Press Release

Bush Institute Announces 2024 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Class

Additionally, The Walt Disney Company announces the opening of Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief's Tribute to America's Warriors at EPCOT

DALLAS – Today, the George W. Bush Institute announced the newest class selected to participate in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative aimed at bold leaders from diverse sectors across the country – including civilians, veterans, and active-duty military – who are supporting our nation’s veterans and their families.

The 34 Scholars will gather at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in June for their opening session. They will attend the first three sessions at the Bush Center and then travel to Washington, D.C., for the fourth session. The program will conclude at the Bush Center in October.

Throughout the five-month program, participants will meet with a variety of nationally-known and distinguished professionals, educators, experts, and influencers in veteran transition and leadership development. They will hear from inspiring leaders such as the eighth United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, retired United States Air Force General Alfred Flowers, and Bush Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Deborah Birx, among others.

Participants were selected after a rigorous application and review process. They join an active network of more than 200 alumni from five previous classes who are rising leaders – both veterans and non-veterans – from a wide range of sectors and who are working to improve outcomes for veterans and the military-connected community. They hold a variety of leadership roles in business, veteran-serving nonprofits, government, and academia; many are active-duty and reserve military service members.

Each participant joins the program with a planned personal leadership project, which allows them to implement what they learn in service of improving the lives of veterans, military service members, and their families across the United States.

The Bush Center gratefully acknowledges the support of The Boeing Company as the founding program underwriter.

The 2024 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program class includes:

  • Gerren Alexander, Vice President, Commercial Banker, Truist, Mansfield, Texas
  • Sandra Ambotaite, Operation Warfighter Regional Coordinator, Defense Health Agency, San Diego, California
  • Román Baca, Co-founder and Artistic Director, Exit12 Dance Company, New York, New York
  • Emily Bader, Senior Director of Investments, Bob Woodruff Foundation, Long Island City, New York
  • Melissa Bird, Associate Director, Entrepreneurship Strategic Partnerships and Programs, D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Yukon, Oklahoma
  • Sarah Blansett, Publisher and Vice President,, Centreville, Virginia
  • Jeff Cereghino, Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs, Herndon, Virginia
  • Rachelle Chapman, Director, The Adecco Group US Foundation, Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Brian Dempsey, Government Affairs Director, Wounded Warrior Project, Washington, D.C.
  • Betty Diaz, Director of Programs & Operations, Paramount Veterans Network, New York, New York
  • Bridget Guerrero, Director, Security Strategy & Global Lead, Viasat Veterans Alliance, Viasat, Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Aaron Lawrence, State Judge Advocate, Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Louisiana, Ruston, Louisiana
  • Wendy Lewis, Special Assistant, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Legislative Affairs, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Edmond Lopez, Head of ADA Customer Accommodations & Multilingual Servicing, Capital One, Burke, Virginia
  • Ian McDuffie, Senior Program Manager, Amazon Global Military Affairs, Alexandria, Virginia
  • Tamara Reid-McIntosh, Acting Director & General Counsel, Office of Veteran Legal Services, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, Louisville, Kentucky
  • Brandon McPherson, Senior Vice President, Core Operations, Warner Music Group, Bayonne, New Jersey
  • Charlton Meginley, Secretary, Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Governor Jeff Landry, Madisonville, Louisiana
  • Betsey Mercado, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Objective Zero Foundation, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  • Matthew Mitchelson, Officer in Charge, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Detachment Everett, United States Navy, Lake Stevens, Washington
  • Angela Neal, Director of Customer Experience, Combined Arms, Rockledge, Florida
  • Kyle Norman, Business Advisor, Veteran Programs, Sabre Finance, Owensboro, Kentucky
  • Melissa Petak, Healthcare Client Director, ServiceNow, Lebanon, Tennessee
  • Zachary Phillips, Law Clerk, New Hampshire Department of Justice, Concord, New Hampshire
  • Michael Jerome Plunkett, Executive Director, Literature of War Foundation, Columbus, Ohio
  • Elisabeth (“Lis”) Reed, Category Manager, Google, Austin, Texas
  • Stephanie Rundle, Professional Development Consultant and Instructional Coach, Aledo, Texas
  • Ramón Salazar, Executive Director, Warriors at Ease, Rio Rico, Arizona
  • Todd Simmons, Chief Vision Officer, Courageous Leadership Alliance INC., Rockville, Maryland
  • Andrea Singsaas, Special Projects Consultant, Arizona Coalition for Military Families, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Gabe Soltero, Program Manager, Military Hiring, The Home Depot, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Wayne Taylor, Director of the Office of Veteran Success, University of South Florida, Lutz, Florida
  • Natalie Worthan, Founder, Veterans Collaborative, Barboursville, Virginia
  • Jim Yauger, Analyst II, Solutions for Information Design (SOLID), Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

