President Kavalhuna’s Biography
Russell A. Kavalhuna, J.D., joined Henry Ford College as the institution’s sixth president in July 2018. The role unites his passions for public service, education, and institutional leadership. As the son of an immigrant who attended a Michigan community college, he believes the community college model of education and service is the gateway to the American Dream.
Prior professional roles
Before becoming president at Henry Ford College, Mr. Kavalhuna was the Executive Director of Flight Operations at the Western Michigan University College of Aviation, the nation’s third-largest collegiate aviation program. He also taught a course in the curriculum.
Prior to his position at WMU, Mr. Kavalhuna was a federal prosecutor and a commercial airline captain.
Commissions, committees, and public service
In May 2020, Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed Mr. Kavalhuna to the new statewide Workforce Development Board, with a mission of advancing the development and continuous improvement of the workforce development system in Michigan. The Board comprises the Governor and 20 executive leaders from across the state. They represent elected officials, business and industry, and higher education. President Kavalhuna is the sole community college president.
In January 2020, Mr. Kavalhuna was selected to join the inaugural cohort of the Aspen New Presidents Fellowship for Community College Excellence. The 25 college presidents selected through this highly competitive process represent a diverse set of leaders who strive to achieve significant improvements in student outcomes and greater equity in educational access and success. The Institute takes place in two segments -- one in summer 2020 and one in winter 2021. Presidents are expected to engage significantly in data collection, analysis, reading, and action planning as part of the Institute, with a goal of accelerating transformational change on behalf of students.
In 2018, Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer’s transition team selected Mr. Kavalhuna for consultation on higher-education policy. He continues to offer the Governor’s office insight on the intersection of education, statewide-talent development, and workforce development.
Earlier in 2018, Governor Rick Snyder appointed Mr. Kavalhuna to Michigan’s 21st Century Talent Creation Subcommittee, which includes industry executives, labor leaders, educators, lawmakers, and representatives of various state agencies. The Subcommittee focuses on changing demands for skills and how collaboration with educators can quickly prepare students for rapidly changing workplaces.
Mr. Kavalhuna is currently serving a fourth term on the Michigan Aeronautics Commission, the statewide board for all aviation infrastructure spending and rule making, which oversees a budget of $100 million. Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed him to the Aeronautics Commission in 2009, and Governor Rick Snyder reappointed him in 2013 and 2017. He has served as Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Aeronautics Commission on multiple occasions. He has chaired the Commission’s subcommittees on General Aviation and Commercial Aviation, producing a statewide report on commercial aviation.
Presidents William J. Clinton and George W. Bush selected Mr. Kavalhuna to serve in the second class of their Presidential Leadership Scholars program in 2016. Mr. Kavalhuna has served as an alumni mentor to subsequent classes in the leadership program, which serves as a catalyst for a diverse network of leaders brought together to collaborate and make a difference in the world as they learn about leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Mr. Kavalhuna served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he managed more than 140 officers in a multi-year investigation and prosecution of 31 gang members. He was a senior lawyer for the Michigan Supreme Court, and he has taught at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.
As a pilot, he served as first officer and captain for U.S. Airways Express for five years. He also held a leadership position in the Airline Pilots Association collective bargaining unit.
Education, awards, and honors
Mr. Kavalhuna earned his undergraduate degree in aviation science from Western Michigan University. He earned his juris doctor from WMU Cooley Law School. He finished third in his class and was selected by his classmates as the Valedictorian speaker.
His awards and honors include the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate, the highest civilian license; the ATF National Honor Award for Prosecution of Organized Crime; the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Holland Police Department; and being named as an “Up and Coming Lawyer” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.
President Kavalhuna, his wife, Courtney, and their children are proud residents of Dearborn.
Media resources:President's full bio President's speaker introduction President's portrait - headshot President's portrait - desk
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and President Kavalhuna present information about voting in Michigan and the upcoming national Census at the Student Engagement Conference in Feb. 2020.
President Kavalhuna, right, leads a panel at the 2020 Student Engagement Conference. Seated, L-R: Sam Baydoun, Ron Fournier, Abdullah Hammoud.
President Kavalhuna leads a discussion among students, asking for a show of hands on a question about public service. On stage with President Kavalhuna is Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who spoke to students as part of the 2020 Student Engagement Conference.
President Kavalhuna with the 2020 HFC Board of Trustees. L-R: Trustee Michael Meade, Trustee Mary Petlichkoff, Vice Chair James Thorpe, Chair Hussein Berry, President Kavalhuna, Trustee Adel Mozip, Secretary Mary Lane, Treasurer Roxanne McDonald.
Passing of the Gavel: Incoming Board of Trustees Chair Hussein Berry (right) and President Kavalhuna present a gavel and plaque to outgoing (2019) Board Chair, Trustee Mary Petlichkoff.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, left, meets with President Kavalhuna and Ford ASSET automotive mechanic students during her March 2019 visit to campus.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer, center, meets with surgical tech students, President Kavalhuna, and Dean Susan Shunkwiler in a new state-of-the-art lab during her March 2019 visit to campus.
President Kavalhuna and Governor Whitmer talked about the future of trades and workforce programs during the Governor's March 2019 visit to campus.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist meets with President Kavalhuna, students, and dignitaries during his June 2019 visit to Henry Ford College.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist and President Kavalhuna talk to a student during a robotics demonstration at HFC.
Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist walks with President Kavalhuna, HFC students, and dignitaries during his June 2019 visit to HFC.
President Kavalhuna with Michigan's Speaker of the House, Lee Chatfield, in Lansing, MI.
President Kavalhuna with U.S. Senator from Michigan, Gary Peters, in Washington, D.C.
Russell Kavalhuna (center) with former Presidents Bill Clinton (left) and George W. Bush (right).
Russell Kavalhuna (right) with Courtney Kavalhuna and former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Russell Kavalhuna and Courtney Kavalhuna (fifth and sixth from left) with the cast of HFC's production of The Laramie Project.
President Kavalhuna's first day on campus in July 2018, meeting students in the HFC Culinary program.
Russell Kavalhuna and a student show their HFC Hawks spirit.
Russell Kavalhuna meets new students during HFC Discover Day, Fall 2018.
Courtney Kavalhuna (center) and Board of Trustees Chair Michael Meade (right) invest Russell Kavalhuna with the Presidential Medallion during his October 2018 Investiture.
HFC Trustees (L-R) Michael Meade, Celia Nasser, Mary Petlichkoff, James Thorpe, and Fadwa Hammoud stand on the dais with Courtney Kavalhuna and with Russell Kavalhuna at his October 2018 Investiture.
President Russell Kavalhuna speaks at his October 2018 Investiture.