Bush Fellows Learning Logs

Bush Fellows submit a learning log every six months during their Fellowship to share what they learn along their leadership journey. 

Valeriah Big Eagle
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Brittany Lewis
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Ashley Hanson
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Joseph Brings Plenty
Fellowship term: 24 months

Joseph Brings Plenty (Cheyenne River Sioux) believes culture can help the children on the Cheyenne River Reservation find a better way of life. He experiences the healing power of his Lakota heritage and spirituality daily. Deeply committed to living on the reservation, he knows that when people learn about where they come from, they start to care more about who they are. He sees that culturally based programs, including a highly successful boxing program he created, help young people empower themselves, their relatives, their community and their nation. To be the strongest role model possible for the next generations, he will obtain a bachelor’s degree and seek greater knowledge of Lakota cultural practices and the Lakota language.

Amira Adawe
Fellowship term: 24 months

Amira Adawe is on a quest to redefine beauty. She aims to end skin-lightening practices that both expose people to toxic chemicals and harm their identities. An immigrant from Somalia, she understands that people around the world often feel pressure to lighten their skin to fit into dominant Western society. Recently, she led a successful effort to influence Amazon to stop selling skin lightening creams. Now, she wants to create a worldwide effort to end the narrative of colorism with young girls. To lead change on a global scale, she will study the makers of skin lightening products to better understand their marketing strategies and build a network of other organizations around the world focused on this issue. She will also pursue training to build her facilitation and executive leadership skills.

Matthew Koncar
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Farhio Khalif
Fellowship term: 24 months

Farhio Khalif is a passionate advocate for East African women and girls. She wants to make sure their voices are heard and their needs clearly understood. An influential voice in her community, she frequently challenges cultural practices that are harmful and illegal. She founded the first shelter in the U.S. for East African and Muslim women who experience homelessness or domestic and sexual assault, and she has worked extensively with government and community leaders to address violence against women, Islamophobia, hate crimes, and the need for equity and inclusion. To elevate her leadership and amplify voices in her community, she understands that she needs greater policy development, advocacy and communication skills. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and public policy, enhance her storytelling skills in English and seek mentoring with local policy makers.

Jenna Udenberg
Fellowship term: 24 months

Jenna Udenberg is on a mission to make the world a more inclusive place for people with disabilities, especially her home community on the north shore of Lake Superior. A wheelchair user from an early age, she understands the physical and intangible societal barriers facing those with disabilities. She wants to change attitudes, approaches and accessibility so that the North Shore of Minnesota becomes a destination for people with disabilities and a model of welcome other areas can emulate. To become both an expert and advocate for change, she needs to learn how to better tell her story to remove the chasm between the non-disabled and disabled worlds. She will also pursue advanced training in Universal Design and visit other locations known for cutting-edge accessibility.

Kayla Yang-Best
Fellowship term: 24 months

Kayla Yang-Best envisions grocery store shelves full of the local, healthy and culturally diverse food she loves. She wants them to be places where she can better identify with the producers. As founder of a small food production company that supplies Asian meal kits and broths to grocery stores, she discovered many inequities in the food supply system, including a significant under-representation of local producers of color. She also found that food producers of all backgrounds were trapped in a supply chain that offered low pricing structures and other market inequities. She has developed a co-retailing model that she wants to scale to bring greater equity to the local food supply chain. To provide the leadership her entrepreneurial vision requires, she seeks to enhance her knowledge of business, finance and investments in food supply chains. She will also seek coaching from leaders who excel in inclusive decision-making and creating inclusive change.

Norma Garcés
Fellowship term: 24 months

Norma C. Garcés dreams of an educational system in Minnesota where Latinx students see themselves in their teachers, learning is relevant to their experiences and dreams, and they are safe to express themselves and their culture. As leader of El Colegio charter school, she has created a culturally rich environment where for the past five years 100% of students have been accepted into post-secondary educational institutions. As a trusted leader within the Latinx community, she wants to scale the experience of El Colegio to communities across the state. To lead this large-scale change, she will seek a master’s degree, executive leadership training, and skills in community engagement, cross-cultural communication, finance and public speaking.

Maisha Giles
Fellowship term: 24 months

Maisha Giles wants to pioneer new strategies to cultivate black female leaders in the public sector. As behavioral health director for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, she sees a need for a comprehensive system focused not just on recruiting but also on retention and mentoring. She wants leaders of color and Native Americans at the table to help shape effective and wise public health policy, especially as it pertains to diverse populations. To become the bold leader of this work, she will earn a doctorate in leadership and public administration, strengthen her executive leadership and public policy skills, and build a network of successful black female leaders.

