Bush Fellows submit a learning log every six months during their Fellowship to share what they learn along their leadership journey.
Bush Fellows submit a learning log every six months during their Fellowship to share what they learn along their leadership journey.
Dr. Meghan Curry O’Connell wants South Dakota to become a leader in universal access to affordable, high-quality health care. She observes that many people, especially Indigenous people, live long distances from the care they need in this geographically large, sparsely populated state. In her work as a family physician in rural and underserved communities, she has learned first-hand that systemic change is needed to address disparities in and barriers to quality health care. To generate innovative and strategic solutions, she needs to expand her knowledge of finance, health systems, government policy and health law, and to develop persuasive communication skills. She also plans to seek counsel from other health care leaders who have led successful change in similar political and geographic environments.
Valeriah Big Eagle believes that an equitable education can heal. As one of the first Ihanktowan women to pursue a doctoral degree, she wants to inspire and empower fellow Native Americans to seek higher education to heal themselves and their communities. She understands the inequitable challenges that Native students face in earning a college degree, especially if they are in settings with little support for their cultural identity. She is studying practices in higher education that support Indigenous students and seeks to influence programming and public policy initiatives to improve their graduation rates. She aspires to one day lead a college or university. To amplify the voices of her community and serve as a force for change, she will complete her Ed.D., seek leadership training and become more deeply engaged in professional networks to learn how to best influence change.
Guy Bowling understands from personal experience the challenges of parenting, especially without positive role models. His lifework has focused on helping young, low-income men transform into responsible and involved fathers. He sees the struggles and barriers these men face in the child support, criminal justice, public assistance, child welfare and education systems. He wants these systems to work together to better support engagement of fathers and to increase the economic stability of families. To strengthen his ability to lead this transformation, he will pursue a master’s degree to grow his knowledge of policy making, research and evaluation. He will also form more connections with organizations focused on empowering fathers of color and improving police and community relations.
Roque Diaz seeks to inspire big change in music education. After migrating from Puerto Rico, he played professional trumpet for ten years before returning to college. His performance and academic experiences, combined with his position as director of school partnerships at MacPhail Center for Music, helped him find his voice as an advocate for more inclusive, culturally diverse and relevant music education. To elevate his position in the field, he will complete his Ph.D. study of two artistic organizations that are working toward diversity, equity and inclusion and share his discoveries with other higher education and music institutions. He will also seek mentors of color, acquire business skills and improve his public speaking for bilingual audiences.
Allen Lewis envisions a future where emergency services in rural communities are more effective, timely and equitable. As the fire and emergency manager for Virginia, Minnesota, he is leading the consolidation of two area fire departments to better serve communities on the Iron Range. Now, he wants to forge alliances among public, corporate and nonprofit leaders to develop regional, data-driven models that address fragmented and inefficient emergency delivery systems. To lead this large public sector change, he needs to increase his knowledge about effective models of emergency services around the world. He will also improve his negotiation and consensus-building skills and build a diverse network of advisors and mentors.
Matthew Koncar wants to increase public trust of police. As a police officer, he has a front-row seat to police-community relations. His experience at the center of protests following police-involved shootings motivated him to explore ways to improve trust between community members and the police who serve them. He recognizes that police are often called during traumatic and emotional times in people’s lives and that how officers carry out their duties in these situations can impact perceptions and relationships for decades to come. To effect transformational change in police-community relations, he needs advanced education and training to move into leadership positions. He will pursue a master’s degree in public affairs and study organizations that are successfully building trust between the police and community.
Dr. Brittany Lewis knows research can build community power and equitable solutions. She wants to help elected leaders, government officials and community members better understand how to use data as a tool for positive change. As founder and CEO of Research and Action and a senior research associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, she helps create community-centered housing, economic development and criminal justice research products that are accessible and actionable for non-academic audiences. She has helped bring hundreds of low-wealth families across the region to the decision-making table through this model. Now, she wants to teach, support and grow the next generation of action researchers who can influence equitable policy and action. To grow her capacity to educate and empower, she will seek coaching skills and study new ways to use data visualization to demystify complex ideas.
Evva Karr is ready to rise. As founder of one of the first public benefit corporations in the world focused on digital games, she sees how few women and people of color occupy leadership positions in her industry. She wants Saint Paul to become a national center for women, people of color and queer entrepreneurs in creative technology. Typically more comfortable behind the scenes, she wants to learn how to tell her personal story to inspire radical change in leadership in the digital games arena. To equip her to speak boldly to a broader audience, she will improve her storytelling and public speaking skills. She will also seek education in how to invest strategically in games created by diverse entrepreneurs.
