GSU’s first annual 40 Under 40

A luncheon was held by the GSU Alumni Association on Friday at the Nessmith-Lane Ballroom to honor the Class of 2014 40 under 40. The 40 under 40 program honors 40 GSU alumnus under the age of 40 that are leading the way in business, leadership, community, educational, and philanthropically endeavors.

Before the initial honors, Wendell Tompkins Jr, executive director of the Alumni Association, gave a few words and treated the alumnus to lunch. Afterwards, Dr. Kelley Chester, President of the Alumni Association, spoke of the difficulties in choosing 40 alumni from a box of 90+ applicants and reiterated how important the chosen nominees were.

Following her speech, President of Georgia Southern Dr. Brooks Keel made a closing speech before the ceremony, thanking the attendees for attending GSU and doing so much with what they learned there.

“Thank you for representing Georgia Southern as you go through your lives” Dr. Keel said. “You are without a question the best ambassadors any university could have. Go Eagles!”

Tompkins Jr. then called on each nominee to come up and receive their reward. Some of the nominated were unable to attend, and the honors were accepted by family members. The ceremony closed with everyone in attendance standing and singing the GSU Alma Mater.

Kate Channell is the current director of marketing and media for the College of Business Administration at Georgia Southern where she received her Marketing BBA in 2001 and her MBA in 2003. Channell has worked for the University System of Georgia since 2006 and started as the assistant director of the MBA program at Georgia Southern University in 2011.

What sorts of student organizations were you a part of during your time at Southern?

Channell: “I participated some in the American Marketing Association, but not a whole lot. It was so big, you never felt like you could plug in and be productive and contribute to it.”

Do you have any tips or tricks for current students on becoming successful?

Channell: “Always take initiative, have the want-to. Self-direct. Do internships, do Study Abroad – if you have to choose between the two of them, do both. Seriously.”

How important do you believe finding your passion is to being successful? How and when did you find yours?

Channell: “I think it’s very important. I’ve always had kind of a creative side. When you go through business school, it kills your creativity. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s just business. This has allowed me to come back full circle, use my creativity, use my business skills, use my degrees – because I’m probably one of the few people using my degree.

How long did it take you to get here?

Channell: “I graduated in ‘01 with my undergraduate right after 9-11, the economy wasn’t that great, and my parents pushed me to go ahead and get my masters. They said, ‘You’ll appreciate it in the long run, you’ll be glad you did it,’ and I came kicking and screaming, but I’m so glad I did it now.”

What is your favorite GSU tradition?

Channell: “Football, obviously. Watching the yellow school buses come in, it just shows solidarity. I’m glad it’s back. It kinda just rallies everybody. I think I might be more partial to Freedom flying and then the school buses come in a close second.”

*Interview conducted by Whit Van Tassell

Russell Keen is the vice president of Government Relations and Community Engagement at Georgia Southern University, where he also graduated from in 1999 when he received his BBA in Finance. Being the first in his family to go to college, Keen’s ticket to GSU came when he qualified for HOPE scholarship and the Zell Miller award. Along with these scholarships, Keen also worked various jobs during the summers to help pay for his schooling. After a couple of years he found some part-time jobs in the community, sometimes working three at one time. In 2001, Keen got a job at GSU as the Director of Annual Giving for scholarships, which is something he is very passionate about since he attributes his success to the state of Georgia and other scholarships he received.

Q: What kept you going in spite of hardships just to stay in college?

Keen: Well, throughout my entire college career and before then, really, I felt like I wasn’t supposed to be here but community really encouraged me. Professors, staff, even a custodian were there to push me. Of course, I had my faith. That got me through a lot, but when you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by accident. So, I’m that turtle, I guess. I had a lot of people helping me.

Q: Were you involved in any campus organizations, and did they help you get where you are in some way?

Keen: Well my sophomore year I started getting involved in campus activities. I never lived on campus. I got involved in Student Government, and senior year I ran as president. It gave me an idea about how the university works. I probably learned more that year outside the classroom than I did inside the classroom.

Q: What do you do in your current position?

Keen: In this role I’m doing much of the same of what I was doing before. I’m trying to help advance Georgia Southern, from securing funds for places like the Biological Sciences Building or the Health Center, to other legislation- HOPE scholarship type stuff. So what I’ve found is that even in this role, and every step from director to here, is that there are a number of people that have been just tremendously helpful to me. It almost makes me a little uncomfortable to be in this group because there are so many people that I know of who are so deserving to be here. I’m very humbled by it, but it’s a real honor for me. My joy, my satisfaction, comes from a deeper place. It’s just great being here and seeing the big picture.

Q: What kind of advice would you give to students on how to find their passions, based on your experience?

Keen: College is such a unique experience. Freshman come in with a certain mindset, that everything is black and white, that they know how the world works. There are so many opportunities to be involved both on campus and off campus and to make a difference. If I could change something about my experience, it would be to be involved earlier and be more involved. I waited, and I’ve always sort of regretted that. I’d also say that students need to focus on graduating. Never ever give up. You’re here, make the best of it. Graduate. Don’t let anything stop you. If you fall, or if you fail, well, that’s the best way to learn.

