Focus Forward Fellowship

Program Overview

Focus Forward FellowshipThe Focus Forward Fellowship is a program designed to build skills, leadership and a sense of community among women student veterans.

Through the program, Fellows will:

  • build a community of support with peers;
  • access corporate mentors to develop new career skills;
  • understand individual strengths and how to maximize those strengths;
  • identify strategies and resources to increase connections and success on campus;
  • gain confidence in problem solving; and
  • develop skills to help foster academic and career goals.

About the program

The Fellowship brings together women student veterans from across the country for a four-day residency. A full scholarship covers the cost of travel, food, lodging, activities and materials. Fellows are competitively selected from a national group of applicants who:

  • hold an honorable discharge from the U.S. military;
  • are sophomores, juniors or seniors, or pursing a master’s degree; and
  • maintain a grade point average of 2.75 or better.

Following the completion of the residency, Fellows will engage with their cohort in an online learning community throughout the following academic year. MFRI and invited mentors will create and share opportunities for the Fellows to continue to build on the skills that were developed while on-site.

Supporting the Program

MFRI is grateful for the support of past sponsors. A full list of past cohort supporters is included under the supporters tab.

If you are interested in supporting the Focus Forward Fellowship, or want to learn more about the Fellowship, please contact:

Lauren Runco
Director, Education and Employment
Military Family Research Institute
Purdue University
(765) 496-6045

Applications for the 2018 Focus Forward Fellowship will open in spring 2018. Sign up to receive an email reminder once application are live.

Learn about the program, and join the conversation by following MFRI on Twitter at @MFRIPurdue and using #FWDFellows.

Colorado State University cohort – Fort Collins, CO, June 7-11, 2017

Colorado Cohort 2017

This program is open to all military-connected women who are either sophomores, juniors or seniors, or pursing their master’s degree at the following institutions:

  • Colorado State University-Fort Collins
  • Colorado State University-Pueblo
  • University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS)
  • University of Colorado Denver
  • Metropolitan State University of Denver
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Northern Colorado
  • Colorado Community College System
Colorado State University Logo

National cohort – Indianapolis, IN, July 26-30, 2017

National Cohort 2017

This program is open to all military-connected women who are either sophomores, juniors or seniors, or pursing their master’s degree.

Colorado State University Logo

National cohort 2016

National Cohort 2017

What Fellows Are Saying

Tabitha Eaton, Boise State University

I am a junior and undergraduate student working on my bachelor’s degree in social work. I served in the United States Air Force before I was medically retired in February of 2014. The motivation for me to apply for the Focus Forward Fellowship was due to an encouraging email from my assigned vocational rehabilitation counselor who oversees my education plan.

Listen to Tabitha's comments.

Tamara Jones, Georgia State University

I always dreamed of being a grassroots advocate of the unique plight of female veterans. When this opportunity was presented, I felt like it was fate. Who better to progress women veterans than fellow women veterans?

Listen to Tamara's comments.

Rebekah Lloyd, Regent University

I was interested to see how this program was going to address our unique needs. One of the most important takeaways that I had with the residential program was the one-on-one mentoring that took place; whether this happened with a woman who was there to teach a class, lead a discussion, or even with another Fellow.

Listen to Rebekah's comments.


Kimberly D. Bloodgood

Kimberly D. Bloodgood, M.Ed., is the director of IUPUI’s Office for Veteran and Military Personnel. As an U.S. Air Force veteran she currently serves as the secretary/treasurer of IUPUI’s Faculty and Staff Veteran Council. Kim began her role serving U.S. service members with their education benefits in 2008 as a school certifying official, financial aid consultant and veteran services coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College in Bloomington, Indiana. Once she completed her master’s degree in adult education, she advanced her career by moving to the position of program director with the Indiana State Approving Agency. While in this role she approved training programs for the GI Bill, educated school certifying officials and performed compliance surveys at approved institutions. Kim is dedicated to assisting her brothers and sisters in their educational goals’ and assisting them as they transition from the military to college – and then to a career!

Carolyn Brown

Carolyn Brown is director of Easter Seals Crossroads Veteran Services. A few years ago, Easter Seals Crossroads recognized the need to help create more welcoming communities for returning troops. Carolyn has helped convene community leaders around best practices in connecting veterans and their families to resources in their own communities. After significant input from veterans, families, and community leaders, a second emphasis for veteran well-being has been embraced, with the goal of helping veterans thrive. Connecting veterans and their families to employment and stable housing is also a priority. The number of families connected to resources, housing, and employment exceeds 1000 each year. A graduate of Purdue University and is a former teacher and consultant, Carolyn has been in nonprofit management for 20 years and has served on a number of nonprofit boards of directors.

