Cook Leadership Academy alumni share experiences with students

Four alumni of the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy shared their professional experiences during a discussion for the current generation of Cook Leadership Academy students at Loosemore Auditorium on Grand Valley’s Pew Campus.

The Cook Leadership Academy — a program within the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies — welcomes undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines, implementing curriculum in problem solving, social responsibility and ethics to instill leadership skills.

Moderated by DeMario Bell, a 2016 graduate of Grand Valley and the academy, the panel included his fellow alumni Danielle Harris (‘11), Carol Reiss (‘14), and Lawrence Williams (‘17). 

The panelists touched on a number of topics offering guidance to the students, but began the September 24 discussion addressing a comment from President Philomena V. Mantella during the academy’s April 2021 graduation ceremony.

Moderator leading discussion
Panelists answers question during roundtable discussion
Audience member asks question during roundtable discussion.
Alumni from the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy led a discussion on their professional experiences, sharing with current students in the program.

Broadcast via Zoom, Mantella urged for a more collaborative effort to work at the intersection of different fields “where knowledge is created.”

Each graduate offered thoughts on how they’ve incorporated working at those intersections across different fields into their careers. 

Harris, founder of DRHarris Consulting, said the concept was about becoming more self-aware of your strengths and understanding how they align and fit across fields.

“Leading at the intersection means you’re three-dimensional, and knowing who you are,” said Harris. 

Reiss said her interpretation of Mantella’s comment meant focusing more on listening and understanding others’ experiences and expertise.

“It’s at a point of being able to have honest conversations about who I am as a person, and listening to what other people have to say,” said Reiss. 

“Growth is continuous. Even in midlife, it’s amazing how much I’m learning about this. You have to be willing to listen.”

The conversation also evolved into the importance of mental health in a professional setting and developing empathy as a leader. Reiss, an occupational therapist at Spectrum Health, shared an example from her professional life exemplifying the topic.

“Spectrum had an initiative for 2021 about belonging,” said Reiss. “They wanted people to feel like they belonged.

“You come to realize how nice it is. You find out things about people you didn’t know. Now I’ve come to appreciate this sharing of emotions. It brings us together as a team.”

Williams, a city planning commissioner for Grand Rapids and CEO of CORE, LLC., said his biggest learning experience was a result of a project focused on the wrong objective. 

“The biggest failure I’ve learned from, it was all about the work and not about the people,” he said.

And in her closing remarks, Harris encouraged the students to embrace continuous learning, bettering themselves through their years ahead. 

“No one’s perfect,” said Harris. “It’s an ongoing lifelong process. You can always work on being better. Get outside of your comfort zone, and do it anyway.”