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Greenville Business Magazine

Best and Brightest Columbia

Sep 13, 2022 04:00PM ● By David Dykes

Welcome to Columbia Business Monthly’s 2022 Best & Brightest 35 and Under! This is our 28th year of recognizing the business and community leaders who are making an impact in our state.

These men and women are young, but they’re committed to making a difference in their communities and the business world. They are attorneys, medical professionals, architects, CEOs, nonprofit leaders, artists, bankers, and more.

We salute these young leaders, and we look forward to seeing the contributions they will make in the years to come. Each person is unique, and it is our privilege to tell their stories.

We will be celebrating these honorees at an event in Columbia during the month of September. Congratulations to all!


Aubrey Cain

Director of Microbiology

Nephron Pharmaceuticals

No Bio Available.


Barrett Case - age 35

Executive Director

Prisma Health

After growing up in Columbia, I attended the University of Georgia and then went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to earn my Master of Science in Health Administration. From there I started my career in healthcare at the University of Mississippi Medical Center working in perioperative services. In 2017, I was honored to be recruited to return to Columbia to work for Prisma Health, also in perioperative services, which has allowed me to serve the community that has meant so much to me.

I am board-certified as a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) as well as an active member of the South Carolina chapter of ACHE and the Junior League of Columbia. These organizations allow me to give back to the community both personally and professionally.

My husband David and I are the proud parents of two amazing children, Jackson, 3, and Fisher, 1. When we are not working, we love to spend time with our children, traveling, and attending sporting events.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“You can accomplish anything in life if you are willing to work for it.” – Drew Brees 

I love this quote because it is true for both my personal and professional goals, whether it be cultivating a relationship, buying a house, or getting your dream job.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

To me a successful leader is passionate and driven about the work they are doing while also motivating and pushing their team to be the best versions of themselves. A successful leader is also someone who is adaptable and welcomes change.


Jared Clary - age 31

Lead Nurturing Specialist 

AMAROK Security 

Born and raised in Columbia, I’m an Irmo High School and University of South Carolina alumni with a passion for leadership and learning. When I’m not at work, you’ll likely find me on the golf course or trying a new recipe in the kitchen. I also work for Augusta National Golf Club during The Masters Tournament as a supervisor in merchandising operations. 

I’m very passionate about Columbia’s business community and currently serve on the board of directors for the Columbia Chamber as chairman of the small business council, as well as on the board of directors for Columbia Opportunity Resource (COR). In 2021, I helped launch one of COR’s Talent Retention initiatives: Capture Columbia. Capture Columbia was created to give undergraduate interns spending the summer in Columbia an idea of what life would be like to start a career and plant roots here. Attracting and retaining young talent to the Midlands is an endeavor near and dear to my heart, and I’m excited to see the impact this program will have in the years to come.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader empowers and inspires other to be the best version of themselves. Is relentless in their pursuit of accomplishing a goal, fearless in the face of failure and humble enough to understand they need their team as much as their team needs them.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Slow down. You don’t have to know all the answers or have it all figured out. Enjoy the journey, be curious and ask questions.


Emily Collins - age 29

Associate Attorney

Moore Bradley Myers Law Firm

I was born and raised in Camden, South Carolina. I attended the College of Charleston, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in English in 2015. I then went on to graduate from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2019 with a concentration in children’s law.

I now have the pleasure of practicing law at Moore Bradley Myers Law Firm in West Columbia. I primarily practice in the field of family law, including divorce, child custody, visitation and support, modification, and alimony.

Outside of the office, I enjoy spending time with family, friends and my two cats, Stella and Bo.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

I believe a successful leader is someone who is approachable, willing to listen and provide practical advice, and encourages you to take action. I also believe a good leader promotes a positive work environment to foster trust and open communication.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t give into fear and self-doubt. Get out of your comfort zone and take bigger chances.


Tyler Dittmar - age 34


Lexington County Fire Service

I grew up in Lexington County watching my mom, a teacher, and my dad, a firefighter, work incredibly hard in their professions serving our community. After graduating from CIU, I explored a few different career paths before following in my father’s footsteps and joining the Lexington County Fire Service. I have now been working in the fire service for five years and have continued finding ways to improve myself and advance my career. 