Patrice M. Buzzanell

Patrice M. Buzzanell is a Distinguished Professor of Communication and Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. She serves as chair and director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence. Her scholarly interests center on career, gender, design and resilience. Editor of four books, she has authored more than 200 articles and chapters, plus encyclopedia entries and proceedings. She serves on 16 editorial boards and has edited Management Communication Quarterly and other journals. Her National Science Foundation grants focus on ethics and engineering design. Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA), she has served as President of ICA, Council of Communication Associations, and the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language and Gender. Most recently, she was awarded the Purdue Provost’s and ICA’s mentorship awards and was recognized as a National Communication Association Distinguished Scholar. Patrice becomes Chair of the University of South Florida’s Department of Communication in Fall 2017.

Genevieve Chase

Genevieve Chase is the founder and executive director of American Women Veterans and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom VII. After enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2003, Chase volunteered to serve with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry). While deployed to Afghanistan as a sergeant in 2006, her vehicle was attacked by a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. The passengers survived the attack, but suffered varying degrees of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder. To counter symptoms of TBI and PTS, Chase dedicated herself to veterans’ advocacy. Since returning from active duty service, Chase has worked tirelessly to bring to light the issues faced by today’s veterans. While advocating on their behalf, she discovered a need for a focus on women veterans and their families from all eras and branches of service. From that void, Chase created American Women Veterans and began, in earnest, the 21st century women veterans’ movement. Chase is a recipient of the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Combat Action Badge. She's testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about her experiences in Afghanistan as well as the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee concerning women’s health care. In addition to her role as executive director of AWV, she serves as a SFC in the U.S. Army Reserve. For her outstanding work both in and out of uniform, Chase was in 2016 inducted into the Army Women's Hall of Fame.

Lanän Clark

Lanän Clark served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, where she was awarded two Navy Achievement Medals and a Letter of Commendation. Lanän holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration. She started her career in financial services as a client associate in 1996, and became a financial advisor. After building a successful practice, she and her family relocated to St. Louis, Missouri, where she was instrumental in the grassroots efforts around licensing the St. Louis office of the Private Bank at Bank of America. She was then asked to serve as the market administrative manager for the Southern California region of Banc of America Investments, Inc. Lanän is currently a practice management consultant for the Southwest Division and a Founding Member of the Oxford Preparatory Academy, South Orange County. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Parents Advocate League. Lanän has been happily married to Jason Clark for nearly 20 years and they have two children, Kennedy and Kole.

Lynda Davis

Lynda Davis serves as the executive vice president at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), where she is the executive director of the Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN). A former soldier, Davis served as deputy undersecretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy. She led the joint U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) purple team to reform care management support for wounded warriors, veterans and their families. Davis is nationally recognized for her leadership in the development and implementation of significant and sustainable programs that successfully support the full spectrum of quality of life services for military personnel, veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. A former VA Medical Center clinician, she and her multidisciplinary, interagency team created the DoD and VA Recovery Care Programs, initiated the use of comprehensive, family focused Recovery Care Plans and launched the National Resource Directory all to promote the delivery of best practice and highest quality care and support. She served on the faculty of the University of Southern California’s Departments of Psychiatry and Public Administration, where she earned her master’s degree and doctorate in public administration (human services administration). She also holds a master’s degree in community clinical psychology andserves on the boards of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and Student Veterans of America.

Kiersten Downs

Kiersten Downs served for over eight years in the U.S. Air Force and New York Air National Guard where she was deployed three times overseas during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in conflict analysis and resolution. Kiersten also has a graduate certificate in women and gender studies. Currently, Kiersten is a doctoral candidate in the University of South Florida’s Department of Applied Anthropology. Her dissertation research is a mixed methods study on women veterans and their transitional experiences from military service. Kiersten's past work experience includes four years as a congressional staffer, and more than five years of experience working in project management, data collection, and research analysis on military veteran centered projects. She is currently working as a health science research assistant with the Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research at the James A. Haley VA in Tampa, Florida. Currently she serves as a national board member for Student Veterans of America.

