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Greenville Business Magazine

Best and Brightest Columbia 2023

Sep 20, 2023 05:28PM ● By Donna Isbell Walker

2023 Columbia Business Monthly Best and Brightest 35 and Under

Welcome to Columbia Business Monthly’s 2023 Best & Brightest 35 and Under! Each year, we celebrate young individuals who are making a difference in the Palmetto State.

They are attorneys, marketing professionals, educators, health care professionals, and more, and while they’re still in their 20s and 30s, they are committed to creating a positive impact on the business world and their community.

We salute these young leaders, and we look forward to seeing what they will accomplish in the coming years. Each honoree 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 October. Congratulations to all!


1. Allyce Bailey

Age 33

Deputy County Attorney

Richland County

A committed public servant, I serve as the deputy county attorney for Richland County, managing civil litigation and serving as in-house counsel for the second largest county in South Carolina.

Ignited by a challenge, I completed my undergraduate degree in only three years at Northwestern State University while working two jobs and remaining actively involved in over a dozen student organizations, before obtaining my Juris Doctor cum laude from Southern University Law Center.

Believing that “service to others is the rent we pay for living on earth,” I serve on the board for a diverse group of nonprofit organizations, and volunteer with my church.

I have been fortunate to have my written works published as legal scholarship in several law reviews and magazines, including a book I authored recently released by the South Carolina Bar entitled “How to Try a Simple Car Accident Case.”

My real reward in life comes from being a devoted wife to my husband, attorney Tyler Bailey, and proud mother to two active little boys, Tyler Jr. and David.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Successful leaders recognize the needs of the organization, assess the resources at their disposal, and develop strategic plans to energize others around them to reach the ultimate objective.

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

Have more fun and make more memories. Trust me, it all works out!


2. Kavon Barger

Age 29


Richland One School District

I grew up in Greenville and relocated to Columbia in 2012 to attend the University of South Carolina. While there, I received a bachelors in African American Studies with a minor in education. During my time in undergrad, I also joined the Theta Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. In 2021, I attained my M. Ed. from Columbia College.

I’ve always known I wanted to work with children, but it took a while for me to find my way to education. I started my career working as a preschool teacher and transitioned to the public school system in 2018. I currently work as a second-grade teacher at A.J. Lewis Greenview Elementary. I’m also the 2023-2024 District Teacher of the Year for Richland School District One. Education is a huge passion of mine and I find joy in shaping the minds of younger generations. I work daily to make sure my students know their worth and value. I want them to know that the impossible is always possible.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from going to bat.”

When I was younger, I would let the fear of rejection keep me from pursuing some pretty great opportunities. Over time, I've learned that I can't let that fear keep me going after the things I want. The worst thing they can say is no. If that door doesn't open, just have to go and knock on the next one.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who supports, motivates, and encourages their team. Someone with an open mind and is willing to listen to those around them.  A successful leader also looks at mistakes as learning opportunities.


3. Brandon Baskett

Age 33

Director of The College Center

Lexington County School District One

As the founding director of the College Center in Lexington One, I’m proud of our team’s achievements. Our early college high school program supports first-generation college students, enabling them to earn an Associate of Arts degree within four years of high school. Starting with 17 students, we’ve grown to over 160 in year four.

I previously served as Dean for Higher Educator Services, coordinating dual enrollment programs, and leading AVID programming for elementary and secondary schools.

My education journey began as an English teacher, honored as Teacher of the Year at Mid-Carolina High School. As assistant principal at Lexington High School and Newberry High School, I further developed as a leader.

Beyond my career, I’m committed to making a difference through my nonprofit, Seeds of Wisdom, empowering boys in Columbia to develop into young men who create a better tomorrow.

Personally, my wife Christina and I have shared an incredible journey together as college sweethearts. We are blessed with two wonderful daughters, Chloe and Brooke, who fill our lives with joy and inspiration.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is one who genuinely connects with their team and develops synergy. With this cohesion and interconnectedness, the leader empowers others to contribute their skills, talents, and expertise to accomplish significantly more together than they could have as individuals.

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

I would tell my 18-year-old self that you can’t fully prepare for all that life will bring your way. Trust God, set goals for yourself, learn from others, and be patient. Focus on helping others and making things better around you. Opportunities for advancement will come your way.


4. Kelsey Bickley

Age 30

Director of Marketing

The Main Street District

As a native of Columbia, you could say I’m a bit obsessed. But it wasn’t always that way! Growing up, I didn’t expect to fall in love with the Columbia region as I grew older. I went to Clemson University and, to be transparent, did not expect to start my career here. After college, I landed a job with Experience Columbia SC, which was the best way to reintroduce myself to Columbia.

While tourism will always have a place in my heart, I found myself becoming more interested in business recruitment and district management. I recently joined the team at The Main Street District and have enjoyed leading the marketing and communications strategy as the district continues to be a vibrant destination for the capital city.

