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"SYSTEMNESS" in white text over a black cracking background.

LANSING, Mich. — CivicLab, a national nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration, announced today the inaugural cohort for the Systemness Leadership Academy, which aims to advance systems-level strategies that empower community leaders to approach and address complex societal problems. Michigan College Access Network is proud to support the participation of Renee Aumock, career navigator and LCAN Coordinator for Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District; Maureen Ovington, director of Berrien College Access Network; and Jamie Storey, director of higher education innovation for MCAN.

Systemness is a 12-month training program for co-creating better social systems. Leaders in the academy represent communities that want to use a collaborative and holistic approach to addressing difficult problems. Each participant has chosen a unique focus area relevant to their own community, region or state to apply the principles, practices and frameworks provided by CivicLab. The three participants supported by MCAN will be exploring ways to align local, cross-sector efforts to enact systems-level changes that improve college readiness, participation and completion, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students and students of color.

“I’m excited for this opportunity to expand my knowledge of collective impact and how improving educational attainment can help build stronger communities,” said Ovington. “By working together to address system-level inequities, we can ensure more Berrien County residents — both current students and returning adults — can attend college and pursue a brighter future. With a systems-level approach, we will be able to identify where the greatest impacts can happen.”

“Local College Access Networks are a key part of our strategy to improve educational equity in Michigan,” said Ryan Fewins-Bliss, MCAN executive director. “As we work toward Sixty by 30, we need to make sure community efforts are aligned, effective and focused on delivering help where it’s most needed. We’re proud to support these three participants, who will be able to bring new insights and approaches to their communities and help us build stronger networks across the state.”

The three individuals supported by MCAN join two participants from the Detroit Regional Chamber — Greg Handel, vice president for education and talent, and Christi Taylor, senior director of talent initiatives — as well as Kevin Chandler, vice president of college advancement and community relations for Macomb Community College. Handel is also a member of the MCAN Board of Directors.

The remainder of the inaugural Systemness Leadership Academy cohort comprises:


  • Wendy Blackmore, director of operations, Tennessee College Access & Success Network — Tennessee
  • Daryl Curry, director of education and workforce partnerships, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce — Tennessee
  • Melanie D’Evelyn, executive director, One Million Degrees — Colorado
  • Barbara Halsey, principal, Halsey Consulting — California
  • Tessa LeSage, FutureMakers director, Collaboratory — Florida
  • Kate Mahar, associate vice president, Shasta College — California
  • Stacy Townsley, associate commissioner for adult strategy, Indiana Commission for Higher Education — Indiana
  • Shareea Woods, director for the Texas College Access Network, Educate Texas — Texas


The academy will teach systems-building principles, share concrete examples of the ideas in action and provide a space to practice the skills. Its goal is to create a network of national leaders dedicated to transforming social systems to better serve all people.

“Our social systems were designed for a world that no longer exists,” said Jack Hess, CivicLab executive director. “And while we have become quite good at solving problems with advances in science and technology, we have yet to learn how to dissolve problems by redesigning the underlying systems that are causing the problems in the first place. That’s what we designed the leadership academy to do: to teach leaders that it’s a system thing, not a single thing.”

CivicLab is currently accepting nominations and applications for the next Systemness cohort, starting in October 2023. Interested individuals should visit The Systemness Leadership Academy is supported by Lumina Foundation.


About CivicLab

CivicLab is a nonprofit institute dedicated to advancing the practice of civic collaboration and leading complex social systems. As both an overarching set of principles and a hands-on practice for improving a community, CivicLab's Stakeholder Engagement Process provides people with a common language and common approach for dissolving complex social problems. Since its inception, CivicLab has partnered with over 300 communities and organizations across the U.S. and trained more than 14,000 leaders of foundations, educational institutions, government, corporations and community development organizations.

Local College Access Network leaders, MCAN staff to explore system-level solutions to educational inequity