I am currently volunteering with the PEER team, a peer support group for fellow EMS, 911, and fire service personnel. I also enjoy working with the training division after my normal shifts to help train the incoming young recruits and transferring fire service personnel. My long-term goal is to get some solid experience under my belt and eventually become a training chief. Giving back to my community means fully investing myself in the service of the people. Lexington County has been my home for most of my life, and I truly enjoy playing a small role in serving and protecting our community.

What is your favorite quote and why?

Life will always give you adversity, and I have experienced (much) already in my own life and expect to have more in the future. It’s important to recognize that, “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

It took me five years of trying a lot of different career paths before I finally found my passion. During that process, I learned that it was okay to be uncomfortable. If one thing doesn’t work, move on to the next until you find the right fit.


Lauren Eckstrom - age 29

Director of Finance and Administration

Oliver Gospel Mission

My heart is split between Columbia and New Jersey. The perseverance of my parents and grandparents allowed me to attend Mary Help of Christians Academy, a Salesian all-girls school. As a Mary Helper, I embraced their charism of reason, religion, and loving-kindness.

At the University of South Carolina, I pursued my bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and loathed it. Hesitant to disappoint, I trudged through. Changing majors added time and expense I didn’t think we could afford, causing me to learn more from working than from classes.

I graduated with no plan. Forced to lean on the Lord, I found work as an Oliver Gospel temporary hire. Under Steve Gentino’s and Steve Foxworth‘s guidance, my passion to be a ‘Helper’ was reignited, and I became director of finance and administration.

Living out values my parents, grandparents, coworkers, and the Salesians instilled, I began advocating for those struggling with poverty by being part of the Leadership Columbia Class of 2022, Columbia’s Food Policy Committee, and a foster parent with Epworth Children’s Home. Family reunification is my greatest heartbreak and pleasure. Knowing we help families focus on recovery and physical, social, and developmental growth, is my greatest achievement.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is one who can be a servant leader leading others by example. A true servant leader should be a partner for each member of the team, effectively communicating with them while teaching and motivating them to become leaders themselves.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

It’s OK to change your mind or your plans. It’s not anyone else’s life. It’s yours. Learn to make yourself happy and the ones that you matter to will be beside you. If things don’t work out, thank you for trying. Now you don’t have to wonder how it could have been.


Tyanna Evans - age 35


Evans Counseling and Consulting

Mental Health has always been taboo to talk about, but we all have experiences with it in some way, shape, or form. Whether it’s our own mental health, a friend’s, a family member’s, or co- worker’s, we are touched by it each day. This is what lead me to pursue a career in the therapy/counseling field. I completed graduate school at the University of South Carolina. I am clinically licensed to practice psychotherapy in South Carolina and North Carolina, a state-approved supervisor for those pursuing clinical licensure, and a certified Clinical Trauma professional.

In 2017, I founded Evans Counseling and Consulting, a speaking and counseling practice that focuses on individual mental health, couples/marriage counseling, and immigration evaluations. I now have a wonderful team of seven therapists/counselors, an administrative assistant, and an intern. I have been a key speaker and presented at SC Academy of Physician Assistants Conference, the SAC of Delta Sigma Theta Annual Health Conference, and the Columbia Housing Authority.

Ultimately, my goal is to touch as many lives as possible and empower people to be a greater, better, self-accepting, and loving version of themselves. Mental health matters!

What is your favorite quote and why?

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou.

This quote reminds me that what many times appears to be easy, beautiful, and an overnight success, is actually molded through a long process of trial and error, growth, hard work, and perseverance. There is always a journey that shapes us to achieve true beauty and success.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is one who sees the value in the people that helped them get to where they are and inspires and motivates. They are able to bend but not break demonstrating great flexibility.


The Rev. Sh’Kur Francis - age 29

Senior Pastor

Main Street United Methodist Church

I serve as the lead pastor of the historic Greene Street and Main Street United Methodist Churches in downtown Columbia. A native Charlestonian, I am a 2015 graduate of Winthrop University where I earned my bachelor’s degree in political science and history. I was also the 2015 recipient of the college’s Mary J. Byrd Award for Civic & Political Engagement.

I received my Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and earned certifications from Howard University’s School of Business, Villanova University, and Louisiana State University.

