(Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Impact, the Mackinac Center's quarterly newsletter.)
It's been said that the demands of the Western frontier spurred America's love of liberty and self-reliance. But the end of the "wild West" hasn't killed that spirit. Instead, it has opened up new frontiers in the quest for freedom, which is why we've hired four young guns to help blaze the trail.
Michael Van Beek, 28, is the Mackinac Center's new director of education policy. As a former teacher and administrator at a private academy, Van Beek brings firsthand experience to educational issues, and he's restless to push on, saying: "We'll continue to be the voice that demands more freedom for parents to choose the way they school their children."
He knows it won't be easy, but adds: "My colleagues hold me to a very high standard. It's invigorating and challenging." Rising to this challenge, Van Beek has already embarked on several major projects, including a new study of virtual schools, an update of the "Michigan School Money Primer" and a public database of Michigan school districts' insurance spending.
Van Beek is used to tough goals. He earned his master's in American history from Purdue University, and he received his bachelor's degree from Hope College while serving as captain of the varsity baseball team.
Hannah Mead joins the Mackinac Center as assistant editor, having impressed everyone with her work as a Center communications intern during the summers of 2007 and 2008. Just 22, she has already accumulated an impressive resume: She graduated summa cum laude from Hillsdale College in 2009, receiving the Adam Smith Award for academic achievement in economics. In the spring of 2009, she even journeyed to Guatemala City to present a paper at a conference of the Association of Private Enterprise Education.
Mead says she appreciates the Center's congenial work environment and her colleagues' "wit, sincerity and dedication to the Mackinac Center's mission." Though most of her work is behind-the-scenes, she has already written several commentaries, including "Advice from the Nanny State," a hilarious riff she co-authored with Communications Director Michael Jahr, and "The Bone of Contention," a thoughtful reflection on quarterback Michael Vick's reinstatement into the NFL.
Christopher Deming, 22, is the new director of Students for a Free Economy, the Mackinac Center's college outreach and leadership program. Deming says he is excited: "College students don't often hear a message like SFE's. Entrepreneurial success, opportunity for all people and the moral arguments for free markets: These ideas resonate with college students. Students become the fiercest of advocates for individual liberty the world has ever seen."
Deming wants to expand SFE's influence to every university in Michigan and to community colleges as well. He began work over the summer, and this fall, SFE was present at information fairs on 17 college campuses.
Deming just finished college himself, graduating magna cum laude in 2009 from Northwood University in Midland, Mich., where he majored in economics, international business, and management. Deming also received the Ludwig von Mises Award, the university's highest honor for an economics student.
Claire Forman, 22, is working for one year as a research analyst to Mackinac Center President Joseph Lehman as part of a prestigious Koch Associate Program that trains promising college graduates in nonprofit management and organization. Forman has already been able to contribute to several Mackinac Center policy initiatives by conducting project research and providing organizational support.
Forman earned her bachelor's degree in global affairs and Latin American studies from George Mason University, where she also minored in economics. She has studied in Argentina and Honduras, working at a micro-credit loan organization and teaching at an orphanage. "It was frustrating to see good people in need and not be able to explain just what the problem was," she says of her time abroad. "Later, my studies in market-based economics made the problems clear, and I want to share that understanding, whether here or in South America."
Talk about new frontiers. The "West" may keep changing — Michigan was once part of the America's "Northwest Territory" — but there is always a new generation ready to join the drive for freedom.