WMU's flight operations chief named to presidential leadership group

Contact: Cheryl Roland
Photo of Capt. Russell Kavalhuna at the White House.

Kavalhuna at the White House

KALAMAZOO, Mich.— Capt. Russell Kavalhuna, Western Michigan University's new executive director of flight operations in the College of Aviation, has been tapped to take part in a six-month national leadership development effort called the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program.

Kavalhuna is one of 61 diverse leaders from across the United States who traveled to Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, last month to begin a series of monthly development activities. The scholars program is an executive-style development initiative that draws upon the resources of the presidential centers of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton and George W. Bush.

About the program

Over the coming months, the group is scheduled to travel to each of the presidential centers to meet with and learn from former presidents, key administration officials and leading academics. They will study and put into practice varying approaches to leadership, develop a network of peers, and exchange ideas with mentors and others who can help them make an impact in their communities.

In addition to the group's startup activities, at Monticello and in Charlottesville, Va., the group spent its first working weekend traveling to Washington for meetings at the White House and the National Archives. For March, program activities shifted to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Center in College Station, Texas, where the President and Mrs. Bush greeted and worked with the participants.  

This year's class of scholars, Kavalhuna says, is the second class to be named. The group, which was selected from among more than 600 applicants for the program, includes mid-career professionals in academia, law enforcement, medicine, banking and investment, nonprofit management, international business and health care. Also part of the group are leaders from international service agencies and such local, state and federal government entities as the U.S. departments of State, Justice and Defense as well as a city council, state health department and several school districts.

According to program organizers, "these diverse leaders were chosen because of their desire and capacity to take their leadership strengths to a higher level in order to help their communities and our country."

Kavalhuna says the program is set up to encourage participants to interact with people who know the demands of leadership and how to reflect upon and learn from both successes and failures. The caliber of classmates and the level of expertise shown by those leading the program, he feels, have enormous appeal.

"Being around ambitious and intelligent people is really intoxicating," he says. "The program is promoted as an opportunity to do a case study on presidential leadership. From the first module when we began this journey in Virginia, the presentations have lived up to that billing.

The fellows have been asked to examine leadership models and methods and pick their own leadership project through which they can make a contribution to their organizations or communities.

The project Kavalhuna has selected for focus is to implement a modernized safety reporting protocol for the College of Aviation that will be adaptable for a wide range of aviation organizations, including other aviation schools.

"The goal is to reduce risks to safety systems and to operate at a safety level no one in collegiate aviation has yet achieved," he says.

Kavalhuna, who was named to his current WMU position in late 2015, is a 2001 WMU alumnus who holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. He is a former airline captain and flight instructor. Kavalhuna also is a licensed attorney who returned to WMU after serving for six years as a federal prosecutor in the Western District of Michigan.

For more information about the Presidential Leadership Scholars initiative, visit presidentialleadershipscholars.org.

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