2023 Presenters

This year’s line-up for TEDxMacatawa


Johnny Rodriguez

TEDxMacatawa 2023 Emcee

Johnny Rodriguez, the son of hard-working Mexican immigrants, is a Holland native graduating rom Holland High School and earning his degree from Hope College in 2009. After 11 years in Human Resources and Talent Acquisition Leadership, he wanted to use his talents, connections, and enthusiasm for non-profit work supporting the Latino community. As Executive Director of Latin Americans United for Progress (LAUP), Johnny leads the oldest Latino organization in Michigan and is focused on empowering Latinos to create a better community for all through advocacy, celebration, and education.

Charles Elwood

Talk: Voices Reimagined: AI’s Role in Empowering Communication and Preserving Cultures

In this talk, Charles will explore the transformative power of artificial intelligence in enabling communication for individuals with disabilities and preserving endangered languages, fostering a more connected and inclusive world.

Charles Elwood is a Microsoft AI MVP and innovative technology expert, passionate about using cutting-edge AI solutions to improve lives and empower individuals with disabilities. With a background in the automotive industry and a wealth of experience in artificial intelligence applications, Charles has demonstrated the transformative power of technology in enabling communication and preserving endangered languages. As a sought-after speaker and thought leader, Charles continues to inspire and motivate others to explore the future of technology and human connection.

Della Fetzer

Talk: Industrial-Strength Process Improvement Advice From Your Mother (Nature)

What must we learn from nature to overcome a global plant shortage and achieve sustainable success in our industries and daily lives?

Della Fetzer is a plant biologist, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt process improvement specialist, speaker, founder, and biotechnology entrepreneur serving the plant production industry. Her experience includes serving as the director of a plant tissue culture laboratory, process improvement and lab design strategy in architecture, and a publication in Molecular Ecology. Della is happiest leading free people, dissecting big problems, and helping people of the world make enough plants.

Brady Mills

Talk: Is Creativity the Classroom’s Responsibility?

Combining global trends in declining creativity, lessons learned in a rural community in Nicaragua, and reflections on our domestic approach to classroom structures, this talk will bring home to Macatawa one central theme: creative education truly takes a village.

Brady has spent the past two years traveling to and from Nicaragua, where he is collaborating with the community of Isiquí to design a creative classroom structure for their preschoolers. In the Holland area, he works at an architecture and engineering firm, developing capital campaign communications strategies for public school districts. But no matter where you find him, he is an enthusiast about creativity in the classroom.

Jen Plante Johnson

Talk: Pass the connective tissues

What filming the lives of five women teaches me about allyship, perseverance and showing up as our most authentic selves.

Jen Plante Johnson is a freelance writer, independent film producer and production advisor based in Douglas, MI. Decoding the connective tissue between us has been Jen’s most profound professional theme and ongoing life lesson. She’s spent the last four years making a documentary film about the struggles, contributions and fifty-year friendship of a group of mothers (including her own) who’ve raised children with special needs. This process has brought many things to light, including how painful true connection really is while it remains even more critical than she ever realized.

Richard Ray

Talk: Higher Education in Prison: An Uncommon Good

American prisons are swirling cauldrons of inequity, and reflect poorly on our shared aspirations for a free and just society. Those stripped of their liberty for what should be the most productive periods of their lives have little hope of reentering society on a level playing field. Earning a college degree in prison can substantially alter the trajectory of an incarcerated person’s life. This presentation will help listeners better understand incarcerated people as bearers of the same human dignity as all people possess, and how a college education helps them, their families, their communities, and even those who supervise them while in prison. Ninety-five percent of incarcerated people will eventually be released from prison. How would we have them return to our communities?

Richard Ray is professor and provost emeritus at Hope College (Holland, Michigan), serving there since 1982. He served as the college’s chief academic officer, dean for the social sciences and chair of the Department of Kinesiology. He is the author of more than 40 peer reviewed journal articles and five books on sports medicine, leadership in higher education, health care management, and pilgrimage memoirs. He is presently Co-director of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program, a Hope College degree program at Muskegon Correctional Facility. He serves as the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Michigan Consortium for Higher Education in Prison, an organization that advocates for best practice in and expansion of college-in-prison programs in Michigan.

Robyn Schopp

Talk: Leveraging the Power of Fun at Work.

Learn how leveraging the power of fun at work can create a stronger and more productive team.

Robyn Schopp has developed a reputation in her career as someone who can find the fun in just about any task. As a young professional, she earned the nickname of Chief Happiness Officer among her colleagues. Now as a consultant and training facilitator, she helps people and organizations leverage the power of fun toward their success.

Caitlin Cusack

Talk: Overcoming Brain Injury and Loss: The Healing Power of Music

Drawing from her own experiences with a life-changing brain injury and the pain of losing loved ones, Michigan musician Caitlin Cusack has discovered a path to healing through songwriting and now seeks to shine a light for others navigating their own darkness with her inspiring and uplifting music.

Caitlin Cusack is a Michigan-based musician whose life took a dramatic turn after a life-changing brain injury and the loss of her parents. On a challenging recovery journey, Caitlin found comfort and healing in songwriting and has since dedicated herself to sharing her music as a beacon of hope for others navigating their own hardships. Drawing from decades of musical experience, including a music degree and training in musical theater, classical, and liturgical music, Caitlin crafts soulful, piano-driven pop songs that blend memorable melodies with poignant lyrics exploring themes of love, loss, grief, and growth.


Title: Songs of the Lake and the Forest: A Michigan Folk History

In the 19th century, while the lumber and mining trades prospered in Michigan, so did the folk tradition. That’s owed mainly to the workers themselves, who, after a hard winter spent felling trees, or a dangerous voyage in a freighter filled with far too much iron ore, turned that pain and adventure into music. These very songs — and many songs like them — were sung throughout the Great Lakes region for decades, yet, in spite of their popularity, were rarely written down. They might have been lost for good, but for the work of a young song collector by the name of Alan Lomax. In 1938 the Library of Congress sent Lomax through Michigan and Wisconsin for the sole purpose of documenting the folk tradition there. The trip yielded impressive results: after three months of travel, interviews, and recording sessions, Lomax returned home with hundreds of vinyl field recordings, photographs, and even a few black-and-white video clips. All together, they compose the largest single collection of the folk music and storytelling tradition from Michigan‘s early statehood.

Over the past 5 years, MichiganIO has been re-imaginging and re-arranging these great songs in a sound and style that rings true with the spirit of the original songs as well as our contemporary ears. MichiganIO exists to give voice to these incredible tunes and celebrate the folk music tradition throughout the Great Lakes.