Since accepting my first pastoral assignment in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2018, I have committed my life to helping people develop and maintain a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

As a community leader, I serve on the boards of the Wings for Kids Foundation, the South Carolina UMC Advocate, Tri-County Technical College Board of Visitors, and the Charleston Arts and Culture Commission. I am also a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and I serve as chaplain of the 1st Battalion of the South Carolina State Guard.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” – Muhammad Ali

I grew up with this understanding of the world. That if I was blessed with the opportunity to reach my God-given potential, l then I had a responsibility to serve humanity and to ensure that generations after me can enjoy the fruits and the beauty of the earth.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is an influencer who can inspire, motivate, and get the best out of their people. A leader’s primary responsibility is to lead, and the foundation for great leadership is trust.


Ebonee Gadson - age 35

Executive Director

Keep the Midlands Beautiful 

I am a proud native of Columbia and graduate of Benedict College where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication, and a commission into the US Air Force from the UofSC’s AFROTC program. Multiple assignments throughout the U.S. and a combat tour in Afghanistan brought my family and I back to the Midlands in 2015.

Often, the term “product of your environment” has a negative connotation, and I’m here to reverse that mentality. The environment and experiences of my upbringing have shaped me into the woman I am today. I am now compelled to pour back into the community in the same ways in which I was as a child and young adult.

Following a strong passion to serve, I consider myself extremely privileged to support our community as a nonprofit professional. In addition to my role as the executive director of Keep the Midlands Beautiful, I serve as a Richland County Guardian Ad Litem, and support causes that foster economic growth and support for socially marginalized populations.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“And be not weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” – Galatians 6:9

This scripture is a reminder to do good to all people. Although exhaustion may come, I must remain steadfast and continue to perform the tasks and serve the people that I have been entrusted with. The call is bigger than me, and I am simply a vessel to serve and meet the needs of our community.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Shine bright! Don’t dim your light and remember that your “big personality” was given to you for a reason.


Kambrell Garvin - age 30

State Representative; Principal Attorney/Owner

SC House of Representatives;

Kambrell Garvin Law Firm LLC

I was born and raised in Columbia. As a young community leader, I organized my first voter registration campaign at the age of 10 and led various political and civic initiatives, nationally. At Winthrop University, I served two terms as the student government president, ex-officio member of the board of trustees, and voting member of the 10th Presidential Search Committee.

Aa a longtime equitable education advocate, I joined Teach for America. I spent three years as a sixth grade public school teacher in Walterboro.

In 2018, at age 26, I launched a grassroots campaign for the SC House of Representatives District 77 (Northeast Columbia/Blythewood). I went on to win in an upset.

In 2022, I launched the Kambrell Garvin Law Firm, LLC, a statewide medical malpractice and personal injury firm. When I am not busy practicing law or serving constituents, I enjoy traveling, grilling, brewing and sampling craft beer, swimming, weightlifting, off-roading, and spending time with family, including my wife Monique and toddler, Wrenley.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“Excellence can be obtained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical and expect more than others think is possible.” – Claude Bissell

My life has epitomized the notion that it’s OK to “care more,” “risk more,” “dream more,” and “expect more.” I have carried these principles with me while serving as a youth leader in my community, becoming my college student government president, joining Teach for America, being elected to the SC House of Representatives while still in law school, and most recently launching my law firm.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Continue to dream big, work hard, and stay focused, kiddo. If you remain true to who you are and never allow any individual or situation to break your soul, in 12 years, you would have surpassed every goal imagined and inspired so many by your perseverance, grit and tenacious spirit. Just keep going.


Monique Garvin - age 29

Deputy Director of Violence Against Women Act and Human Trafficking Programs

South Carolina Attorney General’s Office

As a native of South Carolina, born and raised in Greenville, I have had the privilege of referring to many communities across South Carolina as home. From earning my B.A. in political science from Winthrop University in Rock Hill to serving as a 2014 corps member of Teach for America as a middle- and high-school math teacher in Manning and Walterboro. In 2016, my journey traveled through the Midlands to earn a dual Masters in Public Administration and Social Work from the UofSC. Since then, I’ve planted roots in the Columbia community with my husband, Kambrell, and toddler, Wrenley.

My affiliations include treasurer of The Hive Community Circle’s board of directors, being a charter member of the COLA City Chapter of Top Ladies of Distinction Inc., and a host of other volunteer opportunities. Through it all, my work has remained focused on creating violence-free communities, uplifting women and children, and social justice and liberation. 

What is your favorite quote and why?

