WCMS Graduates Honor and Celebrate the CU Movement

The 2021 Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) graduating class (Sigma)
The 2021 Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) graduating class (Sigma)

After three examinations, two projects, and three two-week classroom sessions, the Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) “Sigma” Class was celebrated and honored on Thursday evening (July 29) through a virtual ceremony in lieu of the traditional event on the Pomona College campus in Claremont, CA. This ceremony for the 105 graduates marked the conclusion of the 61st annual session and 59th graduation commencement.

For more photos of the 2021 WCMS graduation, click here.

Seven students graduated with “High Honors,” and 17 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.

Students graduating with “High Honors” were: Jethro M. Casinas, Hawaii; Kevin Cole, Oregon; John T. Granato II, New Mexico; Jess King, California; Nina M. Myers, Ohio; Corey Suraci, Washington; and Neal Weber, Wyoming.

Students graduating with “Honors” were Rebecca Carroll, California; Brodie Welker Cook, Utah; Emily Ann Hawkins, California; Jonathan Holland, Tennessee; Lindsay Jones, California; Erick W. A. Kniestedt, Washington; Hector Martin, Jr., California; Molly McMahon, California; Andrew Murawa, California; Athar Nazir, Alaska; Rachel M. Nielson, California; Aprylle Odlum-Chang, California; Andrew J. Reding, Washington; Scott S. Sager, Wyoming; Austin Michael Schock, Montana; Aaron H. Sugimoto, Hawaii; and Verity Swearingen, Washington.

Abiy Selassie, branch manager for SchoolsFirst FCU, 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 Rachel Nielson, class speaker and vice president of operations for SESLOC FCU.

“When given the choice, always choose the path that leads to your growth,” Nielson said in her speech.

While all WCMS classes work on a service-learning objective, the Sigma Class stayed busy during the year on its own. Nielson thanked those within the industry such as Dr. James Likens (who led WCMS for decades since it was founded in 1972), the late Richard Myles Johnson, and California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues President and CEO Diana Dykstra, among others, for believing in her throughout her journey.

Kent Oram, CEO of Idaho Central CU, 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 Member and 2009 graduate Ryan Olsen spotlighted the 1989 WCMS graduate’s work (Kent Oram — also having served on the WCMS Board of Trustees). Oram leads one of the fastest growing credit unions in the nation and believes the key to a successful organization is employee engagement — and is on a journey to build a “culture at Idaho Central that is world class.” Team members have embraced Oram’s vision, as Idaho Central was named “Best Place to Work in Idaho” for five consecutive years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017).

Commencement speaker, WCMS 1995 graduate, and Rogue CU CEO Gene Pelham encouraged students to “do great things” as they go forward with their newfound understanding of the credit union movement, leadership, and more importantly — themselves.

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 $10,000 represents the total raised over the past three years in Sigma- and tri-class-led efforts.

The graduates had classes from credit union leaders, including a course on credit union innovation by Erin Coleman of the Filene Research Institute, and a course on regulation and political advocacy by Scott Simpson, president and CEO of Utah's Credit Unions. They also had courses taught by award-winning faculty from colleges and MBA institutions across Southern California, including Claremont Graduate University, Pomona College, and UCLA.

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