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Meet the 20 Minnesotans Selected as 2019 Bush Fellowship Recipients

The Bush Fellows will receive up to $100,000 over the next year or two to improve their business acumen, professional leadership skills, or tackle opportunities to rejuvenate their community.

Meet the 20 Minnesotans Selected as 2019 Bush Fellowship Recipients
Bush Fellows Ashley Hanson, Siad Ali, and Alex West Steinman

Twenty Minnesotans are joining the prestigious Bush Fellowship, a program that honors innovators and leaders from Minnesota, the Dakotas and the 23 Native nations in the same geography who are keen to grow professionally and tackle issues within their field of interest.

The 2019 recipients, or “Bush Fellows,” each receive up to $100,000 over a one- to two-year span to pursue learning experiences of their choice. Some spend the funds on advanced education, workshops and training courses, while others use the money to cover networking opportunity costs or personal projects. Past Minnesota recipients have included governor Arne Carlson and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.

“The Bush Foundation believes the well-being of our region is directly impacted by investing in individual leaders,” said Anita Patel, leadership programs director of the Bush Foundation.

This year’s Bush Fellows include both Minnesota natives and immigrants to the state, each with a unique plan: One intends to build an employment opportunities network for refugees while another hopes to use the art of pie baking to connect communities after incidents of racial and religious violence. The only Plymouth resident on the list, Alex West Steinman—who happens to be an columnist for Twin Cities Business—aims to use the fellowship to drive economic access, resources and opportunities for women and non-binary individuals.

The full list of 2019 Bush Fellows and their bios from the Bush Foundation are as follows:

Siad Ali (Minneapolis) — Siad Ali is passionate about creating a community where every student succeeds. His dedication to education grew out of his own journey from war-torn Somalia to Minnesota. He learned how critical it is for children to have equitable access to education and for a community to be committed to teachers and schools. A respected problem solver in his positions as outreach director for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and as a director of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education, he seeks to be a transformative leader in the education arena. He will earn a doctorate in educational leadership and study successful schools that serve a majority of students of color.

Heather Cusick (Minneapolis) — Heather Cusick learned first-hand the stabilizing force of nature when her struggling family moved to a 100-acre farm in rural Kansas. There, she found that the land had the power to heal. This childhood informed her lifelong commitment to environmental protection, especially to communities that are most deeply impacted by climate-disrupting pollution. As a senior leader of the Sierra Club, she helped lead the organization’s effective approach to carbon reduction in the electric sector. Now, she wants to expand her focus to agriculture and climate advocacy. With the understanding that this work will take new knowledge and compelling leadership, she will study agricultural models around the world, build equity and racial justice competency, and seek coaching to build a stronger public voice.

Kate Davenport (St. Louis Park) — Kate Davenport believes we can design waste out of our systems of production and consumption in a way that addresses climate change, local economic development and social and environmental justice. As co-president of the social enterprise Eureka Recycling, she has navigated an international market crisis in recycling, overseen major city contracts and transformed Eureka’s materials recovery facility into the Zero Waste Laboratory. Now, she wants to create economically and socially just zero-waste communities. To achieve her bold vision, she will grow her skills, knowledge and connections at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. She will also devote time to help emerging leaders build the skills to run social enterprises.

Norma C. Garcés (Richfield) — Norma C. Garcés dreams of an educational system in Minnesota where Latinx students see themselves in their teachers, learning is relevant to their experiences and dreams, and they are safe to express themselves and their culture. As leader of El Colegio charter school, she has created a culturally rich environment where for the past five years 100% of students have been accepted into post-secondary educational institutions. As a trusted leader within the Latinx community, she wants to scale the experience of El Colegio to communities across the state. To lead this large-scale change, she will seek a master’s degree, executive leadership training, and skills in community engagement, cross-cultural communication, finance and public speaking.

Maisha Giles (Oakdale) — Maisha Giles wants to pioneer new strategies to cultivate black female leaders in the public sector. As behavioral health director for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, she sees a need for a comprehensive system focused not just on recruiting but also on retention and mentoring. She wants leaders of color and Native Americans at the table to help shape effective and wise public health policy, especially as it pertains to diverse populations. To become the bold leader of this work, she will earn a doctorate in leadership and public administration, strengthen her executive leadership and public policy skills, and build a network of successful black female leaders.

Miigis Gonzalez (Duluth) — Miigis Gonzalez (Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe) believes that Indigenous culture is at the root of wellness. Her research at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine and personal experiences with healing demonstrate the impact culture has on both prevention and treatment of health issues. She wants to use this knowledge to develop wellness opportunities for Native people. She seeks to bridge her social behavioral health education with deep ancestral knowledge to drive greater well-being in her community. To elevate her leadership, she will pursue the same rigorous education in traditional teachings as she did to earn her doctorate in health science, studying with tribal elders and first language Ojibwe speakers.

