Blocks Campaign to revitalize neighborhoods on the West Side of Grand Rapids. Through Building Blocks, Habitat Kent will help 200 families in two years. Mary serves on the
Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan—the State Support Organization, and
the Board of Directors of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan Fund—the mortgage service
provider for Habitat affiliates.

Mary is a Chicago native who embraced West Michigan while obtaining her BFA from Calvin
College. Prior to her work with Habitat, she was a builder, designer and project manager for BDR
Custom Homes. She lives on the West Side of Grand Rapids in a micro apartment, where she
pursues a life of simplicity.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders? Take your time. Love what you do and love the time it takes to do it. You will never regret a kind, thoughtful process. Accomplish one important task each day. Make it fun. Think ahead. People need balance at work to have balance at home. Establish a culture and an environment where you would want to work.

What traits do you value most in leaders? Transparency. Humility. Integrity. Tolerance.

Dr. Dev Butler Consulting, Leadership Development, Nonprofit, Health Administration


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.

Saralyn Coupe Economics, Business, Arts


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 SM 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

Kathy Crosby has worked for the Goodwill Industries organization since 1980. She is currently the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, a $34 million organization serving eight counties. Goodwill of Grand Rapids operates twenty retail stores for donated goods including an “outlet” where goods are sold by the pound, an on-line store through ShopGoodwill.com, on-line book sales through Amazon.com, and a recycling center. The organization employs 600 people on a long-term basis and another 200 transitional ‘trainees’ at any point in time. In 2013 Goodwill provided vocational-related service to 1986 people and placed 822 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 is the Vice Chair of the Board of the Economic Club of Grand Rapids , Vice Chair of Grand Valley State University’s Health Advisory Board, serves on the CEO Leadership Council of Talent 2025, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Issues Council, and the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan’s Board of Directors. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Michigan-wide non-profit association, MARO, and is active with MARO’s Leadership Academy for developing emerging talent in nonprofits across Michigan. She is a mentor for both the Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program and the Hauenstein Center Mentoring Program. She serves on the Regional Air Alliance Committee, the YMCA Board of Directors, and is a member of Inforum of West Michigan. She also serves on the Pastoral Council for Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic church, where she is an active member.

In 2013, Kathy received Goodwill Industries International’s P. J. Trevethan Award, which is presented annually to one Goodwill Industries CEO for outstanding contribution to the training of Goodwill Industries personnel. She also received the Toastmasters International Leadership & Communication Award. In both 2012 and 2014, Kathy was named one of the “50 Most Influential Business Women in West Michigan” by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. In 2012, she received the YWCA Tribute! Award in Business, Management, Industry & Labor. In 2011, Kathy received the ATHENA Award from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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.

K. V. Lacks Business, Management, Human Resources

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!!

Jennifer Maxson Business and Leadership Consulting


Jennifer Maxson is a passionate thought leader in the areas of networking, communication, leadership development and public speaking. She serves as Relationship Manager, Practice Group Leader and Coach at Varnum Consulting, LLC. Jennifer provides consulting services to clients throughout the United States and abroad, delivering customized individual coaching, executive coaching and group training for clients. Jennifer has been honored as one of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan, a finalist for Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA award, Grand Rapids Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 Business Leaders, and was nominated twice for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s ATHENA Young Professional Award. When she’s not coaching, Jennifer enjoys fishing and hunting with her family.

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

  • Managing Partner 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 Action Council, Equity Drinks.
  • www.theimageshoppe.com


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.

Noreen Myers Civil Rights, Women’s Empowerment, Politics


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.

Glenn Niemeyer Higher Education, Academic Affairs, History


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.

Kristin Revere Consulting, Business, Nonprofit, Women’s Empowerment

  • Owner of 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.


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.

Megan Sall Local Government, Nonprofit Sector, Business Development

  • Currently serving on GVSU’s Board of Trustees.
  • 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, and Neighborhood Ventures.
  • President of the GVSU Alumni Chapter for the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Association.
  • Holds a B.A. in International Relations and an M.P.A. from Grand Valley State University.


Megan Sall currently serves on GVSU’s Board of Trustees, as well 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, vulnerability, honesty, integrity, passion, generosity.

Ryan Slusarzyk

Ryan Slusarzyk graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2008 with Bachelors of Business Administration from the Seidman College of Business. His degree is in marketing, emphasis in sales, management with a minor in sociology. During his time at Grand Valley, he was captain of the Co-ed Cheerleading team and was Founding Father of Sigma Pi Fraternity, as well as numerous other involvements. Through the experience and knowledge he gained through various internships with GVSU Sports Marketing, General Motors, Chevrolet, Campbell-Ewald and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, he was started as Marketing Programs Manager for the Amway Hotel Collection five days after graduation.

During his tenure with the Amway Hotel Collection, he gained exposure to several non-profit organizations which completely transformed him through growth of being a servant leader. In 2010, Ryan was awarded Grand Rapids Business Journal prestigious ’40 under 40′ and West Michigan Business Review’s ‘Innovation Award.’ In 2012 he was promoted to Global Business Travel Manager at the Amway Hotel Collection, and through much success he was awarded the Pure Michigan ‘Sales & Marketing Star” for the Michigan Lodging & Travel Association. In 2014 he was awarded Seidman College of Business Outstanding Alumni ‘Up & Coming’ award and then won Grand Valley State University’s ‘Young Alumni of the Year’ award. In the spring of 2014, he accepted as position as Global Project Manager with Amway Corporation in the Nutrition department. Amway is a global leader in direct sales.

Ryan is currently a board member and/or volunteer with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Vanguard Academy, Seidman College of Business, Van Andel Institute, Pine Rest, Boys & Girls Club of Grand Rapids and Spectrum Health. In his free time, he enjoys eating and drinking his way through Grand Rapids, traveling, spending time with family and friends, following the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Tigers, and playing softball.

What is your favorite advice to give aspiring leaders?Lead with love for others. If you are authentic, observant, compassionate and hardworking, people will naturally gravitate towards you. Leading is not something you do, it is something that embodies your heart and soul.

What traits do you value most in a leader? The best leaders in my opinion, recognize and embrace the differences of others. Celebrate successes as well as failures, while earning, not demanding, the respect of the others. I truly admire leaders that feel no work is above them. Great leaders are able to admit when they are wrong and have the outstanding ability of relating to others.

Hilary Snell Law, Political Science


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.

Jane Toot Biomedical Sciences and Health, Academic Administration/Affairs

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

  • 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.


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.

John Wardrop Education, Nonprofit sector, business


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.

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.


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 was a Masco Corporation company that focused on helping their customers achieve more energy efficient and comfortable environments within their homes. In 2013, Michael accepted a position with DTE Energy as Principal Account Manager. Michael now manages some of DTE’s largest commercial and industrial natural gas accounts across the Grand Rapids region.

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.


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