New Hauenstein Center director has strong ties to organization
Following a national search, Megan Rydecki was selected as the Hauenstein Center’s executive director on December 13. Rydecki began her new position on January 9 and brings extensive experience in leadership roles across several industries. She also has first-hand knowledge of the Hauenstein Center, having participated as a Cook Leadership Academy Fellow for several years as an undergraduate and graduate student.
Q: What was it about the position as executive director that appealed to you?
A: The thing about the Hauenstein Center that appealed to me is primarily its mission. I've worked in a lot of industries and held a lot of different positions — local government, economic development, international development, IT and software development — you can see a theme. It's always been development of some sort, and then community relations in the energy industry. Throughout all of it, it is very apparent to me that in order for the world to continue to be a successful, thriving place and in order for humans to be successful and thrive we need to not only teach them how to be good leaders but also raise up generations of leaders who can be addressing the most pressing needs of the world and figure out how to find solutions. As I've gone through my career, the need for ethical leadership is real and what better thing or what better way to contribute to solving that problem than coming to be the director of the Hauenstein Center.
Q: It sounds like a lot of puzzle pieces involved on a global scale, so how does Hauenstein fit within that jigsaw?
A: We have the opportunity to reach a lot of students who are on their way, many of whom are already leaders in their own right and others who are on their journey of becoming a leader and exploring what leadership means to them. As they pass through our campus, we have the opportunity to feed into that and to provide training and to provide vision for what that might look like.
While I might love to somehow influence, raising millions, if not billions of leaders around the world, Grand Valley is a really great place to start, and we already know that we have an exceptional university with staff and faculty who care so much about student success. This is a great jumping off point for us to be talking to our students about leadership and the impact they can have in the world.
Q: How much did your time at Grand Valley as a Cook Leadership Academy Fellow influence your decision?
A: So much! I was part of the second cohort ever that went through the academy. In its early days, we had brown bag lunches in the boardroom, and we'd hear from local leaders. We’d talk about tough issues and we talked about what leadership meant to us. I finished my undergrad and then started my master's simultaneously while I started full time employment, so I was able to stay in the academy while I was also a graduate student. I was probably in the academy for maybe four years. I had a lot of exposure, and it grew rapidly and changed rapidly during that time.
So I think one of the biggest things about the Cook Leadership Academy that prepared me for a life of service and leadership was just having the opportunity to be in the room with other established leaders and to know that in some small way, even though my resume and my career and my accomplishments in no way even began to touch those in the room, in some small way, I still belonged in that room. I knew that I could be capable of doing what they were doing. That's just a lot of my heart for this role as well is that I've been given a lot of opportunity. I've had very few people that have looked at me and told me, ‘No, you can't do that,’ or ‘No, that's not something you should pursue.’
It's really my desire that all students who come to Grand Valley are also empowered to know that they can do whatever it is that they set their hearts and minds to.
Q: What would you like to focus on?
A: I think the central thing is for those who know the Hauenstein Center, they know that there's great programming here. They know that the Cook Leadership Academy provides awesome instruction around developing leadership skills and understanding who you are as a leader. But there are many people who don't know us, and there are many individuals that we have not reached with our programming or the CLA or our different endeavors.
So how do we get more of the Hauenstein Center to the Grand Valley community and strategizing around that I think is an essential theme that I've been hearing about the work that we do. How do we grow the sphere of influence to the benefit of the Grand Valley community?
Q: Obviously you’re familiar with the legacy of Ralph Hauenstein and Peter Cook, so how do you channel their legacies into your current role?
A: It comes down to honor and respect and thinking about how those individuals approach leadership and service to others and figuring out how best to reflect that in my own life from a personal standpoint and through the work that we do at the Hauenstein Center. To what degree can we take the best parts of Ralph and Peter and (former Executive Director Gleaves Whitney) and emulate that in the way that we approach leadership and service? It’s a tall order, but it’s very inspiring.
It's why we do the work that we do because Ralph Hauenstein and Peter C. Cook saw to it and believed that we should be training students and community members to be leaders and to go and display their skills and their greatness and affect the world with it. It’s inspirational and aspirational and kind of hard not to try to live up to those standards.
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