Cook Leadership Academy

CLA collage


Cook Leadership Academy Fellows
Where Emerging Leaders Prepare to Build Our Future

Welcome to the Cook Leadership Academy! The Hauenstein Center’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy is a leader development program for 60+ undergraduate and graduate students during the academic year. The program is co-curricular and cross-disciplinary — this year representing 52 different areas of study — and it provides numerous opportunities for student fellows to develop leadership excellence.

Cook Leadership Academy Fellows — our students — are put through a rigorous curriculum of training, assessment, and practice designed to instill leadership excellence. Fellows are admitted to the Cook Leadership Academy for one or more years. Each applicant must meet the criteria of high academic achievement, active involvement in the campus community, dedication to the public good, a passion to lead, and a commitment to personal growth.

Through observation, mentoring, and practice, the fellows learn the behaviors and attitudes of ethical, effective leaders through more than 70 contact hours per fellow per year.
Our fellows gain access to a myriad of opportunities to advance their leadership skills. They…

  • Explore leadership with a cohort of more than 60 diverse, highly motivated student fellows during the academic year.
  • Build mentor relationships with community leaders from business, higher education, nonprofit, and government organizations.
  • Learn from and interact with accomplished local leaders through our Wheelhouse Talks speaker series.
  • Reflect on their own qualities as an authentic leader based on Strengths Finder, DiSC, Reflected Best Self, Emotional Intelligence, or mindfulness workshops.
  • Engage in valuable public speaking training in our Leader Lab as well as through Jennifer Maxson & Associates.
  • Deepen their understanding in our “Grounded Leadership” coaching with Dr. Dev Butler from Thinc, Inc.
  • Pursue intensive leadership development through service learning projects, Washington Campus Week, and other high-impact initiatives.
  • Attend hallmark events through the Hauenstein Center and meet nationally recognized speakers. Our fellows have been face-to-face with four U.S. presidents, one U.S. Supreme Court Justice, two vice presidents, six first ladies, five secretaries of state, seven state governors, numerous business and nonprofit executives, multiple Pulitzer Prize winning writers, the world’s most decorated academic, a Grammy Award winner, and a national championship basketball coach.
  • Network and participate in vibrant downtown Grand Rapids through partnerships with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential FoundationLibrary, and Museum; the Economics Club of Grand Rapids; the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan; the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce; and our accomplished alumni.

Apply To the Cook Leadership Academy here.

Click here if you would like to learn more about the Cook Leadership Academy, or please contact Chadd Dowding at or (616) 331-7087.


Leadership Fellows in the 2017-18 Cook Leadership Academy

Doug Ayers – Nursing

Douglas J. Ayers, was born and raised in Saline, MI. He comes from a family of 6, where he is the second eldest brother of four boys. He is a Mexican American studying Nursing at Grand Valley State University. He is actively involved in the Hispanic community on campus, through being a part of the very first Laker Familia 2014 cohort, followed by 3 years of Laker Familia E-Board. His first two years at Grand Valley, Doug became a student athlete by walking on the coed cheerleading team. In 2016 the team achieved the universities first national title in competitive cheer. Doug is also part of KCONs Student Nurses Association as a BTN committee member, where he goes out to elementary schools and educates children about the human body. As Doug continues his journey towards a BSN, he plans to gain work experience for a couple of years, then return back to school for a doctorate in nurse practitioner (DNP) with a focus on community health. He has a dream of being able to go out in the community and provide care for patients in the comfort of their own home as a means of primary prevention, before diseases occur. As a Hispanic male nurse Doug wants to not only advocate for the Hispanic population, but people of color as a whole.

Daniel Anya – Biomedical Sciences

From Lagos, Nigeria, Daniel is a senior majoring in Biomedical Science with a minor in Mathematics. He is also a Resident Assistant and a study abroad Peer Adviser at the Padnos International Center. Daniel is passionate about evidence-based /data-driven decision making. He believes that we should put more faith in data than in our gut feeling as intuition is often misleading. Daniel is an avid reader and buys more books than he could ever read. Passionate about all things relating to soccer, he believes that a complete liberal arts education can be obtained from watching the beautiful game. As a CLA fellow, he is excited to learn and grow into a competent leader.

Sara Barlow – Biochemistry

Sara is a senior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University pursuing a degree in biochemistry. Originally from Pennsylvania, she moved to four different states before settling down in Livonia, Michigan to finish her high school career in 2014 at Livonia Stevenson High School. Sara has remained an avid equestrian throughout her journey and continues to balance horseback riding with her undergraduate studies. Alongside her academics, she investigates antibiotic resistance in Dr. Brad Wallar’s laboratory and tutors her peers in the Science Success Center on Grand Valley’s campus. Sara aspires to attend medical school in the fall of 2018 to become a pediatric oncologist and has already begun to immerse herself into the oncology community by volunteering with the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and Camp Casey. She is eager to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Cook Leadership Academy to cultivate skills and relationships that will help shape her as a future patient advocate and physician.

Madison Barnes – Political Science and Advertising/Public Relations

Madison Barnes is a junior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, pursuing a double major in political science and advertising/public relations, with a PR emphasis. A native of Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate of Olentangy High School, she is the daughter of two public school teachers, Jody and Alan, and the older sister to Tyler. Madison has been playing lacrosse since she was eight years old and is a member of the varsity lacrosse team at GVSU. Outside of lacrosse, she involved in Grand Valley’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, where she serves as a representative for the lacrosse team, PRSSA, and the GVSU College Democrats. Madison also works as the Digital Media Assistant for the Hauenstein Center. She was formerly a Mawby Undergraduate fellow, for which she researched the role of nonprofit organizations in disaster relief situations in New Orleans, Detroit, and Flint. She was also one of four students in the advertising and public relations program selected to represent the university at The Challenge for Emerging Leaders workshop in Chicago, sponsored by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s degree in political communication and hopes to work as a political consultant or for a public affairs firm someday. In her free time, she enjoys watching the sports teams from her beloved home state of Ohio, reading, learning, listening to music and political podcasts, and expressing her creativity through writing and design.

Richa Bhurtel – Masters of Business 
Richa Bhurtel has been pursuing her MBA at GVSU since Fall 2015. Born and raised in the beautiful South Asian country Nepal, Richa loves exploring new opportunities and meeting new people. Her family is scattered through Nepal, US, New Zealand and Canada. She completed her undergraduate in Business Administration from University of Pune, India in 2013, where she was also the president for the Nepalese Student Association-Pune. She worked for two years as an adviser before deciding to pursue her Masters. She is currently working as a Graduate Assistant at the Dean’s office at Seidman College of Business. She is also the communications officer for the Graduate Student Association at GVSU for 2016-17. Through her MBA program, she hopes to enhance her professional attributes for a strong career in the field of business and management. Apart from that, Richa loves learning about new cultures and sharing her experiences of living in three different countries. She is excited to be a part of CLA and hopes to make the best of this opportunity.

Jakob Bigard – Political Science

Jakob is a fourth year student who is set to graduate at the end of this academic year, when he does he will be the first in his family to receive a college degree. He will receive a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and minor in Anthropology. Though Jakob’s post-graduate plans are not set he hopes to work improving the local community. Jakob grew up in Mount Pleasant Michigan where he attended Mount Pleasant Public Schools. Throughout his high school years he was actively involved in many student organizations, he was president of his class all four years, in addition to being an e-board member in his Business Professionals of America chapter, Key Club, and the Rotary Club.
Upon his arrival to Grand Valley in the fall of 2014 Jakob took time to adjust to the college climate. At the end of his sophomore year he decided to run for Student Senate, he now sits as the Chair of the External Relations Committee. It was the end of Jakob’s junior year when he decided to apply to the Cook Leadership Academy. He looks forward to meeting members of the Grand Rapids community through Hauenstein Center events such as the Wheelhouse Talks and Common Ground Initiatives.
Jakob hopes to someday open his own business in addition to working in public policy and helping strengthen the local community. In his free time Jakob enjoys thrifting, exploring nature, and spending time with family and friends.

Angel Bista – International Relations

Angel Bista is a second-year student at Grand Valley, enrolled in the Frederik Meijer Honors College. Angel is pursuing a degree in International Relations with a minor in Writing. She aspires to travel the world with her degree, and hopes to work for the U.N in the future, engaging in global diplomacy. She is currently fluent in three languages, while pursuing the study of Japanese and Arabic during her undergraduate years. Her current plans are to study abroad in Japan this coming spring, where she can work on her Japanese and interact with her peers from across the globe. When she’s not busy dreaming about all the countries she’d love to visit, Angel spends her time reading, cooking, watching foreign language films, and volunteering at the YWCA’s women’s shelter. She is thrilled to be a part of the Cook Leadership Academy, where she hopes to develop her professional and leadership skills, and come away with meaningful relationships with her mentors and fellow students.