One thing that is critical for Columbia’s growth is talent retention. Being a part of talent retention efforts with local nonprofits, including co-founding Crash Course Columbia, has taught me more than I can say, and I’m thankful those experiences have made me feel more connected to the community.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

My definition of a successful leader is someone who listens more than they speak and someone who has the ability to see another person's point of view before sharing their own.

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

I would tell my 18-year-old self to be more open to new experiences and not care so much what other people think!


5. Randi Branham

Age 33

Audit Senior Manager

Elliott Davis, LLC

After finishing my undergraduate degree at Coastal Carolina University, I completed my Master of Accountancy at the University of South Carolina and started my career as a CPA and auditor with Elliott Davis, LLC. I have worked with a variety of local and national clients, and I am currently focusing on middle-market private equity group portfolio companies in a variety of healthcare sectors. I have also spent time focusing on retention efforts which included a variety of collaboration projects with key teams across the firm. I am also involved in recruiting, training, and mentoring efforts.

I love to spend time with my people – my family, friends, coworkers and more! My goal in life is to leave this world better than it was, whether that’s with physical improvements or making an impact on the people I have the pleasure to meet. I have volunteered with many organizations around the Midlands, and I am always so humbled by the impact our community is making and I am very proud to be a small part of this community!

Your favorite quote and why:

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

In a world where you only see everyone else’s highlight reel, it is easy to become envious of others. I have found true joy in living authentically while knowing and recognizing my own worth.

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

You don’t have to have everything figured out right now – live in the moment more. You will be amazed at the things that don’t turn out how you imagined or planned for; sometimes they turn out so much better!


6. LauraAnne Hunt Brown

Age 32

Recycling Coordinator

County of Lexington

Environmental sustainability has been my life’s passion. After graduating high school from the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, Minnesota, I went on to earn a B.A. in environmental studies from the University of Minnesota Morris. Soon after, I participated in a joint degree program at the University of North Texas/Costa Rica where I earned an M.S. in International Sustainable Tourism. My thesis, “Are We Getting Closer to a Unified Definition of Sustainable Events?” was published in The Sustainable Communities Review in spring of 2018.

I moved to Columbia in 2017 to work as Housing Sustainability Coordinator at USC and have enjoyed living and working in the Columbia area ever since. I am passionate about sustainability work as well as water safety education through my business Cre8tive Swim of South Carolina LLC. My hope for the future is that less trash will spoil our roadways, less contamination will defile our airways and waterways, more families will find safe, affordable housing and more children become better educated and learn to swim.

Your favorite quote and why:

“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision.” – David Bayles

Although this quote references artwork, it resonates with me because it can be applied to any craft. Seeking feedback and learning from it go hand in hand in terms of making continuous improvements.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Someone who is a servant leader, who listens, assesses where their team members are at, determines when to instruct them and when to motivate them to discover their craft on a deeper level. A successful leader is also not afraid to jump in and help when needed and demonstrates empathy as well as a high level of integrity.


7. Adolph Caldwell

Age 30

Educator, Coach, and Owner of Caldwell Skills Development

Caldwell Skills Development

I am a native of Orangeburg and was raised in Columbia. I hold a bachelor’s degree in human performance and recreation from Claflin University and a master’s degree in physical education from the University of Arkansas. I serve as a Certified Physical Education Teacher, head boys varsity basketball coach, and assistant athletic director at Dreher High School in Columbia, South Carolina.

Basketball has played a crucial role in my life, having competed in high school, college at the Division 2 level, and professionally in a European league in Girona, Spain. Coaching since 2017, I became a head coach in 2021. Additionally, I am the owner of Caldwell Skills Development LLC, a premier training service aimed at cultivating complete basketball players through skill repetition and a deep passion for the game.

My long-term aspirations include winning a state championship, coaching, and succeeding at the collegiate level, and establishing a training facility for athletes to refine their skills during the off-season, while also providing an ideal setting for summer sports camps for the community.

I am deeply committed to the community and consider myself a positive pillar as a teacher, coach, and role model. Giving back is important to me, and I strive to impart the same wisdom that was once shared with me to the youth. As a proud member of the spring 2016 Gamma Nu Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated, I aim to be a mentor and inspiration to the children in my community, just as coaches and teachers were for me.

Your favorite quote and why:

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

This is my favorite quote because it provides a clear perspective on my current life and the life I want to create!

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

Always save half of any money you receive or work for!


8. Chris Campbell

Age 29

Edgewood Location Manager

Richland Library

I’ve had the privilege of working with Richland Library for the past five years in various roles from customer service specialist to my current role, Edgewood location manager. Working in a public library has given me the amazing opportunity to enhance the lives of people in my community in various ways from career coaching to hosting educational programs like Family Storytime.