Priscilla “Pris” Gerde

Pris serves as advisor-in-residence in the Krannert Professional Development Center, which is housed at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. She is an experienced manager and advisor who spent nearly 38 years in the pharmaceutical industry at Eli Lilly and Company prior to her July 2011 retirement. Pris had initial career responsibilities in corporate affairs, including communications and corporate social responsibility, as well as a relief sales role in New England. She spent her final 18 years in human resources, with responsibility for employee benefits administration for the company’s $300 million health plan. Before joining Lilly, Pris served on the staffs of two Lt. Governors through the Indiana Department of Commerce and edited “Commerce and Indiana” magazine. She is passionate about volunteer engagement and is actively involved in the community, serving on several nonprofit boards of directors, including the Lafayette Symphony, Inc., as its president. Pris has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and resides nearby in the Battle Ground, Ind.,area

Linda Hughes-Kirchubel

Linda Hughes-Kirchubel is the director of external relations at the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University. Her career at Purdue includes nearly a decade in relationship management, marketing and digital media content, and is informed by her experiences as a military wife and the mother of deployed U.S. Air Force staff sergeant. She spent 17 years as an award-winning journalist in California and Indiana, and is co-editor of MFRI’s forthcoming text, “A Battle Plan for Military and Veteran Families During War.” Hughes-Kirchubel earned her master’s degree from Purdue University, and is currently pursuing her doctorate at Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication. Her research focuses on marginalization, identity and resilience in the digital domain.

Abby Kinch

Abby Kinch served in the U.S. Air Force as an airborne cryptologic linguist stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Sarpy County, Nebraska, with the 97th Intelligence Squadron. She then attended Florida State University, earning her bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and linguistics in 2011. With the remainder of her G.I. Bill benefits, she earned her master’s degree in East Asian studies and a certificate in emergency management and homeland security, combining the two to do research in terrorism in Asia. She has also earned a master’s degree in public administration. She is currently working on her doctorate in public administration and policy, conducting research in veteran policies and the intelligence community. Abby is active in local and state politics and has assisted Student Veterans of America and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on policy issues at the national level. She is a single parent of two daughters, aged 13 and 7 years.

Therese Lask

Therese Lask is a training and organizational development specialist at Colorado State University (CSU). In her current role, Therese works as a consultant to the university, working on such projects as the development and facilitation of the Supervisor Development Program; planning and facilitating departmental strategic planning; and creating and facilitating professional development classes for all CSU employees.

Therese has worked in higher education for more than 25 years and as a consultant for the Gallup Organization for four years. As a consultant, Therese has helped organizations infuse a strengths-based philosophy into their culture. Therese has published numerous articles, workbooks and a book “Your Life as a River” on the topic of strengths development. She has a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies, a master’s degree in college student personnel administration from Colorado State University and a doctorate in higher education leadership from the University of Northern Colorado.

Sharlee Lyons

Sharlee Lyons earned her bachelor’s degree in English education from Taylor University and her master’s degree in student personnel administration from Ball State. A student success professional and teacher at heart. She served as a corporate trainer at Brightpoint, Inc. and was the training manager at Purdue Federal Credit Union. She later founded The People Business, Inc., her own training and consulting firm. For three years, she served as the director of public relations and marketing at The United Way of Greater Lafayette has worked with students at Huntington and Purdue universities. She joined Purdue’s Krannert School of Management staff in June 2014 where she works with students and staff on personal and professional leadership development. Her mission in life is to be an encouragement to others and help them realize their strengths and potential.

Shelley M. MacDermid Wadsworth

Shelley M. MacDermid WadsworthShelley M. MacDermid Wadsworth, Ph.D., M.B.A., is a professor in Purdue University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies, where she also directs the Military Family Research Institute and the Center for Families. Her research focuses on relationships between job conditions and family life, with special focus on military families and organizational policies, programs and practices. MacDermid Wadsworth is a fellow of the National Council on Family Relations, and a recipient of the Work Life Legacy Award from the Families and Work Institute. She served as the civilian co-chair of the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health, and also served on the Returning Veterans Committee of the Institute of Medicine, and the Psychological Health External Advisory Committee to the Defense Health Board. In 2012, MacDermid Wadsworth received the Morrill Award from Purdue University for outstanding career achievements that have had an impact on society.

BriGette McCoy

BriGette McCoyBriGette McCoy is the chief executive officer of Women Veteran Social Justice Network (WVSJN), which she founded online in 2008 to connect and empower women veterans using telehealth concepts, new media and emerging technology. WVSJN leverages leadership development, peer-support networking, multi-platform information gathering and collaborative advocacy to raise awareness and provide resources unique to women and veterans. A fourth-generation veteran, BriGette serves as vice chair to the City of Atlanta Veterans Affairs Commission, on the Veteran Affairs Advisory Board of Dekalb County, Veteran Advisory Board member for Protect Our Defenders and Treasurer for Atlanta Chapter Federally Employed Women. She is an author, John Maxwell team coach, new media advisor and a Gulf War-Era service-connected disabled veteran. She has developed new research questions related to military sexual trauma and other interpersonal violence, homelessness and poverty, suicide and underrepresented veteran health care issues.

