The State Media Co. each year honors 20 people under the age of 40 who are making a difference in The Midlands. This year’s class includes educators, lawyers, bankers, public servants and the owners of small businesses. We think you’ll agree that Columbia and the Midlands are in good hands.
Camillia Yvette Austin
Family: It has been said that family is the basic building block of society, and I fully agree. My family is my foundation.
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communications-Public Relations, USC, 2003; Associate in Management, The Institutes, 2007; Master of Business Administration, Webster University, 2013; Six Sigma Lean Professional, 2016; Lean Six Sigma White Belt, 2016; Change Management Specialist, 2016
Community and professional highlights:
Present: Board of directors and finance committee, South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault; executive board member and chair of public relations committee, American Business Women’s Association; academy member, USC Alumni Association Board of Governors; vice chair, United Way Health Council; member, United Way Community Impact Council; member, Women in Philanthropy; member, National Association of Health Care Services Executives; member, Palmetto Health - USC School of Medicine Simulation Center Advisory Council; mentor, Institute for Leadership & Professional Excellence, Columbia College; volunteer, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, The Cooperative Ministry; volunteer, Grant Programs Evaluator, United Way; volunteer, City of Columbia Emergency Winter Shelter; Blueprint for Leadership Graduate.
I like living in the Midlands because: The University of South Carolina, where I was welcomed, nurtured, and equipped with the tools and resources to make a difference in the community and in my profession. The Midlands offers economic diversity. I enjoy our sophistication and culture that can be experienced through the S.C. Philharmonic, Columbia Museum of Art, S.C. State Museum, theatrical productions of plays and musicals, and the talented performances of our wonderful ballet and dance companies.
My life changed when: At age 21, I was diagnosed with a normally fatal disease that resulted in a major organ beginning to fail. Seven years later, God healed my body. Since that time, no one – not even myself on a bad day – can tell me that I was not put here for a purpose. I learned at a young age through this illness and my brother being murdered when I was 17 that life is a gift, a precious one with an end date that we do not know. In the interim, I will fully use all the days to show forth my appreciation to God for my complete restoration that has made me fearless and unstoppable in the pursuit of my personal and professional endeavors.
The best advice I received from a mentor: Most of us have heard the phrase "you have a heart of gold" and in fact, this is true. There are trace amounts of gold in every human body, 0.2 mg to be exact. Gold is in our bone and our blood. The highest concentration of gold, however, is in our heart; but only a few of us will ever develop the strength to dig it out. Strive to discover the gift of gold that is within you! – Dr. James R. Samuel
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your travels to other countries?:
"We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." – Maya Angelou
Marie C. Boyd
Family: Husband, Jaime Harrison; son, William; parents, Harvey and Sherryl; and brother, Nathan
Education: Harvard, A.B. in chemistry; Yale Law School, J.D.
Community and professional highlights: On the board of directors of South Carolina Humanities; previously on the board of directors of the Palmetto Health Foundation and the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council; vice chair of the Academic Programs Committee of the Food and Drug Law Institute; and my arts and crafts have been featured on a number of websites, including Elle Decor, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.
I like living in the Midlands because: At the University of South Carolina School of Law, I have found engaged students and a strong community of scholars and teachers. In addition, I have had the opportunity to serve several organizations that are doing great work to improve and enrich the quality of life of all South Carolinians and as a result I have learned more about the state and the Midlands communities.
My life changed when: My life changed when I did the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Barbara Jordan Congressional Scholars Program. Prior to my participation in that program, I had thought that I wanted to be a physician and I had spent several summers working in biology and biotechnology labs. The program gave me the opportunity to intern for a United States Senate committee and meet professionals working on a variety of health policy issues. I left the program knowing that I wanted to go to law school, but unsure of what type of law I wanted to practice.
My life further changed when I met my husband, Jaime. He is one of my biggest champions and fabulous father to our son, William. I would not be where I am today without Jaime’s support. William has helped me see the world from a new and kinder perspective.
The best advice I received from a mentor: My parents’ unspoken example of how they are living their lives has been more powerful than any spoken advice I have received. They have shown me through their example the power of family, education, community, service and perseverance.
Why is it important for you to give back to the community?: Service to others is my way of saying thank you. The educational opportunities that I have had throughout my life have opened many doors for me and I want others to have access to similar opportunities.
Robert Joseph Davis
Family: Wife, Rebecca Haynes
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, University of South Carolina; Master of Business Administration from USC
Community and professional highlights: Treasurer, NOMA Bark Park; Reading Buddy at Bradley Elementary; former Grants Chair, Earlewood Community Citizens Organization; former chair of Earlewood “Big Flea” Fundraiser; former secretary, Midlands International Trade Association.