Selena Brown – Special Education and Elementary Education

Selena is a third-year student at Grand Valley in the Frederick Meijer Honors College. She is a double major in Special Education with an emphasis in Cognitive Impairments and Emotional Impairments as well as a major in Elementary Education with a minor in Psychology. She is originally from the East Side of Michigan from a small town named Manchester. At Grand Valley, Selena serves as the Vice-President of the Council for Exceptional Children, a Frederick Meijer Honors College Student Mentor, and as a member of Kappa Delta Pi. With her degree, Selena hopes to serve as a teacher for adults with intellectual disabilities in a post high-school transitions program where she would facilitate learning of adaptive behaviors skills in order to transition individuals into independent adulthood. She is extremely passionate about the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and hopes to one day open a business that employs individuals with disabilities in order to close the gap of unemployment within this population

Douglas Chambers III – Nursing and Spanish

Douglas Chambers III is a fourth-year student at Grand Valley studying Nursing and Spanish. He is a passionate, energetic, caring individual who is always willing to speak up, listen, or help out. He values open mindedness and enjoys settings where people can enjoy the freedom of discussion. Douglas was a Resident Assistant for 3 years in the International House and South Apartments on the GVSU campus. He also is the Student Supervisor for the Grand Valley Central Housing Office. He is from Clinton Township, Michigan and his family includes his parents, brother, and sister. His favorite activities include learning languages, studying medicine, painting and drawing, going on random adventures, cooking, and thinking of ways to improve the world. Some of his interests include plants and nature (He always has a garden in his room), meditation and mindfulness, sustainability and environmental issues, world news, and healthy living/eating. He aspires to become a D.O. and travel the world, helping out those who cannot receive medical treatment. After that, he hopes to settle in his favorite country and build a community of like minded individuals dedicated to saving the earth, living a healthy life, and helping others around them.

Micaela Cole – Political Science
Micaela is a senior at Grand Valley State University and a third-year fellow in the Cook Leadership Academy. She is a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, majoring in Political Science and dual-minoring in Spanish and International Business. Micaela is a strong advocate for international education; during her sophomore year, she spent 10 months studying abroad in Ireland as a Barbara H. Padnos International Scholar. Currently, she is studying abroad again in Oaxaca, Mexico. At Grand Valley, Micaela helped other students study abroad as a peer adviser in Grand Valley’s Padnos International Center. She was also a Resident Assistant for the Niemeyer Living and Learning Community. After she finishes her semester in Oaxaca, Micaela will wrap up her senior year with an academic internship in D.C. through The Washington Center. Micaela’s passions include good books, international travel, Scandinavian interior design, and talking about the US Constitution. She is excited to continue to foster her leadership skills and meaningfully engage with other students and community members through the Cook Leadership Academy

Brody Cragg – Economics

Brody Cragg is from Oakley, Michigan. He will be finishing his degree in economics and environmental studies in April and hopes to jump into the working world right after. His plan is to work in data analytics for a tech firm on the west coast, hopefully somewhere in the Portland metro area. He currently works in sustainability analytics at Steelcase. His pastimes include running, skateboarding, and concert-going. Besides his work at Steelcase and school, Brody is a member of the Grand Rapids Economics Advisory Club and is the Economics Department tutor. He has studied abroad in four countries: Norway, Costa Rica, Sweden, and The Netherlands. Brody loves language and linguistics and has also garnered an interest in coding.

Sarah Cullip – Fulbright Scholar

Sarah Cullip grew up in Michigan’s small Upper Peninsula town of St. Ignace, where she ran cross country, track and played basketball – all things she would go on to do during her time at Grand Valley as well. Outside of the team(s), Sarah was a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College and was actively involved in Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Athletes Who Care, and German Club. During her senior year, Sarah had the opportunity to teach English to a recently resettled refugee family in Grand Rapids, where she found her passion and innovatively integrated the use of technology in teaching ESL. This innovation led to an invitation to co-present with Professor Laura Vander Broek at the Educational Collaborative for International Schools’ English as a Second Language and Mother Tongue Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 2017. She subsequently presented at the 5th annual National Geographic | Michigan State University Learning Symposium in East Lansing, the Civic Engagement Showcase in Grand Rapids, and at the Midwest Campus Compact Conference in Chicago. In her final semester, Sarah pursued a research internship at Samaritas, a local refugee resettlement agency, where she conducted her Honors Senior Project on the processes and policies surrounding refugee resettlement and integration into education. Sarah was awarded the Outstanding Student Award in English and German at the Student Awards Convocation, as well as the Gilbert & Patricia Davis English Merit Scholarship. Sarah graduated from GVSU in April 2017 with her degree in English and German Secondary Education. Over the summer, Sarah held a curriculum design internship position at The Refugee Education Center in Kentwood, while co-teaching summer school in Grand Rapids Public Schools. In August 2017, she moved to Nuremberg, Germany to complete a year-long Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship, where she hopes to get an internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and continue her work teaching refugees both English and German.

Megan Damico – Biomedical Sciences

Megan Damico is a fourth-year student studying biomedical sciences and microbiology with a minor in Spanish. After graduation, Megan plans to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology and environmental sciences, to further her research on the honeybee gut microbiota and honeybee pathogens. At Grand Valley, she conducts research with Dr. Anthony Nieuwkoop and the late Dr. Steven Hecht to develop a phage therapy model for the honeybee pathogen, Paenibacillus larvae. Megan cultivated her love for science this summer after she attended the Summer Undergraduate Program for Experiential Research at the University of Texas at Austin. There, she worked in the lab of Nancy Moran where she studied the honeybee gut microbiota, and specifically, Lactobacillus Firm-4 and Firm-5 to investigate the bacteria’s potential use as a probiotic treatment for honeybees. Ultimately, she hopes to continue studying evolutionary microbiology and to one day become a professor to help grow the number of women studying in the STEM fields. With her love for mentoring students, Megan stays active as the president of the GVSU Beekeepers, a microbiology lab assistant, and a third-year writing consultant. She loves working with students to help grow their passions in life, and to inspire them to do great research in their respective fields. When Megan is not working in the lab or tending to her bees, she can be found volunteering at the GVSU Sustainable Agriculture Project, riding her bike, or in her hammock reading a good book. She is honored to be a returning fellow in the Cook Leadership Academy and looks forward to making new connections and continue interacting with the Grand Rapids community.

Christa Fernando – Biomedical Sciences

Christa Fernando was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan by an adventurous and rather reflective family. The many ethical, spiritual, and political conversations her family has had, as well as a few highly-impactful international trips, have helped shape her perspective on the world. It is these experiences that have also influenced her perspective on effective leadership as a fundamentally humble role of service. Her interactions with diverse people groups over the years have inspired her to pursue a career in healthcare. She is currently a sophomore with a BMS major in the Meijer Honors College and hopes to attain a career that will allow her to practice abroad afterwards to see the world and show love to its inhabitants.

Brandon Fitzgerald





Melina Frantzeskakis – Cell and Molecular Biology

Melina is currently in her third year at Grand Valley State University, majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology and minoring in Writing. She aspires to enter an M.D.-Ph.D. program after completing her undergraduate degree, in-order to become a gastroenterologist that does research on gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Melina is hoping to use her degree to become an advocate for patients facing these autoimmune diseases. She grew up in Canton Michigan, but her family is from Montreal, Canada and Crete, Greece. Melina is currently working at the Writing center on campus as a writing consultant and as an undergraduate researcher in Professor Taylor’s laboratory. Her research focuses on a transcription factor and its potential to provide insight on a possible clinical treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Melina is also the president of the pre-M.D.-Ph.D. club at GVSU, where her goal is to empower students to seek out research opportunities and aid them in preparation for their professional career. She is also very passionate about: women’s rights, creating accepting environments that facilitate personal growth, and supporting students with learning disabilities due to my personal experience since she lives with one herself. Melina believes that it is vital to encourage others to take opportunities, and aim to accomplish more than what they feel is possible. In addition, Melina also enjoy cooking, baking, drawing, reading poetry, coffee, and kayaking.

Andy Freiman – Cell and Molecular Biology

Andy is a junior at Grand Valley majoring in Cell & Molecular Biology with a minor in Computer Science. He is originally from Troy, Michigan and attending Troy Athens High School. Andy is involved with multiple organizations on campus including the pre-MD/PhD club, GVSU Beekeepers, and Colleges Against Cancer, where he served as the Education & Advocacy committee chair for 2 years and is currently the Service & Survivorship committee chair. Andy is also a student ambassador for the admissions department.