Amanda Carlow (Oglala Lakota) is witness to the power of the Lakota language. She sees transformation in young people when they learn the language of their ancestors. A leader of the movement to revitalize the language within her Oglala Lakota Tribe, she began speaking Lakota as a youth basketball coach and saw the excitement and interest it sparked. She wants to build a broader effort to increase the self-esteem, self-identity and pride of youth through a Lakota language immersion track at Pine Ridge School. To lead this large-scale change for the reservation, she plans to increase her knowledge through a Ph.D. program in Indigenous language and culture and to form connections with other organizations that have successfully revitalized ancestral languages.
KaYing Yang believes that her community’s prosperity and collective well-being will be maximized only when there is true gender equity. She also wants to be a force in the movement to shape policies that are equitable and inclusive of Indigenous peoples and people of color. To provide innovative and strategic leadership for her community, she will study successful approaches to gender justice in cultures around the world and strengthen her community organizing abilities with new knowledge of public policy making. As a long-time community advocate, she will work with her extensive network of leaders to document their social justice contributions as a source of inspiration for the next generation.
Benjamin Schierer knows diversity creates strong communities. He learned this firsthand when he traveled the world early in his career. He brought an appreciation for diverse people and different points of view with him when he returned home to Minnesota, a place he values for its model of collaborative leadership and emphasis on the common good. He believes that inclusivity and equity are not simply campaign slogans but a way of governing and a way to build vital communities. As a business owner and mayor of Fergus Falls, he wants to foster conversations to counter misinformation and division along political, racial and geographic lines. Because leading effectively at the local level will take exceptional communication skills, he will improve his public speaking and storytelling. He also intends to earn a master’s degree in public affairs.
Laetitia Hellerud was raised to be courageous and engaged in the world. Her parents modeled service and commitment to community, values she carried with her as a refugee from Burundi to Fargo. In her new home, she rose from volunteer and entry-level positions to head of a program for New Americans to a leader in a multi-sector workforce development coalition. She is deeply involved in and committed to civic life in the Fargo and West Fargo areas, where she sees New Americans investing in the community by buying homes and operating businesses. But she still sees few people of color on the governing bodies in her community. To equip and engage more New Americans and people of color to serve, she will build skills in community organizing and seek advanced leadership training.
E.G. Bailey fell in love with film as a young boy when a traveling crew came to his Liberian village and he saw his first movie. Many years later, his own film, New Neighbors, was featured at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. His passion for all forms of art — from spoken word and poetry to photography and film — has led him to co-found multiple organizations and platforms for artists. Now, he wants to create spaces and opportunities for Black filmmakers in Minnesota to thrive so that the region retains its artists and becomes a national center for talent and expertise. He envisions a vibrant, flourishing film community where artists can create and tell their stories and Minnesota’s stories. To advance this bold vision, he will engage an advisory team of Black media makers, study with organizations that provide pathways for Black content creators, and bring ideas back to Minnesota from other cities that have created premier film centers.
Funlola Otukoya wants to help people of color create generational wealth through increased access to capital. He seeks to expand venture capital funding for people of color and remove arbitrary barriers that have prevented investment in diverse entrepreneurs and businesses. As an investment analyst for the McKnight Foundation, he employs an equity lens to invest in promising opportunities that align with his institution’s values. Now he wants to use his talents to invest in people of color to help them build thriving businesses that will attract an ecosystem of new investors. To create a sustainable circle of economic opportunity, he intends to pursue a business degree. He will also engage with and learn from a network of venture capitalists, financial institutions, policy makers and academic leaders who share similar guiding principles.
Guled Ibrahim is an attorney with a big goal: close the justice gap by increasing the number of new Americans in the legal profession. He understands from his own family’s immigration experience how important culturally specific legal support can be. As one of the few Somali American attorneys in Minnesota, he knows that the state’s legal profession suffers from a lack of diversity and an ever-widening justice gap for low-income, refugee and immigrant populations. He seeks to be a forceful advocate for policies, resources and programs that make the justice system accessible to all. To better understand how to shift systems and become a thought leader at the center of closing the justice gap, he will develop public speaking, coalition building and leadership skills to bring about large-scale change in this well-established profession. He will also expand his professional network, broaden his expertise in the legal field, and study local and national models that are successfully recruiting a greater diversity of students to law school.