I like living in the Midlands because: When I was an undergrad at USC, Columbia felt like no more than the campus and a few bars and restaurants. Now a decade later, I often find myself amazed by the powerful changes that have been brought to our region and what it means to the citizens. Living in Earlewood, I have seen empty houses renovated and become homes to young families. I have seen dilapidated buildings become businesses leading North Main Street revitalization efforts like Vino Garage and the War Mouth.
My life changed when: I know this may seem cliché, but when I met my wife. Before I met her, I was apathetic to the world around me. I was the one to point out what was wrong but never willing to fix it. My wife has an insatiable desire to help correct the wrongs of the world, and she has inspired me every day to not demand change, but be the change.
The best advice I received from a mentor: I wish I could remember who showed me the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson, but there are two parts that resonate with me every day. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.”
You are described as a patient, focused leader. How did you develop those skills? My father taught me to slow down and focus on the details. The best example I can give of this education can be found in the long summer days mowing our yard. In my effort to expedite the process, I would push the lawnmower as fast as it could go and, inevitably, I would miss a few patches of grass.
My father would not yell or say a harsh word about my sloppy work. He would simply walk over to the missed patch of grass and proceed to put on quite the show. Measuring the grass with his finger and stroking his chin in faux confusion until I realized what I had done. It wasn’t until I came back and fixed my mistake that he would crack a knowing grin and tell me to focus on my work.
Chad Dowdy Age: 35
Family: Married to Lauren K. Dowdy; children: Charlie, 3, and Kate, 1
Education: Bachelor of Science from the University of South Carolina, 2004; CFP, CLU, ChFC
Community and professional highlights: Top intern, 2003 Time magazine feature; Leadership Columbia Class of 2006; appointed youngest managing director with Northwestern Mutual, 2007; Boys and Girls Club of the Midlands board member, 2009-present; Million Dollar Round Table (industry production achievement), 2009-present
From his nomination: His professional success is matched by his desire to enrich the community, build the careers of those he employs and develop our Midlands community to its potential.
I like living in the Midlands because: I grew up in Barnwell, and I appreciate the small town values of community, faith and family that I was raised on. I love living here because the Midlands embodies these same values, while also having opportunities that are unique to a capital city. The lasting relationships my family has built here with our friends, clients and colleagues allow us to see these values lived out in our day-to-day life.
My life changed when: The day I met Lauren King. Lauren has become my wife, the mother of my children, and my business partner. I am truly blessed to have her.
The best advice I received from a mentor: “The best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Charlton Griner, referencing a Chinese proverb
You volunteer with several local organizations. Why is that important?: I have lived in Columbia for the past 15 years and it continues to grow and become better each year. I believe that you are where you are, because of where you are. So, I work every day to make sure that I leave this community better than I found it.
Raven Walters Gambrell
Family: Husband, Scott; daughter, Sally, 8; son, Jake, 6
Education: Bachelor of Science in Engineering, University of South Carolina; Master of Science in Engineering, University of South Carolina
Community and professional highlights: Registered Professional Engineer in South Carolina and Georgia; 2012 ACEC Future Leaders Program graduate; Leadership Columbia class of 2013 graduate; recently selected to become an associate with HDR; fitness instructor at Jamie Scott Fitness; co-managed completion of numerous service projects for various organizations in the Midlands for the Junior League of Columbia; volunteer at Epworth Children’s Home; active member of Shandon United Methodist Church.
I like living in the Midlands because: I am very fortunate to spend each day focused on improving the transportation network in Richland County. I get the opportunity to interact with numerous organizations, government officials and citizens. I am inspired by their love for our region and desire for positive growth. It has been remarkable to see the changes throughout the area over the past 20 years.
On a personal note, the Midlands is home. It has a small town feel in a more urban environment. The people are compassionate and always willing to offer a helping hand. I love all that the area has to offer for my entire family.
My life changed when: My life changed when I moved to Columbia to attend college. My eyes were opened to new opportunities and adventures. I developed a deep love for the area and the people. I met lifelong friends and, most importantly, my husband. I have continually felt blessed and so lucky to have a true partner in this life.
The best advice I received from a mentor: Add value.
Your nomination praises you for having a balanced life. How do you accomplish that?: I am always striving to find balance in my life; it is not an easy task! I find that I have to prioritize what is important. In doing this I have developed a list of non-negotiables: faith, family, friends and physical fitness. In addition to my career, I ensure I make time for each of these aspects. When these areas of my life are fulfilled, I am able to focus more deeply while at work as well as on other work-related or community service activities. When taking on new roles, I prayerfully consider the task and evaluate if I will have the time and energy to add value to the role.