In 2021, I became a member of Richland Library’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan Refresh Team. This experience allowed me to collaborate with community members and coworkers to create an effective and actionable outline for how we can continue to help each other reach our professional and personal goals. Multiple Richland Library locations, including Edgewood, just finished the Summer Break Café program where we provided daily free lunch for children 18 years of age and younger while they were on summer break. Throughout the rest of 2023 and beyond, my No. 1 goal is to help grow the next generation of leaders in the Edgewood community and beyond.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” – Eddie Rickenbacker

This quote has guided my professional and personal journey. There are times when fear can keep us from doing things that we know could be beneficial for ourselves and those around us. With that said, the times in my life where I’ve grown the most have also been the most challenging and fear-inducing. Embracing that challenge and discomfort can be crucial in unlocking our true potential and reaching the goals we set for ourselves.

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

If I could give my 18-year-old self any advice, it would be to recognize and embrace my inner strength. Like many 18-year-olds, that time of my life was filled with a lot of uncertainty and self-doubt. Those are feelings that never fully go away, but they’re a lot easier to manage when you know that you can handle them and that they can’t stop you on your journey.


9. Will Campbell

Age 35


Burr & Forman LLP

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be an attorney. From a young age I was told I talked too much, so I had to come up with something that allowed me to do that. For the last eight years, I’ve been living out my goals doing what was something I knew I could be great at. Since becoming an attorney, I’ve gotten the opportunity to argue motions in front of a judge, draft pleadings, and help clients close deals in excess of $100 million. I’ve helped a client expand their portfolio across the country and acquire properties from Florida, to Atlanta, to Denver, to the West Coast!

Long-term, I want to keep helping my clients succeed in their business endeavors while representing my Burr Forman and helping it build even further across the southeast.

I’ve lived in Columbia for more than 10 years now and try to give back as often as I can. Before it was to just help the community, but now, as a father of two, it’s to also help build a great city for my daughters to grow up in.

Your favorite quote and why:

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” – Thomas Jefferson

Growing up we were always advised to do as we're told and work hard. I’ve learned that while that is mostly true, blazing your own path and doing things a little differently can help you get where you want to go as well.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A person who has the trust and confidence of the people around them to show up and get whatever done that is needed.


10. Mark Chappell Jr.

Age 35


Chappell, Chappell and Newman, Attorneys LLC

I am a proud graduate of the South Carolina Public Schools system, a 2010 graduate of Wofford College, and a 2015 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law. I believe that we are all the culmination of our life experiences. Every life experience I’ve had has presented me with an opportunity to learn and grow into a better version of myself. I spent a few years in banking before embarking on my career as an attorney.

My calling in life is to use my skill set to help others in any way that I can. As a trial lawyer, I represent disenfranchised individuals in an effort to obtain justice. Through hard work and dedication to my clients, I have received several significant jury verdicts and settlements so far in my short career. I recently started a new law firm alongside my two mentors with a focus on providing outstanding cutting edge legal work with an emphasis on client communication, as well as maintaining work-life balance. In my free time I love spending time with my wife and raising our two amazing little girls. I am also a board member and legal counsel for the Camp Cole Foundation, an incredible camp that provides children with terminal illnesses, disabilities, and emotional challenges, an opportunity to break free from their typical days of treatment and allow kids to enjoy life as kids. My No. 1 goal in life is to help others and to make a lasting positive difference in society.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

I believe that a successful leader is someone who is willing to be an active listener, critical thinker, and an excellent communicator. A successful leader must listen to the issues, address the issues by putting the right pieces in the right places at the right time, and then act to ensure the collective goal becomes the desired outcome.

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

Be patient. Focus on the present to accomplish your long-term goals. You will make mistakes as you go through life, learn from them, and grow. When in doubt, trust your gut.


11. Erin Conroy

Age 34


Moore Bradley Myers, P.A.

I was born and raised in West Columbia. After graduating from law school in Florida in 2013, I worked at a solo law firm practicing estate planning and probate. I decided to move back to South Carolina with my husband to be closer to our families and began working as a public defender. My experience as a public defender taught me the importance of representing the underprivileged.

I then had the honor to begin working for Moore Bradley Myers, P.A. in the areas of criminal defense and personal injury. Practicing in these areas allows me to help others from all walks of life.

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my husband, daughter, and our two dogs.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

What is your definition of a successful leader?

My definition of a successful leader is someone who exhibits characteristics of trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, and a willingness to help others grow.


12. Yasmine Gabr-Bias

Age 35


Lexington Family Practice – Summit

I was born in Egypt and moved to Northeast Columbia when I was in elementary school. My father was a doctor in Cairo, and I admired how he could make a difference in the lives of his patients and their families. Although I was fortunate to attend medical school in the Caribbean and do my residency outside of Detroit, Michigan, I always knew I wanted to be like my dad and help my community.

After losing my mother to breast cancer, I am dedicated to advocating for women’s health, championing the importance of annual exams, and serving as a resource of medical care for the Northeast Columbia community. And while I thoroughly enjoy my job, I love coming home to my infant daughter, two dogs, and my husband, Joseph, most of all.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who is empathetic enough to understand the needs of their team, but strong enough to make the hard decisions that will help the team reach their goals.

