Cook Leadership Academy looks for new candidates


Many CLA fellow candidates find jobs and internships through their mentors. (Courtesy/ Cook Leadership Academy)

Ysabela Golden, Laker Life Editor

Grand Valley State University’s Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy was first introduced in 2005. Over the last sixteen years, the academy has grown from five students talking about leadership over lunch, to a cohort of over sixty fellow candidates training together across a number of disciplines.

“The Cook Leadership Academy has really overall benefited my student experience,” said Jenia Thompson, a senior in her second year at the academy. “I’ve been able to have serious conversations about professionalism and leadership with both my peers and mentors, and really develop more confidence in my public speaking.”

All fellow candidates have a mentor, who are community leaders from a variety of different backgrounds that give career and education advice and support to their students.

“The mentorship experience is really what you make of it,” Thompson said. “For me personally, I need a lot of professional advice, since I don’t have someone in my family who’s been a lawyer. I’ve had conversations that are pointed at, like ‘Hey, I’ve heard that the law profession has been sexist, has that been your experience?’ Those kinds of conversations can be really informative, and Grace always tries to pair everyone up with someone in their field that they’d mesh really well with. ”

Fellow candidates are paired with one mentor for an academic year by Program Manager Grace Tummel.

“I’m on my second mentor right now,” Thompson said. “I wanted two because I wanted to explore different professional options, like advocacy groups. There’s plenty of fellow candidates who stick with one mentor, but there’s also plenty who explore.”

Mentorship is a one-on-one experience, but the Cook Leadership cohort also goes through training together.

“I am both a fellow candidate and a lead fellow,” Thompson said. “The lead fellows work alongside our program manager and create the curriculum for our fellow candidates.”

The six “competencies” centered in the curriculum created by the lead fellows of the 2020-2021 school year were enhancing self-understanding, cultivating productive relationships, managing conflict resolution, developing a vision for the future, responding to ambiguity and unpredictable situations, and working towards social justice.

“The competencies this year are different than the ones for next year or the last,” Thompson said. “We definitely tailored our conversations towards surviving a pandemic while still approaching success in school. For our leadership competency on social justice, we partnered with the Division of Inclusion and Equity. We had really intentional and deep conversations about social justice, how we identify as individuals, and how we look to better this nation with that perspective.”

One of the ways this leadership curriculum is explored is through Leader Labs, where four students give a presentation to the rest of their peers.

“I presented at our first leader lab, with a theme of identity and balance in leadership,” Thompson said. “I talked about how important my racial identity was to me when developing my leadership style, and how internalized racism was a hindrance to me initially. Coming to understand how I conceptualized my identity helped me become more confident, as well as recognizing how I interact and relate with others as a black woman.”

Fellow candidates also attend Hauenstein Center events like Wheelhouse Talks, and can benefit from Independent Initiative travel grants. Applications to join the Cook Leadership Academy are open until Feb. 22, and community members can nominate students they want to encourage to join until Feb. 15.

“Staff, faculty and community leaders can nominate students they think would be a great benefit to the leadership academy, including students from other colleges like Calvin and Aquinas,” Thompson said. “From there, our program manager would contact the student to ask them to apply. Applications are open to anyone at the sophomore level or higher, including grad students.”

Those interested in joining the Cook Leadership Academy can find the forms for applications and nominations on the Hauenstein Center’s website, at