Answering the Call to Serve: Presidential Leadership Scholars' Projects

The Bush Institute continues spotlighting the projects of a range of members of the inaugural Presidential Leadership...

The Bush Institute continues spotlighting the projects of a range of members of the inaugural Presidential Leadership Scholars class. Last week, they graduated in a ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential Center that featured Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

As part of the PLS curriculum, each Scholar is required to develop a personal leadership project.  To read a summary of each Scholar’s project, visit the PLS website.


Irela M. Bague

Irela Bague is leading the efforts to host a National Summit to promote racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. mainstream environmental movement. The 2016 Summit will provide a venue for cross collaboration where participants share outreach initiatives on building organizational leadership, recruiting staff, and developing advocacy reflective of the communities that environmental agencies and organizations need to be serving in order to stay relevant and sustainable. Through her participation in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, Irela has enhanced her leadership skills to better communicate the goals of the Summit, include nontraditional audiences, and lead a team of national partners.


James-Christian Blockwood     

Foresight allows individuals or organizations to be proactive, strategic, and explore long-range implications of decisions.  President Roosevelt said, “As a nation…if we do not exercise foresight…dark will be the future.”  Foresight for Government connects federal government planners with leaders across non-government organizations to improve decision-making.  James-Christian Blockwood has developed a pilot, one-day conference to identify key issues over the next 10-20 years, explore the implications of these issues, and provide recommendations to current and incoming government leaders in 2016, with the ultimate goal of creating a formal and permanent foresight process in government by 2020.


Robin Bruce

Robin Bruce’s Personal Leadership Project will evolve the Acton School of Business’, where she serves as CEO, graduate entrepreneurial curriculum in order to make a tenacious advance into underserved communities with a custom program aimed at serving the everyday entrepreneur. Through a partnership with national organizations working alongside these micro-entrepreneurs (e.g. Grameen America, LiftFund, etc.), Robin will pilot an affordable blended learning entrepreneurial education program with the intended outcome of equipping these business owners with the skills, tools, and judgment to amplify their capacity, grow their businesses, and spark the next great generation of American ingenuity.


Virginia Buckingham       

On September 11, 2001 Virginia Buckingham was serving as the CEO of Logan Airport and was subsequently blamed for the attacks launched there.  Virginia is developing a memoir to shed light on both the personal and broader implications of scapegoating in our culture and provide insights on building resilience.  The Presidential Leadership Scholars program has helped more clearly define the purpose, core messages, and potential audiences for the book. Virginia feels PLS has reignited in her a desire and determination to lead. After the book is published, it will serve as a platform for her to teach, speak, and write about leadership.


Shelley McKenchie Cryan

Shelley McKechnie Cryan’s Personal Leadership Project builds on a successful program she leads in The Gambia, teaching teen girls how to start photo businesses so they can earn money and stay in school. Her project will launch a traveling photo exhibition showcasing the girls’ work alongside images from teens in each U.S. city where the show travels, to spark cross-cultural conversations, expand knowledge of West Africa, and elicit support. Shelley’s experience with societal hurdles compels her to give others tools to surmount challenges. Next, she plans to bring this proven business model to other communities, using knowledge gained from Presidential Leadership Scholars.       


Dean Fealk

The Transatlantic relationship is more important than ever: its shared values and histories form the bedrock of a stable, democratic, and prosperous world.  Dean Fealk co-founded Transatlantic West to bring business, civic, and policy leaders from California together with their counterparts in Europe to facilitate the dialogues and relationships to address critical emerging issues in the transatlantic relationship.  The Presidential Leadership Scholars program has focused the mission of Transatlantic West, tied it more closely to core values, and set  it on a clearer path for impact and growth to achieve the long term goal of becoming the clear destination for leaders interested in the California’s economic and policy ties to Europe.


Neil E. Grunberg   

Neil Grunberg is developing the Medical Student Leadership Education and Development Summit to address the need to teach medical students how to lead 21st Century health-care teams, insure patient safety, and contain costs in addition to their medical school education.  The summit will engage representatives from U.S. medical schools to share philosophies, approaches, and techniques of medical school leadership curriculum.  Through participation in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, planning for the project is underway to achieve the long-term goals of sharing health-care leadership curriculum among U.S. medical schools and establishing national guidelines of leadership education and training for U.S. medical schools.


Terri Hasdorff        

Every day in Ethiopia there are women who live in tremendous poverty, who cannot feed their families or themselves, are often abused, and endure the shame of being homeless. In 2008, Convoy of Hope started a women’s empowerment program that educates women in basic business skills and teaches them how to start their own business, save money, and employ others to overcome these hardships. Terri Hasdorff is working to increase the impact of this program by doubling the number of women in the program through expansion to Nicaragua, Tanzania and Haiti by actively recruiting major donors and private-sector partners to help with this effort.