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

The goals that you want to reach are closer than you think, and the only thing stopping you from getting there is yourself.


13. Jessica Gooding

Age 35


Goings Law Firm, LLC

I never thought I was going to be an attorney. I was going to be a teacher. Or an architect. Or a business person. But I always knew I wanted to work with people, be challenged, and help build my community. I am so fortunate to have found this career with the Goings Law Firm, where I am able to do that and more every day. As an attorney specializing in personal injury and wrongful death cases, I help people of the Midlands navigate the legal system, overcome unpredictable obstacles, and rebuild their lives after a tragedy. My husband, Ben, is also an attorney, and we are proud to serve this community and raise our children here.

Outside the office, I engage in the community through the Richland County Bar Association, the American Board of Trial Advocates, Junior League of Columbia, and Trenholm Road UMC. Most recently, I teamed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of the Midlands to support the Dare to Dream project, a clinical trial for children at Prisma Health Richland with blood cancers.

Your favorite quote and why:

When I read Rachel Hollis’s “Girl Stop Apologizing,” this statement stuck with me: “You need not fear failure because you cannot fail at a job you were created to do.” I have long believed that God created me for his own purposes, and this statement is a succinct reminder that what may appear to be a failure is actually a step (or a nudge) in becoming who I was created to be.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is one who leads by example and empowers others to utilize their strengths for the good of the common goal.


14. Olivia Hyatt

Age 33

Content Marketing Manager

La-Z-Boy Southeast

I am a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in sport and entertainment management. During my time in college, I fell in love with the marketing side of business and started my career working with some of the largest events and promotions in South Carolina. As my marketing career has developed, I have been blessed to work on marketing campaigns for local community projects as well as for national and international brands.

I am passionate about what I do and love to advocate on behalf of others. I’ve had the opportunity to not only professionally represent some amazing organizations in our community but to also serve in various volunteer roles. I am currently the alumni board chair for the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Tourism Management for USC. I have also served on several other local boards and committees including the Junior League of Columbia, Historic Columbia Foundation, March of Dimes of South Carolina, and Family Connection of South Carolina.

In my spare time, I love being with my husband, Shane, and wonderful kids. You’ll likely find me happily attending many local events, concerts, or Gamecock football games.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Someone who is willing to listen and advocate on behalf of your team.

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

Be a sponge. Soak in as much knowledge and information as you can when in different settings. The more observant you are, the more you can learn about various types of people and how to work with them. If you ever feel like you’re the smartest person in the room, then it’s time to leave. You can always learn something from people you’re around.

Always be willing to go above and beyond. When you push yourself to do something out of your comfort zone, that’s when you’ll learn the most about your capabilities and your passion.


15. Jasmine Jones

Age 32

Federal Acquisition Sales Executive


I am a first-generation college graduate from the University of South Carolina. Upon completing my business degree in 2013, I started my career with AT&T. After a six-month training, I was running my first retail store at the age of 23. I’ve moved seven times, led five teams, and have helped dozens of employees gain promotions. After completing my MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2017, all roads led back home to Columbia in 2018 when my husband and I were expecting our first child, Phoenix.

Currently, I am a Federal Acquisition Sales Executive. The most rewarding part of my position is helping first responders find solutions that help them do their jobs more efficiently. When I’m not traveling the state assisting government customers, I am running my Mary Kay business. I have been able to donate products to women’s shelters and set up at events around the community spreading my message of self-care to other women. I’m grateful to be able to touch so many people in both of my positions.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.” – Mary Kay Ash

The mind is powerful and as cliche as the quote may sound, it is very true. Allowing yourself to dream and suspend your disbelief will open doors that you never thought could open. It takes hard work and dedication, but you can live out your wildest dreams of success.

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

Do not be concerned with following the crowd. Follow your dreams and do what you love. Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go your way, but be encouraged that you get the opportunity to bounce back even better than before!


16. Leah Kelly

Age 30

Senior Director of Program Development

Columbia Chamber of Commerce

I am a Columbia native and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. I grew up in Northeast Columbia and reside there now with my husband, Derek, and our two dogs. I love to spend time with friends, be outdoors on the water, paint, and secondhand shop. Throughout my time as a working professional in Columbia, I have worked for both small and large businesses in multiple areas including hospitality, retail, advertising, events, and more.

My passion for this city led me to my role at the Columbia Chamber, originally as the director of leadership development, overseeing all aspects of the Leadership Columbia Program. Now, as the senior director of program development, I strive to seek opportunities for collaboration and growth of all programming offered by the chamber. The chamber’s work is vital in supporting local business and fostering growth in Columbia and surrounding areas. I’m proud to be a part of the chamber team and I hope to continue doing work that makes the city I love a better place.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone that, even in the height of success, stays grounded, and is ready and willing to help those that need it. Being a leader is about walking with others through their journeys rather than watching them from afar. It's important to let others flourish in their own way, while guiding them and providing support at every turn.