Ashley Hanson (Granite Falls) — Ashley Hanson has a bold vision: To use the arts to build healthy, thriving rural areas throughout Minnesota and beyond. Born into generational rural poverty, she learned to imagine a different reality through theater in high school. She went on to study and refine this work through college. She is the founder of both a theater company, PlaceBase Productions, and an artist-led organization, Department of Public Transformation, that use creative strategies to increase community connection, participation and pride in rural locations. To empower more people to use the arts to address pressing issues of economic development, civic participation and changing demographics in rural communities, she will seek advanced leadership training and take time to articulate a model for teaching and scaling her work.

Austen Hartke (St. Paul) — Austen Hartke wants more faith communities to be safe and inclusive places for LGBTQ people. A bisexual and transgender theologian, he is passionate about providing the educational resources faith leaders need to welcome, accept and celebrate gender diversity. He knows that transgender youth do best when their parents are supportive, and parents do best when supported by a faith community. To provide the depth of leadership it will take to transform faith communities into affirming places for all, he will increase his knowledge of theology and gender theory and cultivate his own spiritual resilience. He will also travel throughout the region to better understand the needs of transgender people and how positive change happens in faith communities, especially in rural areas.

Hudda Ibrahim (St. Cloud) — Hudda Ibrahim is not afraid to tackle big issues. In her home community of St. Cloud, she helps employers attract and retain immigrant and refugee employees. She also coaches and connects immigrant women to local employers. As a refugee to the U.S. from Somalia, she understands both barriers to and opportunities for building full economic participation. She wants to help members of her central Minnesota Somali community achieve greater economic equity and assume positions of influence. To advance this broad work, she will increase her business acumen with a Master of Business Administration degree. She will also build a network of valuable allies, business investors and partners.

Jeannie Krull (Moorhead) — Jeannie Krull intends to bring life-changing assistive technology to people with disabilities throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and the Native nations that share the same geography. She sees vast areas where there is little or no knowledge of or access to devices and services that promote safety and independence. She seeks to build the leadership skills and professional networks she needs to create assistive technology oases where there are now deserts. To effect transformational change in this area, she will research successful programs and approaches nationally and internationally, grow her skills in the areas of policy and legislative advocacy, and further develop her cultural competence.

Rose McGee (Golden Valley) — Rose McGee knows that food connects. As the creator of the Sweet Potato Comfort Pie™ Approach, she has taken pies to Ferguson, Charleston and Pittsburgh following devastating incidents of racial and religious violence. She also brings hundreds of people together to bake pies and have tough dialogues around race. She knows that this approach helps people and communities bridge racial divides and embrace the hard work required for racial equity. To reach more young people with her novel approach, she needs to understand what new generations are doing to build resiliency and racial unity. She will visit numerous Historically Black Colleges and Universities to learn from and with intergenerational leaders. She will also seek coaching to develop a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Nawal Noor (Minneapolis) — Nawal Noor knows it is possible to create social enterprise businesses that effectively address economic disparities. The first East African developer and general contractor in Minnesota, she launched a successful business to build affordable housing, employing and training workers historically left out of real estate development and construction projects. She wants to scale her model and become a transformational leader who can create inspiring solutions to entrenched economic disparities, as well as establish a financing institution or lending model for those who find traditional financing tools incompatible with their core values and Islamic religious beliefs. To elevate her position in the community, she will pursue national leadership development opportunities, study social impact investing and learn from visionary leaders about how they investigate and solve pressing issues.

Maria Regan Gonzalez (Richfield) — Maria Regan Gonzalez believes that collaborative leadership creates room for more voices in decision making. As the first Latina mayor in Minnesota, she understands that bridging across difference is essential for the next generation of leaders. She wants her city of Richfield to serve as a laboratory for how to build opportunity for all in the midst of widening disparities. To lead this large-scale work, she will study alternative models of governance and engagement in the U.S. and around the world that connect political leadership, cultural identity and spirituality. She will also seek coaching to enhance her ability to inspire and unify diverse groups of people during complex times.

Tony Sanneh (Bloomington) —Tony Sanneh likes to find solutions to big problems. As the founder of the Sanneh Foundation, he transformed a closing community center into a safe and vital place for youth development in Saint Paul’s East Side. He developed his strong work ethic and problem-solving skills first as one of the country’s leading professional soccer players and later by growing his nonprofit from a team of three volunteers to a full-time staff of 65. Now, he wants to embrace two bold passions: to change the way professional sports teams engage in philanthropy and to help build a diverse educational teaching force. To elevate his leadership in multiple arenas, he will complete his bachelor’s degree in education policy, seek advanced training in sports philanthropy and public speaking, and build a group of trusted mentors.

Amie Schumacher (Waite Park) — Amie Schumacher believes that faith and science, working together, can break the silence, shame and generational cycle of childhood trauma. She wants to help faith organizations and health care systems embrace the powerful healing of trauma-informed approaches. In her role as a hospital chaplain, she led the integration of such approaches into CentraCare Health system in St. Cloud. She will pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree to develop the transformational leadership skills she needs to help faith groups, chaplain training and seminary education programs build new practices that recognize trauma. She also will improve her facilitation skills to bring diverse religious and cultural groups together to discuss difficult topics around childhood trauma.

