CSDS Staff

Executive Director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service (CSDS)

AkernAlexander Levering Kern brings to Northeastern 18 years of experience in higher education, interfaith leadership, and nonprofit work in the US and abroad. Before joining Northeastern in August 2012, Alex served as Executive Director of Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries (CMM), the greater Boston area's oldest interfaith social justice network, and as Protestant Christian   Chaplain at Brandeis University, where he directed the US government-funded Brandeis University Interfaith Leadership Development (BUILD) Fellows program.  Working at the nexus of campus, community, and congregational life, Alex has offered leadership in interfaith and intercultural dialogue and advocacy around issues of poverty and homelessness, youth and domestic violence, immigrant rights, climate action and genocide prevention. At CMM and Brandeis, he founded the Interfaith Youth Initiative (IFYI), an internationally recognized peacemaking and leadership program for students and younger religious leaders. He is especially concerned to cultivate deeper spiritual practice, ethical reflection, civic engagement, and global citizenship skills among rising generations.

As an educator, Alex has served as adjunct faculty, speaker, or panelist at Harvard, Brandeis, Pendle Hill, Andover Newton Theological School, Hebrew College, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), and as a consultant at the Harvard Pluralism Project and Merrimack College Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. A widely published writer, he edited the anthology Becoming Fire: Spiritual Writing from Rising Generations. His essays, articles and poems have appeared in Georgetown Review, the Boston Theological Institute Bulletin, The Wick (Harvard Divinity School), Spare Change News, and in books on a wide range of topics, including interfaith relations, African American theology, Quakerism, and contemplative and Franciscan spirituality.

A member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Alex is the product of Quaker education at Sidwell Friends School and Guilford College (BA in Religious Studies, History, and African-American Studies).  Pursuing his interests in ecumenical and interfaith studies, Alex received his Masters of Divinity degree from Andover Newton Theological School and a graduate certificate in Boston Theological Institute, focusing on global issues and restorative justice. 

A native of Washington, DC, Alex has traveled, studied, and worked in post-earthquake Haiti, post-apartheid Southern Africa, Cold War Europe, the Middle East, Hiroshima, Japan, Brazil, and the mountains of Honduras. In 2009, he traveled to Nigeria with a US State Department-funded delegation training young civil society leaders to address interethnic and interreligious conflict.  His community work has been covered by the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and other media. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife Rebecca Grunko, who teaches ESL in the public schools, and their two young children, Elias and Ruthanna.

Program Manager for CSDS and the Social Justice Resource Center (SJRC) 

SpokuShaya Gregory Poku is devoted to the things that make for peace. A certified mediator through the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, she brings seven years of domestic and international program leadership to Northeastern.

Social Justice is the common thread in her work experiences, which have primarily been in the non-profit sector. She is excited to join the CSDS team and encourage critical thinking and global citizenship among the next generation.

Poku has just returned to the USA after spending a year and a half based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She served as the Deputy Project Manager of a project that supported the reintegration of ex-militants, inclusive decision-making processes and community-level reconciliation in the Niger Delta.

Prior to Nigeria, she served as the Africa Program Associate for Search for Common Ground, where she supported their innovative conflict transformation programming in 17 post-conflict and fragile states in Africa.

Poku has also made professional and academic trips to learn about security and post-colonial challenges in India, Liberia and South Africa where she spent five months learning about their Truth and Reconciliation process.

Her experiences have taught her that systemic inequalities, like armed conflict, can crush human potential. Thus, she has enthusiastically worked to advance the rights of historically marginalized groups.

Poku initiated efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of child marriages and human trafficking with the Office of Women’s Advocacy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). She trained adolescent girls challenged by inter-religious violence in Plateau State, Nigeria on how to be positive agents of transformation in their communities. She also spent two years managing a Boston-based girl’s empowerment NGO, where she built life skills for middle-school girls.

Poku understands that peacebuilding has spiritual dimensions as well and has sought to galvanize religiously-motivated peace-making. She currently serves as an appointed member of the Peace Discernment Steering Committee of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which is contemplating the denomination’s witness in the context of dynamic contemporary realities.

Poku holds a Master of Arts Degree in Intercultural Relations with a concentration in Intercultural Conflict Management from Lesley University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in International Relations from Agnes Scott College. This gives her a strong understanding of the international arena: both from the ontology of state-based political and economic systems, and social and cultural dynamics that are also prominent considerations in peacebuilding.

When she is not traveling or reading, Shaya enjoys mentoring, keeping up with current affairs, visiting museums and sites of historical interest, and decorating. The proud California native delights in being a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, godmother and friend.

Program Associates (Graduate students) for CSDS and the Social Justice Resource Center (SJRC) 2013-14

Erin Erin McKinney     Heley Haley Jones  Sammy Sammy Kalisa     ThalitaThalita Dias