Our Team

Office of Graduate and Lifetime Learning

Photo of Kara Van Dam

Kara Van Dam, Ph.D., MBA

Vice Provost, Graduate and Lifetime Learning

(616) 331-7624

[email protected]

Dr. Kara Van Dam earned both a doctorate and master’s degree in linguistics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a master’s degree in business administration from Kaplan University and a bachelor of general studies in French and linguistics from the University of Michigan. She grew up in West Michigan and is a graduate of East Grand Rapids High School.

Kara leads the Office of Graduate and Lifetime Learning at Grand Valley and oversees several areas at the university including Adult and Continuing Studies, the Graduate School, the Career Center, executive education and enterprise partnerships, alumni relations, and regional campuses, including the Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center.


Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center

Photo of Al Shifflett

Al Shifflett III, MBA

Director of Community Engagement

(616) 331-7615

[email protected]

Al Shifflett is an alumnus of Battle Creek Central High School, Kellogg Community College, and Western Michigan University (WMU), and received his Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Grand Valley State University.

While overseeing the GVSU Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center and grant activities funded through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Al is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with businesses, educators, health providers, and community members throughout the community and SW Michigan. Partnering alongside these constituent groups, his mission is to assist with the development and support of educational, economic, and health initiatives within the Battle Creek community and region through meaningful and strategic connections with the University.

Al's prior experience includes 20 years of marketing and promotion, service, and engagement experiences - most recently at WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, MI. There he instituted the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs for the medical school and built a culture of giving and stewardship at the new institution. Al is honored for the opportunities to make a positive impact in his hometown, including the high school and community college from which he graduated, and the Southwest Michigan region through programs and resources from GVSU.


Photo of Nikki Elder

Nikki Elder

Special Projects Coordinator

(616) 331-7613

[email protected]

Nikki Elder is a certified teacher and administrator. She received her bachelor’s degree in K-12 Spanish and Education from the University of Cincinnati and has earned master’s degrees in TESOL from Cornerstone University and in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University. Nikki has over 16 years of experience in the K-12 setting ranging from classroom teaching in both the elementary and secondary settings, teaching multilingual learners (EL) at both the district and ISD level, and consulting and education program development. She’s also served as a facilitator with the High Impact Leadership (HIL) Project through Western Michigan University in a partnership with the Van Buren Intermediate School District in which she coached and consulted with principals and school leadership teams on school-wide literacy improvement initiatives. 

As Special Projects Coordinator, Nikki collaborates with professors for student success in GVSU dual enrollment courses at Battle Creek Central High School. She also works with district counselors, ISDs, and other school and county-wide educational partners within an eleven-county region to increase opportunity and access to college for students and adult learners. Nikki is a Battle Creek native and is passionate about improving the community both professionally and personally. She’s excited to be a part of the GVSU Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center and help create a community in which higher education can become a reality for all learners.


Photo of Career Navigator, Sara Reed

Sara Reed, M.A., GCDF

Career Navigator

(616) 331-7611

[email protected]

Sara Reed earned her Bachelor of Science degree in History from Grand Valley State University (GVSU), and a Master of Arts in Higher Education Leadership from Siena Heights University. She has worked in higher education for fourteen years, with Student and Community Services, TRIO Student Support Services, and as a specialist for Career Services at Kellogg Community College.

In her role as the Career Navigator, Sara serves as a liaison between GVSU, Battle Creek Public Schools (BCPS), and other schools and organizations within the area. In collaboration with high school counselors and administrative teams, Sara provides college advising and career exploration to BCPS students and supports other learners in our community with their educational journey.

Sara is excited to work for her alma mater and continue to impact and serve the community she has resided for over 16 years.


Photo of Leslie Strickland

Leslie Strickland

Office Assistant

(616) 331-7610

[email protected]

Leslie Strickland has served both Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties through the Upward Bound and Michigan GEAR UP Program at Western Michigan University (WMU). Prior to her time at WMU, she spent more than a decade in the financial industry. Leslie is passionate about supporting learners in Battle Creek and throughout the southwestern Michigan communities.


Pipeline Scholars Program

Photo of Estefany Paniagua-Pardo

Estefany Paniagua-Pardo, M.Ed.

Career Navigator

(616) 331-7621

[email protected]

Estefany Paniagua-Pardo obtained her Masters of Education degree with an emphasis in College Student Affairs Leadership from Grand Valley State University. Prior to obtaining her graduate degree, she received her Associate’s degree from Northwestern Michigan College and her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Grand Valley State University's Frederik Meijer Honors College.

Before working for the Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center, Estefany served underrepresented student populations through her work at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in Washington D.C. and TRIO Student Support Services. Her career aspirations consist of providing services, support, and opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds within higher education. Estefany is enthusiastic about holistically serving and supporting GVSU/Battle Creek Public Schools Pipeline Scholars along their journey to graduation from GVSU.


Charlotte Bulkus, Career Navigator

Charlotte Balkus, M.Ed.

Career Navigator

(616) 331-7622

[email protected]

Charlotte Balkus earned her Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree with a focus on college student affairs leadership from GVSU, solidifying her status as a Laker for a Lifetime. She previously achieved her bachelor's degree in psychology with double minors in youth and society and human behavior and social services from Michigan State University.

Prior to joining the Pipeline Scholars Program at Battle Creek Regional Outreach Center, Charlotte served as the Program Advisor in GVSU's TRIO Student Support Services (SSS Classic) Program. Being a fellow first-generation college student, she is deeply passionate about assisting first-generation/low-income college students in navigating their higher education journey and addressing their unique needs. Charlotte aspires to continue her career in higher education while advocating for increased educational access and fostering new opportunities for all.


Photo of Ana Estrella, Graduate Assistant

Ana Estrella, CTRS

Occupational Therapy

Graduate Assistant



Page last modified February 9, 2024