Origin: Inspired Leadership Initiative

In 2016, Tom Schreier ’84 had just wrapped up a nearly 40-year career in the aviation and investment industries when he sat down at his desk to read a stack of magazines that he never had time for.

An ad on the back of the Harvard alumni magazine caught his attention. He said the Advanced Leadership Initiative there is aimed at “people who had been reasonably accomplished and are looking to go back to school for a year to decide what they want to do afterwards.”

Schreier was accepted into the program and a similar one at Stanford. That August, he was moving his youngest daughter into her first residence hall room at Notre Dame when he ran into his old friend Lou Nanni, the vice president for University Relations, and talked about his plans. Schreier said he was deciding where to attend, but Nanni said he had a better idea.

How about helping Notre Dame start a similar program? A few hours later, Nanni called to say that the Board chair, University president and provost all happened to be together and wanted to speak with Schreier, who was lathered in sweat from carrying furniture up the hall’s stairs.

“I wasn’t terribly presentable, and then they all walked in in their suits and ties and the journey began,” he said.

A speaker presents to a group of people in a classroom.

The ILI cohort takes part in weekly lunch-and-learns.

Editor’s Note: After we followed ILI Fellow Mike Boyce through his first semester in the program and wrote his story, he died after two sudden strokes in late January. His wife Judy asked that we still include Mike’s story here in his honor.

After two weeks of meetings with campus leaders, Schreier said he was “convinced that we could do something every bit the equal of what they do at Harvard and Stanford, but distinctive.” Leaders of the other programs told him Notre Dame would be able to “do some things that we can’t do as authentically as it relates to discernment and spirituality.”

Former Provost Tom Burish asked Schreier to be the program’s founding executive director. He studied the other programs and met with numerous faculty members “because you’re going to introduce kind of a foreign element into the academy.”

The Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) started in the 2018-19 academic year with 15 fellows and funding from Terry and Nicola Mullen. Enrollment stayed even through the following year, skipped the pandemic year and expanded to 23 this year, with a goal of 30 in the future.

Schreier said the Harvard program focuses on goals, and Stanford on the experience. Notre Dame lands in between, helping fellows “be thoughtful about your next act.”

“What we really try to focus on is helping them to have a direction and not a destination,” he said. “It’s not about what you’re going to do when you’re finished. It’s about who you’re going to be.”

Three of the fellows’ stories illustrate what he means.


Kenyan Nurse

Clementine Gwoswar aims to make her business vision a reality.

A woman wearing glasses and scarf listens in class with her hand tucked under her chin.
Clementine Gwoswar, an Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) fellow, during an ILI lunch-and-learn lecture.

Clementine Gwoswar, recently retired as chief nursing officer of her county's hospitals in the Kenyan health system, had a vision for what she wanted to do in her community but wasn’t sure how to accomplish it.

She had connections with a group of other retired nurses and felt they still had a lot to offer.

“Yesterday, I was at work, and today I went down the drain as if I don’t have anything to give?” said Gwoswar, 64. “There are people who can still learn from me. I think I still have a duty to my community, to my family and to my government.”

Her vision involves a community center for retired health care workers that provides networking and services to a Kenyan community that has a human resources gap. A starting point would be a reliable day care center that would provide income for the retired nurses while also allowing parents to go to work knowing their children would be safe.

“There are people who can still learn from me. I think I still have a duty to my community, to my family and to my government.”

She knew she had connections and skills in the health care industry. What she needed was some foundational skills in building a business or nonprofit. Then she saw a brochure about the Notre Dame program shared by a friend, Dr. Juliana Otieno, who was a fellow in the second ILI cohort.

They both worked in health care in Kisumu, a city in west Kenya on the shores of Lake Victoria. Gwoswar applied and was accepted and offered sponsorship to cover tuition and housing costs.

Gwoswar is the second of six children and grew up in a family that took education seriously. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public health from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, a master’s degree in community health and development from a university in Congo, and diplomas in midwifery and general nursing from the Kenya Medical Training College.

She specialized in community health strategy, service and delivery, working for Kenya’s Ministry of Health as county chief nursing officer, regional public health nurse leader, provincial logistician of the immunization program and coordinator of professional development. She retired in 2017 and has been working part-time as a university lecturer. She has three children with her husband, who stayed in Kenya, and five grandchildren.

A woman wearing a face mask presents in a classroom in front of a chalkboard, with a student in the foreground.
Gwoswar lectures to a global health class about culture and health in relation to gender in Kenya.

The pandemic delayed the foreign visa process and nearly prevented her trip, so Gwoswar arrived on campus a few weeks late. She said she appreciated the program staff, cohort fellows and professors who helped her get quickly up to speed.

Michael Morris, a professor of entrepreneurship and social innovation in the Keough School of Global Affairs, teaches the Poverty and Business Development class that includes Gwoswar, Boyce and another fellow. Morris said he appreciates their experience but also their curiosity for learning about new perspectives, tools and concepts, including from the undergraduate students.

A woman and a man sit in a classroom.
Gwoswar answers a question from professor Michael Morris (not pictured) during his Poverty, Business and Development class.

