Leadership matters.

Each year, President Joe Stowell presents the President's Award at commencement to two traditional undergraduate members of Cornerstone University's graduating class.

Award Criteria

The President's Award is given to traditional undergraduate students who have embodied excellence in all areas of life while students at Cornerstone. The four criteria for this award are:

  • Academic excellence. Any student nominated possesses a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.25.
  • Excellence in leadership. Students nominated have excelled in positions of leadership from a variety of contexts across the campus.
  • Excellence in Christian service. Students nominated have embodied the servant heart of Jesus Christ in their interactions with people inside and outside the Cornerstone community.
  • Excellence in campus involvement. Students nominated have invested themselves in the life of Cornerstone both inside and outside the classroom.

Award Recipients

The President's Award winners exemplify the fulfillment of our mission to develop graduates who will distinguish themselves as influencers in our world for Christ. To date, our award recipients include these distinguished Cornerstone graduates:

Honoree Bios

Robert Bodtke

Robert Bodtke accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Robert Bodtke (B.S. '12) demonstrated a great love and appreciation for the natural resources that God has given us. He earned a bachelor's degree in environmental biology. While a student at Cornerstone, he served as a project leader for SIFE, organized a sustainability conference here at CU in which Grand Rapids and led an initiative in a Grand Rapids neighborhood to paint storm drains so that citizens would not dump their waste. In addition, he participated in a research team that monitored the deer population to help determine management strategies at the Blandford Nature Center.

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Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Janelle Brown (B.S. '12) invested herself deeply into the life of Cornerstone's campus and excelled in her studies, majoring in international business and business management. She founded Cornerstone's Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program and has grown the group to more than 50 members. In addition to being the president of SIFE, she volunteered with various non-profit organizations (e.g., her church, International Justice Mission, Women At Risk International) and spent two summers teaching English with ELIC in the earthquake-ravaged Sichuan providence of China.

Beyond the classroom, Janelle is a nationally-recognized athlete. She is the recipient of the coveted 2011-12 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Dr. LeRoy Walker Champions of Character Award and holds five school records for indoor and outdoor track and field.

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Matthew Elmore

Matthew Elmore (B.A. '11) spent time taking students through the Gospel of Mark during his two years of leading Evensong, our Sunday night student worship service. He invested in our discipleship ministry as an SLD (a Spiritual Life Director), mentoring several male small group leaders on our campus. He selected his major—ancient studies—and pursued it with excellence to better understand the Gospel.

If you spend any time with him, you'll also notice a simple tattoo of a saltshaker on his arm. It's a "more than skin-deep" reminder to this man that his calling is to be salt and light in this world. And he has lived that out.

Elizabeth Kool

Elizabeth Kool (B.A. '11) invested herself deeply into the life of the campus. She excelled her in studies, majoring in English, and her passion for literature and learning made her a fixture in the library, where she served as a student worker during most of her time at CU. Her passion for others led her to invest a year of her life serving as a Resident Assistant in Cook Hall. Her passion for global influence led her to Hong Kong, where she served as an educator with the English Language Institute/China.

Austin Lash

Austin Lash accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Austin Lash (B.S. '17) served as a phenomenal chapel worship leader, a valuable member of the Enactus team and a standout member of the University Chorale. As an academically gifted business major, he set a high bar for student leadership and involvement.

Lash consistently pointed the campus community back to God as a worship leader and through his everyday interactions, charisma, musical gifts, leadership skills, humility, joy and compassion.

Matthew Lewis

Matthew Lewis (B.A. '15) served as a Resident Assistant in Central Hall and helped to shape a positive, Christ-honoring culture in his residence hall. Additionally, he has worked in Admissions, making prospective students feel welcome.

Graduating with a bachelor's degree in worship arts, he has used his musical gifts to serve our campus community as a worship leader in chapel and as a member of Chorale.

Seth Miller

Seth Miller (B.Mus. '14) served for two years as a Resident Assistant in Van Osdel and has helped to shape a positive, Christ-honoring culture in his residence hall. Additionally, he has used his musical gifts to serve our campus community, playing keyboards with our chapel worship teams, and has exhibited excellence in Christian service.

