Lem Cartman ’23, a health care administration major with a minor in public health, has spent his college career in pursuit of one goal: effect change through stellar leadership. The opportunities he’s found at Valparaiso University have played a major role in helping him work towards that goal. Recently, Lem was part of a highly prestigious, 10-day mission to Israel as part of the Jewish National Foundation’s Caravan for Democracy. There, he met with leaders in politics, culture, and business, taking in their knowledge and gaining immeasurable international experience. 

“This trip has enlightened me to so many things. I’ve always felt like humility was the way to go in leadership,” Lem says. “So going on this trip and bringing that spirit of humility there and getting that further sense of humility, that just opened my eyes to unity being the key to prosperity.”

Before coming to Valpo, Lem was working day and night at his home in the south side of Chicago to become the first member of his family to enroll in higher education. During that time, a chance meeting with a Valpo alumna would change his life immensely. 

“My senior year of high school, I was studying every day to try and get my ACT score up, and this lady asked what I was doing in the library every day after school,” Lem says. “I told her ‘I’m trying to get a better ACT score. My parents can’t pay for me to go to college, I’ve got to figure it out.’ She started helping me, and I increased my score to a 26, which was super scored to a 28.”

Upon learning of his original plan to become a nurse, Lem’s helper recommended the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Valpo. The expertise of the faculty and prestige of the program were impressive, but not as impressive to Lem as the ethos of compassion the Valpo community promoted. 

“One of the things that got me wasn’t necessarily the direct entry into the nursing program, but the focus on service and philanthropy,” Lem says. “I’ve always had a passion for giving back. The only thing that was preventing me was the money.”

Looking deeper into his case, Valparaiso University’s financial aid service was able to find the additional $8,000 Lem needed to get his foot in the door, and later worked with him to find the additional help needed to keep him at Valpo for the entirety of his program. 

“I’m truly grateful to Valpo for giving me this opportunity to even try to make things happen,” Lem says. 

While working on his nursing degree, Lem took on an internship as a leadership institute fellow with Lutheran Services in America, headquartered in Washington D.C. While the COVID-19 pandemic kept Lem from traveling, he was able to work remotely, taking charge of initiatives promoting racial and health equity, holding community engagement sessions, and helping businesses damaged during protests find the grants to get back on their feet. The experience opened his eyes to his real calling. 

“I started to see the underlying issues keeping people unhealthy, and I saw that it had nothing to do with the hospital or nursing, it was much broader than that. Once I saw that, I couldn’t turn back,” Lem says. “Once I looked at my natural talent for moving people combined with health care and the root causes of disparities, I changed my major to health care administration. I want to get to those root causes that keep disadvantaged people unhealthy.” 

Lem is currently in Valpo’s 4+1 track to earn his master’s of health administration by 2024. To address the underlying causes of public health disparity, Lem’s goal is to work his way into senior administration for a large hospital network — putting himself in a prime position to implement the kind of change he wants to see. 

“This health care administration degree puts me in a good position towards getting to that c suite,” Lem says. “My goal there is to bring a more collaborative approach to health care, which I feel will have us working across sectors to solve some of these big issues that cause people to be unhealthy.”

At the start of his senior year, Karen Allen, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions, came to him with a new opportunity: the Caravan for Democracy. Having taken her own trip to Israel the previous summer, Dean Allen had learned that a select number of student-leaders would be chosen to go on the mission, and she wanted Lem to be one of them. The only problem was that it was September, the application was originally due in August, and Lem had only one day to complete the process to be eligible. The next day he was invited to interview with the program, but would have to wait until November to find out if he had been selected. 

“I had never been out of the country, so I had to go get a passport, even though I might not have even been accepted,” Lem said. “I didn’t know what to do, but Dean Allen told me ‘just keep the faith, get the passport, and whatever happens will happen.’” 

Dean Allen’s faith was rewarded, and Lem was selected to be part of the caravan. He spent Dec. 27 – Jan. 6 in Israel, meeting and learning from experienced leaders. His session with a former Israeli diplomat in particular stuck out to him.

“He talked about what Israel’s role was in the world, and a lot of things he was saying resonated with me as a human being, but also as a future leader,” Lem says. “It was amazing to hear that perspective on how we can bring people together.”

More than a specific meeting or event, Lem says his most influential experience in a foreign country was simply interacting with a foreign people and culture. 

“I had read about Israel all of my life in the Bible,” Lem says. “So, when I went over there, I was expecting to find answers and divinity. But I didn’t find answers, I found more questions. I didn’t find divinity, I found humanity. That was the biggest thing; even though we live on totally opposite sides of the world, with different languages, and so many differences between us, we were still so similar.”

Lem’s exposure to the similarities, as well as the differences, in cultural groups has had an enormous impact on the way he views the responsibilities of leadership and his own goals. 

“My future goal is to unite people, to unite different sectors, and get us to come together to solve issues,” Lem says. “I think it’s the great task of my generation to unite people, to breach these gaps and build these bridges. I’m doing it across sectors, but also across race, across culture, across gender. This trip has shown me that that’s the way to go.”

Lem wants to see more Valpo students share the experience he had in Israel. He plans to host an information session on May 2, 2023 to share his story and guide others in following him. Lem encourages everyone to visit jnf.org to explore the international opportunities that have helped shape his life.