Betty Moseley Brown

Betty Moseley Brown enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1978 and served until 1992 in various positions. She also worked at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego before joining the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego and later moving to Washington, D.C. In 2004, she assumed the position of associate director, Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. She earned her doctorate in education from the University of Sarasota in 2006. In 2012, Moseley Brown was installed as the 19th president of the Women Marines Association. In 2016 she was awarded the Dickey Chapelle Award, which honored Dickey Chapelle, an American foreign correspondent who was killed while covering Marines in combat during the Vietnam War. The award was established to extend recognition to a woman who has contributed substantially to the United States Marine Corps morale, welfare and well-being.

Heather Nicholson

Heather NicholsonHeather Nicholson served in the Military Police Corps for 21 years. Kling retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 and held various duty positions overseas and stateside. Heather graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) in 2013 with a master’s degree in public administration. Kling currently works as the assistant director for the Office of Veteran and Military Student Affairs and as a school certifying official at UCCS. Heather is originally from upstate New York and serves on various committees on the UCCS campus.

Susan Pawlak

Susan Pawlak has more than 30 years of manufacturing and leadership experience, with careers at Anheuser-Busch, General Electric and a division of Chrysler Corporation. She spent several years in post-secondary education, primarily in clean energy technology and career development, where she assisted graduating veterans in preparing for, and finding jobs. She is currently the safety, environmental and training manager for Noosa Yoghurt in Bellvue, Colorado. Sue believes in life-long volunteerism and learning. She was a volunteer paramedic and firefighter for more than 22 years, helping to crack the ceiling for women. She completed her bachelor’s degree in organizational development at the age of 50 and strives to learn something new every day. Sue continues her volunteerism as a founding member and treasurer for the Board of Directors for the Veterans Plaza of Northern Colorado, a venue that pays tribute to, and honors, all military men and women, past and present.

Patricia C. Pope

As CEO and co-founder of Pope & Associates, Pat is a recognized pioneer in the diversity and inclusion industry. For almost four decades she has consulted with hundreds of Fortune 500 companies across a wide range of industries, as well as government, academic and nonprofit organizations. In 1977, Pat and her late husband, Merlin G. Pope, Jr. coined the term “diversity” to refer to the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce. In 1990, she coined the term, “The Illusion of Inclusion,” which was the focus of her master’s thesis and resulted in the innovative Team Interaction Profile™, which statistically measures inclusion. In 2007, Pat was selected by Profiles in Diversity Journal as a pioneer in the diversity industry. In April, 2012, she was recognized by the International Society of Diversity and Inclusion Professionals as a “Diversity Legend” at their inaugural conference in Puerto Rico. She is also co-founder and co-owner of Myca-Pope, Inc. a company that offers technology-based delivery methods for the Pope proprietary content. Their first program, The EDGE Advantage, won two international awards for innovation in training media. Pat spent the first 10 years of her career in a large multinational company where she was involved in the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts in the early 1970s. Pat’s bachelor’s degree is in business and the social sciences, and she has a master’s degree in organizational development from Pepperdine University. She is a frequent speaker at national conferences and annual business meetings on diversity and inclusion.

Lauren Runco

Lauren RuncoLauren Runco is director of education and employment at the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University. She has experience as a military family member and firsthand knowledge about the challenges that service members face as they enter higher education and workplaces. Runco’s work at MFRI strengthens relationships with allies and advocates, helps increase resources for student service members, veterans and their families, and helps influence higher education institutions to use proven models of success to better serve this population. Runco chairs NASPA’s Veterans Knowledge Community and has received numerous honors. These include the Army Commander’s Award for Public Service and the “Supra et Extra” award from NASPA’s Veterans Knowledge Community. She earned her bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of Scranton and her master’s in higher education administration from Marywood University.

Karla Schwartz

Karla SchwartzKarla Schwartz is passionate about recreation, sustainability and traveling, which led her to join the U.S. Navy. For her enlistment, she was fortunate to work in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office for the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier. After her deployments, Karla moved to Fort Collins to study natural resources, concentrating in sustainable tourism and business at Colorado State University. There she proceeded to work in veterans’ service on ampus, giving her the chance to help fellow veterans succeed in their educational pursuits. Upon graduation, she accepted a position with SALUTE Veterans National Honor Society as the national administrator serving more than 12,000 members. As she progresses in her professional endeavors with SALUTE and the veteran community, she feels truly blessed, and wants to express her deepest gratitude for having this great life experience.