Q: Do you have a favorite tradition or experience from your time here as a student?

Keen: After looking back now, the thing I enjoy the most and seeing in transition, is the pride that has grown in our student body at Georgia Southern. Who knows when it really started, university status maybe, but there is a growing sense of pride about who we are, and what it means to be True Blue Georgia Southern.

*Interview conducted by Kurt Hanlon

Ryan Foley had only lived in Georgia for two years before deciding to attend college at Georgia Southern University. Foley received his Bachelor of Business Administration in Management degree in 2003, and in 2005, he completed his Master of Business Administration, both from GSU. Starting as an intern at Ogeechee Technical College during his undergraduate years, Foley worked his way up the chain to the position he has had for the last five years as the Vice President of Student Affairs. Foley has been living in Statesboro for 16 years and is happily raising his family here.

Q: Did you go into college knowing what you wanted to do?

Foley: No, I really wanted to go into pre-med. I love science so I was a biology major. I got into cellular biology and I said, “This is not for me!” At that point I did some soul searching, and I changed my major to business management. I don’t know really why. I’m not quite sure what drove me in that direction, but I tell you, as soon as I started those classes, it just clicked for me. I went from not really wanting to go to class to instantly knowing what I was doing. I went to class, I loved it, I looked forward to it, and so it lead me to where I am today.

Q: Did you have a favorite experience or tradition while you were a student?

Foley: That’s a tough question. I was fortunate to have my undergraduate during the Paul Johnson years where we went to the national championship three times and won two of them. Ultimately, I think the whole tailgating and Saturday football experiences are probably the best memories I have. I also used to travel with my buddies in college. We did a road trip to Delaware when we played there. So for me, football as a tradition is what I embraced the most.

Q: Were you involved in any campus organizations, and did they help you get here in some way?

Foley: When I got into business, I was part of SHRM, which is the Society for Human Resource Management. If it wasn’t for that club, I wouldn’t have gotten that internship at Ogeechee, and therefore I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Q: What kind advice would you give to students on how to find their passions, based on your experience?

Foley: I think that going to class and getting involved is the best advice I can give any student, because it will make you want to be involved, want to stay there and love what you’re doing. Southern has a million things. There’s something there for every student. But as far students trying to figure out what they want to do, I think it will come. Also, you have to know people. It’s all about networking, and with college, you have all these opportunities to meet people and get your name out there. Get a little more experience outside of just the textbooks.

*Interview conducted by Kurt Hanlon

Robert Mikell’s family has been rooted within the Bulloch County for nine generations. He graduated from Statesboro High School and enrolled in Georgia Southern University in 2003. Not only did he attend Georgia Southern but his father, mother and only brother attended as well. Mickell graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in History with a Spanish minor. He is now an attorney at Brown Rountree PC in Statesboro.

Q: In what ways do you feel GSU’s morals, purpose and standards of excellence prepared you for what was to come after graduating?

Mikell: “Mainly how they push you to be involved on campus and organizations and supporting Georgia Southern led me to continue to try and plug in to my community and be involved.”

Q: Do you feel that GSU does a good job of connecting with the community?

Mikell: “It’s definitely a strong relationship that, as of late, is getting stronger. There has been a lot of outreach in the economic development of this region within Statesboro, so I think we are on the right track.”

Q: Is there anything that GSU has instilled in you that you carry to this day?

Mikell: “Just [to continue with] community service and the idea that learning doesn’t stop after you graduate.”

Q: As an undergraduate student, what were some of your favorite traditions?

Mikell: “I grew up at Paulson Stadium, the yellow school buses and the tradition of winning in football. We, my family and I, have season tickets.”

*Interview conducted by Chance Shelton

Brad Sheffield received his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering technology in 2001 and Master of Business Administration in 2003, both from Georgia Southern. He is currently the regional retail sales manager and senior vice president of Sea Island bank and a resident of Statesboro, Ga. He received his undergraduate in engineering, then continued on to get his MBA. His successes all sprang from him liking the finance area of his MBA. Sheffield says that his part-time bank teller position was only supposed to be a means for income but turned into a job that he loves. He encourages students to not just focus on the major that they study in undergraduate but to go out and find something that they love to do.

Q: How did you get into banking with an engineering degree?

Sheffield: I co-oped during my undergraduate, then started looking for a job about three months before I graduated and kinda liked the finance part of it from doing the MBA. I applied to a couple banks and received a part-time teller job here and turned into a career.

Q: Do you have any advice for current undergraduate students?

Sheffield: I would say work hard and do everything that you can do. Basically, you can be anything that you want to be. You’ll work hard, and your dreams will come true. Just work hard.

Q: What’s your favorite GSU pastime?

Sheffield: Saturday football! Just the tradition of Georgia Southern Football. It’s probably one of my greatest memories at Georgia Southern.

*Interview conducted by Asya Fields