A major component of his undergraduate experience has been his focus on scientific research. For the past two summers, Andy was selected for the Wayne State University Center for Molecular Medicine & Genetics’ Summer Undergraduate Research Program where he studied human epigenomic variants. In the fall of his sophomore year, a research paper Andy contributed to was published in Cell Biology. At Grand Valley, Andy works with Dr. Margaret Dietrich of the Cell & Molecular Biology department studying a mutant strain of a moss species. Andy was awarded the P. Douglas Kindschi Undergraduate Research Fellowship for his continued work this fall. Andy’s goal, after many years of school, is to join the field of forensic pathology.

Amber Gerrits – Group Social Studies and Education

Amber is a first year fellow in CLA who is very passionate about leadership development, service-learning, inclusion, and education. She is a senior at Grand Valley majoring in Group Social Studies and Education with minors in Elementary Certification and French. She plans on engaging in service and international teaching opportunities post-graduation, and afterwards hopes to become an elementary teacher. Amber plans on pursuing a degree in higher education and student affairs, and wishes to continue working with non-profits and service organizations in her professional career. Amber is active on and off campus particularly through her work in the Office of Student Life with Leadership Development. This is the second year Amber will be facilitating the campus-wide annual “I Am Grand Valley” leadership recognition nomination process and reception. In her time in the OSL, Amber has also been involved in planning, promoting, and executing Laker Leadership programs such as StrengthQuest Series and First Year Leadership Experience. In the OSL, she also works as the Finance Assistant and aids the Student Senate Appropriations Committee in allocating 1.2 million dollars to student organizations. Amber is a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, she serves as Pen Pal chair for the Council for Exceptional Children, is a graduate from LeaderShape, is the financial officer for Aspiring Student Affairs Professionals, and is an inducted member in Omicron Delta Kappa, a national leadership fraternity. Amber is also involved as a PALs Student Mentor and has mentored two young girls in Grand Rapids for the past 3 years. This year, Amber is also serving as Executive Vice President for Alternative Breaks, in which she will train, empower, and prepare 44 site leaders to lead and facilitate service-learning trips across the country. Through this service organization, Amber has been able to travel to several states and engage in various communities and learn about social and environment topics that concern everything from working with terminally ill children to advocating environmental justice and sustainable practices. In her free time, Amber enjoys listening to music, playing card games with friends, exploring antique shops, and doing community service.

Taylor Gilkey – Nursing and Criminal Justice

Taylor Gilkey is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Nursing and Criminal Justice. She was raised in a small town north of Grand Rapids, and graduated as valedictorian of her graduating class at White Cloud High School in 2013. Her involvement on campus includes being a member of Sigma Lambda Gamma, Grand Valley’s only multicultural sorority, and the Student Nurses Association. Her plans for the future include attending graduate school to pursue Forensic Nursing and to one day utilize her skills to support international communities abroad.

Jillian Green – Cell and Molecular Biology

Jillian Green is in year four of five total years as an undergraduate at Grand Valley. She is a Cell and Molecular Biology major with a minor in Spanish. Jillian grew up in Macomb County, Michigan and spent the majority of her summers on Lake Saint Clair. She gained her love of science through watching documentaries and from her high school biology class. Graduating as salutatorian from her high school, Jillian entered the GVSU Frederick Honors College and strives for academic excellence. She served on the pre- MD/PhD club’s E-board for two years and just recently decided to volunteer more in the Grand Rapids community. Jillian aspires to go to Medical School after finishing her bachelor’s degree. Currently, she works as an Emergency Department Medical Scribe at Spectrum Health and as a tutor at in Grand Valley’s Chemistry Success Center. Overall, Jillian has a passion for making a difference and wants to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Shelly Greendyk – International Relations

Shelly Greendyk is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying International Relations with a minor in Spanish. She was born in Bolivia, but has lived most of her life in Grand Rapids. Shelly is passionate about languages and is studying Arabic in addition to Spanish. This fall, she received the Boren Scholarship to study Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Jordan in Amman, Jordan. Her dream is to secure a position in the US government where she can work to make a difference in the way the Middle East is portrayed. While on campus, Shelly also participates in multiple clubs, including the Arab Culture Club and the Michigan Model Arab League, in which she will serve as Assistant Secretary General in the winter. Shelly works as a security guard at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, and when she is not attending classes, studying, or working, she can be found reading biographies or history books, playing piano, or baking cheesecakes. She is very excited to join the Cook Leadership Academy this year!

Nicole Gustin – Nursing

Nicole is a Conklin native who is in her last year of nursing school and will graduate with her BSN in April of 2018, along with certificates in medical health and humanities and interprofessional development. She graduated in 2016 from Grand Valley with a Bachelors in Biomedical Science and Biology. Throughout her time at GV she has been a part of Laker Marching Band, multiple honors societies and even a member of the Laker Traditions Team, in which she had the opportunity to plan both Sibs N Kids Weekend and Laker Kickoff Party. In 2016 she was both a Venderbush Leadership Award Nominee and Thomas M. Seykora Award for Outstanding Contribution and the Seykora award recipient. In 2017 she was awarded the outstanding nursing student award for the entire state of Michigan. After graduation, Nicole hopes to pursue a nursing career in the NICU working as a bedside nurse. Eventually, she plans on attending graduate school and receiving her Doctorate in Nursing Practitioner, with a pediatric emphasis. In her free time she enjoys boating, hiking and spending time with her friends and family.

Emma Hahs – Cell and Molecular Biology

Emma Hahs is a third-year student at Grand Valley State University, graduating in April with a degree in Cell and Molecular Biology. She is from New Lenox, Illinois, a town located about 45 minutes southwest of Chicago. This dynamic young woman is passionate about leadership, and involved in numerous extracurricular activities at Grand Valley.

One of Emma’s major ambitions is her research. Since October of her freshman year, she has worked in a genetics laboratory studying Parkinson’s Disease, Typhoid Fever, and Cerebral Palsy. Emma was recently a Student Summer Scholar, completing a research project funded by GVSU, with the intended purpose of delving deeper into the cause of Parkinson’s Disease and developing a potential treatment for the disease. Her work will be presented at Neuroscience 2017, an international conference held in Washington D.C., this November.

On the lighter side, Emma is an avid reader, plays piano, and loves spending time at the gym. She is a huge Harry Potter fan, although Nicholas Sparks, Jodi Picoult, and James Patterson can also be found in her litany of preferred authors. In what little free time Emma has, she likes to knit and watch TV dramas on Netflix; one of her favorites is Grey’s Anatomy.

Emma was just recently accepted as a fellow in The Atlantis Project program, and will be studying abroad for four weeks in Barcelona, Spain this coming summer. Emma is also a trained phlebotomist, working for BioLife Plasma Services.

Presently, she hopes to continue her studies and plans to get her M.D and work in obstetrics/gynecology specializing in Maternal and Fetal Medicine.

Lilia Hauenstein – Advertising and Public Relations

Out of a sea of Lakers, Lilia realized that her life needed to “Anchor Up”. She eventually sailed her way into her junior year in Japan…for a whole year. She knew that even though her time at Grand Valley made a positive impact on her life, it led her to make the choice to leave everything behind and try something new: studying abroad in Japan. Throughout her time as a Laker, she was involved in the Color Guard team in the Laker Marching Band for two years, she worked at the University Development office for almost two years, and she is onto her second year being a fellow of the Leadership Academy. After recently changing her major and minor multiple times (who’s counting), she felt confident enough to recently make her way towards an Advertising and Public Relations degree along with a double minor in Japanese and International Business. During her free time, she writes and plays music and vlogs (video blogging) for her new YouTube channel, FreckledAsian. She hopes to soon make her way towards an internship (or two), and eventually a career, that will involve speaking both English and Japanese, traveling to and from Japan, using her creativity, and practicing her leadership skills.


Ty Hendry – Film Video and Geographic Information Systems

Ty Hendry is a third-year student at Grand Valley State University, pursuing a degree in Film Video and a certification in Geographic Information Systems. He freely admits the unorthodox nature of his studies, but believes wholeheartedly in the intersection between the two disciplines. He believes that it all comes down to condensing the complicated into something simple, something readily digestible. Information isn’t anything if there isn’t anybody who can actually understand it. He has helped to coordinate seminars introducing Animation to the students of West Michigan and served on the inaugural E-Board of the GVSU Animation Guild. Through his work for Grand Valley’s Digital Studio, he has played an integral role in generating teaching materials for faculty in emerging mediums. Most recently, he spent July in London, producing a documentary about the condition of the homeless in the United Kingdom.

Steven Henley – Political Science and Economics

Steven Henley comes from the small town of Hopkins, MI. Steven is seeking a degree in Political Science and Economics at Grand Valley. After GV, Steven hopes to further his education by pursuing law school and earning his J.D, and possibly his M.B.A. Steven currently volunteers with the Legal Assistance Center located in the Kent County Courthouse, and he is also the current President of the Law Society at GV. In the past, Steven has served on the Student Senate body for three semesters, in the committees of External Relations and Educational Affairs. Steven is also a part of the Phi Sigma Alpha political science national honors fraternity, and Alpha Sigma Lambda honors and volunteer fraternity. During school and over the summers, Steven has worked as a concrete laborer and on a dairy farm.