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

You are capable of more than you can imagine! Fear was something that held me back for a long time. I was scared of trying new things and failing as a result. I would love to go back and tell my 18-year-old self to be confident, think big, be patient and know that in time, you'll see that you are worthy and capable of great things.


17. Andreas Mosby

Age 29


Fisher Phillips LLP

As an attorney in Fisher Phillips’ Columbia office, I dedicate my practice to advising and counseling employers regarding daily workplace issues and employee handbooks and policies. I work with employers across a wide range of industries with respect to various employment law matters involving discrimination, harassment and wrongful termination, labor relations, litigation, pay equity, and wage and hour violations.

Growing up an “Army brat,” I lived in several cities, states, and countries. Exposure to different cultures led me to develop a strong appreciation for community. I have always desired to build a better community for myself and those around me, which has led me to seek out networking and volunteer opportunities (i.e., United Way of the Midlands’ Young Leaders Society and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Columbia Class of 2024).

I have a bachelor’s degree from Greensboro College and a JD/MBA dual degree from Elon University and will be marrying my best friend, Grace, in October. Outside of work, I spend most of my time traveling, weightlifting, and playing adult intermural sports.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who exemplifies traits such as empathy, sympathy, and adaptability. The end goal of a successful leader is not to grow and maintain a base of followers, but to equip others with the knowledge and skills necessary to eventually be self-sufficient leaders of their own.

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

You can’t fail if you don’t quit.


18. Amanda Myers

Age 33

Director of Events and Experience

Richland Library

I have worked in public libraries for the last 16 years and have had the most incredible learning opportunities along the way. During that time, I gained valuable leadership skills from organizations such as Dorchester County Public Library, Richland Library, South Carolina Library Association (SCLA), Tau Sigma National Honor Society, Information Science Student Association, and the Library and Information Science Student Association. My proudest honors include graduating from the University of South Carolina with a BSIS and a MLIS, being named SCLA’s 2017 Outstanding Paraprofessional of the Year, and being a Brand Champion for Richland Library in 2013.

In my current role at Richland Library as Director of Events and Experience, I have the chance to connect with creative and inspiring staff, community leaders and organizations to bring the most innovative programs and initiatives to Richland County residents. A public library is an integral part of a community and a true third space for individuals to simply be themselves without a financial expectation or obligation to be included. This is my contribution and promise to our community.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Bloom where you are planted.”

I think of this quote often, it reminds me to make the most of where I currently am and not necessarily worry about what the next big shiny project or position looks like but what impact can I have within my current sphere of influence.

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

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and just keep going, it only gets better from here and you won’t believe what happens next.


19. Kelly Oppenheimer

Age 32

Assistant Solicitor and Drug Court Director

Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, I moved to Columbia to attend the University of South Carolina as a Capstone Scholar majoring in international business and finance. Following graduation in 2013, I worked at the Attorney General’s Office as a legal assistant in the Post-Conviction Relief division. I then attended the University of South Carolina School of Law, where I became editor-in-chief of the Journal of International Law and Business, graduating in 2017.

After passing the bar, I returned to the Attorney General’s Office to work as an assistant attorney general. Since 2019, I have been working at the Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office, beginning my career as an assistant solicitor on the domestic violence team. I was promoted quickly to be the head of the Drug team and director of the Eleventh Circuit Solicitor’s Office Drug Court program.

In my respective professional roles, I serve the community by successfully prosecuting large trafficking cases. In addition, I identify and enroll high-risk offenders in a program to treat substance abuse, thus reducing recidivism rates.

Your favorite quote and why:

“When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go.” – Carol Burnett

I decided I wanted to become a lawyer when I was in high school, and once I had made up my mind, I never looked back. This quote embodies the way I have lived my life for the last 18 years and will continue to describe how I live every day.

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

It’s OK to not have your entire life figured out at that exact moment. Be patient and enjoy the moment, rather than worrying about the future.


20. Michael Parks

Age 28


Samuels Reynolds Law Firm

I was born and raised in Columbia, and I’ll be here for the long haul. The region’s success, growth, and development are personal to me, as Columbia is the only place I’ve ever lived. I attended South Carolina for both undergraduate studies and law school. 

I practice law at the Samuels Reynolds Law Firm, where we serve clients in the aftermath of catastrophic, life-altering incidents. Growing up, my parents always taught me that “if you don’t make time for people, you’re not much of a person yourself.” I do my best to apply these words of wisdom to my career, and our clients, each day, in every case.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

Successful leaders understand that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. They also bring people with them – they're not a lone wolf.

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

Work harder. Treat others with respect and empathy. Write your goals down and track them closer than your social media. Find mentors of all ages who will invest in your development and success, both professionally and personally, and ask for advice. Dreams that keep you up at night must be pursued.


