2021 WCMS Graduation Launches New Leaders

After three examinations, two projects, two two-week classroom sessions, and one four-week online session, the Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) “Sigma” Class was celebrated and honored on Thursday evening (July 29) during the school’s first virtual graduation. This ceremony for the 105 graduates marked the conclusion of the 61st annual session and 59th graduation commencement.

Seven students graduated with “High Honors,” and 17 students graduated with “Honors.” These distinctions were earned based on each student’s performance on the examinations taken by all students at the end of each school year, as well as their analysis in each of two major research projects — based on their credit union — that was completed between sessions.

Students graduating with “High Honors” were: Jethro M. Casinas, Hawaii; Kevin Cole, Oregon; John T. Granato II, New Mexico; Jess King, California; Nina M. Myers, Ohio; Corey Suraci, Washington; and Neal Weber, Wyoming.

Students graduating with “Honors” were Rebecca Carroll, California; Brodie Welker Cook, Utah; Emily Ann Hawkins, California; Jonathan Holland, Tennessee; Lindsay Jones, California; Erick W. A. Kniestedt, Washington; Hector Martin, Jr., California; Molly McMahon, California; Andrew Murawa, California; Athar Nazir, Alaska; Rachel M. Nielson, California; Aprylle Odlum-Chang, California; Andrew J. Reding, Washington; Scott S. Sager, Wyoming; Austin Michael Schock, Montana; Aaron H. Sugimoto, Hawaii; and Verity Swearingen, Washington.

Abiy Selassie, branch manager for SchoolsFirst FCU, received the Rick Craig Prize for Excellence in Project II — recognizing excellence in the second-year project, an endeavor that usually takes each student more than 200 hours to complete.

In addition, every year the graduating student who best represents high moral character, leadership, and credit union dedication is selected by his or her class to receive the Charles M. Clark Memorial Award. This year’s recipient was Rachel M. Nielson, class speaker, class president and vice president of operations for SESLOC FCU, who was surprised by the award during the virtual ceremony.

“When given the choice, always choose the path that leads to your growth,” Nielson said in her speech.

While transitioning to an online session was a change in 2021, the Sigma Class particularly focused their efforts around creating community and opportunities for interaction across all three classes at the school. Nielson thanked those within the industry such as Dr. James Likens (who led WCMS for decades since it was founded in 1972), the late Richard Myles Johnson, Dr. Michael Steinberger, dean of WCMS, Diana Dykstra, president and CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, among others, for believing in her throughout her journey.

Kent Oram, CEO of Idaho Central CU, received this year’s James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award for significant achievements in the credit union field since graduating from the school. In presenting the award, WCMS Alumni Association Member and 2009 graduate Ryan Olsen spotlighted the 1989 WCMS graduate’s work (Kent Oram — including having previously served on the WCMS Board of Trustees). Oram leads one of the fastest growing credit unions in the nation and believes the key to a successful organization is employee engagement — and is on a journey to build a “culture at Idaho Central that is world class.” Team members have embraced Oram’s vision, as Idaho Central was named “Best Place to Work in Idaho” for five consecutive years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017).

Commencement speaker, WCMS 1995 graduate, and Rogue CU CEO Gene Pelham encouraged students to “unleash your potential (and) become heroes” as they go forward with their newfound understanding of the credit union movement, leadership, and more importantly — themselves.

This year’s graduating class continued with the long-standing tradition of paying it forward to future leaders and giving back to WCMS funds it earned in service-learning activities. Its class gift of $10,000 represents the total raised over the past four years in Sigma- and tri-class-led efforts, and it will go toward providing scholarships for future students to attend the school.

The 2021 session was the school’s first session delivered remotely. The curriculum was split into pre-recorded lectures, along with live-team based challenges that utilized the class content to solve real-world credit union issues, including: credit union financial stewardship during times of inflation; post-pandemic organization of work; and digital transformation and strategy. The graduates had classes from credit union leaders, including a course on credit union innovation by Erin Coleman of the Filene Research Institute, a course on credit union leadership from 2019 Herb Wegner Memorial Award winner Diana Dykstra, and a course on regulation and political advocacy by Scott Simpson, president and CEO of Utah’s Credit Unions (as well as award-winning faculty from college and MBA institutions across Southern California, including Claremont Graduate University, Pomona College, and UCLA Anderson School of Management).