Before Grand Valley, Steven earned the Rank of Eagle Scout and participated in 4-H. Steven enjoys sports, cooking, traveling, agriculture, and meeting new people. He is grateful for the opportunity to become a fellow of the Cook Leadership Academy and looks forward to opportunities that enhance his understanding.

Amanda Hoffman – Accounting

Amanda Hoffman is in her third year at Grand Valley, studying accounting. She is planning to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree in August 2018. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree, she will be pursuing a Masters of Business Administration. Her goal is to become a certified public accountant. She is currently a member of Sigma Alpha Lambda National Leadership and Honor Society, where she serves as Financial Officer. Amanda’s passions include spending time with friends and family, and being outdoors. Her love for the outdoors was cultivated through her childhood. She grew up in Harbor Springs, MI, and is very proud to be from a small northern Michigan hometown. Amanda is currently pursuing internship opportunities with various accounting firms in Grand Rapids and Traverse City. She is excited to be a Cook Leadership Academy Fellow and is looking forward to learning new techniques that will enhance her innate leadership skills.

Nicole Horne – Chemistry, Aquatic Biology – UM, BS ’94; GVSU, MS ’16 – David and Carol Van Andel Leadership Fellow
Nicole M. Horne is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Edward & Theresa Horne and hails from Muskegon, Michigan. Upon graduating from Muskegon High School, she matriculated through and graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry (’94). She was then employed at Pfizer Global Research & Development in Ann Arbor & Holland, Michigan as an organic chemist for eight years, performing pharmaceutical synthesis and producing, isolating, and purifying recombinant DNA proteins for disease enquiries. In February 2004, Nicole entered full-time ministry as the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church of Muskegon and served in this capacity for nine years. She is also an adjunct faculty member in the Math and Physical Sciences Department at Muskegon Community College, where she teaches chemistry and math. Nicole is currently a graduate student at GVSU in the Biology Department under the direction of Dr. Bopi Biddanda. Her thesis research is in the area of aquatic microbial ecology, with respect to aquatic biofilms and their role in the inexpensive and family-scale BioSand Biofilter water filtration system, which is used to provide safe drinking water in developing countries, improving human health and well-being.

Haleigh Hunter – Biomedical Science

Haleigh Hunter is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Chemistry. She is in Grand Valley’s pre-medical program and hopes to one day become a physician. On campus, Haleigh is a part of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and the Pre-med Club. Haleigh is also a member of the Honors Mentor Council and participates in undergraduate research. In order to take a break from all things science, Haleigh works at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors as a writing consultant, where she enjoys meeting and collaborating with the many unique and diverse students on Grand Valley’s campus. During her free time, Haleigh loves to run, read, and watch movies, especially those from the 1960’s and 1980’s.

Hannah Hunter – Psychology

Hannah Hunter is a senior studying psychology and applied statistics. She is a part of the Frederik Meijer Honors College as well as the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi at Grand Valley. Hannah works at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing and Michigan Authors as a writing consultant, which gives her the opportunity to connect with the diverse student population that Grand Valley offers by providing help for students and their writing. She also works as a nanny for three children, as well as an editorial assistant for Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. Hannah has been involved as a research assistant for almost two and a half years where she looks at children’s emotion socialization across cultures. This has given her the incredibly unique opportunity to collaborate with experts in psychology from four other countries: Romania, Israel, Turkey, and India. When not working, Hannah loves to read about the universe and stargaze with her telescope. She is passionate about helping children, and in the coming years she hopes to pursue a career working with children in a clinical setting by potentially earning her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

Yah-Sheba Jenkins – Accounting
Yah-Sheba is a senior pursing an accounting degree at the Seidman College of Business. Yah-Sheba is from a little island in the Caribbean known as St. Kitts, where she completed both elementary and high school. She then spent 2 ½ years in the education field as a business and computer teacher at her former high school. In her time spent as a teacher, she developed a passion for helping youth, especially those struggling to find their way.
Leaving St. Kitts, Yah-Sheba moved to New York City where she attended the City University of New York’s Bronx Community College. Upon completion of her Associates degree, she left NYC to start her Bachelor’s degree in accounting at Grand Valley State University. At GVSU, Yah-Sheba is preparing herself for a career as a Certified Public Accountant pursing top accounting firms in the country and participating in leadership and professional development programs. As a member of the GVSU family, she is also employed at the Padnos International Center as a Study Abroad Peer Advisor. There she engages with students to help them plan a study abroad experience.
Yah-Sheba is dedicated to learning more about the structures and elements that make society what it is – both the good and the bad – and the pattern of thinking she needs to develop in order to contribute a valid, thought provoking opinion that can lead to action and change. Alongside excitement for a career in business, she hopes to have a seat at any table fighting for the future of younger generations and against the issues disrupting and destroying society.

Natalie Joaquin – Political Science and Communication Studies
Natalie Joaquin is currently working on a Bachelor’s Degree in both public relations and political science studies. As President of the Omicron Alpha chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. at GVSU, she relishes any opportunity to promote equity and inclusion both within and beyond the classroom. She is an immigration paralegal at Avanti Law Group, PLLC in Wyoming, MI and is a zealous advocate for those who struggle to advocate for themselves. While embracing her Dominican culture, she loves to dance Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata.


Cameron Jones – Political Science and International Relations

Cameron Jones is a second-year student in the Frederick Meijer Honors College where he is pursuing a double major in Political Science and International Relations. Cameron grew up in Trenton, Michigan, and he graduated from Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in 2016. Since he began his time at Grand Valley, Cameron has been making the most of the university’s opportunities for leadership development. In September of 2016, he partnered with some friends to found the Issues Forum, a bi-monthly discussion group that brings students together to talk through the anxiety and the hostility of the current political climate. In February of 2017, Cameron became an executive board member of the university’s Model United Nations team, a natural fit that provided him another avenue to express his love for politics and for communication. In addition to leading those organizations, Cameron currently serves as a member of Grand Valley’s Student Senate. On his academic break the last two summers, he worked internships with two different local elected officials, and he hopes to remain involved in politics after graduation. In his free time, Cameron enjoys playing board games and finding new places to eat. His greatest role model is Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame, who dedicated his life to emotional development and to the genuine care of each person.

Crystal Juarez – Biomedical Sciences 

Crystal Juarez is a senior in her fifth year of college. She is studying biomedical sciences and is pre-med. She received her associate of science degree at Grand Rapids Community College and then transferred to Grand Valley to complete her bachelor’s degree. She enjoys being involved in school and in the community. She has volunteered in numerous community organizations including The Hispanic Center of West Michigan, The Cook Arts Center, and The American Diabetes Association of West Michigan. In school she has been involved with the Latino Student Union, Laker Familia, and organic chemistry tutoring. She also previously volunteered in the Butterworth emergency department for two years, which she loved doing very much. Crystal, being a first generation college student, hopes to help other students who feel that they are struggling, to navigate college because she personally knows the struggle. She has been accepted to Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine for the fall of 2018. She is very excited to start and hopes to help underserved communities both here in Michigan, but also all over the world!

Marisa Kahnt – Liberal Studies, emphasis in Leadership

Marisa Kahnt is a junior, majoring in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Leadership. She is also minoring in Human Rights and Psychology. Marisa is an aspiring Student Affairs Professional, and is hoping to attend Graduate School in Higher Education. Very passionate about leadership development, Marisa serves a Leadership Development Intern in the Office of Student Life where she co-leads the Strengths Leadership Series. Additionally, she has worked as a Student Employee in the Dean of Students Office since her freshman year. A member of Phi Mu Fraternity, Marisa serves as Vice President of Cabinet where she oversees and advises a Cabinet of 27 other leaders. Marisa has always loved mentoring young leaders, as she served as a Rho Gamma (recruitment guide) for Panhellenic Recruitment, Transitions Leader for the past two years, and a Group Facilitator with Michigan Youth Leadership where she has volunteered for the past 4 years. She is excited to see where the Cook Leadership Academy will take her during the remainder of her time at Grand Valley.

Ashley Koltz – Finance and Economics: Real Estate

Ashley is a third year senior of the Frederik Meijer Honors College studying Finance and Economics with an emphasis in Real Estate. Through the Seidman College of Business, Ashley serves as Vice President of the Seidman Investment Portfolio Organization (IPO), Chief Operations Officer of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO), and a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, an honors society recognizing business excellence. Previously, Ashley has served as a mentor for the Honors Mentor Council in addition to being the Mentor Council secretary.

