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News & Stories: 2009-10

Student lands prestigious leadership scholarship
December 18, 2009

Johannah JelksThe Michigan Political Leadership Program (MPLP), a 10-month public policy and leadership program for citizens interested in public office, recently announced its 2010 fellowship recipients. Out of approximately 100 applicants, the 24 selected candidates will learn to serve their communities in public office at the city, county and state levels.

The only candidate accepted from Grand Rapids—and the youngest participant—is a student at Calvin College.

A larger voice from Grand Rapids

Johannah Jelks, a Calvin senior studying business communications, was notified of her acceptance into the MPLP in November 2009. She won a scholarship to the program, funded by Michigan State University (MSU), valued at $12,000. "I’m excited to represent the west side of Michigan,” Jelks said. “As Grand Rapids becomes more of a staple city in Michigan, we’ll be able to have a bigger say on policy.”

The program, which runs one weekend per month for 10 months, takes place at various locations across Michigan. It consists of discussions and seminars presenting the many major responsibilities, challenges and issues faced by those in public office.

Linda Cleary, the program administrator at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR), explained that the program has been running for 17 years. “Once term limits were implemented, there were more individuals seeking office,” Cleary said. “MPLP wanted to recruit, train and inspire tomorrow’s public policy leaders to prepare them with vision, commitment and the skills necessary for effective governance.”

By studying business communications at Calvin, Jelks aims to acquire the skills necessary to make a political impact on her community. “I think communication is key,” she said. “I think a lot of our current issues in the country are because we are divided and not communicating.”

Politics begins at home

Jelks said that growing up in a politically-conscious home sparked her interest in public policy. “It’s definitely a family thing,” she said. Jelks’ father, Randal Maurice Jelks, formerly served as an associate professor of history and director of the African and African diaspora studies minor during his time at Calvin. He spoke at the 2006 January series about his published work, “African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids,” which touched on the topics of social justice, public policy and economic conditions.

"My brother is also very involved in the community,” said Jelks, who volunteers regularly in a local neighborhood and plans to continue serving the community through public relations—specifically for political campaigns. She also wants to start her own business and non-profit organizations.

"I would like to do some philanthropy,” she added. “I’m heavy on philanthropy.”

With the first of 10 meetings only two months away, Jelks is busy preparing to discuss and debate public policy, to meet Michigan legislators, to learn bipartisanship and to train to run for office. “I’m really excited to be involved,” she said, “to know what I’m voting for and why the structures are the way they are.”

~Cloud Cray, communications and marketing

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