Kevin Hooks

African-Americans, along with the poor and other minorities, have more opportunity to succeed in America than any time in our history. Personal accountability and systemic discrimination continue to present challenges to their social and economic mobility. Kevin Hooks has developed a project to address the personal accountability issue by reimaging Black History month to shift the paradigm of February to a forward facing experience. It will include partnerships with national community based organizations, educators and parents designed to challenge young people during Black history month to celebrate the past by taking advantage of the opportunities created by the success of those who came before us.


Sheril Kirshenbaum         

Sheril Kirshenbaum is the Executive Director of ScienceDebate which works to persuade presidential candidates to participate in live science debates discussing their science policy priorities so that every voter is informed on Election Day. Topics covered will impact our children’s future from energy and climate change to global leadership and innovation. During the past two presidential elections, all major candidates responded in writing to 14 questions cultivated by the ScienceDebate team. These questions helped President Obama develop a clear idea of how science fit into his overall strategic objectives. ScienceDebate’s current priorities include raising awareness and fundraising toward long-term sustainability.


Diane Mao  

Human trafficking is a $99 billion industry with 32 million slaves today. Approximately, 70 percent of slavery is attributed to labor trafficking. Diana Mao witnessed the horrors of sex-trafficking first hand in Cambodia and for the past seven years she has dedicated her life to creating economic opportunities for vulnerable women. Her Personal Leadership Project focuses on decreasing the child labor footprint of brands. She has engaged five brands, three thought leaders and two advocacy groups about this issue. The long-term goal for the project is to co-host a symposium and have brands disseminate best practices and develop action plans to decrease their slavery footprint.


Clarissa Martinez De Castro

Americans are frustrated with their government, tired of seeing problem-solving take a back seat to antagonism. Clarissa is one America’s more than 200 million eligible voters, many of whom are disengaging. Believing disengagement is counterproductive, she started approaching thinkers and practitioners to explore small steps voters could take to generate a different conversation with their representatives, and seeding the ground for partnerships with groups willing to involve their constituents in adopting a problem-solving mantra. Her drive is the belief that a stronger civil society and our ability to solve problems are intertwined, and essential for America’s progress here and abroad.


Micaela McMurrough    

Micaela McMurrough has developed a program that offers federal judges the opportunity to learn about the work of the national intelligence agencies.  Following 9/11 and the disclosures by Edward Snowden, federal courts have frequently been asked to decide issues concerning the intelligence community.  As a practicing attorney and a former intelligence officer, Micaela recognized that few federal judges have experience in this area and could benefit from additional insight before deciding these critical cases. The first session will be held in September 2015, with participation by the CIA, DIA, and trial and appeals court judges.  Going forward, annual sessions will be held for judges nationwide.


Brian McPeek

Brian is leading a team of scientists to create a new vision that broadens the conservation movement’s appeal by offering a realistic picture of a post-2050 world in which people and nature thrive together, and nature plays a vital role in helping all people achieve their aspirations.  Participation in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program catalyzed the launch of the supporting science effort and provided insights into crafting compelling messages and building coalitions.  The long-term goal is to use the vision to shape The Nature Conservancy’s long-term direction, build a coalition with other leading conservation NGOs, and publish a book that serves as a platform to engage broader audiences.


Kavita Patel

The Frontline Healthcare Worker Initiative was launched in 2014 and has helped over 100 men and women find jobs in the healthcare profession.  The Initiative launched to help lay community members obtain standardized training to counsel patients with specific chronic diseases manage their care and navigate the complex healthcare system.  In this year’s efforts, Johns Hopkins and several other healthcare organizations volunteered to sponsor employment fairs to recruit such workers. Kavita Patel and her team have worked with educational institutions to develop a 20-hour curriculum which can be used to train lay and existing healthcare workers and plan to scale the effort nationally.

Jim Peterson

A local, independent healthcare cooperative is a viable solution to a key rural economic dilemma.  Jim Peterson’s efforts in the last five months have yielded a strong board and significant progress towards corporate structure and governance in creating a cooperative.  This project has seen progress from the self-awareness and communication related Presidential Leadership Scholars discussions and readings.  The long term goals of the healthcare cooperative are to provide a local, sustainable healthcare benefits option, keep more healthcare dollars in the local economy, offer lower deductibles and out of pocket responsibilities, develop better reimbursement procedures for providers with competitive premiums, and provide excellent customer service to both patients and providers.


Jay Readey

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is developing Innovation Houses to help young adults revitalize severely distressed neighborhoods by both living and working in those neighborhoods.