Ashley just completed a summer internship working in Research and Development as a product management intern for Herman Miller and is currently working for Sotheby’s International Realty, a brokerage selling homes on the lakeshore. Ashley is interested in real estate investing, franchising, and the stock market. She loves to spend her free time doing hot yoga, reading finance books, listening to podcasts, and trying new restaurants. Ashley aspires to be a business leader and break into the real estate market soon!

Jhaleel Levi-Alford – Biomedical Sciences

Jhaleel Levi-Alford, more commonly known as Jhay, is a third-year student at Grand Valley State University pursing a B.S. in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in chemistry. Jhay is the son of Letitia Levi and Monroe Alford and grandson of Barbara and Lamar Reevers Jr. and is a native of Kentwood, Michigan. Outside of the classroom Jhay is active in numerous organizations. At Kindred Hospice, Jhay splits time between working in the office and meeting with terminally-ill patients. At Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and The Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, Jhay mentors youth from all backgrounds. Jhay is also a member of the Black Male Scholars at GVSU. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with family and friends, watching and playing sports and reading.  After receiving his undergraduate degree, he plans to attend medical school to receive his M.D. while also pursuing a Master of Business Administration. His goal is to open medical clinics that provide accessible health care to the inner-city youth of Grand Rapids, with the intention of expanding statewide. He is excited to be a part of the Peter C. Cook leadership academy to hone his leadership skills and meet other like-minded future leaders.

Steven Lloyd – Finance

Steven Lloyd is from Macomb, MI, where he attended Chippewa Valley High School. He is currently in his second year at Grand Valley and is majoring in Finance, but contemplating double-majoring or adding a minor that is also a part of the Seidman College of Business. Steven is a member of Grand Valley Men’s Basketball team, a rep for SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee), and involved in the Black Male Scholars Initiative. Though it is only his second year, Steven likes to show his own sense of leadership on and off the court, mostly through his work ethic, drive, and passion. All through his high school years and even now, Steven likes to be one who leads by example. His biggest goal, which is one that he has had since he was little boy, is to make it to the NBA and become a professional basketball player. Outside of sports, he wants to use his finance degree to become a successful CEO, investor, and philanthropist. Lastly, Steven is truly grateful and feel blessed to be a part of such a fantastic program.

Christopher Lopez – Liberal Studies

Christopher “Pez” Lopez, originally from Saginaw, Michigan, is a third-year student pursuing a B.S. in Liberal Studies with an emphasis in social change implementation in healthcare at Grand Valley, and is a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. Pez, a nickname given in 6th grade that proved to be resilient in both his social and professional life, almost dropped out of Grand Valley his first semester due to underestimating what it meant to be a first-generation college student. Determined by his failure, he took on leadership roles in various organizations; most notably, he stepped up to be the first President of Laker Familia, Grand Valley’s first Latina/Hispanic retention program, and Vice President of the Balanced Man Scholarship in his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp). Laker Familia has given him the opportunity to lay the foundation for— including all the mistakes and triumphs that come with the creation of—a student organization, through programming that seeks not only to acclimate Latinas/Hispanic on Grand Valley’s campus but inspire and invest in the greater Latina/Hispanic community. SigEp has given him the opportunity to travel to multiple regional and national level conferences that have developed him both as a leader and a professional. SigEp has afforded him the unique chance to oversee the development of an entire chapter: 72 brothers ranging from 1st years to 6th years, in creating the ideal balanced man. Hoping to leave the GVSU campus better than he arrived, Pez remains active in his organizations, works in the Provost Office of Grand Valley, and serves as a Resident Assistant in Niemeyer Honors Housing. Pez plans to study abroad in Chile for his senior year and aims to create systemic change in the entire healthcare industry.

Beth MacDonald – Statistics

Beth is a fourth-year student in the Frederick Meijer Honors College studying Statistics with minors in Biology and Data Science. After graduation, Beth intends to pursue a Master’s Degree in Biostatistics. Beth is passionate about working with the elderly in her community and has been volunteering in Assisted Living Communities in the Grand Rapids area since she was 16 years old. She loves to reminisce and be a companion for residents who suffer from dementia. When not studying or volunteering, Beth can be found watching hockey, listening to podcasts, kayaking, and reading. Additionally, Beth has recently fostered a love for travel. Two years ago, she had never left the US, but now Beth has backpacked through Ireland, Spain, Italy, France, and Morocco. She is currently planning to study abroad this coming summer at Chiang Mai University in Thailand. As a first-year fellow with the Cook Leadership Academy and a Student Assistant at the Hauenstein Center, Beth looks forward to learning from her peers and developing into an effective and engaged leader in her community.

Samm Martin – Masters of Education, College Student Affairs Leadership emphasis

Samm Martin is in their second year of the College Student Affairs Leadership graduate program at Grand Valley State University. They also are an Assistant Living Center Director with Housing and Residence Life, serving the South Apartments Community. Completing their undergraduate work at GVSU and participating on the ICA Women’s Lacrosse team, Samm likes to say that they are a “Laker for a small child’s lifetime.” Samm will be graduating in April 2018 with an M.Ed.



Paige Matusiak – Behavioral Neuroscience

Paige is a senior at Grand Valley with a major in Behavioral Neuroscience and minors in Applied Statistics and Spanish Language. In July of 2015, Paige’s family moved from her Chicago-suburban hometown of LaGrange, Illinois to settle in downtown Grand Rapids. Because of her aspirations to be a world-traveler and multilingual-speaker, Paige is currently studying Spanish culture and language at the University of Deusto in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao. Combining her immense passions for neuroscience and international travel, Paige had the additional pleasure of attending KIIT University in Bhubaneswar, India in the fall of 2016. It was here where she was able to develop her knowledge of genetics, physics, and molecular biology, while gaining valuable training experience in a PhD research laboratory focused on immunology and genetics. Because of her experiences in India, Paige has decided to focus her career on neurodegenerative research. Ideally, this would include having the ability to perform closer genetic analysis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Back at GVSU, Paige is a proud member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and the philanthropic fraternity of Phi Sigma Sigma. Paige eagerly awaits to return to her fellow members of the Cook Leadership Academy, where she is excited to develop new friendships and integrate her leadership and service skills into building a career in the field of neuroscience.

Aaron McClellan





Noelle Milad – Human Resource Management

Noelle Milad is a senior at Grand Valley, in the Frederik Meijer Honors College. Noelle is studying Human Resource Management, and minoring in Psychology. She is from Plymouth, MI, a wonderful town outside of Ann Arbor. She studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the summer of 2016, interning at a small staffing firm and gaining experience in human resources. Traveling abroad gave her a multi-cultural work experience, while meeting other students from all over the world. This experience sparked an interest to return to Europe to continue to explore the unique cultures and history. This past summer, she worked as an intern in a Human Resources department at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in the Metro-Detroit area, where she will continue working there full-time upon graduation this spring! Noelle is excited for this opportunity to gain experience in HR, participate in leadership development programs, and encourage women to push themselves and their peers for equality in the workplace. Along with Cook Leadership Academy, Noelle was a member of Student Senate for three years, serving on the public relations committee to help bring awareness about Student Senate to the rest of Grand Valley’s students. She also is a member of the Society for Human Resource management, and serving as secretary this year. Working for Grand Valley has also been a huge part of Noelle’s time at Grand Valley. She commits herself to working in the Office of Student Life as a staff assistant, where she spends time planning Commencement, encouraging students to get involved, and doing marketing research for the Office. In free time, Noelle enjoys playing unique card games, cooking savory meals, and indulging in delicious chocolate.

Symphonee Montgomery





Aaron Muscaro – Biomedical Sciences

Aaron Muscaro is a junior at Grand Valley State University pursuing a degree in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Business. Originally from Commerce Township, Michigan, Aaron grew up with his Mom (Rhonda), Dad (David), Sister (Moriah) a GVSU and CLA alumni, and beloved dog, Ryder. In high school, Aaron served as the school’s blood drive chairman as well as a member of the Varsity basketball team and Varsity golf team where he served as a two-year Captain. For the past six summers, Aaron has had the humbling job of being a caddy at Edgewood Country Club in Commerce Township. At Edgewood CC, he quickly earned the rank of Honor Caddy, the highest rank a caddy can achieve. In college, Aaron has continued to pursue his love for golf. As a freshman at GVSU, Aaron helped create the Club Golf Team where he now serves as club’s President. Originally starting with only five players, Aaron has grown the club to an astonishing 36-player team this semester. Along with his role as Club Golf President, Aaron has served as a Frederick Meijer Honor’s College Mentor, Transitions Leader for new student orientation, and a volunteer youth basketball coach at the YMCA in downtown Grand Rapids. Currently he is a member of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, a life group Leader through Campus Ministry, and a member of four intramural sports teams. His dream, after his education is complete, is to combine his love for the anatomy of the human body with his highly competitive nature to pursue a career in the field of medical orthopedic sales. Aaron is very excited to build new relationships, network with business professionals, and continue to develop his leadership perspective and skills through the Cook Leadership Academy.

