"Very close-knit": New alumni of the American Express Leadership Academy reflect on the invaluable experience

"Very close-knit": New alumni of the American Express Leadership Academy reflect on the invaluable experience

AmEx Academy Class 14

Class 14 of the American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center completed the program on June 10, 2022.

Story by Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

June 14, 2022

Through a hybrid format featuring both online and in-person sessions, Class 14 of the American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center and its 32 participants included individuals from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and nonprofit organizations. “The group has become very close-knit,” said Czerina Harvey, a Class 14 member and product program manager at Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine Council. “This has been really a great avenue to connect with others from different organizations in order to continue working together with the community as one, rather than several different organizations.”

Harvey and other alumni like Sharon Newkirk, HR generalist at Native American Connections, and E. Liane Hernandez, director of the Women's Wellness, Empowerment and Leadership Center at YWCA Southern Arizona, noted that the lessons and skills they’ve learned throughout the program have been impactful to their current and future careers within the nonprofit sector, and have benefited Arizona communities alike.

The Leadership Academy is a select leadership-development experience designed uniquely for Arizona's nonprofit professionals. Empowering participants to grow as leaders, build new networks and advance their careers, the Academy accepts a group of top emerging nonprofit leaders for a 10-month program that focuses on the knowledge and tools needed to take on future nonprofit leadership roles. Class 14 graduated on June 10, 2022, the final class of this current iteration of the Academy.

In this Q&A, several 2021-22 American Express Leadership Academy participants share their experiences in the program and how it served as an effective step forward in their nonprofit careers.


Were any professional relationships made throughout your time in the program?

Harvey: Being able to text or call each other and say, hey, I need some help with this or I need some advice on that, has been really special. Most of us have even just connected based off of our organizations and how they intertwine and how we can support each other.

Newkirk: For sure. I’m happy to know that we’re still going to communicate… I’ve connected with so many people and organizations that I guarantee I’ll keep in touch with.

Hernandez: I believe that I have. I have made some really important connections with my fellow participants.

What were some of the most impactful parts of the program?

Harvey: I think the most impactful parts have been the panelists and experts that come through and talk about their experiences in the nonprofit world or in corporate worlds, and how exactly our work can be seen when gaining grants or other opportunities. It's amazing to me how you're not alone in this work and there's always the community and others trying to support the same mission that you are.

Newkirk: A lot of diversity was brought up and I really appreciated it … It was like they wanted to know more about our side of the sector and were really considering the differences in people that realistically are in philanthropy.

Hernandez: ​I am sure that learning more about metacognition and the coaching component has been most impactful for me.

What are some successes or lessons that you've learned throughout the program?

Harvey: The executive coaching portion of this session has helped me grow to where I want to be as a leader and manager in my current position, and has shown me how I can help others without hindering myself or second-guessing. My executive coach has been able to really help me process and move forward with what I want to do in the future.

Newkirk: There were so many. I’ve always been the type of person to stay in my line, and so learning to communicate openly was a challenge. I was never asking questions… and I was definitely able to do that here and work within teams. There were also a lot of nonprofits involved so we got a real chance to learn about philanthropy.

Hernandez: I think that some of the best and most wonderful successes that have shown up have been in meeting and talking deeply with my colleagues. I have learned so much from them and have been able to think differently about our collective work in nonprofits.

What do you feel is next for you/your career as you are ending the program?

Harvey: I think what's next is some professional and personal growth; moving up within my organization, along with making more connections out in the community… possibly being on a board of another nonprofit that I'm passionate about. It’s overall been a great experience.

Newkirk: A nonprofit was asking me what I thought about working with women in group homes who have gone through abuse, addiction… and I think that being part of an organization where I could make a difference with Native American women going through these struggles would be where I’d like to help going forward.

Hernandez: I hope that I can be a better leader for my current and future staff, and help with the goals that my CEO has in mind for this 105-year-old organization. I also hope that my fellow classmates and I can get into some good trouble together and keep asking better questions to help create the Arizona that we all deserve. This [AmEx program] has been an important step in my career and I hope that there will be more opportunities for access to these invaluable lessons in the future.

For the last 14 years, the ASU Lodestar Center has provided a Leadership Academy that has trained over 400 nonprofit professionals coming from over 250 organizations. In 2022, we are developing a new iteration of the Leadership Academy that will continue our tremendous impact on organizational effectiveness and sustainability, prepare nonprofit professionals to excel at senior leadership levels and help solve the challenges nonprofits face today. Interested? Complete a form here.