Since she first began her doctoral study in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education, Makena Neal has been directly involved in personal development and volunteer activities that directly relate to graduate student leadership on campus. At the start of her program, Makena maintained her fulltime employment with Cooperative Extension,as a statewide leadership and civic engagement educator. One of the programs that Makena championed was the development of a Michigan 4-H photo voice facilitation and train-the-trainer program. Even after she transitioned out of her fulltime role, Makena continued this workby collaborating with MSU’s University Outreach and Engagement office to design and facilitate photovoice trainings for university, faculty, staff, and graduate students.
As Makena has continued to navigate her doctoral program, she has dedicated her timetoward activities that align with her interests of adult learning, community engagement, and professional development. For the past two years she has been the leader of all outreach related activities for the #iteachmsu Commons, a campus-wide initiative aimed at creating a space where educators across roles can come together to share their work, connect with other educators, and grow in their educator practice. The #iteachmsu Commons digital space is launching at the end of this summer and is committed to a broad definition of educator (encompassing anyone who contributes to the teaching and learning mission of the university, including but not limited to faculty, staff, teaching assistants, undergraduate learning assistants, advisors, coaches, and librarians). As a part of this work, Makena launched MSU’s “Thank an Educator” initiative and #iteachmsu Educator Awards, a year-long peer-recognition program that shares gratitude for educators across roles at an institutional scale. Additionally, Makena is one of two authors of MSU’s Educator Competency Framework, a directive that came from the Provost’s office, and will be utilized a both individual and communal scales to guide and align educator professional development across roles and campus.
In addition to the efforts outlined above, Makena is a co-coordinatorofthe Graduate Leadership Institute(which includes designing, organizing, facilitating, and evaluating)and consisting of the Leadership Fellows, the Leadership Summit, and the Leadership Academy. Leadership Fellows are graduate studentsdedicated to leadership for social change in their respective collegeswho gather for peer mentorship and to be the steering committee for the Summit. The Summit is a one-day leadership conference for graduate students to engage in an introduction to leadership and social change. The Leadership Academyis an eight week intensive, project-based, cohort training experience. This trio is concluded with a public-facing showcase of the year’s work, giving graduate students the opportunity to celebrate their efforts with anaudience of college-level supporters, colleagues, and administrators. The current program structure, alignment, strategic visioning, and “for-by” model is either a direct result of or has been enhanced by Makena’s involvement. She is dedicated to leading innovative, change-oriented programming to enhance opportunities forthelearning and development of adults and communities around her.Because of this and the efforts outline here, Makena is deserving of the AAACE Graduate Student Leadership Award.