Michelle Tran Maryns wants to leverage technology to increase the success of small businesses, especially those run by women of color. She seeks to create a stronger, more inclusive economy by equipping entrepreneurs with the technology tools they need to thrive. As a foreign service officer, she led design of the U.S. Department of State’s first-ever mobile app, an experience that helped her understand the power of technology to lead change on a massive scale. Now she has turned her attention to helping small businesses, which make up more than 90 percent of all businesses in the U.S. To transform her leadership so she can support entrepreneurs of color with technology solutions, she will invest in financial management training and greater understanding of social enterprise models. She will also build global collaborations to distribute regional accomplishments to a wider audience.
Kahin Adam is on a mission to decrease barriers to culturally relevant health care and mental health services for immigrants and refugees. He learned first-hand as a refugee from Somalia how difficult it can be to navigate health systems and how lack of access to health care leads to chronic disease and mental illness. Today, he serves as an educator, community organizer, and the only psychotherapist in St. Cloud specializing in the treatment of patients who have experienced trauma. He wants to create and embrace new culturally effective ways to reach and provide immigrants and refugees with quality mental health and health education. To influence change in health services and outcomes in his community, he will develop public policy skills and build a network of colleagues around the country working in the field of trauma-informed care.
John Lee Clark is — quite literally — building a new world. A member of the DeafBlind community, he is helping lead a movement to build touch, contact and direct connections to make it possible for people like him to live on their own terms, not according to dominant norms in sighted and hearing society. He and his community are reengineering how classrooms are arranged for meaningful learning, how homes are designed and how meetings are run. They have found new ways to communicate, navigate, socialize and even speak. Now he wants to take this movement to a new level, bringing its principles and practices to all aspects of the lives of those in the DeafBlind community, from higher education to the arts. To lead this groundbreaking work, he will study with creative thinkers and artists, connect with fellow educators and artist mentors, and pursue training to lead change through collaboration.
Brian Lozenski believes Minnesota must reimagine the fundamental assumptions of education if the state is to eliminate racial disparities and meet the needs of Minnesota’s communities of color. He seeks to bring together educators, researchers, activists, policy makers, youth and parents in a central location to share knowledge, exchange ideas, confront inequities in practices and disrupt ineffective education methods. To lead this statewide movement, he understands he must build and inspire a broad community coalition. He will study sustainable movements focused on educational justice and grow his capacity as an historian to structure an education system centered on freedom, struggle and humanity.
Dr. Rachel Renee Hardeman comes from people who are deeply committed to Black liberation. She was raised to question everything, seek the truth and use it to create change. Her research over the past decade as an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health exposes structural racism as a fundamental cause of health inequity. As leader of the University’s newly formed Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity, she will generate rigorous research and community knowledge to dismantle the racism at the core of health inequities. She understands this work will require complementary skills to those cultivated in academia. She will pursue formal leadership training, executive coaching aimed at nurturing Black women leaders, and media coaching to cultivate a larger platform as a change agent.
Kimimila Locke (Dakota, Ahtna Dené & Anishnaabe) is on a quest to radically improve educational outcomes for Lakota youth. Over the past two decades, she has embedded culture and community strengths in learning to help students achieve significant academic results. Now, with a group of committed colleagues, she has returned to Standing Rock to open a high school that embraces Lakota traditions. She seeks to create safe spaces that reconnect youth to their land and to the strengths of their culture. She also wants to expand this vision to other Indigenous communities struggling with such issues as loss of language, sovereignty and economic inequality. To lead this large-scale change, she will study and learn from programs around the country and world that are successfully building Indigenous sovereignty and revitalizing language and other traditions with youth.
Dziwe Willard Ntaba has learned firsthand, as a physician working in global health and emergency medicine, the profound impact of dignity and respect in health care. As a young physician opening a clinic in Burundi, he experienced how respect towards and among communities helped transform an impoverished village into a premier public health center. While leading teams of Ebola emergency responders in Liberia, he saw how dignified treatment towards communities was essential to ending that complex public health crisis. Now, in his work at the University of Minnesota Medical School, he is working to better understand how historical mistreatment, trauma and patient experience can lead to poor health outcomes. He seeks to bring perspectives from his global experiences to improve health care in the U.S. To advance his vision, he will pursue the knowledge and tools to build networks to advance equitable health care solutions centered on dignity and respect.