Dan Myers – M.S. Biology

Driven by a fear of roommates’ cats (and a goal of one day getting his PhD), in 2016 Dan left his Northern Michigan abode, and embarked on an adventure with the M.S. Biology program at GVSU’s Annis Water Resources Institute. Here he pursues his spreadsheet-laden passion, using scientific data to solve real-world problems involving our most valuable resource: freshwater.

Among Dan’s other passions, he enjoys engaging with his community and helping others succeed. This year he is Vice President of GVSU’s Graduate Student Association, where he eagerly helps graduate students and clubs develop bright futures. He is also the International Student Concerns Chair for the National Association of Graduate Professional Students Midwest Chapter, and is a volunteer tutor for the Literacy Center of West Michigan, where he teaches an adult student how to read and write.

Dan has a B.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Management and Certificate of Watershed Management from Michigan State, and 4.5 years career experience with the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey, Michigan. He joined Cook Leadership Academy in 2017 because he’s seen other fellows really benefit from the experience and use it to make a positive impact on the world.

Nhu Nguyen  – Biomedical Science

Nhu is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Biomedical Sciences. She was born in a village in South Vietnam and immigrated to the United States in 2008 with her family. As a biomedical sciences major, Nhu’s dream is to become a doctor who travels to disadvantaged areas around the world where medical treatments are limited and needed most. During the summer of 2016, Nhu had the opportunity to study abroad in Ghana, where she lived a preview of her dream. While there, she got the chance to do rotations at four different hospitals where she shadowed physicians and had the opportunity to learn about the Ghanaian health system. Nhu’s eagerness to help enhance people’s knowledge about medicine and enrich the lives of others had led her to do research this past summer at the University of Virginia. Nhu had the chance to conduct research on the effects of sulforaphane, found in broccoli, on the progression of kidney disease in the GSTM1 null allele. Nhu also had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Le and worked with medical students and fellows on patients’ cases. Outside of Cook Leadership Academy (CLA), Nhu enjoys being an active member of the Pre-Med Club and PALS Student Mentors, a chemistry tutor, a Resident Assistant at Laker Village Living Community, a standardized patient for the GV Standardized Patient Program, and a monitor technician at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. As a second year CLA fellow, Nhu is thrilled to further learn and grow by working with the other fellows and the community members this year.

Kole Niemi  – Classics and Biomedical Sciences

Kole Niemi is a senior at Grand Valley State University, and a member of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. He was raised in Garden City MI, and attended Lutheran High School Westland, graduating in 2014. Kole enjoys being active on campus, which shows through his involvement in multiple clubs and Greek life. As a brother of Alpha Tau Omega Kole has served as health and safety officer, social service chairman, president, and philanthropy chairman, organizing and participating in their 160 mile walk from campus to Traverse City, which raised over $42,000 for the National MS Society, and now over $170,000 in total. You can find him on stage with ATO during Homecoming at his favorite Grand Valley event, lip-sync! He has loved the sense of community that Grand Valley provides, and he wishes to give back to the community in any way possible. He hopes to attend medical school after graduation. He is excited to learn and develop as a lifelong leader in the Cook Leadership Academy.

Tyler Norton – Communication Studies

Tyler Norton is a junior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Communication Studies, and minoring in French. Tyler is from small rural town Brown City, Michigan where he grew up with his mom, older sister Kaitlin, and younger brother John. During his time at Brown City High School, Tyler took on what leadership opportunities he could his junior and senior year, such as helping coordinate the annual Honors Banquet to bring the community together, and being Secretary for the Sanilac County Youth Advisory Council. Now at GVSU, Tyler is currently the Student Manager for the Telephone Outreach Program on campus, and the Vice President of Fundraising for Grand Valley Alternative Breaks. Through his involvement and leadership role for the GV Telephone Outreach Program, Tyler has acquired a passion for philanthropic involvement in non-profit institutions and after graduation wishes to pursue a job related to working with and soliciting donations from community members for non-profit organizations.

Estefany Paniagua-Pardo – Political Science

Estefany Paniagua-Pardo is a senior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University. She will be graduating in April with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. Estefany grew up in Traverse City, Michigan, where she graduated from Traverse City Central High School in 2014. She received her Associate’s Degree in liberal arts and science from Northwestern Michigan College where she graduated with honors as a member of Phi Theta Kappa. At Grand Valley, Estefany is involved in various student organizations. She currently serves as a member of Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society, Laker Familia, and GVSU Rotaract. Estefany has been blessed with many opportunities during her undergraduate career. She spent a semester as an intern at Immigrant Connection and was the recipient of the John T. Batchelder Political Science scholarship and the Loleta Fyan Small and Rural Library Recognition for her outstanding community contributions. Estefany’s career aspirations consist of pursuing her dream of being a community advocate by becoming a civil rights lawyer and protecting individuals against discrimination, their rights to constitutional freedoms, and defending civil rights issues. In addition, during her spare time, Estefany also enjoys running, camping, reading, drinking coffee, and cooking. Estefany is grateful for the many opportunities offered by the Cook Leadership Academy and is excited to foster her leadership skills and engage in the community.

Michael Pratt – Master of Business Administration

Michael is a M.B.A. candidate at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business and is Project Coordinator for the Institute for Foundation and Donor Learning at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. In 2015, he graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.A. in philosophy and a B.S. in psychology. During his time as an undergraduate student, Michael served as officer and treasurer of GVSU’s Undergraduate Philosophy Club and was the recipient of the Excellence-in-a-Discipline Award for philosophy in 2015. Broadly construed, he is fascinated by questions surrounding and connecting business, philosophy, and the social sciences. More specifically, Michael’s primary interests lie at the intersection of business ethics and organizational studies and emerge in discussions on organizational justice, behavioral ethics, ethical leadership, corporate philanthropy and social responsibility, organizational change and development, among others. In the future, he plans pursue a Ph.D. in management or business to contribute and leverage knowledge to promote ethics, equity, and justice in organizations, business, and society.

Kaela Sakorafis – Mathematics and Education

Kaela Sakorafis is a senior at Grand Valley studying Mathematics and Education with a minor Spanish. She is from Rochester, MI and loves to travel—most recently, by spending a summer studying Spanish language and culture in Bilbao, Spain. At Grand Valley, she served as the President of Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, advocating strongly for their national philanthropy which supports school and college readiness across the nation. In addition, she was a founder and president of Students for Education Innovation— an organization that strives to collaborate with schools and local leaders to learn about and support innovative ideas for education reform. She has worked for the Kennedy Family Foundation in Grand Rapids Public Schools in order to promote and assist in improving literacy for at-risk kindergarten and first graders. Currently, she is completing her certification to become a teacher while student teaching in Spanish at a 5th grade classroom at a dual-immersion school in Grand Rapids. She is an advocate for lifelong learning and quality education for all, and is highly passionate about the K-12 education system in the United States. Improving the overall status of education for at-risk youth, including English Language Learners and below poverty line students, is the most prevalent aspiration for her future career.

Ryan Schwaar – Dance, Management, Accounting

Ryan is a junior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley, pursuing a triple major in Dance, Management, and Accounting. During his undergraduate career thus far, he has been blessed to receive opportunities such as the Seidman Study Abroad scholarship, with which he spent a semester in Florence, Italy to engage in the Italian culture, take business and dance classes, intern at a dance studio, learn the Italian language, and travel throughout Europe to places such as Spain (where he got to practice conversation in Spanish), France, UK, and the Czech Republic. He placed first in the Financial Executives International—West Michigan Student Case Competition 2017 and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi and Beta Gamma Sigma honor societies in 2017. Ryan comes from Mundelein, IL, and is very close to his family, especially his siblings, which include three older sisters and younger brother. He is a hard worker, a time-manager, and is passionate about Jesus Christ and his faith. Over the summer, he received full scholarships to summer intensives held by the Dance Academy of Libertyville and Inaside Dance Chicago, where he had the pleasure of learning from seasoned artists and choreographers such as Eddy Ocampo, Robert McKee, Mari Jo Irbe, and Randy Duncan. Ryan hopes to continue dancing after graduation, specifically in Chicago, IL, where he would love to spend time performing, choreographing, and/or teaching, while working concurrently in either a management or accounting role.