As credit unions and the nation emerged from the crisis point of the COVID-19 pandemic — one of the most challenging and transformative events in history — the need for prepared and enthusiastic leaders at all levels of the industry is greater now than ever. Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic and related economic implications, many credit unions found the cost of developing leaders to be a barrier. To help ensure that no student or prospective student was left behind solely due to financial constraints, this year the school launched a special WCMS Sponsor a Student campaign. The school would like to thank the following organizations and individuals for their generous support: CO-OP Financial Services; CU Direct; CUNA Mutual Group; Laura Brown of Oregon Community CU; Colorado CU; Adam Denbo of Samaha and Associates, Inc.; Chrystine Elstad of the Upsilon Class of 2023; Rob Greaff; Jon Hernandez of CalCom FCU/Mattel FCU/Nikkei CU; Dr. Michael Steinberger; Conrad Tan of Conrad Tan Realty; Julie Tibke of FirstLight FCU; TwinStar CU; Robert York of ILWU CU; and the WCMS Alumni Association.

2019 WCMS Graduation Launches New Leaders

After three examinations, two projects, and three two-week classroom sessions, the Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) “Rho” Class was celebrated and honored on a balmy July 25th at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. The commencement ceremony for the 99 graduates marked the conclusion of the 60th annual session of WCMS.

For photos of this year's WCMS graduation, click here.

This year, for only the eighth time in WCMS’s six-decade history, a student graduated with “Highest Honors.”  Eight additional students graduated with “High Honors,” and ten students graduated with “Honors.” These distinctions were earned based on each student’s performance on the examinations taken by all students at the end of each school year and for their analysis in each of their two major research projects— based on their credit union—completed between sessions.

Monica Cosentino-Benedict of Partners FCU in California graduated with “Highest Honors” for receiving high honors in all three examinations and two projects.

Students graduating with “High Honors” were: Carol Beniger, Montana; Craig D. Budge, Utah; Kelsey Esqueda, Oregon; Gregory E. Malmedal, Arizona; Sara Ott, Colorado; Erin Pearson, Washington; Tiffany Ann Pillars, Oregon; and Clint Seader, California.

Students graduating with “Honors” were: Mark Castro, California; Leah Friedenberg-Corning, Arizona; Tyler W. Holbrook, Oregon; Ryan Matthew McGrady, Hawaii; Brice Mindrum, Utah; Jason Daniel Royce, Idaho; Stephanie L. Strimling, Oregon; Jennifer Marie Topzand, California; Aaron Vallely, Hawaii; and Corinn Wohl, Washington.

Sara Ott of Canvas CU in Colorado received the Rick Craig Prize for Excellence in Project II recognizing excellence in the second-year project, an endeavor that usually takes each student more than 200 hours to complete.

In addition, every year the graduating student who best represents high moral character, leadership, credit union dedication, and academic achievement is nominated by his or her class to receive the Charles M. Clark Memorial Award. This year’s recipient was Deanne Figueras of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, who was described by her classmates as being dedicated to “the success of each individual;” “inclusive to all;” “living and breathing credit unions;” “enthusiastic and dependable;” and “kind, willing, and inspirational.”

While a service-learning objective is present for all WCMS classes, the Rho class particularly focused their class events on service in the local community, including a bike build for kids and a donation bag drive for a community charity. In her acceptance, Figueras encouraged her Rho peers to continue the class’s focus on service, “I thank you so much. I’ve dedicated my life to all of this, and I love all of this so much. I just hope we continue as a class to serve people.” 

She also thanked those within the industry such as Dr. Likens, the late Richard Myles Johnson, California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues President and CEO Diana Dykstra and Senior Vice President of Member Solutions Larry Palochik, among others, for believing in her throughout her journey.

Shirley Cate, CEO of Providence FCU in Oregon, received this year’s James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award for significant achievements in the credit union field since graduating from the school. In presenting the award, WCMS Alumni Association President Robert York noted the 1998 WCMS graduate’s work as chair of the Northwest Credit Union Association board of directors from 2007 to 2010, and her involvement in the creation of a credit union service organization, CU Apps, that provides affordable, customizable mobile banking technology solutions to credit unions throughout the industry.

Commencement speaker and Redwood CU CEO Brett Martinez jokingly recounted graduating WCMS in 1994 at the same time as his mother.  He then turned serious to talk about his favorite leadership book: The Leadership Challenge, whose authors researched how leaders mobilized others to extraordinary success. Out of the research, the authors discovered five practices that help create great leaders: model the way, inspire shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

The alumnus also surprised each student in the graduating class with a personally inscribed copy of the book.

“I want you to remember that leadership is not a title, it’s a mindset,” he said. “You don’t have to be a CEO and you don’t even have to be a manager to be a leader. I encourage you to lead from where you sit. I encourage you to make a difference. I guarantee people will notice.”

This year’s graduating class continued with the long-standing tradition of paying it forward to future leaders and giving back to WCMS funds it earned in service-learning activities. Its class gift of $25,000 represents the total raised over the past three years in Rho- and tri-class-led efforts.

