Alumni News Spring 2017

Homegrown leadership

GRPS superintendent advocates for students, schools

by Susan Howard, ’10 and ’15

Teresa Weatherall Neal, ’97, has traveled a unique path to her role as the superintendent for Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Neal is a product of GRPS from kindergarten through 12th grade, and has worked for the district since the 1970s. She was named superintendent in 2012.

“I started working for GRPS as a student worker at the age of 15,” Neal said. “Over the years, I advanced to receptionist, secretary, compliance officer, grant writer, director, co-director, assistant superintendent, and then, finally, to where I am now as the superintendent.”

With more than 40 years of service to the district, Neal has had a positive effect on the lives of young people in Grand Rapids.

Under her leadership, GRPS has undergone many positive transformations. The district offers a wider variety of school choices, and administrators and teachers have worked to reduce chronic absenteeism and increase graduation rates.

In 2012, GRPS established Parent University, which provides classes designed for parents with the goal of helping them become advocates for their children’s success. The program is the first of its kind in Michigan.

“My goal is to leave GRPS better than it was the day I started as superintendent,” Neal said. “So I continue to fight for our school system because I want to make it the best. Every day, everything I do is to make GRPS better.”

woman in office

photo by Jess Weal

GRPS teamed with Grand Valley and other community partners to open the Grand Rapids Public Museum School in 2015. Grand Valley’s College of Education and Center for Educational Partnerships contributed to the design and creation of the school that focuses on place-based education, innovation, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving with real-world challenges, communication and collaboration. Neal said these are essential skills for students to succeed in a global society.

Other Museum School community partners are Grand Rapids Public Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design and the City of Grand Rapids. The Museum School earned a $10 million grant in the fall from the XQ Super School Project.


“Grand Valley has been awesome at answering the call for GRPS students.” Teresa Weatherall Neal, ’97

woman, boy standing

Teresa Weatherall Neal with her grandson, C.J., who attends GRPS.

Part of Neal’s journey to superintendent included earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley in 1997. She also earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University in 2000. Her choice to attend Grand Valley was a family matter.

“I am the fifth person in my family to graduate from Grand Valley, so it was the natural choice for me,” she said. “I always wanted to go to GVSU. Because some of my siblings were Lakers, I just knew that I was also going to be a Laker.”

Neal’s connection with Grand Valley has only grown stronger since graduating.

“Grand Valley has been awesome at answering the call for GRPS students,” Neal said. “We get the majority of our teachers through Grand Valley, plus many students complete their student teaching within the district. There’s hardly a program or department in our district that isn’t connected to Grand Valley somehow.

“Also, President Haas has become a thought partner for me. He regularly helps me think through issues and offers his opinions and resources when possible.”

Neal was named a Giant Among Giants in 2016 for her work with the city’s school district. The award is given by Grand Rapids Community College and recognizes the notable contributions of African Americans to the quality of life in Grand Rapids.

“Education is one of the greatest equalizers in the United States, and that’s what we do,” said Neal. “We change lives. We change generations.”

2016-2017 Alumni Awards

The Distinguished Alumni Award, Outstanding Educator Award, Alumni Service Award, and Young Alumni Award are presented annually by the Alumni Association.

Visit to learn more about the current and past award recipients, as well as award criteria to nominate someone.

woman at desk

Eglantina Gjermeni, ’98

Distinguished Alumni Award

Eglantina Gjermeni was named the minister of urban development for the Republic of Albania in 2015.

She had been a member of Albania’s Parliament from 2009-2013, and worked as minister of urban development and tourism from 2013-2015. Gjermeni earned a master’s degree in social work from Grand Valley in 1998 while attending the university as an international student.

She earned a doctoral degree in social work in 2005 from the University of Tirana, Albania, and continues to lecture there in the Department of Social Work. A dedicated social researcher, Gjermeni is the author and co-author of numerous articles, studies, and publications addressing social issues and women empowerment.

Gjermeni was also successful in heading the Gender Alliance for Development Center for 10 years. The nonprofit organization focuses on gender mainstreaming, economic empowerment, violence against women, and the media.

Outstanding Educator Award

Sheryl Vlietstra, affiliate professor of elementary teacher education, joined Grand Valley’s faculty in 2000. Vlietstra is responsible for guiding teacher candidates during their teacher assisting field experience. Many students have praised her for enhancing their academic and teaching careers.

Vlietstra and other COE colleagues established the Michigan Literacy Project, which provides funds to recent Grand Valley graduates who are teaching in underserved Michigan school districts. She has raised more than $32,000 from organizations such as the Meemic Foundation and Ronald McDonald House Charities to help grow the program.

Vlietstra earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Central Michigan University in 1980 and a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley in 1988.

Prior to teaching at the collegiate level, she taught in Kingsley Area Schools and Coopersville Public Schools from 1981-1994.

headshot woman

Sheryl Vlietstra, ’88

headshot, man

Doug VanderJagt, ’92

Alumni Service Award

Doug VanderJagt has worked for Rockford Public Schools for 14 years, serving as the assistant superintendent of Human Resources for the last three. He began his professional career teaching and coaching for East Grand Rapids Public Schools for 11 years.

VanderJagt earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Grand Valley in 1992.

