Highlights 2019

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.