Jay Readey’s experience with living and working in a house he rehabbed in a distressed neighborhood during his 20’s changed his life. During Presidential Leadership Scholars 2015, the Innovation Houses idea has been featured widely in the Chicago Tribune, a foundation has provided funding to develop a business plan, two young African-American AmeriCorps leaders have spent their year developing and spreading the idea, and Jay has gained entrée to meet with Chicago’s most significant philanthropic leaders about Innovation Houses.


Steve Ressler        

GovLoop Academy is an online training academy with free, short, high-impact learning experiences for federal, state, and local government employees on topics ranging from leadership to technology to procurement.   Since beginning the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, the project was launched with 25+ courses to great press coverage including the Washington Post.  Over 2,000 government employees have taken courses and the project has developed partnerships including National League of Cities and George Washington University. The long-term vision of the project is to be the definitive home for impactful free government training with hundreds of courses improving the skills of hundreds of thousands of government leaders.


Devdutta Sangvai 

Devdutta Sangvai is working to improve the awareness and utilization of community-based resources by healthcare providers. Optimizing use of community-based resources is one method by which healthcare costs and inefficiencies can be reduced.  This two-part project includes a stakeholder analysis and tool development. Devdutta is currently formulating the stakeholder analysis that will culminate in a survey inquiring about providers' current capabilities and needs.  In phase two Devdutta will focus on long-term goals, one of which is to create an electronic platform/tool on which providers can identify ideal community resources based on specific patient profiles.


Neill Sciarrone

Neill Sciarrone’s project convenes a cross-section of respected leaders in national intelligence to tackle the challenges faced in security and intelligence in the digital age.  Today’s globally interconnected marketplace, rapid technology innovation, growing threat environment, and varying privacy views require a different approach. Understanding these challenges – and identifying solutions – will require robust debate and collaboration among disparate communities. Neill’s project convenes these communities to build connections, re-establish trust, and foster robust dialogue. The Presidential Leadership Scholars program helped her articulate how this project reflects her core values and the work on influencing and coalition building furthered her success in becoming a catalyst to changes needed to address future threats.


Traci Scott  

The Green Dress Project focuses on empowering young girls from underserved communities or those who many not otherwise have the means, or resources, learn how to transition into and maintain integrity in a professional environment and avoid career ending mistakes. For Traci Scott, the Green Dress Project was born out of personal professional missteps, frustration, and a deep desire to help provide young girls with tools to help guide them toward early success in their careers. The Presidential Leadership Scholars program has given Traci the resources needed to focus the vision for the project, launch the program, and develop a plan for long term success and sustainability as a non-profit organization.


Joe Seliga    

Joe Seliga is developing Urban Exposure, a new program to break down the barriers separating our urban communities by organizing one-day experiences for individuals to be introduced to neighborhoods they do not know and by creating long-term connections of giving and service between those individuals and those neighborhoods. Through Presidential Leadership Scholars, Joe has taken the initial steps toward developing the program, including hosting the first Urban Exposure Experience in his childhood neighborhood of Gage Park and Marquette Park in Chicago.  Joe is planning to develop Urban Exposure into a not-for-profit organization serving different neighborhoods in Chicago and, over time, other cities.

Ted Smith   

The “Raphael House Network” (RHN) project is designed to help homeless families return to permanent housing and long-term economic stability.  The project was conceived by Ted Smith, who witnessed the success of the RHN model in his native San Francisco and believed it could be replicated in other cities fighting to end family homelessness.  Thanks to Smith’s participation in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, the project has come into sharper focus, with much clearer near- and medium-term goals and an improved implementation strategy.  Smith hopes to roll the program out to more than a dozen U.S. cities over the next five years.


Michael Toledo     

Michael Toledo created a Voter Outreach & Advocacy Initiative to help educate Latinos on the issues affecting families to motivate and reinforce the importance of voting.  With important local and national issues like civil rights/immigration, education, employment, and healthcare, the Latino voice needs to be heard to positively impact policy.  The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program provided valuable best practices and insight on understanding one’s own personal values and vision to understanding the importance of coalition-building in pursing social change.  Due to participation in the PLS program, the Initiative resulted in a 5 percent increase in voter turnout during the May primary.


Miro Vassilev        

Miro Vassilev is producing a documentary film to help regular Americans understand and protect their families against the vast, unchecked risks posed by the ‘shadow banking’ system to our country’s economic prosperity.   The Presidential Leadership Scholars program profoundly impacted Miro’s approach and ambition for his project. Originally conceiving the project as a series of conference events to raise awareness, Miro was inspired to seek a greater, more sustainable social impact. Miro has founded a production company for the express purpose of this project, recruited a film crew, raised seed funds, and is currently interviewing directors with the goal of premiering at a major documentary film festival in 2016.