Person stands in front of GVSU's L. William Seidman Center

Alumni leader understands importance of building community and giving back

Heather Ly Zak '98 and '20

Share this page via facebook Share this page via twitter

Your family came to the U.S. through sponsorship. Talk more about your background.

My family and I lived in a Malaysian refugee camp for more than two years when I was younger, awaiting sponsorship to the United States. When we moved to West Michigan, we were embraced by the community. I grew up in West Michigan and met my husband, John Zak, shortly after graduating with my bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley. I’m a certified public accountant in the State of Michigan and currently the senior director of Research Finance and Operations at Spectrum Health. 

Why did you attend Grand Valley?

I wanted to stay in West Michigan and Grand Valley offered an exceptional education at an affordable cost, and with a welcoming atmosphere. I have many fond memories and lifelong friends through Grand Valley. 

How did you become interested in the health care field?

Growing up, I knew I wanted to work in the nonprofit industry for the chance to give back and to help make a difference. Prior to joining Spectrum Health, I was the controller for another nonprofit organization and privileged to work with an executive who was a great leader. He encouraged me to pursue the opportunity in health care. I’m glad I did, given Spectrum’s mission. 

What does your job involve?

I work in the Spectrum Health Office of Research and Education (SHORE), supporting the Research Finance, Sponsored Programs and Medical Education Finance teams. My team and I partner with stakeholders to advance health and inspire hope through integrated clinical practice. 

I’m lucky to work for an organization that invests in employee education. It has allowed me the opportunity to pursue my second MBA.

I will graduate from the Seidman College of Business through the Spectrum Health EMBA program.

What has inspired you?

Spectrum Health’s mission of improving health, inspiring hope and saving lives. It inspires me to work hard in hopes of making a difference for our patients. 

Tell us an interesting fact about you.

I put my career first, had kids later in life and struggled with infertility due to medical complications. We were finally blessed with a second child via surrogate (my husband’s amazing aunt). It was a difficult journey, but it made me stronger, taught me to never give up, and to appreciate my family even more. 

Grand Valley has changed since you were an undergraduate student. What do you like best about campus now?

I’ve been attending the Seidman College of Business for the past few years and value its beautiful facility and close proximity to downtown. It is exciting to see the growth and impact to the community as a result of Grand Valley’s expansion. 

Why is the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health important to you?

Its state-of-the-art space and equipment for students to learn, and it will bring more opportunities for collaboration with community partners.

How will your gift to the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health make a positive impact on students?

My husband and I decided to give to the DeVos Center for Interprofessional Health to help make a difference in our community. Working in research and medical education, I recognize the importance of having innovative and collaborative space for students to allow greater success. 

Why did you want to be an Alumni Champion?

As a first-generation American, born in Vietnam of Chinese descent, I’m grateful for the support I received from others for my undergraduate education. Becoming an Alumni Champion gives me the chance to give back.

What do you say to other people to encourage them to give back?

I encourage others to stay connected through the many opportunities provided by Grand Valley, whether it is through volunteering, engaging with others or making a donation. Together we can make a difference for future Lakers. 

You Might Also Like

Read article Creating new pathways

Creating new pathways

Gerard Kwiatkowski graduated in 2008 and is now teaching and impacting students in Houston, Texas.

Winter 2018|Supporting Future Leaders

Read article The bottom line: great value

The bottom line: great value

Layna, '13, and Andrew, '13, Buthker both earned master's degrees in taxation and work for Plante Moran. The public accounting firm is one of many corporations that match employee gifts.

Spring 2018|Supporting Future Leaders

Read article Giving hearts

Giving hearts

Terry, '70, and Sandra, '68, Allen have a long history with Grand Valley and with each other. They married in 1969 after meeting as students on campus.

Summer 2018|Supporting Future Leaders