The Hauenstein Center Staff

The Hauenstein Center is staffed by (from left or right): Emily McKenna-Makela, Cook Leadership Academy Program Coordinator; Abby Sachs, Cook Leadership Academy Program Manager; Allie Goeddeke, former Office Assistant; Kahler Sweeney, Common Ground Initiative Program Manager; Megan Rydecki, Director; Brent Holmes, Associate Director; and Maddy Miller, Media Specialist.

Hauenstein Center staff picture

Photo credits to Emily Zoldaz.

Megan Rydecki

Megan Rydecki


Megan Rydecki joined the Hauenstein Center in January 2023. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and a Masters in Public Administration, both from Grand Valley State University.

Prior to joining the Hauenstein Center, Megan spent time in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, serving at the City of Wyoming, International City/County Management Association, The Right Place, CQL, and most recently, Consumers Energy. Her community involvement is extensive, highlighted by service to Grand Rapids Whitewater, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the Board of Trustees at Grand Valley State University. These experiences have allowed Megan to recognize the leadership potential in everyone, and she is dedicated to empowering the next generation of leaders for the betterment of the world.

In her free time, Megan enjoys traveling with her husband, Noel, playing with her rambunctious dog, Sir Edmund, running with friends and enjoying community.

Contact: [email protected] 

Brent Holmes - head shot

Brent Holmes 

Associate Director

Brent Holmes joined the Hauenstein Center in February 2018. He was named the acting director in September 2020. Prior to joining the Hauenstein Center, he worked as a Student Support Specialist with Gaylord Community Schools.

Brent is a 2007 graduate of Davenport University with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management. He is a U.S. Army veteran with 20+ years of leadership instruction and training, as well as recruitment experience with young adults. Brent is passionate about all the things that Ralph Hauenstein saw were necessary in the presidential studies center – most of all, the development of the leadership, talent, and capacity for service in the rising generation.

In his free time, Brent enjoys spending time with his family, watching college sports, and traveling with his wife, Julie.

Contact:  [email protected] 

Abby Sachs - Head shot

Abby Sachs

Program Manager, Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy
Communication | Positivity | Strategic | Relator | Developer

Abby Sachs joined the Hauenstein Center in May 2021. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from the University of Dayton, and a Master of Education in Higher Education Leadership from Oakland University. She is also a certified True Colors Facilitator.

Abby is passionate about supporting individuals as they develop into independent and empowered community members, with professional experience in both social work and higher education. Her goal in her work with the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy is to provide the best space possible for student learning, reflection, and development.

In her free time, Abby enjoys exploring Michigan's parks and forests (she's currently on a mission to visit every Michigan State Park), learning bird calls, and dancing.

Contact: [email protected] 

Emily Mckenna-Makela Headshot

Emily McKenna-Makela

Program Coordinator, Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy

Emily McKenna-Makela joined the Hauenstein Center in October 2022. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Studies and a Minor in Philosophy from Grand Valley State University, where she also focused her studies on Art Education. 

Previously, Emily worked as a member of the Teaching Artist Faculty and the School & Community Programs Coordinator at Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, MI. She is also a member of the 2019-2020 Michigan Arts & Culture Council (MACC) Rising Leaders Cohort and serves as a MACC Grant Reviewer each year. Based on her previous experiences with student leadership, Emily is passionate about providing similar experiences for students through the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy. She finds joy in communal success, education, and personal growth.

Emily is a practicing artist, working in various mediums but primarily focuses on metalsmithing and printmaking. She also loves spending time on Lake Michigan surfing, taking the occasional backpacking trip, and shooting photo & video with her husband, Jordon. She will also always laugh at (or occasionally tell) a cheesy joke.

Contact: [email protected]

Kahler Sweeney

Kahler Sweeney

Program Manager, Common Ground Initiative 

Kahler Sweeney joined the Hauenstein Center in August 2022. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Administration and a Master of Public Administration from Grand Valley State University.

Previously, Kahler worked as the Main Street Manager for the City of Otsego. Before graduating, he worked as the diversity, equity, and inclusion graduate assistant at the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy, participated in the Hauenstein Center’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy and served in the Michigan Army National Guard. His leadership philosophy is action-oriented, believing that everyone can find ways to engage directly with the issues they care most about.

In his free time, Kahler enjoys working towards his annual reading goal, trying not to crash his drone, volunteering, and visiting cities large and small with his wife, Megan.

Contact: [email protected] 

Maddy - head shot

Maddy Miller

Marketing and Media Specialist 

Maddy Miller joined the Hauenstein Center in June 2022 as the Media Specialist. Maddy earned a bachelor of arts degree in Strategic Communications from Taylor University in 2021.

Maddy previously worked for the Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse at Grand Valley State University as their first-ever graduate assistant. Prior to that, she was intern at Hixon Zuercher Capital Management in Findlay, Ohio. Maddy has done several freelance projects, including designing branding for her brother's handyman business and for her dad's retirement coaching program, as well as freelance podcast engineering and editing for two podcasts.

Outside of work, Maddy loves exercising, playing pickleball or spikeball, mixing worship music at Crossroads Bible Church and hosting SIPS on Saturday for her friends. Her dream is to become a low-key DJ or be really good at improv comedy.

Contact: [email protected] 

Page last modified June 3, 2024