Kayla Hildreth Gupton Age: 28
Family: Husband, Scott
Education: Bachelor of arts in Journalism and Mass Communications; Master of Mass Communication – University of South Carolina
Community and professional highlights: Leadership Columbia class of 2017; Junior League of Columbia, Provisional Advisory Committee Co-Chair, Membership Council member; Colonial Life volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Home Works, Harvest Hope Food Bank, United Way of the Midlands campaign core team member, American Heart Association Heart Walk Campaign core team member; former Young Professionals Community Relations site leader; Palmetto Health Foundation ViA (Volunteer in Action); member American Marketing Association
I like living in the Midlands because: I like living in Columbia because it is the wonderful blend of foundation and change for me. I have great memories from growing up here, and I also love our strong community and its dedication to helping Columbia holistically grow. And, of course, I love cheering on our Gamecocks!
My life changed when: My life changed when I married my husband, Scott. He is one of the most selfless people I know, and he constantly sacrifices his time and schedule to support me in any way that he can. He encourages me to go after all that I want to achieve professionally, in the community and personally; challenges me to continually grow; and always helps me find the positive in any situation.
The best advice I received from a mentor: “The world is so much bigger than your world.” My grandparents (known as Oma and Opa to most) said this to me at the ripe age of 11 when I had the opportunity to travel with a student ambassador group to Australia for the first time. While sending an 11-year-old across the world essentially “by herself” would be scary/crazy to most, they were my biggest supporters. I didn’t really understand what they meant at the time, but after going on that first trip and catching “the travel bug,” I eventually understood. Traveling pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me understand that “different” isn’t always bad, and helped build my self-confidence – all lessons I’ve carried with me and applied to many areas of my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without these words and their unwavering support and love.
Why is it important for you to give back to the community?: Volunteering is important to me because of the enormous impact it can have. Regardless of whether you give an hour or an entire weekend, giving your time to help others is something that anyone can do to strengthen our community today and for future generations to come.
Ginny Skinner Haynes
Family: Husband, Hal Haynes; two sons, Braxton, 6; Dawson, 4
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography from Columbia College; Master of Fine Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; a Principal Certification K-12 from Lamar University.
Community and professional highlights: One of the biggest highlights for me is when former students take time to come back and see me. For my professional highlights, I was blessed to have been named Teacher of the Year at the best high school in the state, Dutch Fork High School. I was also very honored to be awarded the Outstanding Young Alumnae award from Columbia College in 2014. Last but not least, I was honored and blessed to be named South Carolina’s Dance Educator of the year back in 2011.
I like living in the Midlands because: I love all of the opportunities the Midlands has to offer me and my family. From fun, family activities to a central location to gather with other professionals, it allows for great opportunities.
My life changed when: I had my first of eight miscarriages back in 2008. My husband and I lost a total of eight babies within six miscarriages. I was used to being so prepared and planning everything perfectly but little did I know that I wasn’t in control but my God was. It was a hard lesson to learn and understand but it taught me that God’s timing is the perfect timing and God’s plan is the only plan, and that because of him I have all that I have.
The best advice I received from a mentor: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make,” by Jane Goodall. I have two sons so I want to make sure that everything I do with them and for them is in the best interest of being a respectable, smart, strong and loving Christian man. Being a high school teacher and volunteer Awana and Vacation Bible School teacher for church, I have the opportunity to impact so many young people and hopefully help them to become better citizens for our world.
How do high school students benefit from the arts?: High school arts can benefit students on many levels. I feel that I teach more than just dance steps and styles. I teach about body image, confidence, teamwork, respect, support and hard work while also teaching history, French terminology, writing and communication. Through all of these opportunities I am also teaching passion, dedication and determination.
Family: Husband, Wes Hickman
Education: USC Honors College, Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations
Community and professional highlights: Serving as the executive director of EngenuitySC is the greatest job I never knew I wanted. Every day I get to work with ridiculously talented people, a visionary board and collaborative leaders focused on shaping the future of the Midlands. I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now, and I’m so proud of the journey that brought me here, including: Stratacomm, a Fleishman-Hillard Company, senior account executive; Office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, press secretary; Lindsey Graham for Senate, deputy finance director; Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands board member; Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce board member; USC School of Journalism and Mass Communications, 2016 Outstanding Young Alumni Award; Charlotte Business Journal Energy Inc. Summit, 2015 Emerging Leader Award; Columbia Business Monthly, 2014, 2015 50 Most Influential People; Columbia Regional Business Report, 2014 Influential Women in Business.
I like living in the Midlands because: I truly believe that this region is on the cusp of growth and change like we’ve never seen. There’s momentum building from leaders who know we can do better and next-gen believers committed to making it happen. We have an opportunity to disrupt what has been and shape what can be, and the timing is perfect for folks like me to have real impact.
My life changed when: My husband took a job at my alma mater, USC, and gave me a great excuse to come back “home” to S.C. Our lives have been forever changed by the opportunities Columbia has created for us ever since.