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brene Brown

I love this quote because at the heart of success and great leadership is relationships. When we engage in relationships with true authenticity, trust, and intentionality, it improves outcomes, but most importantly, it improves people.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Successful leaders maximize the potential in people and processes with courage, authenticity, and accountability.


Lee Goble - age 27

Marketing and Communications Specialist

Central Carolina Community Foundation

Born and raised in Gaffney, I moved to Columbia when I started college in 2013. Six years later, I was a two-time graduate of UofSC and began working for Central Carolina Community Foundation, a $220 million foundation that has awarded more than $240 million in grants and scholarships. As marketing and communications specialist, I develop and execute strategic communications campaigns, including our successful Midlands Gives 2022 marketing campaign, resulting in $3.7 million for 540 nonprofit organizations, 85 interviews with local media, and $25,000 in in-kind advertising support.

I also serve on the boards of Columbia Opportunity Resource and South Carolina Public Relations Society of America. Philanthropy and giving are frequently viewed through a financial lens, but my working in the field of philanthropy has taught me that it can be more. While I can support several nonprofit organizations financially (my treasure), I can also give back with my time, talent, and testimony.

Outside of work, I can usually be found exploring Columbia, camping, or day-tripping with my dog, Toby.

What is your favorite quote and why?

If the mountain were smooth, you wouldn’t be able to climb it. – Wintley Phipps

This quote helps me keep hardships in perspective. While troubles may come, they don’t last — and they usually end up helping you along the way.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader, in my view, is one who cares as much — if not more — about their team’s success as they do the organization’s success.


Lucas Hargrove - age 34

Department Supervisor and Business Analyst

Blue Cross Blue Shield

I was raised in Columbia, one of the best places in the South. I have been blessed to travel the world and experience different cultures as a professional basketball player in Europe and Asia.

Graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in public administration coupled with eight years of management experience has enabled me to find solutions for almost any tasks or problems thrown my way in the corporate world. As a department supervisor for Blue Cross Blue Shield, we have stabilized and enhanced the efficiency in which the call center operates in receiving well over 700 calls daily. 

My experiences in life have always shown me that there is a positive in every situation and that you should never judge a book by its cover. I enjoy spending time with my wife of 10 years, LaToya, and my two princesses, Leila and Lyssa!

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who achieves results while embracing the journey and uplifting others.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Marry LaToya and soon as possible! (Which I did.)


Mattison Heatherly - age 29


City Social

I graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, with a business degree in Management Information Systems in 2014.  My husband Shane and I moved to Columbia in 2018 and have loved calling this place our home. 

We enjoy DIY home projects, traveling, adventures with our German shepherd, Hank, and eating local. 

When we moved to Columbia I began exploring the hospitality scene and sharing my favorite spots through my blog and Instagram, realizing my passion for local restaurants. 

While working for a global software company, I traveled across the U.S. for projects and realized the impact that local restaurants had on my experience in each city. I noticed a lack of social media and web presence among Columbia’s restaurants compared to other places I had visited. 

In 2019, I founded City Social, a digital marketing and public relations company, to help bridge that gap and pursued the business full time in 2021. My background in IT consulting prepared me to build a reputable client list throughout Columbia’s restaurants providing expertise in digital marketing, web design and public relations. City Social’s efforts in promoting clients have landed national recognition for Columbia’s dining scene. 

What is your favorite quote and why?

“If you surround yourself around five successful people, you will be the sixth.” I believe you are highly influenced by the people you are constantly around. People can either be great influences or bad ones. You have to choose your inner circle carefully.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Someone who leads by example, is not afraid to do the work, and shares their knowledge with others.


Spencer Hutchinson - age 32


Quackenbush Architects + Planners

Architects are trained to pay special attention to the world around us. We stop to take things in, to notice the details – a sight, a smell, a texture under our fingertips. Why does a certain place make us feel a certain way? We must understand these things so we can design spaces that speak to the human experience. I consider this a great gift that my profession has given me. To look up and engage with the world is to live fully and richly, and it is harder and harder to do with the ever-present distractions in our world today.

