Higher Education and Human Resources

Academy connects mentors with future leaders

Program creates ‘ethical and effective leaders for the 21st century.’

January 8, 2016
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Leadership Academy
Fellows in the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy gathered this summer at Camp Blodgett for a leadership orientation session. Courtesy Travis Wheeler

For nearly a decade, the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy has connected student fellows with members of the local community to provide mentorship as students learn how to become ethical and effective leaders for the 21st century.

The Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy, which is part of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, is a co-curricular and cross-disciplinary leadership development program providing training, assessment and practice opportunities for students to improve their skills.

Chadd Dowding, program manager for the academy, said the program was developed by long-time friends Peter C. Cook and Ralph Hauenstein a few years after the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at GVSU was established.

“In cooperation together, they founded what is now called the Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy at Grand Valley and created an endowment to support it,” said Dowding. “Essentially what the program is intended to do is similar to that guiding mission: to create ethical and effective leaders for the 21st century.”

Each year undergraduate and graduate students from GVSU and the West Michigan region are referred by faculty and staff members to participate in the program based on academic achievement, active involvement in the campus community and a passion to lead.

Nominated students then complete an application and interview process for admission into the 60-member cohort. With a number of rollover students — those who participate in the program for more than one year — there are about 30 new students selected each academic year.

“Most of our student base comes from Grand Valley, but in the past we have had a couple students from Aquinas, and in the future years we are hoping to seek out students from Hope and other nearby institutions,” said Dowding.

Each student fellow enrolled in the leadership academy is required to commit at least 70 hours of participation in four program components such as the Wheelhouse Talks speaker series, and a self-reflection workshop, which this year focuses on exploring concepts of failure through a partnership with Failure:Lab, run by Jordan O’Neal and Austin Dean. The program also features a leader lab where students practice speaking about their experiences, and a mentorship program with local leaders.

“Our goal is to get to one-to-one mentoring, and for the most part we are there already,” said Dowding. “Once students are paired with their mentor, we ask them to meet with their mentor six times over the academic year for at least one hour each time. That is part of the larger 70-hour time commitment they are asked to make.”

The 2015-2016 Cook Leadership Academy mentors represent a wide variety of organizations such as GTSD Group, GVSU, Richard App Gallery, Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, Steelcase Inc., Forest Hills Public Schools, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Community College, Kids’ Food Basket, Huntington National Bank, The Image Shoppe and Spectrum Health, among others.

“The mentorship program in general has been a really resounding success in the last few years,” said Dowding. “Our mentors are a dedicated group of volunteers who give many hours to our university and to our program. Thanks to them, our students are getting, truly, a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Ciciley Moore, programs manager at GRACC, said she learned about the program from a co-worker who not only graduated from the program, but also has participated as a mentor for the last two years.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for me because I have been involved in a lot of different committees, boards and things of that nature, but not in a way to help another personally and professionally grow,” said Moore. “It is a great opportunity to develop that kind of relationship and help somebody else.”

Dowding said students and mentors are paired based on personality characteristics and personal interests after completing a DiSC Assessment and a mentor preferences survey. A DiSC Assessment is similar to the Myers-Briggs test.

“It allows us to pair student fellows with mentors who have similar DiSC profiles, essentially saying they have similar personality characteristics,” Dowding said. “We believe it helps them have a quicker and more amicable relationship with each other because they communicate and respond to things in very similar ways.”

Mentors and fellows take a survey to collect qualitative information, such as community and personal interests, to help during the matching process.

Dowding said the mentorship aspect of the academy has sort of a dual-based benefit: It provides students with a good example of what a current leader is doing and how he or she engages in the community, and also provides a “sounding board” experience.

“Students selected for the program are some of the best at Grand Valley and in West Michigan,” said Dowding. “What we are seeking to do is provide those students with a unique experience to start thinking about the next stages, and those mentors provide a really great sounding board for students in a variety of capacities, whether it is career related or leadership development related.”

Moore said students have the chance “to see outside of their selected major.” Although her mentee is working toward a health sciences degree, Moore said she can relate since she has a science degree, as well, and similar interests such as diversity and inclusion.

“I have the opportunity to relate to her in that way but also share my career path and how I ended where I am,” said Moore. “The students really have an opportunity to challenge themselves to think more deeply about their lives and opportunities for personal growth, so I think it is a great program.”

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