The best advice I received from a mentor: The ever-quotable John Lumpkin once told me that every day we get the choice to do right things or do things right. It’s a subtle, but substantial, difference - a compass I turn to often.
What is the mission of EngenuitySC?: EngenuitySC is an economic development non-profit focused on enhancing the Midlands’ competitiveness and prosperity. Our sweet spot is managing regional collaborations between business, government, education and community leaders that will ultimately make the Midlands more competitive and prosperous.
Trevor A. Knox
Family: Parents, Cathy and Lex Knox; siblings, Alex, Ashley, Tristan (brother-in-law); nieces, Rosie and Junie
Education: Hammond School 2001, Bachelor of Science in Management, University of South Carolina; Master of Business Administration, USC
Community and professional highlights: Leadership SC; Palmetto Place Children’s Shelter, Capital Campaign and Board of Directors; Education Council and Young Leader Society of the United Way of the Midlands; Moore School Young Alumni Board; serving the employees of Terminix Service Inc.
I like living in the Midlands because: I like living in the Midlands because it is home. It gives me the opportunity and the people to discover who I am and live up to a legacy that has been built before me. Through my family, the employees of Terminix Service, the men of F3, the kids of Palmetto Place or the leadership at the United Way of the Midlands, I have been surrounded by community that has given me plenty of opportunity to serve others.
My life changed when: My life changed when I learned that the story is not about me. My life changed when I realized the value of listening and understanding others first. That people want to be seen, heard and understood, and people don’t care until they know how much you care about them. My life changes every day when I take time to first start with God, then challenge myself to serve others.
The best advice I received from a mentor: Control your emotions. It’s not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude. The most successful people do things that they don’t have to do. Your minimum performance is the maximum you can expect from others. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I am thankful for and love my dad.
You organized F3 Fridays. What is that program and what are its benefits?: Too many kids find themselves abused and neglected by adults and ultimately going through foster care. The challenge is to find a good home that results in the kids experiencing personal growth and regaining trust in adults. Fortunately, Palmetto Place is such a place. The mission of F3 is to plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership. The result was a weekly Friday afternoon light “workout" with the kids of Palmetto Place and the men of F3 that mostly ended with games of tag, laughter and fun. The benefits were grown men being dads to displaced kids, and allowing the kids to be loved and find trust.
Amanda W. Koehler
Family: Husband, Billy Koehler; son, Henry Koehler, 3.
Education: B.S. in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina and Masters of Accountancy from the University of South Carolina
Community and professional highlights: Professional and community highlights for me have been being promoted by individuals I respect and feeling the confidence they have in me. I hope to work hard enough in all my endeavors to show the gratitude for all the people who have put their trust and confidence in me.
I like living in the Midlands because: Any place is only as good as its people, and the Midlands is a community of great people. My friends and family are here, and I love seeing our neighbors strive to improve and grow our area. Everyone is doing so much that it pushes you to also have a positive impact.
My life changed when: I started working. Mobley Drug Store in Lancaster was the first of several places where God gave me the opportunity to work with great mentors. These people I have met throughout my career have provided an example of how to be honest and hardworking. Those experiences shaped the values I try to exhibit today.
The best advice I received from a mentor: Everyone deserves your respect. When I moved to Columbia and began working with Governor Hodges, my dad told me to always treat the person sweeping the floors with the same respect you do the governor.
What do you try to accomplish through your work with the Midlands Housing Trust Fund? I would like to assist in providing affordable housing so that everyone in the Midlands has a quality place to live. Growth in the Midlands can push up apartment and home pricing outside of affordable ranges for many people who make our city run. The program seeks to provide financing to create affordable housing to qualified, hard-working individuals and families. Throughout my life, I have been blessed with more helping hands and assistance than I can possibly count or repay and would love to give back to make sure others have the same opportunities. It is about paying it forward to show respect to the leaders who helped me and helping future leaders have what they need.
Family: Father, Richard; mother, Jocelyn; sister, Lydia; brothers, Lucas and Bryan.
Education: Bachelor’s of Science, the State University of New York at Cortland; Master’s of Science, USC.
Community and professional highlights:
A.C. Flora High School has won 12 state championships in the last six years. A.C. Flora athletes have won 15 individual state championships including eight individual state speed and strength meet titles in the last four years. A.C Flora has been awarded the NSCA Strength of America Award and the Let’s Move Active Schools National Healthy School Award. Kurtz created Falcon Family Bootcamps and Future Athlete Speed & Strength Camps, which have created a schoolwide culture of vitality and fitness that includes not only students, but also the faculty, staff, parents and community. In 2016, Kurtz was named the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s National Coach of the Year and was also named the South Carolina Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in both 2013 and 2014.
I like living in the Midlands because: The people and the community! The A.C. Flora community has become like a second family to me.
