Black Professionals Virtual Alumni Roundtable

Wednesday, October 7, 2020
7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Alumni, Students

Work Like a Laker Conference Professional Development logo

Attend this session to get insights from GVSU black alumni professionals about how to prepare for and thrive in the workplace, and real talk about the unique challenges and opportunities that black professionals face in differing work environments. This event is open to GVSU current students and alumni from ALL backgrounds.

Discussions topics include:

  • How to research potential employers – can I be “me” and still get a job?
  • Tips for success in the application and interview process.
  • Navigating workplace culture.
  • What is tokenism, and does it really exist?
  • Finding community and/or seeking out mentors.
  • What is code-switching and is it really required?
  • How do I advance and get ahead?


Janean Couch, ’05 & ’08 - Janean is a Program Director at Grand Rapids Community Foundation. In her role, Janean has a leadership role in grantmaking.  She also plays a key role in initiating new prototypes for and helping to develop new ways to resource community organizations through the lens of racial, social, and economic justice. 

Prior to joining Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Janean spent nine years at Grand Valley State University. Her roles at GVSU included program coordinator at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy and assistant director in the Career Center. Janean is a founder and advisory board member of Business Leaders Linked to Encourage New Directions (BL2END), previous board member at the YWCA of West Central Michigan, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She was named one of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s Young Athena finalists in 2014 and the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty, Class of 2015. Previously, Janean served as a Big Sister for seven years and as a board member for the GVSU alumni association. She received a Bachelor of Science in Public and Nonprofit Administration and a Master of Education in Adult and Higher Education from Grand Valley State University.

Janean married her college sweetheart Michael and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. In their spare time, they enjoy building relationships with family and friends, shopping and travelling, and giving back in any way they can to the community.

Michael Couch, ’06 - A native of Grand Rapids, Michael currently serves as Director of Financial aid at Martin University in Indianapolis, Indiana. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University, and a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University. Michael received his educational doctorate with an emphasis on Community College Leadership program at Ferris State University.

Michael’s research and presentations focus on issues of diversity, equity, and financial literacy. He engages in research, presentations, and critical conversations about college affordability, enrollment management, leadership assessments, leadership experiences of African American males, and minority male initiatives.

Outside of work, he is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.  In his spare time, he enjoys traveling, wearing snazzy bowties, and spending time with family and friends.

John White, ’11 - Originally from the south side of Chicago, John came to Michigan in January of 2007 to attend Grand Valley State University. He graduated in December of 2011 with a Bachelor of Business Administration with an emphasis in Management Information Systems. For the last 8.5 years he has worked in the IT Department at Steelcase on an Applications Development team supporting Manufacturing and Distribution at Steelcase, Inc.

With a current title of Sr. Applications Engineer, John typically wears some combination of the following hats; Applications Developer, Systems Analyst, and/or Project Manager within the manufacturing execution and distribution space. From 2014 to 2019, John was also responsible for the recruitment, interviewing, hiring, and coordinating summer activities of all of Steelcase IT interns for the Grand Rapids campus. John is currently on a 90-day assignment for his job that has relocated him to California, right outside L.A. As recent events have put DEI in the forefront, John has also been tapped by Steelcase leadership to serve on the Steelcase DEI executive team whose responsibility is to advise and develop a global DEI Strategy for the Fortune 1000 company.

Outside of work he spends quite a bit of time with his wife of 8 years, Josephine; the Grand Rapids Alumni Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for which he is a member holding positions at the State and local level; and at his local church, New Hope Baptist Church where John serves as a Trustee. John was recently given the honor and recognition to be selected for the Grand Rapids Business Journals 2019 class of 40 Under 40 Business Leaders.

Maxine Gray, ’09 - Maxine is a purpose-driven professional on a mission to humanize brands with authentic, culturally-relevant, and brand-worthy creative content, and experiences that center and celebrate diverse communities from the start. Creatively activating the power of strategic communication, brand creative, content, and experiences to shape perception and move audiences to action is Maxine’s superpower. Throughout her career, she has designed brand creative, social media content, digital marketing, public relations, and community engagement strategies for global Fortune 500 corporations. She is currently the Brand Marketing and Communications Manager for Amazon, Inc.

Maxine’s track record of success includes strategic communication, branding, marketing, advertising, grassroots community validation research, project management, event planning, nonprofit fundraising, and higher education multicultural program management.

Maxine believes that in business, results matter but people come first. As such, she is committed to servant leadership and bringing purpose, passion, and impact to everyday life; inside and outside of the workplace.

Maxine earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Hope College, and a Master of Science in Communication from Grand Valley State University.


Shannon Cohen, ’00 & ‘11 - Shannon is the founder and CEO of Shannon Cohen, Inc. -- a boutique firm with a mighty imprint and reputation for excellence. Shannon specializes in developing customized emotional intelligence, equity, and wellness colloqui for organizations across diverse sectors and industries. Her clients include: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Helen Devos Children’s Hospital, Michigan Public Health Institute, Henry Ford Health System, United Way, The American Heart Association, Steelcase, The City of Grand Rapids, The County of Kent, The University of Michigan, The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, The City of Holland, Gentex Corporation, Atomic Object, Grace Hopper --; Mercantile Bank, The Urban Core Collective, Grand Valley State University, and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Using a head+heart approach, Shannon excels in engaging change agents in transparent conversations about the unspoken truths of leadership and self-care to nurture longevity in leadership. Shannon doesn’t just ‘speak’ to leaders; she speaks ‘into’ the lives of leaders. Shannon is an author, podcaster, and owner of an inspirational product line called Tough Skin, Soft Heart. Her Tough Skin, Soft Heart products are available at a host of retailers spanning several states. Her podcast reaches subscribers nationally and globally with weekly grab-and-go encouragement for difference makers. Her 2nd book, “It’s Normal to Shake as You Soar” is slated for mass release in late Fall 2020.

Shannon is respected and renowned for empowering organizations to integrate innovation, research, emerging trends, and creativity to cultivate continuous improvement and spur ongoing learning. Shannon is the 2020 YWCA Tribute Award recipient and was named one of the 2020 and 2018 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. Shannon is an alumnus of the prestigious W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network Fellowship and adjunct professor in the Grand Valley State University College of Community and Public Service.

Shannon is also co-founder of Sisters Who Lead, [] a regional talent and wellness affinity movement designed to advance the well-being and career mobility of women of color to executive leadership. Shannon has co-authored two regional workplace climate studies entitled: “Invisible Walls, Ceilings, and Floors: Championing the Voices and Inclusion of Female Leaders of Color in West Michigan” and “From Knowing Better to Doing Better: Closing the Opportunity Gap for Women of Color in the Workplace through Transformed Systems Behavior”.

Shannon earned a Master’s of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management & Leadership, and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Political Science both from Grand Valley State University. Learn more about Shannon at:

Registration is required!

This event is part of the Work Like A Laker Conference. For more information, please visit: All sessions offered can be found in Handshake Events.

For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations please contact the GVSU Career Center at or 616-331-6708. Requests should be made as soon as possible but at least two days prior to the event.

If you experience any technical difficulties, please contact 616-331-3311.

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Event link will be shared upon registration. 

Contact Information

GVSU Career Center I I 616-331-3311


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This event was added to the calendar by Amy Schuster ( on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 and was last updated on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 1:58 p.m.