Ani Ryan Koch
Fellowship term: 29 months

Ani Koch is not afraid to tackle big challenges. As a young person, they stepped up to be a visible LGBTQ leader in their community, opened social spaces for LGBTQ teens and started one of the first gay/straight alliances in Iowa. A first-generation college student, Ani earned a master’s in public health and was tapped to lead an initiative to improve services for transgender members of the state’s largest health plan. Ani continues to see significant disparities in how health care systems serve marginalized people. They want to create a national model that serves trans people equitably, provides a blueprint to address health disparities and leads to long-term cost savings. To help lead this transformation, Ani will seek coaching to build their communication and leadership skills and increase connections with other leaders in transgender health and health care innovation.

David Archambault II
Fellowship term: 24 months

David Archambault II (Standing Rock Sioux) has a vision of sustainability and self-determination for the people of Standing Rock. He wants to inspire his reservation with new business models and practices that reverse cycles of generational poverty and government dependence. He is influenced by his experiences as former chairman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and owner of a business on his reservation. He believes the people of his Native nation can build their own homes, produce their own food and generate their own power, as their ancestors did for many generations. To advance his ideas and lead this necessary change, he will pursue greater knowledge of innovative systems for housing, food security and renewable energy production, building and modeling what he learns for the members of Standing Rock.

Vayong Moua
Fellowship term: 29 months

Vayong Moua was told from an early age that he was his ancestors’ wildest dream. He takes that responsibility seriously as a son, parent and public health leader with a powerful vision for health equity. In his position with the state's largest health plan, he sees that Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the top states in health, education and many other quality of life indicators, yet also has some of the worst racial inequities in the country. He believes that equity is about how we design powerful, inclusive tables, not just individual seats. He wants to seed health equity criterion in policies and management to change institutional behavior. To elevate his leadership, he will seek greater intercultural and conflict resolution skills, as well as deeper connections to his ancestral land of Laos.

Dave Anderson
Fellowship term: 36 months

Dave Anderson understands the power of a home. He knows that stable, affordable housing allows people opportunities to build wealth. As executive director of All Parks Alliance for Change, he believes manufactured housing can help solve the affordable housing crisis for hard-working families. He has lobbied for public funding for manufactured home parks, fought efforts to close parks and promoted resident-owned cooperatives. He seeks to challenge the stereotype of these parks as places of poverty and danger and instead reveal them as places of resilience, diversity, pride and self-sufficiency. To advance his ideas and influence on a larger scale, he will pursue training to lead a multicultural movement for change and study innovative ways to reshape the narrative of park communities.

Guy Bowling
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Kirsten Kennedy
Fellowship term: 24 months

Kirsten Kennedy believes that regional food systems can drive economic growth and improve community health. She envisions systems that promote job growth, equitable access to healthy food, and sustainable farming practices. The pilot online farmers market she helped to create as a leader within the Women’s Environmental Institute has grown from four farms to 24, and now includes partnerships with public benefit programs, senior centers, schools, health providers and emergency food sites. Now, the former mayor of North Branch and head of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership for Chisago County wants to create models that can be replicated nationally. To advance her vision, she will study successful examples of transformational leadership and restorative food systems.

Matuor Dot Alier
Fellowship term: 24 months

Matuor Dot Alier learned about leadership at a young age. As a teen in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he took charge of many other Sudanese boys orphaned by civil war and was recognized for his ability to build community and promote peace. He brought his talents to the U.S., where he led the African Student Association at Penn State University. Now, in Fargo-Moorhead, he helps immigrants and refugees move from surviving to stability. He wants his community to recognize and value the voices and perspectives of all people, and to provide access to educational and economic opportunities that enable every resident to contribute to the life of the community. To become a leader who empowers others to lead, he will deepen his understanding of and connections to communities that have organized successfully for change. He will also pursue a graduate degree to deepen his leadership skills.

Jana Gipp
Fellowship term: 36 months

Jana Gipp (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) is driven by the health of her community. As chief executive officer of the health care facility that serves the Native population within the Standing Rock Nation and surrounding communities, she has built a highly rated regional health care network. As health disparities persist in the population she serves, and as her rural community faces a shortage of medical professionals, she wants to incorporate innovative ideas and cultural practices to improve Standing Rock's health care system. To lead this large-scale change, she will complete a doctoral program in health care administration to become one of the first members of her tribe with this specialized expertise. She will also research the successes of other Native nations across the county that have demonstrated significant advances in tribal well-being.