I attended Clemson University’s School of Architecture where I earned a B.A. in Architecture in 2012 and Master of Architecture in 2016. I credit many of the exceptionally gifted and dedicated instructors there with instilling in me a rigorous work ethic and creative ambition. Since graduating, I have had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from many other talented architects, engineers, and contractors. Witnessing firsthand the process of an idea being transformed into reality has been uniquely rewarding, and I look forward to continuing to be part of shaping our community.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader cares about the people they are leading, not just the objective they are leading them towards. They must maintain their integrity, even when doing the right thing has a cost. Earning and keeping trust is of the upmost importance. A successful leader asks questions, remembers the answers, and gets to know individuals and their families. They treat everyone with the same level of respect, no matter a person’s title or station.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Spend your time wisely. Learn new skills, have good conversations, think deep thoughts, and take stock of the things you have to be grateful for.


Ricky Jackson Jr. - age 35

Growth and Development Director

Northwestern Mutual

As a financial adviser with Northwestern Mutual, I help clients identify what is most important to their financial security. I help grow their wealth, protect it, and pass it to future generations. Through a values-based, highly individualized, and comprehensive approach, I create strategic financial plans to help clients be on the best path to achieve their financial goals. For the last 10 years, I have held leadership positions at several Fortune 500 companies, and I became a Certified Financial Planner in 2017 and earned the Chartered Financial Consultant designation in 2021. I am also a growth and development director for Northwestern Mutual and enjoy mentoring, recruiting, and developing new financial advisers and introducing them to the great culture of Northwestern Mutual. 

I am a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Currently, I serve as a board member for Bethel Christian Camp, which provides life-changing camping experiences for underserved youth and offers retreat opportunities for the community.

What is your favorite quote and why?

My former college wrestling coach CD Mock would quote U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Coach Herb Brooks, who said, “The legs feed the wolf!” This was often used during grueling workouts or if he was mentoring us through a difficult life situation. You didn’t have to be the best or most talented, but you had to outwork and outlast your competition. You learned from these experiences, enabling you to work smarter and more efficiently along the way.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

To me, effective leadership removes roadblocks to success and creates opportunities for those around you to be the best version of themselves. Hold your team to high standards and enable them to exceed expectations with fairness, consistency, and empathy. A leader who can do this will be successful and create success in those around them.


Chase Keibler - age 31

Managing Attorney and Founder 

Keibler Law Group LLC

I work to stop injustice with creative, aggressive, and effective litigation. I know, I know – it sounds cliché. But unfortunately, I see injustice every day in my practice, and the way I work to stop it is somewhat conventional and a lot of “new school.”

In early 2022, I opened Keibler Law Group LLC. I am a plaintiff-oriented trial attorney representing businesses from Fortune 50s to sole proprietors involved in complex business litigation, including contract disputes, unfair business and trade practices, and competition law violations. In addition to representing business and business owners, I also represent individuals and their families who suffered catastrophic injuries.

My goal for Keibler Law Group is to continue taking on complex, challenging, rewarding, and impactful cases, and I want to organically grow a team that has the same goals. I am building a law firm and legal practice that is client-focused and designed for today’s world. I take pride in helping individuals and businesses in my community and state.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London.

I cannot say i have a “favorite quote,” but this one is great. In life, try to be happy, be kind, and work hard – in that order. It takes conscious effort to achieve each.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

To write more and often. To engage in more public speaking. To be easier on yourself.


Reagan Chase Kelley - age 28

Director of Policy and Communications 

South Carolina Senate Majority 

I am a proud son of South Carolina, blessed daily, whose aim is to leave my community and state a little better off each day.

Serving the South Carolina Senate has been a professional opportunity of a lifetime — one I will never take for granted. I’ve been privileged to work alongside some of the smartest, most compassionate, committed leaders, legislators, and staff in the nation with a shared mission of making the Palmetto State great for the present and future.

Loyalty is a quality that could not be overvalued. As a self-proclaimed “political nerd,” I believe that all great political and thought leaders have trusted advisers in their corner. To that end, I am eternally grateful to my wife, Dorothy, for her love, deep loyalty and always standing by my side as co-adviser.

When I’m not at the State House, you will most likely find me with my dog, Bella, visiting with family, golfing with friends, or enjoying my first love of music: playing the drums.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“Always stand on principle, even if you stand alone.” – John Adams

Much of my responsibility is to deliver direct, honest advice. When speaking truth to power,” it can often be intimidating, but it’s crucial to stand for what is right and what is truth regardless of what the consequences may be.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Successful leaders lead by example. Leaders go the extra mile, are always prepared, show up early and leave late, and are fervently loyal to their team. True leaders are laser-focused on not just getting the job done, but also making a difference, and never concerned with who gets the credit.