Courtney Schaff believes in the power of collective action to shape the world. An organizer with North Dakota United, she has bolstered membership in the state’s education and public employee unions, helped remove punitive collection practices from school district policies, and championed universal school meals. She has learned how to help people and organizations name their problems, identify solutions, and use collective action to drive change. Now she wants to build a more equitable North Dakota by encouraging people to use their collective power to influence policy. She also wants to shift the legislature to a body that includes a more inclusive representation of all people in the state. To be a strong leader of this systemic change, she will seek advanced education in public policy, mentors in organizing strategy, and training in anti-racism practices.
Michael Jon Westerhaus understood early in his medical career that many people die from inequitable social conditions rather than from medical issues. He observes that many physicians lack the skills, capacity or connections to address social factors. He wants to develop a thriving network of physicians in Minnesota who help erase the state’s health inequities through anti-racism in their clinical practices and teaching. He believes that storytelling is an effective way to help practitioners embrace this work. To lead change in the medical field, he will deepen his ability to convey personal and community narratives, using performance to help clinicians understand social forces that set patterns of disease and wellness. He will also strengthen connections with community organizations that are addressing inequities to bring greater justice and perspective to the practice of medicine.
Nathan Caleb Johnson sees a deep need for people of color to have a more equitable role in creating buildings and spaces in their communities. He wants design and construction processes to change to be more inclusive and to have greater economic impact for communities of color. From his work on the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, he observed how a small project with broad input can catalyze a large-scale proposal for change. To help the architectural and construction fields embrace a leading role in creating economic and racial justice, he will visit cities around the world to develop new models for community-engaged development. He will also study leadership methods that inspire equitable solutions and lead efforts to diversify the architecture profession.
Natalie Nicholson (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation) understands the persistence required to achieve a dream. The former Olympian and world champion curler was also a first-generation college student. As a nurse, she co-leads the Indigenous Breastfeeding Coalition in Minnesota to help re-establish a strong, traditional breastfeeding support network for Indigenous families and caregivers, and to help health care providers understand how to help improve rates of breastfeeding in Native communities. She wants to address health disparities in Native populations by providing culturally specific health care services for Indigenous people. She seeks to blend Western medicine and traditional Native American healing practices with her community members. To advance her vision, she will study with Indigenous advisors and healers, complete her doctorate in nursing practice, and take the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam in the future, which will make her one of only a dozen Native Americans in the country to hold this lactation certification. She will also seek training in leading complex systems through change.
Mai Thor seeks to embed disability justice in the work of larger justice and equity movements. As a person living with a disability and as a leader who has helped design more accessible and inclusive systems for people with disabilities, she sees that social justice movements often leave disability out of their efforts. She wants to transform these movements to be completely accessible and inclusive so that every march, rally or community meeting is informed by a disability perspective. To grow her capacity to lead, she will study ableism and disability culture, history and law. She will also convene a network of social justice and disability justice leaders to build understanding and greater solidarity.
Patricia Acevedo Fuentes is passionate about equitable community design. She understands that architecture is powerful and permanent but sees that her field often ignores the impact one building can have on an entire community. As an architect, she seeks to make the design and construction of places and spaces more equitable and inclusive. One of the few Latinas in her profession and in the region, she wants to play a leading role in creating communities of justice and belonging. She will expand her knowledge of public policy to better address exclusionary practices and funding formulas that adversely affect rural and remote areas. She will also build connections with leaders engaged in the design and spatial justice movement.
Jodi Rave Spotted Bear (Mandan, Hidatsa and Mniconjou Lakota) is called to amplify the voice of Native Americans. She believes deeply in the freedom of the press in Indian Country to reflect the needs and voices of the people. She wants independent media to help Native Nations embrace true tribal sovereignty. She was the first Native American to have a national news beat devoted to Indigenous issues in the mainstream press and the first American Indian woman awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. As founder of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance, she is leading a large-scale change to elevate the people’s voice and to promote accountability of tribal government. To realize her vision for change, she will seek mentoring from Native leaders who have succeeded in creating independent news sources and seek training to build the business and leadership skills necessary to lead community-wide change.
Justin Terrell wants the justice system to include repair and healing rather than only crime and punishment. He imagines a more equitable system that both responds to people who cause harm and ensures that people and communities who have been harmed have an opportunity to heal. As head of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, he oversees research, education and policy that provides the community with the tools and information for justice reform. He envisions a humane and fair system that is steeped in anti-racist philosophy and practices. To advance his bold vision, he will pursue leadership coaching, mentoring and training to create transformational change.