He received a master’s degree and doctorate from Western Michigan University. He has served as an adjunct professor for Grand Valley since 2013.

VanderJagt gives back to Grand Valley through his involvement with the Swimming & Diving Alumni Chapter, College of Education Alumni Association and Future Alumni Association, and continuous financial support of the university.

graduate with President Haas

Cory Jackson, ’12

Young Alumni Award

Cory Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in public and nonprofit administration in 2012.

In 2015, Jackson was named the nutrition and wellness director for the YMCA of Western North Carolina in Asheville. He started his career with the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, then served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Lowcountry Food Bank, in Charleston, South Carolina.

In his current role, Jackson manages a nutrition team and oversees a budget that is funded by federal funds and grants from private foundations. He earned a $160,000 grant from the Biltmore Estate to expand the YMCA’s mobile nutrition fleet. The program now includes a food pantry and three mobile units.

Jackson also coordinated the launch of the YMCA’s Healthy Living Mobile Kitchen, the country’s first all-in-one mobile nutrition education vehicle.

Alumni events and activities

group standing

African American And [email protected] Panel Discussion 1/24/17


Upcoming events

D.C. Alumni Reception: June 8

Orlando Alumni Reception: June 11

Tampa Alumni Reception: June 14

Meijer Honors College Reunion: June 16-17

Football Alumni Golf Outing Weekend: June 23-24

Class Of 1967 50 Year Reunion: June 23-24

All Alumni Golf Outing: July 15

GVSU Night At Comerica Park: July 26

Freshmen Move-In: August 21

Homecoming 2017: October 28

GradFest: November 29-30

For additional information, visit Events are subject to change.

three women at a table

College of Education Cover Letter/Resume Roundtable, 2/9/17

people in ugly holiday sweaters

Metro Detroit Alumni Club Ugly Sweater Party, 12/13/16

two woman at table

Alumni Volunteer at GradFest, 11/30/16

group of people laughing

Laker Connections, Giving Tuesday, 11/29/16

two woman at high table

Nashville Alumni Reception, 1/8/17

three people, man, 2 women

Traverse City Club: Networking Night at the Parlor, 1/3/17

men, women in track clothes

Mike Lints Alumni Track Meet, 1/26/17

Louie, Santa and family

Holiday Brunch with Santa and Louie, 12/17/16

Laker Updates

These Lakers are staying connected by using the Laker Landings website, Alumni can share updates of the following types: Anniversary, Award/Recognition, Birth/Adoption, Community Involvement, Career Update, Military Service, and Wedding. Share your Laker Landing today!


wedding photo, husband and wife

JoAnne Delamar, '14

Austin and I had a small wedding in downtown Grand Rapids on August 13, 2016. We met in Shanghai while studying abroad through Padnos International Center in 2010 and 2011. After earning our degrees, we moved to Lansing for our jobs and have been living here since. We will always be Lakers for a lifetime!


Paul Brake, '85

I am pleased to announce that I have been selected to serve as the next city manager for the City of Morgantown, West Virginia. Morgantown is the home of West Virginia University with an enrollment of more than 30,000 students, and the Mountaineers are part of the NCAA Big 12 Conference. The population of year-round residents is about the same size. The community also serves as a regional medical center.

Jillian Guenthardt, '11

Sailor Anne Guenthardt was born on November 12, 2016. She is joyfully welcomed by big sister Cambria (age 8).

girl with baby

In Memoriam

Kevin D. Baldus, B.S., 1977, of Spring Lake, on February 5, 2017.

Joan C. Barley M.S.W., 1994, of Grand Rapids, on December 10, 2016.

James Blok III, B.S., 1974, of Charles Town, West Virginia, on January 11, 2017.

Jerry J. Brower, B.A., 1968, of Spring Lake, on December 2, 2016.

Joan F. Dudley, B.S., B.S., 1987, 1988, of Muskegon, on February 1, 2017.

Gary Karasinski, M.Ed., 1981, of Belmont, on January 5, 2017.

Olive J. Lomasiewicz, M.Ed., 1978, of Grand Haven, on January 16, 2017.

David P. Marlink, B.S., 1978, of Holland, on February 9, 2017.

Jessie L. Price, B.S., 1980, of Grand Rapids, on January 9, 2017.

Dale L. Rigterink, B.S., 1970, of Holland, on January 29, 2017.

Verna S. Sanders, B.S., 1974, of Grand Rapids, on February 4, 2017.

Catherine T. Shaheen, B.S., 1972, of Grand Rapids, on January 28, 2017.

James C. Snyder, B.S., 1974, of Grand Haven, on November 30, 2016.

Susan M. Stout, M.H.S., 1999, of Muskegon, on December 7, 2016.

Carol L. Thomas, B.A., 1972, of Muskegon, on January 1, 2017.

Ray N. Toppen, B.B.A., 1984, of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on February 23, 2017.

Todd M. VandenToorn, M.B.A., 1990, of Wayland, on November 30, 2016.

Jacqueline J. Vansen, B.F.A., 1987, of Stanwood, on January 3, 2017.

Lorie A. Wegener B.A., 1998, of Fruitport, on February 15, 2017.

Page last modified May 19, 2017