Mark Knoop - age 34


Forward Communications and Strategies

Columbia is our home, and I want to see it succeed. Instead of simply complaining about problems, I wanted to be a part of the path forward so I started the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Forward Columbia, bringing people together from different political persuasions and diverse backgrounds to advocate for one common goal – to make our city a better place to do business and raise families.

One of my similar organizations, Forward Charlotte, was once credited with “changing the course of City Council in Charlotte.” I currently serve as Gov. Henry McMaster’s campaign manager, led Senator Lindsey Graham’s 2020 ground game, and served as Attorney General Alan Wilson’s campaign manager in 2018. I’ve led various campaigns in more than half a dozen states.

I launched my firm Forward Communications and Strategies as a Columbia-based P.R., advertising, and campaign consulting firm. Whether in crisis management, corporate advertising, brand building, or a political campaign, I strive to bring unique solutions to each project.

My wife Charlotte, our golden retriever Babs, and I love our home in downtown Columbia, and we’re excited for what Columbia’s future holds.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Indifference and apathy are the enemy of positive change. Be a part of the solution, regardless of how difficult it can be.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Being a good leader means working toward solutions that might take shape after your time is up. While a lot of people have great ideas and good intentions, progress and consensus takes someone with initiative and the ability to inspire and motivate others.


Morgan Massenburg - age 32

Outreach Manager

South Carolina Department of Social Services

Born and raised in Columbia, I have always loved my city. I graduated from USC Upstate with a Bachelor of Science degree in experimental psychology. When I returned home, I began a career with SC-DSS under the Division of Early Care and Education doing outreach. During this time, I also did volunteer work with street cleanups, helping people get registered to vote, working with the youth, and served as the Columbia Urban League’s YP Secretary for a couple of years. Having always had a passion for people and social justice, I decided to continue my education and obtained a master’s degree in social work from USC, receiving my licensure from the S.C. Board of Social Work Examiners. Most recently, I became a published poet through the Local Gems Press SC Bards.

My long-term goals are to pursue policy advocacy in hopes of creating equity in education so we no longer have a “corridor of shame.” Giving back to my community means showing up and being a part of the change I want to see.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

To me, a successful leader is one who helps bring out the best in others. Someone who leads by example and helps others maximize their potential.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

If I could go back and talk to my 18-year-old self, I would tell her, don’t be afraid to fall or take chances. Joy comes from within. Spend time exploring yourself and your talents. It’s okay to dream big. Don’t let others’ doubts blur your reflection. Your gifts are to be shared, and every moment is fleeting, so use what you have to benefit the world.


James Patrick - age 34

Wellness Specialist

Aspire Wellness LLC

I am a native of Columbia and a 14-year vet in health and wellness. A specialist in exercise therapy, I work in post rehabilitation and mobility.

I serve as a board member for the National Alliance of Mental Illness, working within the community to implement more educational interactive platforms that blend mental health and wellness. Every Wednesday, you can catch me on WIS TV’s newest daytime talk show, “Soda City Live.”

What is your definition of a successful leader?

My definition of a successful leader Is one who has never forgotten how to be a student.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

You are the green light you keep looking for… GO!


Casey Perri - age 27

Event Manager

Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center

I was born and raised in Bluffton, South Carolina, by my parents who, funnily enough, met while working in the events industry. In college, I always joked that hospitality and events must somehow be in my blood. I chose the University of South Carolina because of their hospitality program but wasn’t quite sure at the time where I would go with it.

During my time at UofSC, I had the opportunity to explore so many different options within the hospitality world and ended up leaning towards the event management field. The hospitality degree program gave me the chance to intern with the events department at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center back in 2016, and the rest is history.

I look forward to the future and finding more ways to be involved in the growth of Columbia as a tourist destination. Being involved in events that support the community is such an exciting part of my job, where every day is truly different than the one before.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

Not only do I love this quote because I am a big Disney fan, but it helps me to remember that anything is possible.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who encourages their team to be the best versions of themselves. They realize that there is always more to learn, and can learn from their own team every day.


Lauren Phillips - age 31

Deputy Director, Legislative Affairs

South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be working for the Department of Motor Vehicles and enjoying the challenge that every day brought, I would have assumed your mind was lost. After being at the DMV for more than six years, I have had opportunity after opportunity provided to me by people who were willing to take a chance on the former news anchor from Myrtle Beach.