Kenya Shakir – Master of Education

Kenya Shakir is a native of Fayetteville, NC and is a current second year graduate student in the College Student Affairs Leadership program at Grand Valley State University. Kenya was a diverse student leader during her undergraduate years, working in housing, student government, volunteerism, and honor societies. Kenya earned a Bachelor’s in Sociology with a minor in Leadership Studies in 2015 from East Carolina University. Afterwards, Kenya started her journey in student affairs by spending a year volunteering with AmeriCorps at North Carolina State University. Kenya’s leadership style is inspired by servant leadership and focuses on authenticity and growth. Kenya is skilled in public speaking and facilitation and program development. Kenya hopes to soon serve as a social justice educator for a higher education institution in addition to serving on the Board of Trustees at her alma mater.

Casey Skinner – Master of Public Administration

Casey is currently a student in Grand Valley’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program and a second-year CLA Fellow. She graduated from Grand Valley and the Frederik Meijer Honors College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology with minors in Psychology and Applied Statistics. Throughout her high school career, Casey had the opportunity to travel the country and the world representing the United States as a member of the USA Gymnastics Power Tumbling National Team–it was from these experiences that she discovered her passions for leadership, traveling, and viewing the world from unfamiliar perspectives. As an undergraduate student at Grand Valley and a research assistant at the Community Research Institute through the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, Casey found her niche in human-centered research and social innovation. She is currently putting these skills to work as an MPA student and as a research consultant for small businesses and non-profits in Grand Rapids with social impact goals. Casey looks forward to another great year with the CLA as she continues on her leadership journey.

Tyler Smith – Accounting and Finance

Tyler Smith is a senior at GVSU’s Seidman College of Business where he will be obtaining his BBA in Accounting and Finance with a minor in Psychology come April 2018. Originally hailing from Canton, Michigan, Tyler spent much of his free-time growing up involved with the Boy Scouts of America which later led to his interest in the Military. This desire to serve manifested itself by way of his enrollment in the ROTC program which will come to fruition after graduation when he will commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve’s Finance Corps. The military has provided Tyler with an exposure to motivational and managerial leadership which he hopes to apply during a career in public or private accounting. In his free time, Tyler enjoys staying active through a wide variety of activities ranging from ultimate frisbee and disc golf to powerlifting and backpacking. In addition to his involvement in Cook Leadership Academy, Tyler is also the Treasurer for the GVSU chapter of Institute of Internal Auditors, a member of the Enterprise Systems Student Union, and the past-president of GVSU’s Honors College Community Council. He is excited to return to the Cook leadership academy this year and continue to foster meaningful relationships with his fellow student leaders.

Levi Stephenson – Accounting

Levi is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying accounting at the Seidman College of Business. Upon graduation, he plans to spend a semester working as an intern for a Big Four accounting firm, after which he will pursue his Master of Science in Accounting at Grand Valley State University. This is his second year as a Cook Leadership Academy Fellow.

Born and raised in the small town of Oxford, Michigan, Levi cherishes the steady comfort of home. However, he has always craved bigger experiences. Thus, Levi takes every opportunity he can to travel, and he even spent a semester working as a tax intern in Atlanta, Georgia. He tries to always push himself out of his comfort zone, telling himself that if it scares him, he should probably do it.

While his major is focused on business, Levi is also interested in politics, law, technology, the environment, sustainability, and architecture. He has a passion for learning, and his education is his most prized possession. Levi hopes to use the skills he has developed through his life, education, and his time with the Cook Leadership Academy to build bridges, facilitate growth, and create positive change. He wants to foster partnerships between the public and private sector, improve social responsibility, and increase civic engagement. Levi believes that we all have the potential to transcend ourselves, and become the leaders the world so desperately needs. He simply wants to change the world, and in the words of Barack Obama, he knows he has no excuses not to.

Kelsey Stevenson – Master of Science in Communications

Kelsey is a second year graduate student in the Master of Science in Communications program at GVSU. She also currently works as the Special Projects Graduate Assistant for The Graduate School at GVSU and as a Communications Assistant for the GVSU Office of Sustainability. Kelsey grew up in Bridgman, Michigan and after graduating in 2011, headed to California to attend The Young Americans College of the Performing Arts. Through The Young Americans, she received training to teach children music and dance on music outreach tours throughout the world while also completing her Associate’s Degree. She completed two outreach tours with the college, one in Japan and one in the Midwestern United States. After completing this program, she moved back to Michigan to attend Grand Valley State University for her Bachelor’s degree. In 2016, Kelsey graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies with a minor in Advertising and Public Relations from GVSU. Kelsey feels as though she has learned a lot about leadership throughout her life experiences and is eager to continue to grow as a leader during her time in the Cook Leadership Academy.

Kahler Sweeney – Political Science and Public & Nonprofit Administration

Kahler is a senior at Grand Valley State University studying Political Science and Public & Nonprofit Administration with an emphasis in Budgeting and Finance. Though born and living original in the UP, he grew up a troll (below the bridge!) in Cheboygan, Michigan. After high school, Kahler joined the Army National Guard, and currently serves as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist. After a stint at North Central Community College, Kahler transferred to GVSU to be closer to his fiancée, who also attends GVSU. His topics of interest include human rights, government management, international relations, national security, and librarianship. Currently, Kahler works for GVSU University Libraries as a Lead Peer Research Consultant, as well as a Research Intern for the City of Grand Rapids. Last year, Kahler had the opportunity to compete in the Model Arab League in Washington, DC and the Midwest Model European Union in Bloomington, Indiana. Over the summer, Kahler worked as a nonprofit management intern with Center for Inquiry-Michigan, a secular advocacy organization. Kahler is currently weighing the dizzying array of graduate options but will likely pursue a MPA or MA in international affairs. Kahler enjoys reading (especially historical biographies!), travelling, attempting language learning, and enjoying everything downtown Grand Rapids has to offer!

Anna Szalay – Public and Nonprofit Administration and International Relations

Anna Szalay is from Dearborn, Michigan and currently living in Germany as she studies abroad. She is in her third year at Grand Valley studying Public and Nonprofit Administration and International Relations with a minor in German. In her free time she loves to garden, spend time outdoors, do yoga, and volunteer. As a freshman she began volunteering through Alternative Breaks, a student organization that serves in communities across the nation. She has held a leadership position in this organization, as well been a part of Grand Valley’s Student Senate. Through these organizations she discovered her passions for service work and supporting student’s voices on campus. After graduation Anna is hoping to join the Peace Corps to continue her passion for volunteering and service. Her current life goal is to work in higher education and help future students reach their full potential inside and outside the classroom. Anna is looking forward to all the opportunities Cook Leadership has to offer and learning from the other fellows.

Rachel Travis – Supply Chain Management and Marketing

Rachel Travis is a senior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Supply Chain Management and Marketing, and pursuing a certification in Intercultural Competence. She is originally from Shepherd, Michigan where she grew up with her Mom, Dad, and younger brother Tyler. During her time in high school Rachel took on a variety of leadership positions, and began to develop her passion for business. Now at GVSU, Rachel holds a variety of leadership positions including the President of the Seidman Supply Chain Management Association, a Site Leader for Alternative Breaks, the Co-Director of Sponsorship for TEDx GVSU, and the student representative on the Seidman College of Business Alumni Association Board. Since January of 2016, Rachel has been a Logistics Procurement intern at Steelcase Inc. in Grand Rapids, MI. When she graduates in April of 2018, Rachel plans to work full-time for a company who reflects her passions, and embraces the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Rachel is very excited to build new relationships, meet new people, and continue developing her leadership skills through the Cook Leadership Academy this year.

Nathan Umoh – Advertising and Public Relations

Nathan is from Wyoming, Michigan and is pursuing a degree in Advertising and Public Relations with a minor in Spanish. He was raised by Nigerian parents in a diverse area of West Michigan, which in part cultivated his love for people of all cultures and backgrounds. Being a leader to him is more than being a superior to others, but it is learning how to listen to others and to do so empathetically.

Around Grand Valley, Nathan has been a member of the student organization: African Student Council since his freshman year and he has served as the public relations officer for the organization during his fourth year at Grand Valley. In his spare time, Nathan likes to find new music, read, and play soccer. Even though he would like to explore the world, one of Nathans long-term goals is to be able to return to West Michigan and use his major and leadership skills to aid small businesses in the community.

Kenny Urena-Gonzalez – Allied Health Science

Originally from Dominican Republic, Kenny’s family came here to pursue higher education for their children. He is currently an Allied Health Science major with an emphasis on pre-PA and a senior with an extra year to go! The first thing Kenny ever wanted to be was a cook, but burning rice made him realize that he had a different calling. After many changes in career ideas, Kenny’s mom inspired him to pursue medicine. With both Kenny and his mom sick for over 6 years now, he wants to be able to give patients a second chance to lift themselves up from their illnesses and get their life back on track. Kenny wants to prevent patients from going through the pain that he and his family have endured. He intends to go into Family Medicine and learn about preventative and natural medicine, which he thinks is the future! Kenny hopes for a future where only a few people will visit the doctor because he doesn’t want anyone to get sick, so he will work to prevent illness. Currently he is working in the Chemistry Department’s Stockroom, as a server at Pizzahut, and as a research assistant in the health policies of food pantries in Kent County. Additionally, Kenny is an intern at The Other Way Ministries, the Vice President for Pre-MD/PhD club and a Spanish Interpreter for Exalta Health. Kenny also enjoys gardening, archery, drawing, and stargazing.

