Cook Leadership Academy adds micro-credentials to its curriculum


Courtesy / GVSU

Rachel Matuszewski

Other than increasing their GPA with good grades in class and visiting the career center, students may wonder how to gain tangible skills to take into their future careers. The Cook Leadership Academy has just incorporated competencies into its curriculum that focuses on skills employers look for in their new hires. 

The Cook Leadership Academy (CLA) has just added micro-badging to its curriculum for students in the 2020-2021 cohort. Students assisted program manager Grace Tummel in selecting six micro-credentials to be taught for students to expand on their leadership abilities today and in the future. 

Students have a hand in building the curriculum based on a list of 60 competencies of what employers are looking for in the workplace. This year’s competencies include self-understanding, productive relationships, social justice, conflict negotiation, vision, and responding to ambiguity.

“(CLA founders Peter Cook and Ralph Hauenstein) wanted our community to be serving our students so then students are more prepared to enter into leadership upon graduation,” Tummel said. 

Each micro-credential aids students in understanding themselves, their future, and ways to handle situations in the workplace. Self-understanding involves knowing yourself and what skills you bring to the table. Tummel said productive relationships involve knowing that leadership does not happen alone and having productive relationships identify the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

Social justice is an applicable focus in our world today, which emphasizes how to identify the inequities today and work toward a just society.

Conflict negotiation teaches students to address issues with confidence. Tummel said the micro-credential is not described as conflict resolution because sometimes conflict is not perfectly resolved.

Vision pushes students to have goals for themselves, their organization, and their future in order to continue growing. Responding to ambiguity has been heightened in the last year’s uncertainty, but CLA hopes to teach students how to feel comfortable and still move forward productively despite it. 

“As a student who is about to graduate, everything is very ambiguous if you don’t have a job laid out, as I’m experiencing right now,” CLA member and senior graphic design major Abby Cooper said. “So I think being able to speak to these different things and have a good understanding of not only what it means as a book definition but what it means for yourself as a leader will really help answer questions about what other people might have, what it means, as well as (relate) your experiences back to them.”

To gain a complete understanding of themselves and how each competency functions within the workplace, students in the CLA spend three hours every Friday in a self-reflection meeting. To take preventative measures against COVID-19, meetings are held online. Each meeting reviews a new competency with the cohort and then students break off into small groups for more discussion and reflection. 

“(The CLA) has really pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Cooper said. “As far as the self-reflections go, I think those are my favorite part of the Cook Leadership Academy. That and the mentorship program but more so the self-reflections because they push you to be extremely vulnerable with people who you don’t really know too well and its a really amazing place for growth and development as an individual.” 

Students also meet with a member of the Grand Valley State University alumni community for a mentorship program. This provides a further discussion on micro-credentials, career advice, and simply developing a friendship. 

“When you first apply and get into CLA they have you do personality testing as well as what you’re looking for in a mentor,” Cooper said. “They pair you with somebody that is what you’re looking for. You can also choose to have somebody in your field or not. My mentor isn’t exactly in my field but she is absolutely amazing. We have really awesome discussions about her career path and mine and where they overlap and where they don’t.´ 

The CLA also hosts Wheelhouse Talks, which are open to the public and feature topics on the community and their leadership experiences. Leadership labs are also offered twice a year and where students can share their own leadership journeys. 

Tummel is working on expanding the program and earning micro-credential opportunities to GVSU students outside of the Cook Leadership Academy, where students can join to earn one or two badges. 

“(Our) hope is that we are going to build this to then offer it to students at Grand Valley as a whole, GVSU alumni, and community members,” Tummel said. 

The badges can be used to summarize and articulate the skills students in the cohort have acquired in the academy. These can be used in interviews or to display on resumes.

The Cook Leadership Academy plans to partner with campus partners to intentionally serve students outside of the academy. 

“The Cook Leadership Academy has been one of the most formative leadership experiences I’ve had at Grand Valley,” Cooper said. “I would really recommend everybody look into it if it’s something that they’re wanting to pursue or to cultivate and shape their leadership abilities.”