I started working for the state in 2015 and joined the DMV in 2016, and in that time, I’ve been awarded for and nationally recognized for a million-dollar advertising campaign on REAL IDs, spoken at conferences throughout the Southeast and beyond on motor vehicle and licensing-related challenges and opportunities, and authored numerous bills that are now codified in South Carolina law.

I have a passion for government relations and communications, and I look forward to growing my career in ways that provide lasting and noticeable change for the people of the Palmetto State in any capacity to come.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader lets leaders lead (try saying that 10 times fast) by empowering decision-making at all levels of an organization by clearly defining the left and right limits of that power.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

The ending may not match the beginning, and that’s OK. While at the University of South Carolina, my 18-year-old self would have never thought I’d end up in Columbia long-term. More than a decade later, however, I don’t know what it would take for me to leave. My family, to include my two (soon to be three) kids, has made a home here that we cherish and protect. Similarly, I did not know that a job like the one I have today existed or was a possibility 13 years ago, but I am so appreciative of the chance I’ve been given to have an impact for this community and state.


Tiara Pitts - age 27

Director of Fair Housing Policy 

South Carolina Realtors

I was born and raised in Columbia. Throughout life, I have faced countless adversities, but with the guidance of God, my family, mentors, and close friends, I have been able to persevere and achieve anything that I put my mind to.

In 2017, I graduated cum laude from Coastal Carolina University, where I received my bachelor’s in communications with a minor in creative writing. At a young age, I was empowered to use education as a tool to break through generational curses and create upward mobility and wealth for myself and my family.

In 2020, I graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law and became the first lawyer in my family, which has been my biggest professional accomplishment thus far. Giving back to my community means being an accessible resource to advocate for marginalized groups and ensure that the voiceless have a voice.

My long-term goal is to combine my passions and interests to create a brand that allows me to make the biggest impact on my community and put other people in a position to win.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” is my favorite quote because it reminds me that I have the power to make a difference, and there is no time like the present.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

You are enough. You are that girl. All of the love you desire is already within you.


Jeremy Robinson - age 33


Happy Pets Salon & Spaw

I am a native of Ridgeland, South Carolina, and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. I am the owner of Happy Pets Salon and Spaw, a grooming salon that specializes in providing a luxurious Spaw experience for pets. After graduating high school in 2006, I began my grooming career. While in undergrad, I used additional time to develop my grooming skills, which led me into opening Happy Pets in 2014.

Happy Pets has been voted FreeTimes Best of Columbia “Best Pet Groomer” (2019, 2022) and Columbia Living Magazine “Best Pet Groomer” (2021). In my 16 years of grooming, my passion and dedication has allowed me to excel as a professional dog groomer and business owner. Through grooming, I have been able to build relationships and make personal connections with customers that have ultimately become family.

I’ve given back to my community by providing mentorship and job shadowing opportunities to youth who display interest in joining the pet industry.

My greatest prize is my beautiful daughter, Taylor. She is my why and reason for living.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is a visionary who is confident, courageous, and free-spirited. They have a unique way of inspiring, influencing, and motivating others to follow them unforced. The most successful leaders are those who create other leaders.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Be humble and open-minded. Soak up any knowledge offered. Don’t take any experience for granted, there’s always a lesson to be learned.


Jamie Rutkoski - age 32


Kessel McVey 

I’m originally from Dunedin, Florida. I graduated from the University of South Florida with a degree in history and later earned my law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Immediately after law school, I had the privilege and honor to work for both the honorable G. Thomas Cooper and the honorable Jean H. Toal at the Circuit Court level.

Once my judicial clerkship concluded, I was hired by Theile McVey and John Kassel as a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney in Columbia. We represent individuals who have been harmed by way of medical malpractice, nursing home malpractice, asbestos exposure, motor vehicle wrecks, and everything in between. I could never imagine feeling so fulfilled by a job while simultaneously getting to work for two of the best lawyers in the state, both of whom I love and respect deeply.

I currently serve as co-chair for the Richland County Bar diversity committee and assist with coaching the University of South Carolina School of law mock trial team.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“Success is the sum of details.” – Harvey Firestone

As someone who naturally tends to think more big- picture, I have learned that it is almost always the nitty-gritty details that set you up for success long-term.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of their team members and create an environment that allows each team member to flourish in their strengths and hone their perceived weaknesses. Above all, a successful leader leads with humanity and empathy.


