Congrats to the 2024 Hope College Culture Champions!

On Friday, April 26, The Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Disability and Accessibility Resources and Culture and Inclusive Excellence co-hosted Hope College’s annual Diversity Awards Presentation. This year, the Culture Action Team awarded 10 individual Culture Champions as well as one team award. We are grateful for the work of the recipients and all Hope employees for creating spaces of belonging, understanding, and grace.

Read on for this year’s Culture Champions, with words directly from those who nominated them!

Culture Champion Award recipients. (photo credit: Greg Olgers)

1. Dr. Jennifer Blake-Mahmud – Assistant Professor of Biology

“Dr. Blake-Mahmud is gifted with creativity, compassion, and curiosity, and she uses her talents to promote equity, inclusion, social justice, and the overall culture at Hope College inside and outside the classroom… She consistently and intentionally disseminated cultural information (such as holidays of various nations and campus cultural events) to the department, increasing awareness of diversity across the globe.”

“Dr. Blake-Mahmud is committed to educating students and the community that it is possible to reconcile faith and science and make them mutually illuminating, and the mindset can be applied to our daily lives.” 

2. Dr. Annie DandavatiProfessor of Political Science

“There are few people who can bridge the gap between staff and faculty the way Annie does. She is passionate about people, about learning, and about working hard – beyond that, she doesn’t bother herself with caring about titles or hierarchy. She learns people’s names, she contributes to projects outside her scope of work, she is honest about the struggles she sees in the world while also shining a light on the good future that could be possible. Annie is all the best things about Hope rolled into one person and she is very deserving of this award.”  

3. Katie DeKosterDirector of Family Engagement

“Katie truly makes everyone she comes in contact with feel like they are worthy of belonging. She is genuinely curious about what makes people tick and makes you feel like you are the most interesting person in the world with valuable contributions. She is constantly looking for new and creative ways to include people who aren’t regularly included and is able to connect with almost everyone in some way. She does all this while still being strong in her beliefs and convictions, never backing down simply to make others feel comfortable – and by doing this, she makes others ultimately feel more free to do the same thing themselves.”

4. Dr. Natalia Gonzalez-PechAssistant Professor of Chemistry

“[I nominate Dr. Gonzalez-Pech] for her voluminous informal mentoring of students and colleagues of color; for being very engaged with programming coming out of CDI [the Center for Diversity and Inclusion] / Keppel House and advertising it to colleagues and students alike; for being engaged with NASD [Natural and Applied Science Division] Antiracism Team and Faculty of Color groups and helping bridge the two; for the courage to speak up on issues of DEI and culture even as a pre-tenure faculty.”

5.    Lance PellowAssociate Director of Admissions

“Lance Pellow has helped direct the Covenant Process for the last 6 years. He has stood as the informal liaison for our Covenant students and remains a safe place for the Covenants as they continue their four years through college. Lance also supports the Calling Program for the Phelps Scholars as they recruit their incoming class.”

“Lance has many talents but the one that comes to mind the most, is that he is always thinking of everyone. He finds himself volunteering with different departments on campus as well as local schools for tours and visits. Lance makes this place a school where others feel like they belong.”

6.    Sara Sanchez -TimmerResidential Life Coordinator – Phelps Scholar Program

“Sara Sanchez-Timmer has embodied the ethos of belonging, understanding, and grace since beginning her employment at Hope College in 2022. Sara has been relentlessly curious about processes, systems, and structures that undergird the animated experience of students and employees at Hope. This curiosity about structures has been matched by a curiosity about the people at Hope and their experiences… Always seeking to understand people and circumstances, Sara becomes a contagion of suspended judgment and thoughtful response. Her colleagues and students are more considerate, gracious, and kind as a result of her role modeling…Sara cultivates a culture of learning and growth that prompts each of us to be more like the mission and vision we are aspiring toward at Hope College.”

7.    Dr. Joanne StewartElmer E. Hartgerink Professor of Chemistry

“Joanne has worked throughout her career to support LGBTQ students both on and off campus. Countless small acts as a faculty member and, particularly as a member of the Board of Trustees, have helped the college get to the point where we have a true campus organization that supports LGBTQ-identifying people… Again, Joanne has provided support through many small acts over her years on campus; more specifically Joanne was critical to the formation of FACES [Fostering A Community of Excellence in Science] , getting funding to start the program and Anna Bonnema as the director….which makes a huge difference for underrepresented students in the sciences.”

8.    Shomari TateChaplain of Discipleship 

“Shomari has provided energy and leadership to expand the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day commemorations on campus by developing a day for faculty, staff, and students to both learn and present about justice and advocacy.”

“He has been an active voice in shaping how Campus Ministries thinks about social justice as a necessary part of our Christian mission. The fact that he manages to connect [with] Athletics, Campus Ministries, and CDI through his role is just a small portion of how easily he connects people and offices in the service of our students.”

9.    Eric Van TassellAssistant Professor of Lighting and Sound Design

“Eric is a connector and spark plug in every sense of the word for our campus community. Eric’s dedication to culture and inclusion is felt every single day…. Eric is constantly thinking of new and innovative ways to engage his students and making them feel more valued, connected and included to one another and to the community at large. Eric volunteers to be a faculty/staff connection point for new hires as well, by offering up his time to do campus tours for new employees. Eric also spends time with the Hope faculty/staff soccer group and always looks to make connections with others through casual conversations and through the art of playing sports together. “

 10. Margo WaltersAssistant Director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion

“Margo Walters pours her heart into her work with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Multicultural Student Organizations. In addition to providing leadership in these areas of the college, Margo has gone above and beyond, such as creating an opportunity this past year for a Self-Care Friday event which has been a great opportunity for staff and faculty to get together and connect in a relaxed setting. It’s important to have spaces like these that are dedicated to health and well-being and Margo has been passionate about making sure these kinds of spaces are created. Margo also is a champion for diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and social justice, across campus and in the Holland community.”

11. Kruizenga Art Museum Team – Charles Mason & Alexandra Lewis

“They exude and embody all forms of belonging, understanding, grace while making continual strides and efforts to improve the equity and accessibility of visual art at Hope College. The team at the KAM is responsible for all things art and curation, but specifically their efforts in the programmatic space have been incredibly impactful and meaningful for members of communities that may not otherwise have the space or representation of their artwork.”

“They pick beautiful exhibitions that include important and significant moments of history. I’m always so impressed at the inclusivity of the exhibitions whether it’s Pride Month, Día de [los] Muertos, Black History Month, Asian History month, or many others.”

Congratulations to this year’s Culture Champions!

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