21. Devin Peterson

Age 28

Project Manager

Carlson Environmental Consultants, PC

I was born and raised in Summerville and developed a love for the outdoors. I graduated from Clemson University in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in environmental engineering. I moved to Columbia in 2018 and began my career as an engineer, now a project manager with Carlson Environmental Consultants. It was here that I met my lovely wife, Caitlin.

I am a seasoned professional with over five years of experience in landfill gas (LFG) engineering projects and the youngest person in my company to become licensed as a Professional Engineer. Throughout my career I have been involved in a wide range of projects, such as, preparing construction plans and specifications, conducting wellfield audits, troubleshooting, and designing gas collection and control systems to ensure compliance with environmental regulations. It has been rewarding to be part of projects that promote sustainable waste management practices through greenhouse gas reduction.

Long-term, I would like to give back to my community by continuing to clean up litter, starting a community garden, and teaching about sustainable composting methods.

Your favorite quote and why:

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” – Peter Drucker

I am fond of this quote as I have observed so many, including myself, develop habits that hinder us from becoming better versions of ourselves. Yet, most often the change we need is so simple. Now, it is a habit to remind myself of this and to embrace change daily.

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

There is no need to act on others’ behalf, to try to fit in the way you think others would want. Being yourself and focusing on your own relationships will provide more opportunity for happiness and success than walking in someone else’s light. Be inquisitive, celebrate your successes, and do not dwell on your failures.


22. Tiara Pitts

Age 28

Director of Fair Housing

South Carolina Realtors

I am a licensed attorney with a passion for making a positive impact in various fields. My role as the Director of Fair Housing for South Carolina Realtors allows me to combine my legal degree with my passion for affordable housing, diversifying the real estate industry, and creating innovative solutions to long lasting barriers to equal housing.

In addition to my legal practice, I find great fulfillment in mentoring and coaching students towards their professional aspirations and growth which brings me immense joy and fulfillment.

Looking ahead, my long-term goals revolve around expanding my businesses and creating a thriving ecosystem that benefits both clients and the community. This year, I launched a Turo car rental business that offers convenient transportation solutions and allows me to connect with members of my community while providing great customer service. I have also launched a consulting business that enables me to share my knowledge and expertise with other entrepreneurs and professionals.

Giving back to the community means a great deal to me. I actively seek opportunities to contribute to charitable causes, volunteer my time, and support local initiatives. I am committed to making a positive difference in the lives of others and leaving a lasting legacy of impact.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who can empower you to reach your full potential by giving you the tools and resources necessary to succeed.

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

Trust and love yourself. A high sense of self-worth and confidence is all you need to succeed.


23. Kendra Pressley

Age 34


Richland County School District One

As an assistant principal of Richland County School District One, I use my passion for education access and equity to build and foster relationships. Experiencing students achieve goals and take steps to transform their dreams is my greatest joy.

I was born into a family of educators, and my desire was never to become a teacher; yet after watching a close relative have challenges due to his learning disability, I decided special education was where I needed to be.

In September 2015, I began my education career. In May 2016, I was Staff Member of the Year, and in 2022-2023 I was nominated for Site Teacher of the Year.

Through following my dreams, I found myself inspiring others, leading me to create a mentorship, called Keep Caring, which assists under-recognized individuals through one-on-one sessions providing tools through gradual release for a continued growth mindset.

Your favorite quote and why:

"Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible." – Luke 1:37

This scripture is a reminder to keep endless hope through life's circumstances because there is nothing impossible when you believe.

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

Stay humble and embrace you! Do not be afraid to walk through open doors. Failure is only success in progress. Keep pressing and remember that you were created with a purpose, on purpose; now go be great!


24. Danielle Robinson

Age 29

Accountant and Head Volleyball Coach

Breakthru Beverage/Allen University

I am a native of Columbia and a graduate of Claflin University where I obtained my B.S. in accounting with a minor in mass communication. In 2018, I received my master’s degree in finance from Strayer University. I am a doctoral candidate in finance at Liberty University and am currently an accountant with Breakthru Beverage and head women’s volleyball coach at Allen University. I have been blessed with the opportunity to do both things that I love, working with numbers and coaching young women in volleyball.

In my spare time, I love to volunteer with United Way of the Midlands tutoring second- and third-graders in reading. Hosting volleyball clinics at the YMCA and Bluff Road Park. Mentoring young women and working with various organizations to teach financial literacy. I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. My long-term goal is to continue to be able to combine my passions to create opportunity for others that allows me to have a great impact within my community. When I am not busy juggling my hats, I enjoy spending time with my family, friends, hiking, and traveling.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone that is an ultimate risk-taker and makes strategic plans and decisions that help others reach their goals, as well as reach the main goal of the organization. One that listens and inspires others to be their best selves. A successful leader is only as good as the team they have built around them.

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

It is OK for things not to go as planned. It is OK to fail. But when things don’t go as planned or when things fail, know you have all the tools to try again and succeed! Enjoy the ride on your journey, remain true to yourself, face fear head-on, embracing all your potential. Everything you ever wanted is already yours, just go get it!