Austin Saggus - age 26

Investment Associate 

South Carolina Research Authority 

I am a proud South Carolinian. As early as middle school, I developed a sense of gratitude for my parents, community, and state. Ever since, I have been devoted to finding ways to give back and support the institutions and communities that make us better. I knew I wanted to stay in-state for college, and in May of 2018, I graduated with a degree in business administration from Furman University, and I am a current enrollee in the Clemson University Innovation & Entrepreneurship MBA Program

Over the course of four years, I have been fortunate to work and volunteer in a variety of capacities that have enabled my mission. As an investment manager at the South Carolina Research Authority, I work with local businesses to grow, scale, and ultimately increase the standard of living in our state. I serve as treasurer and current president-elect of Columbia Green, a landscaping and beautification nonprofit that demonstrates how beautiful our community can be with local diverse plants.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

I find it inspirational because it exhibits the gap between our imagination and expectations versus the reality of the impact(s) we make in the world.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Go to school and focus in class on “what I can learn,” but in your free time read, watch, and listen to people on “who I can be.” Obtaining a degree is important, but having compassion for your team and being an effective communicator are arguably just as important.


Brittany Turnipseed - age 35


For me, music is more than an art form – it is life! Music is the portal through which I explore my purpose and the world around me. I am a reoccurring featured artist at Chayz Lounge in Columbia, and I’ve opened for such artists as Broadway great Melba Moore and the legendary Isley Brothers.

A career high for me was winning the top prize at the world-famous Apollo Theatre. I also was the 2018 Super Top Dog Apollo Amateur night winner. Winning the Apollo contest was a significant accomplishment and no easy task as I competed until my eighth month of pregnancy.

Recently, I was a featured artist at the 2021 Cola Jazz festival, a guest on SC Public radio program Cola Jazz Presents Artist Spotlight, and a featured vocalist for the “Motown Ballet” presented by the Columbia City Ballet. 

My debut album, “The Intro: Focused,” was released in August 2021. The jazz/soul was inspired by some of my musical heroes, including Jill Scott and Dianne Reeves. 

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is a person that is committed to learning and growth. The world is constantly changing and evolving, and as a leader, you must be willing to adapt and learn. Also, as a leader, you must be willing to do the work; at the end of the day, the buck stops with you! You cannot expect your team to commit to work you won’t do! Finally, a successful leader is a good communicator. You can have great ideas and an excellent path set for your group, but if you can’t articulate the vision, it’s bound to fail before it starts.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Do not be afraid of the potential you carry; embrace your entire self. Do not shy away from what you truly desire because of what others think of you. Also, there is no plan B....go with plan A even if you are afraid! Like Nike said, “Just do it!” Do it, even if you are scared. Do it with tears in your eyes. Do it with doubts in your head. Just do it.


Katherine Thompson  - age 35

AVP, Product and Market Development 

Unum/Colonial Life 

I’m originally from small town Newton, North Carolina, and moved to the Columbia area in 2009, fresh out of college at UNC Chapel Hill and eager to take on the world. I joined the Unum family, specifically Colonial Life, as an actuarial student, and in 2013 achieved designation as an associate of the Society of Actuaries. I’ve held several different roles from the benefits and underwriting organizations to my current role responsible for product development for the supplemental health lines for both the Colonial Life and Unum brands.

Many years ago, as I became more integrated into the community and had a desire to give back, a friend and mentor encouraged me to volunteer at an event for the Children’s Hospital. That one volunteer event turned into joining the event committee, to now serving my sixth year on Prisma Health’s Children’s Hospital board.

Columbia started as a job location and over time, has become my home, where I met my husband and started our family.

What is your favorite quote and why?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

I had the privilege of having Mr. Mandela as my college graduation commencement speaker. This quote is so powerful in reminding us that life isn’t perfect, no matter how hard one may try, and it’s those challenges and bumps along the way that make each of us who we are.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Don’t skip your 8 a.m. classes because you’ll have a recurring nightmare as an adult that you aren’t able to graduate. Ha! But more seriously, use your strengths to build others and be comfortable relying on others for similar support. No one person can be perfect at everything and it’s important we build each other up.