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Staff and Associates

Vicki Luther, Ph.D.
Vicki Luther, Co-Director of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, has over 25 years experience in designing programs to increase citizen participation in government and to improve their skills as decision-makers in both the public and private sectors. As Co-Director and a founder of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development with Milan Wall, she has developed training programs for community leaders and has participated in research projects on economic development and healthy communities. The author of several articles on futuring, community planning and leadership training, she is also the co-author of several publications on rural community development. Luther received the 1992 National Community Development Society Achievement Award for her work in the area of community development. A cum laude graduate of Marywood College, she received a master’s degree in culture change from Central Washington University and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane. Prior to her work with the Heartland Center, she served on the faculty of Washington State University. Dr. Luther recently participated in the Master Class for Leadership Educators at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. As an equestrian enthusiast, when Vicki is away from her desk she is most likely on her way to the barn, to ride and care for her horse.

Milan Wall
Lincoln, Nebraska
Milan Wall, Co-Director of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, is a management and communications expert with more than 40 years experience in dealing with the critical issues facing American society and culture. Mr. Wall has been a newspaper reporter and editorial columnist, a university lecturer and a speaker at regional and national conferences on such topics as educational leadership, economic development and uses of technology in education. Before he helped found the Heartland Center, he was Executive Vice President of the University of Mid-America, a multi-state consortium that was recognized internationally for its imaginative approaches to adult education. With Dr. Vicki Luther, he is co-author of a number of publications on leadership and community development, including The Entrepreneurial Community: A Strategic Leadership Approach to Community Survival, Clues to Rural Community Survival and Schools as Entrepreneurs: Helping Small Towns Survive. Previously, he served as editor of the Nebraska School Leader, which won three national awards for excellence among state publications on education during his tenure. In 1993, Mr. Wall was honored with the Award of Excellence, the distinguished alumni recognition of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Teachers College. In addition to airports and airplanes, Milan spends as much time as possible trout fishing at a secret location in Wyoming he refuses to divulge!

Kurt Mantonya
Senior Associate
Lincoln, Nebraska

Kurt Mantonya conducts primary research for the Center, focusing on ethnographic and anthropological research. He brings experience in Native American and Latino issues, project coordination, collaborative community based planning and the rapid growth of rural communities. His experience also includes working with projects on applied cultural anthropology of the Great Plains, Native American and Latino health care issues and policy analysis. Kurt also designs and presents training programs.

Mr. Mantonya’s professional career has revolved around archaeology, anthropology and education for the past 15 years. He taught eighth grade math and science and served as a librarian and coach on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona and also helped initiate a gifted and talented program. As an applied anthropologist, Mr. Mantonya has conducted work nationally and internationally. Some of these projects ranged from social and cultural issues like HIV in rural Nebraska to housing on reservations, the meatpacking industry in the Midwest and natural resource management and kinship systems in rural Mexico. He has also been involved in national and community service projects by directing a large multi-partner Americorps and Americorps*VISTA program for the City of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Mr. Mantonya has contributed numerous articles and encyclopedia entries for anthropological publications and has presented to many scholarly and professional societies. He is currently a fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology and also serves on the American Indian Issues subcommittee. He received a B.S. in sociology from Kansas State University in 1994 and a Master’s of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2002. He is currently a doctoral student in geography and anthropology at the UNL studying Indigenous Peoples. Kurt is an avid outdoorsman.



Ernesto Castillo, Jr.
Lincoln, Nebraska
Ernesto Castillo, Jr. serves as a Project Director for the Urban Development Department in Lincoln, Nebraska. Ernesto was on staff with the Heartland Center while completing his Master’s degree in community and regional planning, with emphasis in economic and social planning, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Mr. Castillo formerly served as a project assistant with the AmeriCorps program where he focused on academic achievement for at-risk youth in Lincoln, Nebraska. Prior to joining the AmeriCorps program, he worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Ernesto volunteers at the Lincoln Hispanic Center assisting non-English speaking clients with tax matters. He also serves as a mentor in a community tutoring program. Mr. Castillo is vice-chair of the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights.


Mema-shua Grant
Omaha Tribe
Lincoln, Nebraska

Mema-shua Grant is the founder and executive director of Reclaiming Native America, a mentoring program serving primarily Native American middle school students. The goal of the program is to help Native youths succeed in middle and high school and to continue on to pursue higher education opportunities.

As a high school student Mema-shua and approximately 15 other Native American students launched the Native American Caucus to create a curriculum that would be officially recognized as an elective for high school credit. The curriculum they developed focused on Native American issues, history and culture. The group achieved broad based support for the school, the Lincoln, Nebraska Indian Center and the community at large, and as an official caucus, the group became eligible for a seat on the School Council.

Mema-shua is included in Who’s Who of American Students, has earned several academic scholarships and was awarded The Hitachi Foundation’s Yoshiyama Award for Exemplary Service to the Community in 2001.

Peter J. Hille
Berea, Kentucky
Peter Hille is the director of the Brushy Fork Institute in Berea, Kentucky. The Institute is a program of the Center for Appalachian Leadership and Community Development at Berea College. Peter Hille joined Brushy Fork in 1990, and has been Director since 1994. He has worked extensively in Brushy Fork’s leadership development program, recruiting participants, organizing workshops and working with teams of community leaders as they carry out local projects.

Peter has created and conducted workshops, designed and led retreats and facilitated strategic planning processes for regional non-profits, foundations, government agencies and development organizations. Among these are the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, the Kentucky Long Term Policy Research Center and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Along with Vicki Luther, he co-authored a 60-hour community development curriculum for the Ford Family Foundation delivered throughout rural Oregon. Peter has also conducted community development workshops nationally and internationally, in Russia and Slovakia. In recent years, he has focused on building collaborative networks of diverse organizations serving the Appalachian region. A 1977 graduate of Swarthmore College, his background includes experience in grassroots environmental organizing and small business management.

Reshell Ray
Lincoln, Nebraska
Reshell Ray is a project consulting associate of the Heartland Center for Leadership Development and has a wide range of experience in training in community development, leadership and diversity. Ms. Ray often serves as primary trainer and facilitator for projects and provides expertise regarding diversity and accessibility.

Ms. Ray is currently assistant director of the Student Involvement Culture Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Previously, she was the management analyst for the city of Pacific, Missouri, where her duties included advising the Planning and Economic Development Commission. She is the recipient of many honors and awards for outstanding service to students and community at the University of Nebraska. Ms. Ray is a graduate of Southwest Missouri State University and holds a Master’s degree in planning from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Leon Sharpe
St. Louis, Missouri
Leon Sharpe is President of Praxis LLC, a human relations consulting firm that specializes in leadership training, strategic planning and issues pertaining to community development and diversity. He spent nine years with the American Youth Foundation where, as director of community education and international leadership, he organized and managed training conferences for emerging leaders from over 25 countries.

He has designed and conducted professional development programs for corporations, government agencies, school districts and universities throughout the United States. His client list includes the Central States Coalition of Essential Schools, MasterCard, Monsanto, Enterprise Development International, Webster University and the Cramer Institute. As a senior training associate with the Heartland Center, Leon has worked on numerous projects including Empowering Neighborhood People in Washington, DC and a leadership-training program with the University of Northern Namibia, Africa. He also serves as a regular trainer for the Heartland Center’s annual institute, Helping Small Towns Succeed.