25. David Schrouder

Age 35

Director of Food & Beverage

Columbia Fireflies

I was raised in Brentwood, New York, and moved to Lexington, South Carolina, in 2012. Shortly after that, I got married in 2014. My wife and I celebrated the birth of our son in 2016.

In 2020, I joined the Fireflies, just before the “season that never was.” With me, I brought 20 years of food and beverage experience in everything from small restaurants to giant banquet facilities.

In my free time, I enjoy cooking and spending time with my family. I love to entertain, and never want anyone to leave my house hungry.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who is willing to put their team first. They invest in their people, and help them grow personally and professionally. They never stop teaching and providing encouragement to help others reach their goals.

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

You only live once, enjoy it while you can.


26. Robert Simmons

Age 32

Trainer and Instructor

Results Fitness

I am a Columbia native who graduated from Hammond School and University of South Carolina. I have been in fitness for 12 years, which started as a hobby in college.

In 2021 I opened my own gym, Results Fitness. It is a boutique-style gym that offers group fitness classes and personal training. I would love for Results Fitness to expand in the future and have multiple locations. Locally, I want us to be known for caring for our clients and for giving back to help our community. So far, giving back to our community has taken many forms, as we have been invited to participate in two separate elementary school field days, and we have served lunch and provided games and activities at Camp Cole for Camp Impact (a camp serving kids who have experienced homelessness or live in poverty). We want to continue to look for ways to impact the community that continues to give back to us!

Your favorite quote and why:

“You must learn to trust God’s timing.” – Deion Sanders

I would have never thought my life would lead me to where I am now, but it has all happened and worked out perfectly.

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

Everything is going to work out. Maybe not the way you planned it but keep working hard and the right opportunities and people will always find you.


27. Alexis Smith

Age 26

Relationship Manager


I was born and raised in Columbia and attended the University of South Carolina, in the Darla Moore School of Business, where I double majored in business management and marketing with a minor in criminal justice. In February 2019, I started as an intern for Merrill, and upon graduation in May 2019, accepted a full-time position with the TCG & Associates Team of Merrill.

My role started in an administrative role, where I quickly developed a passion for helping and providing clients with top-of-the-line service. I realized that I wanted more; I wanted to build and further relationships, while helping clients achieve financial plans and goals. The start of pursuing this goal was getting registered through the series exams, followed by two professional designations, the Accredited Asset Management Specialist designation and the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor designation. I now serve as a relationship manager for my team and handle all of our team social media and marketing.

A long-term career goal of mine is to obtain an additional professional designation to help clients on the financial side of estate and trust planning.

Giving back to the community means actively engaging in a personal commitment to being a part of the change and growth going on in our communities.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone whose presence is known in a room without them saying a word. They lead by example and are always willing to help in even the smallest of tasks if it eventually accomplishes a greater good.

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

Never let a person or event dictate your happiness. Look for the good even in tough situations.


28. Thomas Tafel

Age 33

Community Outreach Manager

Lexington Medical Center

I have called Columbia home my entire life. After attending Wofford College, I moved back to attend the University of South Carolina where I received my Master of Public Health. Currently, I am the community outreach manager at Lexington Medical Center where I am responsible for the comprehensive management of community programs and events. I work closely with the business and nonprofit community to address public health issues and represent the hospital’s best interests in the community.

I believe that a fulfilling life consists of giving back to the community you live in, and I work my best to fill my time with meaningful community involvement. In volunteer leadership roles, I currently serve on the board of directors of the United Way of the Midlands, the Free Medical Clinic, Greater Cayce West Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and am chair of the United Way of the Midlands Education Council.

I hope for continued growth in my personal and professional life and look forward to being able to serve this community for a long time.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

I always find James Baldwin’s words to be poignant and timely. This quote in particular is motivating in all aspects of my life.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader is someone who inspires those around them. By inviting, not dictating, they create environments where people want to do a good job and do what is needed.


29. Marquis Wallace

Age 29


The Wallace Media Company

Growing up with two military parents has its perks. Their love for service and eyes for detail have blessed me with invaluable skills. From being a drum major and student leader in both high school and college to returning to those schools to encourage students following in my footsteps, their same passion for helping others has led me to become an educator in Richland County.

After four rewarding years in the classroom, 2020 offered the opportunity to pivot to a path I realized I was on from the very beginning. When I was a child, my mother took thousands of photos of seemingly every adventure, every military base, and every smile from her only child. I hold those photographed memories closer to me after losing her to cancer in 2019. 

In my new career, the Wallace Media Company serves not only as a symbol that it is never too late to start something new, but also as an homage to those skills that my parents instilled in me. I pray I will honor them and Christ by serving others.

What is your favorite quote and why?

"You can feel the pain of discipline or the pain of delay" – Anthony Ray, a good friend of mine

The pain of discipline is training you for something greater, but the pain of delay creates a burden that will hinder you from that greater calling. This often inspires me to take advantage of life's greatest resource: time.