Amanda Carlow
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Roque Diaz
Fellowship term: 24 months

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
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Meghan Curry O'Connell
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Evva Karr
Fellowship term: 24 months

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.

Hudda Ibrahim
Fellowship term: 24 months

Hudda Ibrahim is not afraid to tackle big issues. In her home community of St. Cloud, she helps employers attract and retain immigrant and refugee employees. She also coaches and connects immigrant women to local employers. As a refugee to the U.S. from Somalia, she understands both barriers to and opportunities for building full economic participation. She wants to help members of her central Minnesota Somali community achieve greater economic equity and assume positions of influence. To advance this broad work, she will increase her business acumen with a Master of Business Administration degree. She will also build a network of valuable allies, business investors and partners.

Jean Krull
Fellowship term: 39 months

Jeannie Krull intends to bring life-changing assistive technology to people with disabilities throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and the Native nations that share the same geography. She sees vast areas where there is little or no knowledge of or access to devices and services that promote safety and independence. She seeks to build the leadership skills and professional networks she needs to create assistive technology oases where there are now deserts. To effect transformational change in this area, she will research successful programs and approaches nationally and internationally, grow her skills in the areas of policy and legislative advocacy, and further develop her cultural competence.

Amie Schumacher
Fellowship term: 24 months

Amie Schumacher believes that faith and science, working together, can break the silence, shame and generational cycle of childhood trauma. She wants to help faith organizations and health care systems embrace the powerful healing of trauma-informed approaches. In her role as a hospital chaplain, she led the integration of such approaches into CentraCare Health system in St. Cloud. She will pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree to develop the transformational leadership skills she needs to help faith groups, chaplain training and seminary education programs build new practices that recognize trauma. She also will improve her facilitation skills to bring diverse religious and cultural groups together to discuss difficult topics around childhood trauma. 

KaYing Yang
Fellowship term: 31 months

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.

Bo Thao-Urabe
Fellowship term: 24 months

Bo Thao-Urabe wants Minnesota to be an inclusive, thriving place for all communities. As a young immigrant to the U.S., she learned quickly how to help her family succeed in a system that lacked understanding of and commitment to refugees. Today, as leader of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, she inspires others to develop community-centered solutions that bring about meaningful change. To become a stronger thought leader for her community, especially the next generation of Asian American leaders, she will take time to determine how to best tell and share the lessons she's learned on her leadership journey. She will also study the emerging field of solidarity economics to shed light on invisible practices employed by cultural communities to improve collective life.

Michaela Seiber
Fellowship term: 24 months

Michaela Seiber (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) wants South Dakota to be a more welcoming, supportive place for LGBTQ people. As a young person who struggled to find acceptance and gay role models in both her white and Native communities, she knows personally the vital importance of social support. She believes that lack of inclusion has a major impact on physical and mental health but notes that little data is available on the LGBTQ community in her region. To advance a health equity agenda for LGBTQ people, she will connect with experts around the country who are conducting research about the health disparities of this population. She will also strengthen her leadership and communication skills to build the confidence she needs to speak publicly.

Benjamin Schierer
Fellowship term: 18 months

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.

Rose McGee
Fellowship term: 32 months

Rose McGee knows that food connects. As the creator of the Sweet Potato Comfort Pie™ Approach, she has taken pies to Ferguson, Charleston and Pittsburgh following devastating incidents of racial and religious violence. She also brings hundreds of people together to bake pies and have tough dialogues around race. She knows that this approach helps people and communities bridge racial divides and embrace the hard work required for racial equity. To reach more young people with her novel approach, she needs to understand what new generations are doing to build resiliency and racial unity. She will visit numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities to learn from and with intergenerational leaders. She will also seek coaching to develop a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Austen Hartke
Fellowship term: 24 months

Austen Hartke wants more faith communities to be safe and inclusive places for LGBTQ people. A bisexual and transgender theologian, he is passionate about providing the educational resources faith leaders need to welcome, accept and celebrate gender diversity. He knows that transgender youth do best when their parents are supportive, and parents do best when supported by a faith community. To provide the depth of leadership it will take to transform faith communities into affirming places for all, he will increase his knowledge of theology and gender theory and cultivate his own spiritual resilience. He will also travel throughout the region to better understand the needs of transgender people and how positive change happens in faith communities, especially in rural areas.