My life changed when: My life changed when I realized the potential impact my position can have on young people. Billy Graham said, "One coach will impact more people in a year than most do in a lifetime." When I grasped the magnitude of this quote, I became a much better coach for my students and athletes. I want to have a 100 percent positive impact on my students and everyone I come into contact with in the school and community. I emphatically believe that high school strength coaches have the potential to make the biggest impact on their students and athletes.
The best advice I received from a mentor: "Never be satisfied but appreciate what you have; live in the moment but chase your dreams; do all these things at the same time!" -Lucas Kurtz
"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care" -Bryan Meagher
How crucial is physical fitness for high school students?:
Strength, conditioning, fitness and life-long health is becoming more and more important in everyday life and should be a focal point of emphasis in all of our schools. There is absolutely no reason that a child should graduate high school without having knowledge of how to perform fundamental movement patterns and an understanding of different fitness programs. Arming students with an appreciation of physical fitness and the tools to be physically fit is more than crucial, it is essential to their ability to thrive in life both physically and mentally.
Ralph Montague Laffitte III
Family: Wife, Lauren Bell Laffitte; three children Monty, 9; McNeill, 7, and Bell, 2.
Education: Wofford College 2000; University of South Carolina Moore School of Business MBA 2002
Community and professional highlights: 2006 graduate of South Carolina Bankers School; 2007 graduate of Leadership Columbia; former chairman of the South Carolina Bankers Association Young Bankers Board; former chairman of Shandon United Methodist Church Church Council; previously served as a board member of the USC Richland/Lexington Alumni Association, Vital Connections, and the Providence Hospital Development Foundation Board. Current board member of the Palmetto Baseball League and the Ray Tanner Foundation Board. In 2015, named Outstanding Young Banker by the South Carolina Bankers Association.
I like living in the Midlands because: Many people like Columbia because it is located in the central part of the state and you can get to the mountains or the beach quickly. We like Columbia for what it is – a great city. We enjoy being active in our church and in our schools. We live in a great neighborhood and have wonderful friends in Columbia. Our kids love their school and are involved in many organized activities that keep them engaged in our community.
My life changed when: My life changed when my wife Lauren agreed to marry me. She has been a wonderful friend and wife. She is incredibly supportive of me and my career. Shortly after we married, we were blessed to be able to start a family and we now have three children.
The best advice I received from a mentor: I was very fortunate to grow up in a home with two very loving and supportive parents. They encouraged and expected us to work hard, be honest, dependable, and fair, but also have fun. Strong values and maintaining a work family life balance is one of the best pieces of advices I have received.
How were you able to become executive vice president at South State Bank at a young age?: Over the past fourteen plus years, our company has seen tremendous growth. During this time, I have been incredibly lucky to work for and with a really great group of people. Our team has collectively accomplished a lot and our company has a history of investing in its people and promoting from within. This personal development and the successful and strategic growth of the company has created opportunities for me to grow professionally.
Family: Supportive parents, two brothers who I also call friends, their wives that are more like my sisters, four nephews and a niece.
Education: Wofford College, B.A. in Finance
Community and professional highlights: Of all my proud moments, the one that ranks at the top was when Palmetto Health Foundation asked me to be the Featured Breast Cancer Survivor and to chair its 2016 Walk for Life and Famously Hot Pink Half Marathon. There is the obvious pride of meeting our goal, which was to raise enough money to buy additional 3-D digital mammography units for the Breast Center at Baptist. But what made me the most proud was the number of participants - over 7,000 - who showed up that morning.
I like living in the Midlands because: With the exception of the extreme summer heat, there’s a lot to love: the locally owned restaurants and bars, boutique shopping, City Roots Farm to Table, Soda City, Riverbanks Zoo, the Gamecocks. I was born and raised in Columbia, so the Midlands will always be home to me.
My life changed when: I’ve had a couple of inconvenient interruptions in my life over the last several years. My fiancé passed away in February 2012. I needed to hit pause on my life, so after much prayerful thought, I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my fast- paced, high-paying job so I could have some time for myself. I rested. I traveled to Ethiopia. I recharged. And ultimately that leap of faith led me to working at my church. Life certainly doesn’t always go the way you script it. And good thing I learned that lesson because two years later, at the age of 36, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say that wasn’t part of my plan, either. But, somehow I’ve found a way to put one foot in front of the other. Admittedly, I’ve surprised even myself as I've worked through these interruptions. I certainly have a different perspective on life. It is what it is.
The best advice I received from a mentor: “Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.” – Epictetus. Over the years, this stoic philosopher’s words have helped me determine when I need to rely on my faith and when to push myself a little harder.
What’s the most important lesson you learned on your mission trips to Ethiopia?: The art of negotiating. Everything is negotiable in Ethiopia. Cab fares. Food. Lodging. Merchandise. I have a hard time paying full price for anything without at least trying to negotiate.