“I find that they provide a perfect complement that enriches the learning environment,” he said. “A particular example is Clementine Gwoswar, who brings fresh ideas to our discussions, is willing to ask questions and helps students understand many of the issues we are exploring from the vantage point of her home country of Kenya and her real on-the-ground experiences with poverty.”

Gwoswar also takes classes in international business relations and business ethics. She said they all build on one another to provide a foundation for building a business plan that she can actualize at home.

Yenupini Joyce Adams, a visiting professor of global health, asked Gwoswar to give a lecture in late October about culture and health in relation to gender in Kenya. “The students had been learning about health care in other countries, and she wanted them to hear from someone with experience working in the field,” Gwoswar said.

So far, she said the core courses have helped her better understand the human journey, and her business classes have prepared her for whatever she decides to build in Kenya in the next decades.

“I’m learning and picking up things that can be useful to my university, too,” she said. “I’ll be more invigorated to do more and I can lead the other retired health care workers and help them do more. I’m learning that it may be feasible. That gives me the courage that it may work.”

Athletic Coach

Joanna Cote seeks to integrate community service and physical fitness.

A woman in yoga gear in a brightly lit yoga studio smiles to the camera.
Joanna Cote, an Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) fellow, after teaching a yoga class.

Joanna Cote admits that she seeks out the more difficult path precisely because it leads to suffering hardship and building community outside in nature.

That path led the California native out of the lucrative tech business in Silicon Valley to early retirement and raising young kids in her late 30s. And it led to her first triathlon at the age of 40.

“It was a life-changing moment for me,” said Cote, 61. “The commitment it takes, the support and the suffering together. It gives you an immense perspective and you become committed to that lifestyle.”

Ten years later, she won a lottery slot to participate in the Kona (Hawaii) Ironman. Only 100 people were chosen from more than 20,000 applicants worldwide — and it was the lottery’s last year. “It felt like a sign,” she said. “I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole day of the race,” even though the grueling event includes a 2.5-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon.

The Ironman reputation landed Cote her first coaching job in cross country and track at the local high school. She has since coached three other high schools, earned a master’s degree in sports management and dedicated herself to community service built around training, yoga and physical fitness as a way to build community and change lives.

Men sit on yoga mats with their legs crossed and hands together at their chests. A woman sits on a yoga mat with her hands resting on her crossed legs.
Cote teaches yoga at the Duncan Student Center.

“We’re all at different phases of our journey here (in ILI) trying to find out what’s next, but I’ve always known that I want to be outside and using my body for transformation,” she said. “How do you build a lifestyle of health and fitness and connection to nature to build identity and social justice? I hope to turn it into something tangible that can be replicated.”

Born in San José, Cote said her mother took her camping and hiking and instilled a love of nature when she was young. She majored in journalism at San José State and took a job as a technical writer at ROLM, a telecommunications company. She later worked for 15 years for another startup, Cisco Systems, where her interest in writing about people rather than technology led to management and a focus on team building.

“How do you build a lifestyle of health and fitness and connection to nature to build identity and social justice? I hope to turn it into something tangible that can be replicated.”

While her husband followed the same company path, Cote retired to raise two daughters in the slower lifestyle of small-town gold country near Nevada City, California. She continued to be involved with community work, taking marginalized teen girls and teen moms on trips to hike and camp.

Triathlon training — she’s done 60 in the last two decades — and running became her focus, as well as raising money for different causes. She enjoyed team building as a running coach and wanted to expand that skill in a marginalized community with her master’s degree capstone project. That’s when she read about Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and re-entry program in Los Angeles run by Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., who won Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2017.

Cote spent three months at Homeboy to develop something lacking there — a physical fitness program. After swerving from her initial plan to meet the found need, she led a small group that would occasionally run, bike, hike or do yoga.

“Mostly, we built a small community based on being in nature, a safe place where we could be vulnerable,” she said. “Discomfort breaks down barriers.”

A woman speaks in class, with her hand gesturing openly.
Cote answers a question from professor Jason Springs in his class about the history of social justice movements.

The program was challenging to maintain after she left and under strain from the pandemic. Cote decided to become an ILI fellow to “continue to design and develop the next phase of my life in order to contribute to my community and society using my gifts and passions in a way that could best effect change.” Her daughter attended Notre Dame and she came to love the spirit of the community.

The classes she took first semester are Sports Leadership by Muffet McGraw, the women’s basketball coach who retired in 2020 after 33 seasons and two national championships; American Wilderness; and Love and Violence, a social justice history up to the civil rights movement.

Cote said her spouse was supportive but stayed home to take care of their farm animals and run a food-security ministry, leaving her more time to focus on studying and community work.

She volunteers through the University’s Mercy Works program; tutoring and teaching yoga at Depaul Academy, an alternative juvenile justice program for young men; teaching yoga at Westville prison and at the Duncan Student Center; and continuing to partner with the youth sports program Play Like A Champion Today.

She plans to return to Homeboy Industries with more skills and confidence in her ability to build the kind of program she envisioned there or somewhere else.

“I want to be open to the possibility of a new path that may develop,” she said, “but still be true to my life’s work.”