Alex West Steinman (Plymouth) — Alex West Steinman has a bold mission to increase economic access, resources and opportunities for women. She believes that prosperity begins with the economic empowerment of women and non-binary individuals. As co-founder and CEO of The Coven, she created a co-working space where women and non-binary people grow career-enhancing connections, incubate ideas and learn to start businesses. She wants to build a bigger social enterprise effort that helps women navigate the world of building capital and sustainable wealth. Because this vision requires advanced leadership skills, she will explore the world of social impact investing, grow her cultural competency, improve her financial acumen and invest in coaching to better tell her story.

Bo Thao-Urabe (Eagan) — Bo Thao-Urabe wants Minnesota to be an inclusive, thriving place for all communities. As a young immigrant to the U.S., she learned quickly how to help her family succeed in a system that lacked understanding of and commitment to refugees. Today, as leader of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders, she inspires others to develop community-centered solutions that bring about meaningful change. To become a stronger thought leader for her community, especially the next generation of Asian American leaders, she will take time to determine how to best tell and share the lessons she's learned on her leadership journey. She will also study the emerging field of solidarity economics to shed light on invisible practices employed by cultural communities to improve collective life.

Ia Xiong (White Bear Lake) — Ia Xiong is passionate about addressing multicultural considerations in trauma-informed care. A practicing psychologist, she wants Hmong people to have access to culturally appropriate mental health services to heal from remnants of historical trauma. While her community shows higher rates of mental health concerns than the general population, they also show much lower rates of using mental health services. She wants to address this gap through innovative methods to reduce barriers to care. To strengthen her leadership as a healer in her community, she will deepen her understanding of traditional Hmong healing practices and study online platforms for delivering culturally relevant, effective mental health care.

Tou Ger Xiong (Woodbury) — Tou Ger Xiong is called to a life of public service and social justice activism. The Hmong American storyteller, artist and activist shares his personal stories across the country to build cultural competency and address racial discrimination. He sees that his community has achieved some level of the American Dream but that Hmong people still face disparities in employment, educational achievement, and home and business ownership. To amplify the voices of his community and serve as a force for change, he will document his civic engagement and anti-racism work to share with new generations of activists. He will also earn his master’s degree in public affairs and seek a public service role that directly impacts policy.

KaYing Yang (St. Paul) — KaYing Yang believes that her community’s prosperity and collective well-being will be maximized only when there is true gender equity. She also wants to be a force in the movement to shape policies that are equitable and inclusive of Indigenous peoples and people of color. To provide innovative and strategic leadership for her community, she will study successful approaches to gender justice in cultures around the world and strengthen her community organizing abilities with new knowledge of public policy making. As a long-time community advocate, she will work with her extensive network of leaders to document their social justice contributions as a source of inspiration for the next generation.

Jana Gipp (Fort Yates, North Dakota) — Jana Gipp (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) is driven by the health of her community. As chief executive officer of the health care facility that serves the Native population within the Standing Rock Nation and surrounding communities, she has built a highly rated regional health care network. As health disparities persist in the population she serves, and as her rural community faces a shortage of medical professionals, she wants to incorporate innovative ideas and cultural practices to improve Standing Rock’s health care system. To lead this large-scale change, she will complete a doctoral program in health care administration to become one of the first members of her tribe with this specialized expertise. She will also research the successes of other Native nations across the county that have demonstrated significant advances in tribal well-being.

Michaela Seiber (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) — Michaela Seiber (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) wants South Dakota to be a more welcoming, supportive place for LGBTQ people. As a young person who struggled to find acceptance and gay role models in both her white and Native communities, she knows personally the vital importance of social support. She believes that lack of inclusion has a major impact on physical and mental health but notes that little data is available on the LGBTQ community in her region. To advance a health equity agenda for LGBTQ people, she will connect with experts around the country who are conducting research about the health disparities of this population. She will also strengthen her leadership and communication skills to build the confidence she needs to speak publicly.

Sarah Pierce (Black Hawk, South Dakota) — Sarah Pierce (Oglala Lakota) wants Rapid City to become the model of a culturally responsive city. To achieve that vision, she knows that Native people, especially youth, must have places of cultural safety where they can learn and heal through full access to the history, culture and language of the Lakota people. She intends to be a change agent who gives voice to a population that has traditionally been silenced. To become the trusted leader her community can turn to for wise counsel, she will earn her doctorate in educational leadership and study programs in Hawaii, where student outcomes have improved dramatically in schools focused on cultural safety. She will also build relationships with key Native leaders at the state and federal levels.

Joseph McNeil (Fort Yates, North Dakota) — Joseph McNeil (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) is focused on building possibility for the children of his Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He wants to change young people’s perceptions about what life can be and give them the tools they need to be financially free. As head of the tribe’s economic development arm, he has learned how to revitalize, stabilize and maintain tribal businesses. Now, to become a leader who can create new, entrepreneurial pathways for younger generations, he seeks to increase his understanding of corporate business finance and impact investing. He will earn a master’s degree in business finance, lead efforts to build a tribal credit union and seek new ways to help his community acquire land where tribal businesses can flourish.

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