Antonio Espinosa envisions a correctional system where people come out of it stronger and more resilient than when they entered, supported by a community committed to their success. In his role as a senior corrections officer in the Stillwater prison, he believes his purpose is to inspire hope, healing and transformation. In partnership with a person serving a life sentence, he launched a support group to help prisoners and correctional officers learn from each other as peers. He also launched “Art from the Inside,” an initiative that brings purpose to people who are incarcerated and shares their humanity with the wider community. He wants to build on this work toward a larger transformation in the corrections system and the community. To bring about the major change he envisions, he will pursue formal leadership training and mentoring from other leaders of color.
Sandra Gabriela Filardo is a passionate advocate for changing the way the judicial system handles non-violent crimes. She believes the current system creates a revolving door for many who commit crimes because of poverty, addiction and mental health issues. She wants to prevent these non-violent crimes from becoming a gateway to a lifetime in the criminal justice system. As an assistant Hennepin County attorney, she seeks to create a community-based system of healing and care focused on preventing trauma and recidivism. To be a persuasive leader who can influence this system-wide change, she will study other jurisdictions that have successfully changed how they address non-violent crimes. She will also pursue advanced education to develop community-building, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Salma Hussein is a connector, educator, healer and passionate advocate for Somali women and girls. She and her sister founded Girls Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sport (GIRLS), a nonprofit organization that has blossomed into a cross-cultural community and safe space for women and girls to exercise and play sports. In her work with GIRLS, she sees the impact that strong relationships have on the lives of youth. Similarly, as an assistant public school principal, she understands the connection between trusted relationships between students and adults and academic success. She is determined to build a community of caring adults who can end the opportunity gap that disproportionately harms Black, Brown and Indigenous students. She wants to be at the forefront of system change in education, producing joy, healing, connection and liberation for educators and students. To be this transformative leader, she will earn her doctorate degree and pursue a coaching certification.
Miigis Gonzalez (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe) believes that Indigenous culture is at the root of wellness. Her research at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and personal experiences with healing demonstrate the impact culture has on both prevention and treatment of health issues. She wants to use this knowledge to develop wellness opportunities for Native people. She seeks to bridge her social behavioral health education with deep ancestral knowledge to drive greater well-being in her community. To elevate her leadership, she will pursue the same rigorous education in traditional teachings as she did to earn her doctorate in health science, studying with tribal elders and first language Ojibwe speakers.
Tou Ger Xiong is called to a life of public service and social justice activism. The Hmong American storyteller, artist and activist shares his personal stories across the country to build cultural competency and address racial discrimination. He sees that his community has achieved some level of the American Dream but that Hmong people still face disparities in employment, educational achievement, and home and business ownership. To amplify the voices of his community and serve as a force for change, he will document his civic engagement and anti-racism work to share with new generations of activists. He will also earn his master's degree in public affairs and seek a public service role that directly impacts policy.
Dr. Essa Mohamed wants to apply culturally sensible approaches to medical research. He believes more inclusive practices will lead to better informed, more targeted health care solutions and interventions. He seeks to improve health outcomes by increasing the number of women and members of racial and ethnic minorities who participate in clinical trials and medical device development. His Ph.D. thesis explored the prevalence of liver disease in African and Asian people and helped him understand the underrepresentation of diverse populations in medical research. His findings helped lead the World Health Organization to prioritize hepatitis at a global level and the Mayo Clinic to change patient screenings. To better understand how to shift systems and bring equity to medical research, he will study market evaluation and strategic decision making and develop a network of medical industry mentors.
Beau White (Oglala Lakota) is passionate about building Native interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A proud member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, he is one of the first people from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to graduate college with an engineering degree. During a challenging childhood, an exposure to the sciences ignited his lifelong passion for STEM. He wants more people in his community to understand how learning can heal trauma and how science can solve problems. To become a leader who can create new STEM pathways for younger generations, he will study other Native communities that have embraced science. He will also pursue advanced degrees in engineering management to help Pine Ridge solve its infrastructure problems with talent from within the reservation.
Ashley Hanson has a bold vision: To use the arts to build healthy, thriving rural areas throughout Minnesota and beyond. Born into generational rural poverty, she learned to imagine a different reality through theater in high school. She went on to study and refine this work through college. She is the founder of both a theater company, PlaceBase Productions, and an artist-led organization, Department of Public Transformation, that use creative strategies to increase community connection, participation and pride in rural locations. To empower more people to use the arts to address pressing issues of economic development, civic participation and changing demographics in rural communities, she will seek advanced leadership training and take time to articulate a model for teaching and scaling her work.