Wilma Stephens

Wilma StephensWilma Stephens is an experienced speaker, facilitator and performance coach and has worked with all types of organizations and people at all levels, from line staff to senior managers. Wilma brings more than 20 years of corporate, small business and entrepreneurial experience to the table. Prior to launching Wilma Stephens Coaching in 2010, she worked at Warner Lambert in sales, marketing and as a group account director. Next, she advanced to Healthcare Marketing Resources (HMR) as a consultant. At HMR Wilma worked with a variety of pharmaceutical companies assisting them in strategic planning and bringing products to market. Alongside her business coaching practice Wilma is also the lead facilitator at Extended DISC North America. She is a Master Certifier in Extended DISC assessments and certifies trainers, consultants, executive coaches and managers how to effectively use the assessments to achieve results. Wilma is the mother of four emerging adults; she is married to John and lives in The Woodlands, Texas.

Lauren Sullivan

Lauren SullivanLauren Sullivan is the daughter of a Vietnam Era Navy veteran, granddaughter to two World War II Army and Navy veterans, and was an Army spouse for nine years. She has earned the Army V Corps Heart of Victory Award and Bronze Wahatchee Signal Corps Regimental Awards, for her service to military families during Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. Lauren also received the overall Community Volunteer of the Year award from Army Community Service in Darmstadt, Germany. Lauren started working in higher education at an Army Education Center in 2009, and quickly realized that her passion was to help service members and veterans earn their degrees, and to support their transition from the military to the civilian world. Her current job is running the Veteran and Military Student Services at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and she thinks that it is the greatest job in the world.

Maggie Walsh

Maggie WalshMaggie Walsh serves as the assistant chief of staff to the president and director of veteran initiatives at Colorado State University. Walsh holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona and currently is working on a master’s degree in criminal justice from Colorado State University. Previously, Walsh worked for 23 years as a reporter and editor at several newspapers. She received several regional and national awards, including two Pulitzer Prize nominations. For the past 10 years Walsh has worked at CSU, including as director of campaign communications, director of development communications, and in her current position. Walsh comes from a military family and is a Gold Star mother whose son U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Nick Walsh was killed in Fallujah, Iraq on May 26, 2007. Her passion for working with student-veterans stems from her personal experiences, a desire to assist in the transition from military service to civilian life, and an insight into the value veterans bring to higher education.

Elizabeth Watkins

Elizabeth WatkinsElizabeth Watkins is a recent veteran of the U.S. Navy. Elizabeth served one enlistment and was stationed on Coronado Island, California. She separated at the rank of Petty Officer Third Class Aviation Electrician’s Mate. She worked on MH-60S and MH-60R platforms. Although Elizabeth was never deployed during her time in service, she has been on more than enough field operations to equal two deployments (a few of which were on the USS Carl Vinson). Elizabeth currently attends Purdue University and is pursuing a bachelor of science in veterinary technology. Once she obtains her degree, she plans to work in the research field. Elizabeth is a 2016 Focus Forward Fellow. In the meantime, she studies as much as she can and visits her husband whenever time allows. Her husband currently works for Elkhart Police Department in Indiana and was formerly a Marine, stationed in Miramar, California.

Nakia White

Nakia White born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and joined the Army right after high school, where she served four years including a 2004 deployment to Iraq. Upon her discharge, Nakia used her GI Bill to go to college where she received an associate in healthcare administration and interned at Cincinnati’s VA Medical Center. This internship catapulted her career as a civilian with the federal government. After years of successful growth within the organization, Nakia decided to go back to school and pursue her bachelor’s degree in business studies to further her career. Nakia will soon be the proud holder of a bachelor’s degree in business studies and plans to continue on to obtain her master’s degree in human resource management, all while working a full-time job, raising a family, and pursuing her passion of the arts.

Current Focus Forward Fellowship Supporters

MFRI is grateful for the individuals and organizations who, because of their commitment to women veterans, helped to support this initiative.

Purdue University partners, including faculty, staff and administration:

External corporations, organizations, agencies and nonprofits:

  • American Women Veterans
  • CNO Services, LLC
  • Colorado State University
  • Cummins
  • Department of Veterans Affairs - Center for Women Veterans
  • Easter Seals Crossroads
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Extended DISC
  • FedEx
  • Got Your 6
  • Indianapolis Indians
  • IUPUI’s Office for Veteran and Military Personnel
  • NASPA Veterans Knowledge Community
  • National Association of Veteran Program Administrations (NAVPA)
  • National Military Family Association
  • Pat Tillman Foundation
  • Phillips 66
  • Pope & Associates
  • Sandler Training
  • Student Veterans of America
  • Team Red, White, and Blue
  • Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors (Military and Veteran Caregiver Network)