Occupation: Tax, estate planning, and business transactions attorney at Turner Padget Graham & Laney
Family: Husband, Zach Minton; parents, Dick Tinsley and Roxanna Tinsley.
Education: Bachelor’s in Financial Management from Clemson University; law degree from the USC School of Law and Masters in Taxation from the University of Florida.
Community and professional highlights: Admitted to the Bar in November 2010. Former counsel for litigation at the S.C. Department of Revenue. Joined Turner Padget in 2014 as an associate for the Business Transactions Group. Member of the Richland County Bar Association, South Carolina Women Lawyers Association, Columbia Estate Planning Council, Columbia Tax Study Group, Elder Law Committee, and member of the Probate Council of the South Carolina Bar.
Former Girls on the Run Coach, and reading tutor with the Midlands Reading Consortium through the United Way. Currently, serves as chair of the Junior Achievement of Greater South Carolina Young Professionals Auxiliary and also serves as a Junior Achievement volunteer in the classroom. Vice chair of the Midlands Cinderella Project. Active member of the Junior League and Chair of the Public Affairs Team. Member of the Leadership Columbia Class of 2013 and serves as chair-elect of the Leadership Columbia Advisory Board.
I like living in the Midlands because: There are so many opportunities for everyone in our community. Whether it is the support that our community provides to those that are down on their luck, or the thriving arts community that provides an outlet for those to express themselves artistically.
My life changed when: I experienced a brief period of unemployment after graduating from tax school and trying to find my first legal job. During that time, I reconnected with God and the power and wonder of prayer. I was frustrated that I had made the grades and got the degrees, but was constantly being rejected when it came to actually getting a job. But a family friend urged me to attend their church. The church service I attended moved me back to that relationship with God.
The best advice I received from a mentor: To be balanced. This came from my mother. She always taught me that the most important thing a person can have is balance in their life.
What is Elder Law month, and why is it important? The South Carolina Bar has several activities during May to promote the awareness of elder law. As we age, there are a whole new set of issues we must face. These issues include long-term care, Medicaid and Medicare planning, Social Security, estate planning, health care directives and nursing home care.
Akil E. Ross Sr.
Occupation: Principal of Chapin High School
Family: Wife, Jocelyn; Alyssa, 7; Akil Jr. "AJ", 3
Education: Bachelor in Political Science, Minor in History and Education from Duke University; Masters in Educational Leadership from USC; Educational Specialist Degree from S.C. State University; and Doctor of Education Degree from USC.
Community and professional highlights: I am proud to serve as the principal of a school that is nationally recognized for academics and school spirit. The school has earned numerous honors, including the Palmetto’s Finest Award, Athletic Program of the Year by The State newspaper, three state band championships in the last five years, and Best Student Section in the Nation Award from Varsity Brands. The State newspaper named me one of the "Most Influential People in the Town of Chapin." As a result of the overall success of Chapin High School, I was named the 2017 South Carolina Association of School Administrators Secondary Principal of the Year.
I like living in the Midlands because: The Midlands are the "heartbeat" of South Carolina. The Chapin High School students use the term "heartbeat" to represent the collective spirit that gives life to the school. As it is with the Midlands, the collection of diverse backgrounds, businesses, economic opportunities, arts, educational institutions, governmental agencies, parks and recreation gives life to our great state.
My life changed when: I became a parent. My understanding of the vision and goals a parent has for their child became personal. I empathize with a parent struggling with their child’s poor performance in school and I try to ease their emotional concerns before addressing their academic concerns.
The best advice I received from a mentor: My grandfather, Edward Wilson, was my role model and mentor. As a sharecropper with a sixth-grade education, his hard work and sacrifice allowed him to own a home in a prestigious Washington, D.C., neighborhood. It was his actions not his words that inspired me the most. He placed a strong emphasis on working hard and taking pride in your work.
How do Chapin High School students benefit by being involved in the community?:
Chapin High School has developed a spirit of giving and community service. Throughout the year, student groups give thousands of hours of time to worthy causes. They collect thousands of dollars and in-kind donations that truly make a difference. When students are given an opportunity to serve, they become totally invested in improving the welfare of the community and all its residents.