Eric Versluis – Biomedical Sciences

Eric Versluis is a senior pursuing a degree in biomedical sciences and a minor in business with the goal of getting into medical school after his undergraduate studies. Eric graduated from Calvin Christian High School in Grandville, Michigan. During high school he played varsity tennis, and was an active participant in the Boy Scouts of America program, during which he attained the rank of a Life Scout and served as an Assistant Scoutmaster. For nine weeks immediately following his high school graduation, he biked 3,900 miles from Los Angeles to New York City via the United States and Canada with the Sea to Sea organization in order to raise money and awareness for those living in poverty. He was successful in raising nearly $11,000 for the impoverished. During his sophomore and junior years, he regularly volunteered at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital where he helped out in the inpatient therapy gyms. Currently he volunteers at Mel Trotter Ministries. The summer after his junior year, Eric went to do medical mission work in the Brazilian Amazon for 3 months. During this time Eric observed and assisted various doctors and nurses, as well as taught a class in first aid. Eric has a strong passion for helping others, and he plans to spend as much time as he can on medical missions to third world countries lacking medical attention after graduating from medical school.

Carla Villasana-Acosta – International Relations

Carla Villasana-Acosta is a senior at Grand Valley State University with a major International Relations and a Latin American Studies minor. A native from Valencia, Venezuela, she moved to the United States after graduating high school. Carla earned an Associate’s Degree from Grand Rapids Community College before transferring to GVSU, where she was involved with the International Student Organization and the student newspaper. She currently works at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy as a research assistant. After graduating from GVSU, Carla intends to complete a Master’s program and start a career in either research or government. These choices arise as a result of her personal, academic, and professional experiences living in two different countries, as they have inspired her to pursue international education and work that is at the same time related to her two homes: Venezuela and the United States.

Nikhil Watsa – Physics

When Nikhil was four, he thought he would be a pilot. Later, he wanted to be his uncle – the cool one who enjoyed family, friends, and animation. Next came aspirations of architecture, painting, writing, and engineering, leading to the present – where an open field is displayed before him, drawing Nikhil towards many equally alluring directions. It creases Nikhil’s brow to think that he can’t “be it all”, but then he remembers who he is and finds a little clarity. The person who he is – is caring, gentle, and kind. Nikhil could spend the entire day contemplating the future or gazing intently into something as delicate as a cell or as infinite as the stars. He would rather paint through the night than sleep. And his most valuable possessions are his friends and the times when the beauty of the world eclipses everything that seems momentarily relevant.

Today, the world finds Nikhil approaching graduation and a career as a pilot in the Air Force or Navy.  But tomorrow, Nikhil might find the world to be too small and might fly to the horizon to see what’s beyond. He foresees applying to be a NASA astronaut and having his life and work set an example reflecting the best aspects of humanity.

Reading between the lines narrating his journey, Nikhil holds onto a mission of finding and expanding what it means to be human. In that regard, he strives to have integrity and to be good-natured. Nikhil lives by many principles besides those, but his most cherished one will remain the same forever – his thirst for change. Nikhil believes that life is a story; aware that any good story conceals its oceans within its deserts, he waits in passionate anticipation for the adventures on the next page.

Samuel Yocca – International Relations

Born in Brussels, Belgium but raised in Rochester, Michigan, Samuel is a senior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College studying International Relations, with minors in Spanish and French. Throughout his time at GVSU, Samuel has had several leadership roles on campus working with the international student body and with Freshman Orientation. Samuel participated on the Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Trip through the David Project, during his sophomore year, allowing him to connect with other campus leaders across the country. Currently, Samuel is serving as a second-year Resident Assistant in the North C Living Center as well as an intern in the Padnos International Center. In addition to his internship, he has been working with the PIC to create an international student leadership development program with hopes of developing the leadership skills of GVSU’s international student body. He also works on campus in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Academic Advising Center as a student assistant.  All of his experiences working with college students at GVSU, has inspired him to pursue his Master’s Degree in Higher Education following his graduation. In the Cook Leadership Academy, Samuel is looking forward to being pushed outside of his comfort zone and to learn more about himself to become a better leader and educator.

Cook Leadership Mentors

Mentors for the 2017-18 Cook Leadership Academy


David Abbott, Director of Friends & Corporate Relations, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

Fred Antczak, Dean, GVSU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Charles Ash, Partner, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP

Scott Ayotte, Director – Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity & Equity; former Human Resource Specialist for Spectrum Health; member by Executive Appointment to the State of MI Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission

Deb Bailey, GRCC Board of Trustees, Director of Global Relations at Steelcase, Inc.

Claudia Bajema, Director of Graduate Business Programs (Retired), GVSU

Dan Behm, Superintendent, Forest Hills Public Schools

Mary Dailey Brown, CEO/President of SowHope; CLA Alumna

Allie Bush, Director of Government Affairs, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce; CLA Alumna

Dev Butler, Director of Staff Relations & Development, GVSU; Thinc Consulting LLC

Laurie Chesley, Provost, GRCC

Jayne Courts, MD, FACP, Medical Director, Mercy Health Physician Partners GR

Kathy Crosby, President & CEO, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

Tania DeVries, VP of Wealth Management & Investments, Huntington National Bank

Kent Dobson, Pilgrimage Tour Director; former Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church

Tom Doyal, Managing Director, RDV Corp

Brandon Eisentrager, Executive Director, Jandernoa Entrepreneurial Mentoring (JEM)

Paul Farr, MD, Doctor of Gastroenterology (Retired)

Linsey Gleason, Partner, Estate Planning Practice Team, Varnum Law LLP

Justin Gray, Inpatient Nursing Supervisor, Spectrum Health Butterworth; CLA Alumnus

John Green, Executive Chairman, Founders Brewing Co.; GVU Leadership Committee

Valerie Guzman, Associate Director of Student Life, GVSU

Graci Harkema, Account Recruiting Manager – Government Services, TEK Systems

George Heartwell, Former Mayor of Grand Rapids; Community Sustainability Coordinator, GVSU

Elissa Hillary, Executive Director, Local First

Dan Hurwitz, Assistant VP for Community Giving, GVSU University Development

Jack Iott, Senior Investment Analyst at RDV Corporation; CLA Alumnus

Melinda Johnson, OB/GYN; Division Chief, Women’s Health Department, Spectrum Health

Greg Kaufman, CEO, Amstore

Jennifer Maxson, Practice Group Leader, Varnum Consulting

Rob McCarty, Managing Partner, The Image Shoppe

Brianne McKee, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Kent County

Noreen Myers, Attorney of Employment Law; former GVSU Board of Trustees Member

Jordan O’Neil, Director of Business Development and Marketing, Griffin Properties; Founder of Failure:Lab; CLA Alumnus

Diana Pace, Retired Director, GVSU Counseling Center; former Associate Dean of Students, GVSU

Peter Perez, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Dept of Commerce- International Trade Administration; Chairman, Carter Products

Matt Rampe, Business Valuation Professional, Senior Manager, Beene Garter

Kristin Revere, Vice President, Vanguard Public Affairs

Suzanne Richards, Affiliate Professor Educational Leadership, GVSU College of Education

Larry Robson, MD, Doctor of Vascular Surgery

Megan Rogers, Child Life Specialist, Student Program Coordinator, Metro Health Hospital

Megan Sall, Current GVSU Board of Trustees; Project Manager at CQL; former Business Development Manager at The Right Place; CLA Alumna

Dave Smith, Director of Benefits and Wellness, GVSU Human Resources

Lauren Smith, Producer/On-Air Talent, 104.5 SNX

Hilary Snell, Attorney (of Counsel), Varnum LLC, Estate Planning; Chair, Hauenstein Center Advisory Cabinet

Brian Steketee, CEO/Founder, Modustri

Jane Toot, Professor of Physical Therapy, GVSU Honors College

Selma Tucker, Communications Director, Public Sector Consultants; CLA Alumnus

Kyle Van Strien, Co-Owner, Distiller at Long Road Distillers

Kathleen Vogelsang, Chief Investment Officer, Van Andel Institute

John Wardrop, Chair, TEC 53; former President, Sparks Belting Company; former Board Chair, Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids

Heidi Weesies, Communications Professor, Davenport University; DiSC, Leadership, and Mentoring Consultant

Michael Youngblood, Principle Account Manager, Gas Major Accounts, DTE Energy

Page last modified April 6, 2018