The 2014-15 Wheelhouse Talks feature cross-disciplinary, local leaders who are eager to share their philosophy and experience. Leaders of today and tomorrow will come together to evoke stories of triumph and tragedy, tradition and innovation, conflict and collaboration, career-pathing and serendipity. Throughout the series, shared leadership values — responsibility, energy, community, and authenticity — will be center stage. Watch the 2012 – 2013 and the 2013 – 2014 Series.

2014 – 2015 Speakers






September 10 – Rick DeVos

The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies welcomes back Rick DeVos for the first Wheelhouse Talk of the 2014-2015 season. Rick will speak to Cook Leadership Academy students and mentors about how a community cultivates a space for its creative class and develops young entrepreneurial leaders.

October 8 – Alumni Panel with Selma Tucker, Austin Dean, Allie Bush, Juliana Nahas-Viilo

A co-founder of Failure:Lab, a director of marketing and communications at Public Sector Consultants, a coordinator of communications at Varnum Consulting, and a public policy coordinator at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce: all young professionals, Grand Valley graduates, and Cook Leadership Academy alumni whose leadership has made its mark on Grand Rapids and across the state. Come gain new, fresh perspectives on leadership as these past fellows engage in a lively panel discussion about their experiences as young professionals and leaders.

November 12 – Barbara Pickut

Dr. Barbara Pickut is a standout in the Grand Rapids medical, neuroscience, and academic communities. A graduate of the University of Michigan for her bachelors and masters degrees, with an M.D. from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, Dr. Pickut has completed thirty-eight clinical trials related to Parkinson’s Disease since 1992, co-founded the Belgian Movement Disorders Society, and studied the role of mindfulness and mind-body intervention in movement disorders. Join us as Dr. Pickut speaks on her leadership experiences abroad, in the classroom, and in the medical community.


Monthly | Free | Open to the Public

January 14, 2015 – Hon. Sara Smolenski, Chief Judge of the 63rd District Court of Michigan

A native of Grand Rapids, Judge Sara Smolenski is highly regarded as a community leader for her work both in and out of the courtroom. Not only the longstanding Chief Judge of the 63rd District Court of Michigan, Judge Smolenski is also a strong advocate for education, prevention of violence against women, and community engagement. Recognized throughout Grand Rapids for her public service and sense of humor, she will share her view of leadership from the bench and beyond.

February 11, 2015 – Rosalynn Bliss, City Commissioner for the 2nd Ward of Grand Rapids

Community leader and advocate for the defenseless, Grand Rapids Second Ward City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss is a fierce representative of her constituents and of homeless youth. Recognized by the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” for her local and statewide leadership in child welfare and community outreach, Rosalynn continues to positively impact the quality of life in Grand Rapids.

March 11, 2015 – Hilary Snell, Varnum, L.L.P.

Inquisitive with a strong legal mind, Hilary Snell has long been a prominent member of the Grand Rapids community. A graduate of Colgate University and the University of Michigan Law School, Snell serves at Varnum, L.L.P., where he has been a managing partner. He has also been chairman of the board at Spectrum Health, Priority Health, and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. He currently chairs the Hauenstein Center advisory cabinet.

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