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

There is no better time than the present to take risks. Do not live life with a pile of what-ifs. Take advantage of every single second of every single day.


30. McKenzie Watson

Age 34

Health Equity Coordinator

Able SC

I was born and raised in Irmo, and I’m thrilled to call Columbia home. I was taught at a very early age the importance of community service and how it benefits and promotes the sustainability of communities in every area. I am currently the Disability Health Equity Coordinator at Able SC in their Columbia office. Able SC is a disability-led nonprofit, transforming systems, communities, and individuals.

In 2019 I made the decision to leave pharmacy after witnessing firsthand the day-to-day struggles with individuals and patients as they struggled to pay for medications and affordable healthcare. I began working with elected officials and grassroots organizations across South Carolina to advocate and legislate for equitable healthcare. Creating equitable and barrier-free access to healthcare in South Carolina is important to the livelihood of all South Carolinians. With over 10 years of corporate, political, and grassroots advocacy, I now work with organizations and businesses to build cross-sector partnerships and collaborations across South Carolina to educate and help increase health equity for people with disabilities.

In 2022, I spearheaded and coordinated the Disability Vaccine Access efforts for the disabled Black, Indigenous, and other people of color for Able SC. Through my efforts and those of our staff, the CDC and the Biden administration recognized Able SC for our stellar commitment and work in assisting the disability community.

I am an active member of the Junior League of Columbia and serve as co-chair of The Little Black Dress Initiative.

Your favorite quote and why:

“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I love this quote because it doesn't take much time or cost any money to be a service to others. No matter your educational background or financial status, we all have the ability to serve in one form or another. All it takes is a willing heart.

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

Don’t compare yourself to others and pave your own path. Find your voice and don’t be afraid to use it.


31. JeBria Wilson

Age 30

Assistant Solicitor

Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office

I am a South Carolina native – born in Columbia and raised in Rock Hill. I earned my B.S. in public health from the University of South Carolina, and my J.D. at the University of South Carolina School of Law. I initially joined the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office as a law clerk in the summer before my second year of law school and continued working there until graduation. Post-law school, I worked as a clerk for Richardson, Plowden, and Robinson, P.A., before coming back home to the Richland County Solicitors Office as an assistant solicitor in the Family Court.

Since being back, I have the privilege of being part of the Richland County Anti Human Trafficking Task Force and the South Carolina Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. Through these organizations and their incredible work, I have a deeper understanding of new initiatives dedicated to improving community safety and creating better outcomes for our youth.

Your favorite quote and why:

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou

This is the model for exactly how I want to live my life.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

One that is both a leader and follower and someone that is constantly open to learning something new every day.


32. Morgan Yarborough Drapeau

Age 33


Goings Law Firm

As with everyone else who has walked this earth, my experiences have shaped my life. During my last year of college, I experienced a life altering event. It was through this experience that I realized good people need great lawyers. That’s what I’ve set out to be. In 2017, I graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and I’ve been rocking and rolling ever since. I started my career at the Richland County Public Defender’s Office where I had the privilege of fighting for the rights of my fellow community members.

As a public defender, I fell in love with the people of Columbia. It was only natural that my work at the Public Defender’s Office would lead me to representing fellow South Carolinians that have been or are currently injured. As an attorney with the Goings Law Firm, I represent community members who have been injured in automobile accidents, slip-and-falls, workplace accidents, and so much more. I couldn’t be more honored to represent the people of South Carolina.  

Outside of work, I try to spend every second with my amazing husband, Matthew Drapeau, and our two dogs, Rosie and Millie. Watching my husband coach the Brookland Cayce Soccer Team is one of my greatest joys.

What is your favorite quote and why?

"There can be no growth without conflict."

In this day and age, we want everything to come easy. But that's not realistic. I like to remind myself that to continue to grow as a person and a lawyer, there is going to be conflict. Instead of backing down, I must face the conflict head on. It's the only way I'll get better.

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

Grind now so you can reap the benefits later. But while you're grinding, take time to enjoy this beautiful life you've been given.


Punam Patel - Age 35

South Carolina Liaison

Scout Motors

Born and raised in South Carolina, I graduated from Winthrop University, and I am the South Carolina Liaison for Scout Motors and manage relationships with key external stakeholders across South Carolina.

I serve on the Lexington Chamber Board of Directors, Winthrop University’s College of Business Administration Advisory Board and Healthcare Management Advisory Board, Youth Corps Board of Directors, City of Columbia Hospitality Tax Grant Advisory Committee and Leadership Columbia Advisory Board as the Health & Human Services Day committee chair.

As a first-generation college graduate and daughter of immigrants, I strive to pay my blessings forward so that all people have the opportunity to realize their dreams regardless of their circumstances and background, just like I did.

What is your definition of a successful leader?

A successful leader has the courage to run towards unchartered territory, loves their people, leads by example all while developing others to grow into their potential.

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

Trust the process.  All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.