GVSU professor recognized for her leadership, inspiration with Saltmarsh Award

GVL / Courtesy - GVNow
Danielle Lake

GVL / Courtesy – GVNow Danielle Lake

Tylee Bush

A Grand Valley State University professor has been awarded the John Saltmarsh Award for Emerging Leaders in Civic Engagement by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project.

GVSU Professor Danielle Lake is an assistant professor in the liberal studies department in Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies known for her devotion to informing and provoking her students on real problems and ethical dilemmas.

Each year, the Saltmarsh Award is given to an emerging leader in the civic engagement field. The chosen recipient is recognized with a commemoration to acknowledge the accomplishment, as well as a check for $500.

Jessica Jennrich, director of the Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity at GVSU, nominated Lake for the award.

“This award for civic engagement is the perfect fit for the amazing work Dr. Lake does,” Jennrich said. “It is a pleasant struggle to keep up with her ideas; her enthusiasm; and, perhaps most pertinent to this award, her uncanny skill to link project to civic projects with tangible outcomes for both students and our community.”

Jennrich saw that Lake far exceeded the qualifications for the award, including advancing the civic learning of undergraduates, demonstrating collaborative leadership and having strong personal characteristics, to name a few.

“Her capacity for strong relationships, her support of others and her ability to cross boundaries make her unique in higher education,” Jennrich said.

Jennrich oversaw the nomination process while many other students, staff and faculty submitted joint nominations.

Dana Eardley, GVSU student and alumna, shared a few words with the committee about her experience as Lake’s student.

“During my time at Grand Valley State University, I had the privilege of teacher-assisting, co-presenting and co-publishing alongside Dr. Lake,” Eardley said. “The level of respect and commitment that Dr. Lake demonstrates toward every individual she encounters truly exemplifies what academia should look like. Dr. Lake has proven to me that academia can in fact be used as a tool to propel social change when approached with intentionality and care.”

Lake was ecstatic to receive this praise from her students and colleagues, and she accepted the Saltmarsh Award with high honors.

“I am by far most honored and humbled by the support of my students, community partners, faculty and staff at GVSU,” Lake said. “I was also blown away to be acknowledged by the American Democracy Project. The words they (have)written on my behalf and their belief in me and the work we have done together will be a source of deep joy, comfort and motivation as I move forward.”

Lake earned her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Michigan State University and her areas of expertise include public philosophy, feminist pragmatism and transdisciplinarity. At GVSU, she teaches courses such as Wicked Problems in Sustainability and Design Thinking to Meet Real-World Needs.

“As a public philosopher, my work seeks to engage with, in and through the public in order to address shared problems,” Lake said.

Lake hopes her students take away more than just a grade from her courses; she hopes each student will take with them a new perspective and a new motivation.

“I want to practice and encourage a more “open-minded advocacy” where we are all willing to speak up and step into our shared challenges but also willing to listen deeply, to admit when we are wrong, to learn from others and try again.”

Lake values her job and how it enables her to pursue her greatest passion every day.

“My passion is for continuous lifelong learning that makes a difference in our world, … to be transformed myself by working with our students and our community, and to have the opportunity to transform others and our institutions so we can better address our shared problems and alleviate injustice.”

When asked about her visions for the future of education, Lake said she “would love to see the structures, processes and culture of higher education continue to shift so they better support collaborative problem-solving that requires we engage across our differences.”

Lake said after receiving the award, she is even more motivated to transform education and catalyze its influence on her students.

“I do have a new determination,” she said.