Dr. Aubrey L. Sejuit
Occupation: Assistant professor of counseling and counseling program coordinator for Lenoir-Rhyne University's Center for Graduate Studies of Columbia
Family: Husband, Matthew; brother, Jared Robert Paul Stover; mother, Denise A. Stover; father, Joel R. Stover
Education: Doctorate, Counselor Education and Supervision, 2016, USC; M.S.W., Individuals, Families & Groups, 2012, Syracuse University; A.A.S., Intelligence Operations Studies, 2012, Cochise College; M.Ed., Teaching & Curriculum, 2009, Penn State University; Bachelors in Sociology, 2007, Penn State University; Bachelors in History, 2007, Penn State University; A.A., Letters, Arts, and Sciences, 2004, Penn State University
Community and professional highlights:
WJB Dorn VA Medical Center Mental Health Veterans Advisory Council, MHVAC, Board Member; Junior League of Columbia, member; Phi Mu Fraternity-Lambda Theta Chapter at USC, Ritual Adviser; MyCarolina's Veterans Alumni Council, VAC Co-Founder and current VP, 2016; Chi Sigma Iota at USC "Outstanding Doctoral Student of the Year", 2015; Penn State’s Outstanding Young Alumni, Schuylkill Award, winner, 2015; USC’S Pin of Leadership, winner, 2015; NASW, CNY Division MSW Student of the Year Award, 2012.
I like living in the Midlands because: I love the fact that I am surrounded by the best and the brightest. I feel blessed that I can call many of the people I have met in South Carolina my colleagues, mentors, and friends.
My life changed when: I came to South Carolina. My first introduction to Columbia was between my junior and senior years of high school when I was sent to Fort Jackson for basic training. Years later, I was lucky to return to the Palmetto State in order earn my Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision.
The best advice I received from a mentor: One of my favorite quotes is by Isaac Newton, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I've had many great mentors in my life, but one bit of advice that always stood out to me was that if I was the smartest person I know, I need to meet more people.
Why is your work with military veterans so important to you? Before I was old enough to drink, I was sent to Baghdad, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as an intelligence analyst. My husband served with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines as a Navy Corpsman twice in Iraq. My parents were active duty Air Force, my brother served in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and my father-in-law, a Vietnam Veteran, served in the Navy. Both of my late grandfathers served in the military and my maternal grandfather was in WWII. I cringe when people wish me a "Happy Memorial Day" or stores offer Memorial Day discounts to "celebrate" the holiday. In fact, it's offensive to me to take it so light-heartedly or use it as a day to make a quick buck. I feel compelled to be a voice for those who have none.
Occupation: Deputy fire chief, West Columbia Fire Department; adjunct professor, Benedict College
Education: Bachelor of Science, Business Management, Liberty University; Master of Art, Management and Leadership, Liberty University; Master of Public Administration, UNC-Chapel Hill, 2019
Community and professional highlights: Executive board member, Finance & Audit Chair, S.C. Firefighters’ Association; past president, Columbia Firefighters’ Association; presenter, S.C. Fire-Rescue, 2015; former adjunct professor, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College; Willie Warren Award Recipient; International Association of Fire Chiefs; Board Member, 9/11 Silent Walk; S.C. Black Pages Top 20 Under 40, 2016.
I like living in the Midlands because: After moving away for a moment, I realized how much potential the Midlands has and how we have a great mix of urban sophistication and suburban, southern charm. There are very few places where you can experience that combination without losing your identity.
My life changed when: I finally realized that most of life’s challenges can be defeated. Often, it requires us to venture into an area of discomfort; however, God empowers us to function well above our perceived limits.
The best advice I received from a mentor: I was once told as a teenager by one of my mentors not to let my past define me. Another mentor always used the old computer programming phrase ‘Garbage in, garbage out’; he simply told us not to expect a great outcome if we didn’t put in great work.
What is the public’s biggest misperception about firefighters?: Often, people believe we sit around the fire station all day and wait on fires to occur. The modern role of a firefighter has evolved into a multi-faceted position. Most of us are trained as EMTs, paramedics, rescue specialists, hazardous materials technicians, and the list goes on. If you dial 911, most often you will see a fire truck because of the expansive skill set of the modern day firefighter.
Michael H. Weaver
Family: Wife, Heather; sons, Brayden and Brooks
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law
Community and professional highlights: Columbia Chamber of Commerce board; Midlands Business Leadership Group board; South Carolina Bankruptcy Law Association board; United Way of the Midlands Certification Committee chair; Lexington County Republican Party executive committeeman; Leadership Columbia 2011; Leadership South Carolina 2017; St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church member; managing shareholder of McNair Law Firm’s Columbia office.
I like living in the Midlands because: In addition to all of the great schools, culture, sports and outdoor adventures that are here to enjoy, I love living in the Midlands because it is and remains undeniably Southern. We take the time to get to know our neighbors by name and treat strangers as if we did not know the meaning of the term.
My life changed when: Like each of us, there have been several events in my life that, looking back, I could describe as life-changing. The first one occurred in 1995 when I was 17 years old and asked a cute neighbor and high school classmate if she would go to a Brooks & Dunn concert with me. Although at the time I did not realize she had never even heard of the country music duo, we danced together at that concert and have been dancing through life together ever since. The second one was in 2005 when my wife told me I was going to be a dad. I am blessed to now be the father of two boys. The third life-changing event for me was when my mother passed away in 2009. Her passing has been and continues to be a constant reminder to thank God for each day that I have on this Earth and to make the very most of it.