Tony Sanneh
Fellowship term: 26 months

Tony Sanneh likes to find solutions to big problems. As the founder of the Sanneh Foundation, he transformed a closing community center into a safe and vital place for youth development in Saint Paul's East Side. He developed his strong work ethic and problem-solving skills first as one of the country's leading professional soccer players and later by growing his nonprofit from a team of three volunteers to a full-time staff of 65. Now, he wants to embrace two bold passions: to change the way professional sports teams engage in philanthropy and to help build a diverse educational teaching force. To elevate his leadership in multiple arenas, he will complete his bachelor's degree in education policy, seek advanced training in sports philanthropy and public speaking, and build a group of trusted mentors.

Maria Regan Gonzalez
Fellowship term: 31 months

Maria Regan Gonzalez believes that collaborative leadership creates room for more voices in decision making. As the first Latina mayor in Minnesota, she understands that bridging across difference is essential for the next generation of leaders. She wants her city of Richfield to serve as a laboratory for how to build opportunity for all in the midst of widening disparities. To lead this large-scale work, she will study alternative models of governance and engagement in the U.S. and around the world that connect political leadership, cultural identity and spirituality. She will also seek coaching to enhance her ability to inspire and unify diverse groups of people during complex times.

Kate Davenport
Fellowship term: 36 months

Kate Davenport believes we can design waste out of our systems of production and consumption in a way that addresses climate change, local economic development and social and environmental justice. As co-president of the social enterprise Eureka Recycling, she has navigated an international market crisis in recycling, overseen major city contracts and transformed Eureka's materials recovery facility into the Zero Waste Laboratory. Now, she wants to create economically and socially just zero-waste communities. To achieve her bold vision, she will grow her skills, knowledge and connections at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. She will also devote time to help emerging leaders build the skills to run social enterprises.

Ia Xiong
Fellowship term: 24 months

Ia Xiong is passionate about addressing multicultural considerations in trauma-informed care. A practicing psychologist, she wants Hmong people to have access to culturally appropriate mental health services to heal from remnants of historical trauma. While her community shows higher rates of mental health concerns than the general population, they also show much lower rates of using mental health services. She wants to address this gap through innovative methods to reduce barriers to care. To strengthen her leadership as a healer in her community, she will deepen her understanding of traditional Hmong healing practices and study online platforms for delivering culturally relevant, effective mental health care.

Alex West Steinman
Fellowship term: 36 months

Alex West Steinman has a bold mission to increase economic access, resources and opportunities for women. She believes that prosperity begins with the economic empowerment of women and non-binary individuals. As co-founder and CEO of The Coven, she created a co-working space where women and non-binary people grow career-enhancing connections, incubate ideas and learn to start businesses. She wants to build a bigger social enterprise effort that helps women navigate the world of building capital and sustainable wealth. Because this vision requires advanced leadership skills, she will explore the world of social impact investing, grow her cultural competency, improve her financial acumen and invest in coaching to better tell her story.

Sarah Pierce
Fellowship term: 24 months

Sarah Pierce (Oglala Lakota) wants Rapid City to become the model of a culturally responsive city. To achieve that vision, she knows that Native people, especially youth, must have places of cultural safety where they can learn and heal through full access to the history, culture and language of the Lakota people. She intends to be a change agent who gives voice to a population that has traditionally been silenced. To become the trusted leader her community can turn to for wise counsel, she will earn her doctorate in educational leadership and study programs in Hawaii, where student outcomes have improved dramatically in schools focused on cultural safety. She will also build relationships with key Native leaders at the state and federal levels.

Heather Cusick
Fellowship term: 36 months

Heather Cusick learned first-hand the stabilizing force of nature when her struggling family moved to a 100-acre farm in rural Kansas. There, she found that the land had the power to heal. This childhood informed her lifelong commitment to environmental protection, especially to communities that are most deeply impacted by climate-disrupting pollution. As a senior leader with the Sierra Club, she led the organization's effective approach to carbon reduction in the electric sector. Now, she wants to expand her focus to agriculture and climate advocacy. With the understanding that this work will take new knowledge and compelling leadership, she will study agricultural models around the world, build equity and racial justice competency, and seek coaching to build a stronger public voice.