Rex Pickar

Rex Pickar accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Rex Pickar (B.S. '16) served in Terra Firma leadership, working with first-year students to welcome them to campus and introduce them to service opportunities in our community. Graduating Summa Cum Laude with a double major in business marketing and business finance, he has used his skill set to serve our campus community as a character-driven leader in several organizations, including Enactus, the Business Student Advisory Council and as a mentor in small groups.

Grace Ralsten

Grace Ralsten (B.S. '14) served for three years as a student leader in Terra Firma, actively welcoming students into the community at CU. She has been a key leader in helping to create a culture at CU that helps first-year students thrive during the huge transition into college life. Her passion for service translated into mentoring kids through a CU partnership with Urban Family Ministries, a global opportunities trip to India, and she is now serving with Youth for Christ in the Grand Rapids area, discipling middle school students and growing their faith during their teenage years.

Maressa Toomire

Maressa Toomire accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Maressa Toomire (B.S. '16) helped shape a positive, Christ-honoring culture in her residence hall as a Resident Assistant, served as a key leader in creating a culture at Cornerstone that helps first-year students thrive during their transition into college life and has represented CU to the external community as an Admissions Ambassador. Graduating Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in non-profit administration, she has been described as kind, bold and willing to engage with others when they find themselves in need.

Jordan Vasicek

Jordan Vasicek accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Jordan Vasicek (B.A. '13) served for two years as a Resident Assistant in Quincer Hall and has worked in our Accounting Office for four years. While fulfilling these areas of service and demonstrating excellence in Christian service, he maintained a double major in psychology and accounting.

Susan Whaley

Susan Whaley accepting the President's Award from President Joe Stowell during commencement

Susan Whaley (B.A. '13) spent the last four years training and developing the musical gifts that God has entrusted to her. She has invested those gifts back in Cornerstone's community through her involvement in the University Chorale and significant leadership in our chapel worship teams. Throughout those four years, she has consistently served, even in these highly visible roles, with humility, excellence and a contagious passion for Christ.

Her senior recital, entitled, "My Reason to Sing," demonstrated her commitment to point others to Christ as the central, driving passion of her life. And she served with distinction in her internship at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference.

Kate Wiegman

Kate Wiegman (B.A. '15) played four years in women's varsity soccer, actively championing the cause of Christ both on and off the field. During her junior year, she was named First Team All-WHAC, after earning Honorable Mention the year before. In addition, she has been a key leader in Terra Firma, helping to create a culture that helps first-year students thrive during their transition to college life.

As an education major, her passion for teaching and her heart for global outreach led her to Latin America for her student teaching experience. She has been described as a strong, well-rounded leader and a servant who models godliness through her attitude and outlook.

Ciara Wilke

Ciara Wilke standing with President Joe Stowell at Cornerstone University's commencement ceremony

Ciara Wilke (B.A. '17) served the Cornerstone community as an academic tutor, peer adviser and division representative to the Center for Student Success. In addition, she provided notable leadership to the CU women's softball team and served as a valuable lab assistant within the science department.

Noted for her positive attitude, strong work ethic, humble spirit and love for Christ, Wilke excelled academically as a biology major and was accepted to the University of Michigan Dental School.

Stephen Winkelman

Stephen Winkelman (B.A. '10) was known on campus for his excellence in projects within his major—media studies/video. Known as being missions-focused, he aimed to tell stories that impacted cultures. He served as a leader in our freshman orientation program, as well as a discipleship coordinator and teaching assistant.

In addition, Winkelman participated in missions trip to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Dubai; served in a local church and as part of music teams on campus; and volunteered in Sabaoth/Basecamp ministries. He also received the Servant Leadership Award at Cornerstone.

Katherine Wisen

Katherine Wisen (B.A. '10) earned her bachelor's degree in journalism and excelled as a student leader. She served as executive editor of The Herald (2009) and received several awards for her journalism accomplishments. From the Michigan Press Association College Editorial Contest, she received first place for News Page Design (2009), second place for Headline Writing (2009), first place for Overall Newspaper Design (2008) and Honorable Mention for Sports News Article (2008). The Association of Christian Collegiate Media honored her with first place for an article on challenging assumptions.