Military Man

Mike Boyce returns to alma mater for a personal journey in theology.

An older man reads a book on a couch in a living room with more reading material on the coffee table in front of him.
Mike Boyce, an Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) fellow, reads a theology textbook at his South Bend rental house.

Editor’s Note: After we followed ILI Fellow Mike Boyce through his first semester in the program and wrote his story, he died after two sudden strokes in late January. His wife Judy asked that we still include Mike’s story here in his honor.

Mike Boyce was reading a theology textbook on the couch in a small South Bend rental house and looked over to see his wife, Judy, studying philosophy at her corner desk.

That’s when it hit him what an amazing opportunity they were experiencing — not as young graduate students but as senior citizens thrilled to be in college again. It was rejuvenating.

A man reads at a coffee table on the couch, and a woman works at a laptop at a table in the background.
Boyce and his wife, Judy.

“Retirement is not in our dictionaries, or at least we’re redefining what it means,” said Boyce, 72. “We get up every morning trying to squeeze in all that we want to do today.”

Boyce, a 30-year Marine colonel and former Atlanta-area politician, said he came back to Notre Dame, where he earned a sociology degree in 1971, on a personal journey that started with his interest in theology. When he got an unsolicited email about ILI, he figured the campus was the best place in the country to pursue his particular interest.

Born into a military family that moved around constantly, he joined the Marines after graduation and began flying planes. Besides support missions in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, he earned a master’s degree in management while at a North Carolina base and spent much of his military career in operations and management.

Married with three children, he also served on bases in California and Okinawa, and at Marines headquarters in Washington, D.C. Later assignments brought him to Turkey and Oman as a military attaché, as well as post-retirement contracting stints in Macedonia and Iraq.

Boyce then settled in Marietta, Georgia, the home of his second wife, Judy. He didn’t like the way the Cobb County chairman arranged to bring the Atlanta Braves baseball team to a new stadium in the county in secret, so he started a campaign to join the five-person commission and won the election. His term ended in 2020.

Boyce said he’s glad Judy was willing to move to South Bend for a year. It helps that she’s allowed to audit two classes and take part in most of the 2021-22 cohort’s activities, from weekly dinners and lunch-and-learn speakers to spiritual retreats and cohort tailgates.

An older man smiling in a classroom with his arms crossed.
Boyce during a ILI lunch-and-learn in a meeting room at the Duncan Student Center.

“They select people with such amazing chemistry,” Boyce said. “If there’s anyone having more fun than us, it’s the spouses.”

Boyce took the two core ILI courses (Great Books and Life Design) and audited two classes with John Cavadini, a renowned theological scholar, to learn more about the early Catholic Church. He also set up a weekly spiritual program with a Holy Cross priest who spoke to the ILI group.

“It’s astounding to me that the words we say in the Apostles’ Creed are essentially the same as 1,800 years ago,” he said. “And I’ve learned why through these classes.”

His third class was Poverty and Business Development, which tracks with his management experience and involvement with nonprofit groups in Georgia.

Boyce got involved in South Bend when his business teacher put him in touch with a young local businessman working to expand his T-shirt printing company.

An older man stands next to a younger man, wearing a company shirt, in a warehouse.
Boyce with business owner Brent Lacy at South Bend Print Shop.

“He’s already successful,” Boyce said of Brent Lacy, the entrepreneur. “I’m just helping him with a business plan and pricing so he can get the funding to expand.”

Lacy said he caught the entrepreneur bug working at Einstein’s Bagels at the campus bookstore and then hopped into the T-shirt printing business. He demonstrated the screen-press printing process at a downtown warehouse but noted that his manual equipment limits how many shirts he can make. An automated printing machine could help him compete on time, quality and price.

An older man points to a computer screen, showing the younger man something.
Boyce works with Lacy on a business plan and pricing so he can get funding to expand.
The younger man demonstrates printing on a t-shirt.
Lacy demonstrates the screen-press printing process.

Boyce said auditing classes means not having to write the papers, which allowed him more time to do all the other activities. He said his kids were thrilled to hear that he was so engaged.

After his tragic death, Judy Boyce said he was “having the time of his life” in the ILI program:

“He had never been happier than he was in the past few months participating in this program, bicycling to campus and interacting with and mentoring students.”

Ongoing Project

Inspired by their time in the program, many of the former fellows have sought a project to continue the camaraderie and commitment they started on campus.

Students face the alter in the Sacred Heart Basilica, linking arms. A barcode texture is on the photo.

The result is Imago Dei.

This Notre Dame-based education and advocacy program fights to end human trafficking and restore human dignity by shining a light on trafficking’s pervasiveness and detrimental effects around the world. Its website says, “Imago Dei illuminates the root causes and harms of human trafficking both in the classroom and in the field by promoting encounters between those who are free and the victims of slavery.”

Activities include bringing experts and survivors to campus to share their knowledge, sponsoring internships with organizations working with survivors and advocacy to end human trafficking. It also partnered with the Higgins Labor Program of the Center for Social Concerns and the Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership at the Mendoza College of Business to sponsor a lecture series.