The graduates had classes from credit union leaders including a course on credit union innovation by Mark Meyer, president and CEO of the Filene Research Institute and 1999 WCMS graduate; and a course on regulation and political advocacy by Scott Simpson, president and CEO of Utah's Credit Unions; as well as award-winning faculty from college and MBA institutions across Southern California, including Claremont Graduate University, Pomona College, and UCLA. 

Western CUNA Management School Honors Its 2018 Graduating Class

The 109 students of Western CUNA Management School's (WCMS) Pi class of 2018 received their diplomas at a graduation ceremony held at Pomona College in Claremont, CA on July 19. The event marked the conclusion of the 59th annual session of WCMS.

The graduates had classes from credit union leaders including Diana Dykstra, president and CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues and 1992 WCMS graduate; Bill Hampel, former CUNA chief economist and chief policy officer; Rudy Hanley, former president and CEO of SchoolsFirst FCU; Mark Meyer, president and CEO of the Filene Research Institute and a 1999 WCMS graduate; and Scott Simpson, president and CEO of Utah's Credit Unions; as well as award-winning faculty from college and MBA institutions across southern California, including Claremont Graduate University, Pomona College, and UCLA.  More information on their faculty and curriculum can be found on the website, www.wcmspomona.org.

During this year’s session, former WCMS president Dr. James Likens offered his reflections on credit union philosophy at the Richard Myles Johnson Colloquium in Credit Union Philosophy on July 11.

Teri Robinson—WCMS 2008 graduate and CEO of Portland, OR-based Pacific NW Ironworkers Federal Credit Union—received this year’s James D. Likens Alumni Recognition Award for significant service in the credit union field since graduating from the school. In presenting the award to Robinson, WCMS Alumni Association’s Robert York spoke of her involvement with small credit unions, including conducting planning sessions, serving on the GAC Small Credit Union Roundtable, and being the vice chairman of CUNA’s Small Credit Unions Committee. He praised her work in turning around her credit union from one with $7.9 million in assets and under 5 percent Net Worth Ratio in 2010 when she arrived to one today with $39 million in assets and more than 10 percent Net Worth Ratio.

Robinson expressed her appreciation for her WCMS education and the award. She said she took the passion about the credit union movement she had learned while at WCMS and took it back to “real life” at her credit union. She spoke of being bold—harking back to what class speaker Randall Icelow of California had encouraged of his fellow graduates—as well as using her WCMS project to help turn her credit union around. She spoke about the value of credit unions, including smaller ones.

“We (credit unions) are needed now more than ever,” she said.

Commencement speaker Lauren MacVay, immediate past president of the Alaska Credit Union League and president and CEO at True North Federal Credit Union in Juneau, Alaska, offered words of wisdom for the graduating class, especially in what she called “a great time to be alive”—a time marked by an increasing amount of innovation and change. She asked the group to harness the power of collaboration to help credit unions thrive, using the old African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” She said that adage has proven true with the success of the Alaska Credit Union League, a group of credit unions which has collaborated for something greater than themselves.

MacVay added that advocacy does matter for credit unions. “There is a need for our voice, our numbers, our data, and our stories,” she said. She encouraged the graduates to be nimble and finally to take care of themselves—to work harder but healthier. 

This year, six students who earned distinction graduated with “High Honors,” while an additional nine students earned distinction and graduated with “Honors.” These distinctions were earned based on each student’s performance on the examinations taken by all students at the end of each school year and for their analysis in each of their two major research projects— based on their credit union—completed between sessions.

Students graduating with “High Honors” were: A Scott Haeg, of Washington; Steven Mickelson of California; Scott Rabe of Washington; Jeffry D. Roberson of Oregon; Christine Ruzzi of Oregon; and David Sant of Utah.

Students graduating with “Honors” were: Matthew J. Ballou of Wyoming; Shannon Brammer of California; Alicia Carlson of Washington; Jennifer Clements of Colorado; Aaron C. Embrey of Colorado; Ash Greenspan of Nevada; A. Douglas Kearbey of Colorado; Matthew A Rice of Idaho; and Eric M. Zittel of Washington.

Scott Rabe of Washington received the Rick Craig Prize for Excellence in Project II recognizing excellence in the second-year project, an endeavor that usually takes each student of the school more than 200 hours to complete.

In addition, every year the senior student who best represents high moral character, leadership, credit union dedication, and academic achievement is nominated by his or her class to receive the Charles M. Clark Memorial Award. This year’s recipient was Evan Keith Strandberg of Washington, whom was said by his peers to be “a living example of the credit union ideal.”

The long-standing tradition of giving back to WCMS funds earned in the service-learning activities continued with this year’s graduating class presenting a check totaling $47,000, representing the total raised over the past three years in Pi- and tri-class-led efforts.  These funds are used by the school for scholarships and tuition support for all students.