The best advice I received from a mentor: If a judge rules in your favor, leave the courtroom. Things can only get worse if you stick around!
Why do you volunteer with the United Way?: Notwithstanding all of the good things that are happening and will continue to happen in the Midlands, some of our citizens struggle to make ends meet. There are children in our community who slept in a car last night because they have no home to go to. There are adults working two and sometimes three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet but never get ahead. These are just some of the challenges that people in the Midlands encounter every day.
I am not able to respond directly or help each person in need in our community but I volunteer and contribute to the United Way of the Midlands because I believe it is in the best position to help those who need it the most.
Chappell Suber Wilson
Family: Husband, Marty, and two children
Education: BA and MBA from USC
Community and professional highlights: Raised more than $30 million for academic initiatives at USC; established the fundraising program for USC Honors College; Leadership Columbia Class of 2004; President, USC Phi Beta Kappa Executive Committee; volunteer, Rosewood Elementary School; Sunday School teacher, Shandon United Methodist Church; member, Rosewood Educational Foundation Board; member, Children’s Hospital Board of Directors
I like living in the Midlands because: I enjoy living in the Midlands because it’s the perfect size and in the perfect geographic location. Delicious restaurants, rich history, pristine natural areas, exciting sports, and captivating arts are all within a 15-minute drive. There is always something fun to do here! Columbia is large enough to offer many of the opportunities of a big city, but still small enough that you are likely to see a familiar face wherever you go. And I know it’s cliché, but I love that you can be at the beach or the mountains in just a couple of hours.
My life changed when: My life changed when I became a mother. It is not only a huge responsibility, but also an amazing privilege to raise children, and I want to be there for as much of it as possible. Yet I found my job to be both meaningful and rewarding. Thankfully I was able to continue my career by working part-time for over eight years, which enabled me to spend quality time with my young children.
The best advice I received from a mentor: I’ve had the good fortune of learning from several terrific mentors, professionally and personally. As hard as it is, I’ll pick one: Do something meaningful each day. This might be contributing to a work project, making dinner for someone in need, helping a student, volunteering in the community, or spending time with your family. When I can reflect on my day and find a sense of purpose in at least one thing I have accomplished, I feel satisfied.
Why do you volunteer so much of your time at Rosewood Elementary School?: My community and professional experiences have all focused on two things that matter the most to me: children and education. I believe investing in these two areas has the greatest potential for creating a better future, individually and collectively. It was this interest that compelled me to volunteer at Rosewood Elementary School long before I had children of my own. Now that my own children attend Rosewood, volunteering there is even more meaningful and fun.
Tanya T. Wilson
Family: Son, Tyreek
Education: Doctorate degree in Speech Pathology from Nova Southeastern University; Bachelor and Master degrees in Speech Pathology from South Carolina State University
Community and professional highlights: Sign Language Interpreter at Bible Way Church of Atlas Road; volunteer with Teenage Pregnancy Support Ministry at Bible Way Church of Atlas Road; member of Clemson University’s Parent Council; wish granter with Make-A-Wish Foundation; charter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Omega Gamma Omega chapter.
Owner of Play on Words, LLC; appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to the S.C. Board of Examiners in Speech Pathology and Audiology for the Labor, Licensing, and Regulation Board; vice chairperson of S.C. Board of Examiners in Speech Pathology and Audiology for the Labor, Licensing, and Regulation Board; member of Phi Gamma Sigma International Professional Honor Society and Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society.
Previous positons: Vice president of education and information, In Touch; editor, convention co-chair and silent auction chair for the S.C. Speech Hearing Language Association; member Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society National Membership Committee
I like living in the Midlands because: It offers a big city feel without the big city price tag.
My life changed when: God blessed me with the ultimate gift, my son. As Tyreek’s mother, I understand firsthand what God’s grace and favor can do in your life. He’s my motivation, my heartbeat, and that ray of sunshine on the dark days that sometimes cloud my life. Ty has given me confidence and the strength to do things I never would have otherwise done. How can I look at my son and say “I didn’t complete what I started because I was tired”? God trusted me with this precious gift so I must do everything in my power to ensure he has everything he needs to be the best he can be.
The best advice I received from a mentor: If she can do it, why can’t you? If he can do it, why can’t you?
What are the rewards of working with special needs children?: I receive a sense of fulfillment each time I provide therapy. Will this be the day he speaks for the first time? Will this be the day she pronounces her name correctly so her classmates don’t tease her for the way she speaks? Will this child say “I love you” to his mother because of what I contribute? Having the opportunity to impact a child’s life and supporting the accomplishment of a goal is priceless.