State rep. to speak at Venderbush Leadership Lecture

Event will honor student leaders on campus

By Claire Fodell | 3/12/14 5:58pm

Grand Valley State University will host state Rep. Winnie Brinks to tell her story of her rise to a leadership position in the Grand Rapids community.

The event is being organized by the Office of Student Life for its biannual Venderbush Leadership Lecture. The lecture will take place on March 17 at 2 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Mary Idema Pew Library.

“Anytime someone does something to help improve their community — whether it be at school, in their neighborhood or even in a group of friends — they are leading,” Brinks said.

In her keynote speech on Monday, Brinks will offer advice to students about taking on leadership roles.

“Wherever your interests and skills lead you, get involved and don’t quit until the job is done,” she said.

This is Brink’s first term serving as a state representative. She represents the 76th district of Michigan, which includes part of the city of Grand Rapids in Kent County.

Brinks said she found herself in the position by looking for problems she could solve and always trying to make a difference.

Michelle Burke, director of Student Life, said that telling a real story that students can relate to and be inspired by is common among Venderbush Leadership Lecture keynotes.

“We tell our speakers to talk about how they use what they learned in college in their leadership role today,” Burke said.

Kate Thome, the event coordinator, said she hopes students will make their own connections between leadership and the real world after hearing Brinks’s story.

“This lecture is looking to help students connect the leadership experiences that they’re having at Grand Valley to being a leader in the community after they graduate,” Thome said.

Brinks received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in sociology from Calvin College. She went on to lead a local nonprofit and worked in local schools before becoming a state representative.

“We try to choose people in different fields, and we hadn’t had someone from the government or political sector in quite a while,” Thome said.

Along with the keynote speaker, the lecture will celebrate on-campus leadership by recognizing the nominees and announcing the winner of the Immediate Impact Award. The award is given to outstanding student leaders on behalf of their registered student organization.

Nominees for the award this semester are Julie Bartkowicz, Amanda Martin, Lydia Wright, Cassie Trapp and Zack Morford.

The Venderbush Leadership Lecture has honored the memory of long-time employee Kenneth R. Venderbush since 1999. Venderbush was vice president for Student Affairs at GVSU from 1969 until 1973.

During his time as vice president, he was committed to student affairs and specifically advocated the importance of student leadership.

“The speeches that are given are inspirational. They really do make you want to be a leader and make change,” Thome said.

Registration for the event is free and can be done online at The deadline for registering is March 14, but Thome said everyone is welcome as long as space is available.

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