In 2010, after successful academic careers, three GVSU alumni with a
passion for education and a desire to decrease racial tension started
Cultural Competence, LLC, an organization committed to increasing
awareness of cultural stereotypes. The group is hired to visit schools
and businesses to lead workshops in which these stereotypes are
exposed, addressed, and explored.
Patrick Wilson, ’09 & ’11, started the student organization, Cultural Links on Understanding Diversity, New Interpretation New Education (CLOUD NINE) at GVSU. He earned his undergraduate degree in Health Communications but knew early on that he wanted to work with diversity awareness in a higher education environment.
To achieve this goal, Wilson enrolled in the College Student Affairs Leadership (CSAL) program to pursue his master’s in Education. During and after his tenure in the program, Wilson gained important experience in the field through several employment opportunities.
“Grand Valley taught me how to be a cultural leader and activist by providing me with the support to create change,” he said.
First, Wilson worked with the GVSU Disability Support Resources offices as a learning specialist. In this position, he helped students gain insight into their own learning style as well as techniques to help them solve their academic challenges. He also worked as an academic adviser before and after his finishing his graduate work. It was during this time that he and fellow alumnus, Darnell Head, ’08 began traveling with Cultural Competence.
Head graduated from GVSU with a degree in Criminal Justice. He was involved with several student organizations as an undergraduate but left Michigan after graduation to join Teach for America in Illinois. He had received strong encouragement from the late Dean Oliver Wilson, with whom he was incredibly close.
“I chose to teach and become a school leader because I believed in my ability to impact students’ lives and transform their possibilities,” he said. “I chose to take the cultural awareness program that started at GVSU to a national higher education landscape because of the powerful message of diversity and inclusiveness.”
Head began teaching elementary school in Chicago and also took on two master’s programs, one in the Art of Teaching program at Dominican University and the other in Education and School Leadership at Concordia University. In 2010, he joined Wilson in touring the country and has since started a doctoral program in higher education leadership.
The third member of the Cultural Competence team is Jessica Wilson, ’10. While studying accounting at GVSU, Jessica started a student organization called Minorities Interested in Business through the Seidman College of Business. She felt something was missing from Grand Valley’s business program at the time, so she approached her professors and got all the support she needed to form the student organization.
After graduation, Jessica first became employed as a Tuition Planner at the American Intercontinental University in Chicago, then as a full-time accountant at the University of Chicago. After just one year, she accepted a promotion, became responsible for the university’s gift and endowment accounting, and began working with Head and Patrick as the business manager for Cultural Competence, LLC. She attributes much of her success to the many resources that were available to her at GVSU.
“My education at Grand Valley gave me the knowledge and credentials I needed to enter the field of accounting,” she said. “My experience at Grand Valley gave me what it would take to be successful in my business career. The career center was always there to help with many things I needed to help me advance my career.”
In addition to their success with Cultural Competence, Wilson and Head also work with diversity and education systems in West Michigan and Illinois. Wilson is the Chair for West Michigan Multicultural Council and Head is the Director of District and School Partnerships with Teach for America and works closely with the area’s 165 inner city schools.
The group also employs a current GVSU student and public and nonprofit administration major, Danielle Russ, who manages the social media components of the program.
Together, the team of GVSU alumni works to combat the negative effects of cultural stereotypes. They will continue to travel the country with their workshop and they hope to expand globally in the future.