The Veteran Leadership Program is part of the Bush Institute’s commitment to developing and supporting effective leaders, and it builds on the organization’s extensive body of work on veteran transition issues around employment, education, and health and well-being. An important part of this work is Check-In, which connects veterans, military service members, and their families to the most appropriate mental and brain health care anywhere in the country at no cost to the individual.

Also announced today, the American Adventure pavilion at EPCOT located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, will host Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors from June 2024 to June 2025. The special art exhibit displays more than 60 full-color portraits painted by President George W. Bush of service members and veterans who have served our nation with honor since 9/11, and whom the President has come to know personally since leaving office.

“We are thrilled Portraits of Courage will be on display for EPCOT visitors to experience this year,” said Ken Hersh, President and CEO of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. “My hope is that those who have the opportunity to see this special exhibit will also remember the leadership, service, and sacrifice behind each of the heroes painted and the unique challenges our servicemembers and their families face when transitioning out of the military.”

Admiration for the U.S. Armed Forces is an important part of The Walt Disney Company values that began with founders Walt and Roy O. Disney who both served their country during the First World War. Today, Disney continues to support the military community in many ways including a commitment of hiring, training, and supporting military veterans through programs including the Heroes Work Here initiative, the Heroes Supply Here program, and Disney’s Veterans Institute.

“Celebrating those who give so much to our country has been part of the fabric of The Walt Disney Company throughout our 100-year history,” said Josh D’Amaro, Chairman, Disney Experiences. “We’re grateful to the Bush Institute for allowing us to feature this special collection and share it with our guests.”

To learn more about the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, please visit To learn more about Portraits of Courage, visit


George W. Bush Institute

The George W. Bush Institute is a solution-oriented nonpartisan policy organization focused on ensuring opportunity for all, strengthening democracy, and advancing free societies. Housed within the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the Bush Institute is rooted in compassionate conservative values and committed to creating positive, meaningful, and lasting change at home and abroad. We utilize our unique platform and convening power to advance solutions to national and global issues of the day. Learn more at

Disney Experiences 

Disney Experiences brings the magic of The Walt Disney Company’s powerful brands and franchises — including Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, ESPN, 20th Century Fox and National Geographic — into the daily lives of families and fans around the world to create magical memories that last a lifetime.

When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on July 17, 1955, he created a unique destination built around storytelling and immersive experiences, ushering in a new era of family entertainment. More than 65 years later, Disney has grown into one of the world’s leading providers of family travel and leisure experiences, with iconic businesses including six resort destinations with 12 theme parks and 55 resort hotels in the United States, Europe and Asia; a top-rated cruise line with five ships and plans for three more; a luxurious family beach resort in Hawai‘i; a popular vacation ownership program; and an award-winning guided family adventure business. Disney’s global consumer products operations include the world’s leading licensing business; the world’s largest children’s publishing brands; one of the world’s largest licensors of games across all platforms; and the shopDisney e-commerce platform. These experiences are created by Disney Imagineers, the creative force behind experiences found in Disney theme parks, resort hotels, cruise ships and consumer products — including books, games and merchandise.