Dexter Harris, VP, Supply Chain FInance, Coca Cola North America at The Coca Cola Company

“Always persevere. Keep going even when everyone else has given up”. -Dexter Harris

     Dexter Harris, Vice President of Supply Chain Finance at Coca-Cola North America, The Coca-Cola Company believes in helping others achieve. He received a B.S in Accounting from North Carolina A&T University and an MBA with a concentration in finance from the University of Minnesota.

     Dexter’s father is one of the people who helped shaped him into the leader he is today. He also had a high school mentor who helped guide him. Dexter also credits both of his parents for contributing to much of his success. Many of the things he learned from them such as being on time, how to treat people, giving back when you can, etc. had a “disproportionate effect” on his achievements. Dexter first remembers leading at seventeen and joined the Army. He became an officer and stayed in the Army Reserves for six years. Participating in the Army Reserves helped Dexter to pay for college. The cost of college was a barrier that Dexter overcame, and he is thankful for those that helped advise him.

     When Dexter started college, he wanted to major in engineering like his brother. He quickly decided that was not the best route for him and majored in accounting instead. If Dexter could give his younger self advice, he would encourage him to take more risks. He picked his major based on getting a job after college. Sometimes he wishes he would have started a business when he was younger. He encourages others to follow their passion. Dexter also advises for people to learn about personal finance and money management at an early age. His sixteen year-old daughter is currently receiving lessons from him.

     In the workplace, Dexter believes in effective communication. He tries to stay away from using jargon when talking with people in other disciplines. As a leader, Dexter is described as someone who, “does a lot of great things at Coke as well as the community.” Dexter strives to be an inclusive leader who empowers the team to move forward. He also believes in creating a fun working atmosphere due to the amount of time spent in the workplace.

     Similar to other minorities working in corporate America, Dexter has seen there can be pressure to perform. He believes over time he’s gotten better with navigating those barriers. Dexter is motivated to help other minorities. Many have questions about how to work their way up to a position like the one he is today. Taking care of his family is Dexter’s top motivator.

     Multiple no’s might deter some from a goal or path, but not Dexter. In business and in life he believes in persevering despite the obstacles. One example he shared was when he was trying to pursue his high school sweetheart. That woman is now his wife. Dexter has also experienced no’s in the workplace and people who thought he couldn’t succeed. Instead of believing the naysayers, it drove him. Dexter remarked, “I don’t hold grudges. People may reflect their lack of drive and risk taking upon you, and you have to overcome it. Don’t take their perception of what you’re capable of”.

     Dexter’s family makes him smile because they are all funny. Deter remarks that his wife and daughter are extroverted, while he is not. For those that know how introverted he is, you may not believe that Dexter was a high-end vacuum cleaner salesman in college. In his alone time, he enjoys reading, jazz, and running. His favorite object is extremely sentimental, his father’s WWII Purple Heart. One item still on Dexter’s bucket list is starting a business; and because his favorite word is perseverance expect for this goal to be fulfilled.

Dexter encourages future leaders to:
Always… have a healthy respect for those you’re leading and try to understand their views and lead from their perspective. Have fun, it moves the team forward and empowers the team.
Never… take your team members for granted. Make sure they feel appreciated and understood, spend time with them, and understand what their goals are.
Follow… your parent’s advice.

Connect with Dexter:

Chris Genovese, Managing Director at Portfolio Advisors, LLC

“I have learned from and have been inspired by the bad leaders in my life just as much as the good leaders.”

–Chris Genovese  

     Chris Genovese, Managing Director at Portfolio Advisors, LLC, is driven by the desire to succeed. Another motivator for him is the sense of responsibility he feels to both his family and his company. After completing his B.S in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech, Chris went on to earn his MBA from Emory University with concentrations in Finance and Ethics and Leadership.

     Chris believes he has been shaped by every person he’s worked for throughout his life; from his first summer job while in middle school at an Army/ Navy store in Cape Cod to his current role at Portfolio Advisors. He grew up in a small town which gave him the opportunity to take on early leadership roles in high school, like class president. His first true leadership experience from a business perspective was directly out of undergrad. Chris took a job with a large manufacturing corporation in their management leadership training program and is grateful for the level of responsibility he was given at such an early point in his career. One of the main things he learned through the program was how to manage numerous parallel tasks and “how to wear a lot of hats”. These foundational skills have continued to serve him well with each new opportunity and role throughout his career.

     As a leader, Chris strives to be somewhat “hands-off” and to lead by example. He believes in providing colleagues with the necessary tools and information to succeed, and he continues to try and learn on a daily basis from those around him.  This leadership style works well for him, particularly because Chris works remotely from the rest of his firm. Working remotely can pose challenges outside of just leadership – he often misses being involved more directly in the corporate culture, being able to just walk down the hall to chat with a colleague, and missing out on the monthly birthday cake – but he enjoys the autonomy in provides.

Chris feels that his career has come full circle in many ways. Directly out of college he did not see himself in sales or consulting, so he went into manufacturing. After living in some very rural areas, he decided he wanted to return to a big city and started working in consulting. After logging many years and frequent flyer miles consulting, Chris decided to go back and get his MBA and to pursue his interests in investing. Since then, Chris has been working in the private equity industry with a focus on business development and investor relations. In this role, he has been combining sales, consulting, and investing – and it has taken him back on the road. His background may not fit the “traditional private equity career path,” but he believes his engineering and consulting background have provided him with a strong foundation, work ethic, complementary skill set and, at times, a unique perspective.

     When asked what advice he would give others looking to get into the private equity field, or just job searching in general, he shared the following.  “Throughout your life and career, build up and try to maintain strong personal and professional networks.”  He also encourages people to, “Not give up if you don’t find instant success if it’s something you’re truly passionate about. Try to take something away from every experience and interaction, whether it’s through self-reflection or openly soliciting feedback”. He also recommends for students to pursue internships and co-op opportunities to learn what types of jobs and industries they like/dislike and to build relevant experience. Chris is a fan of the concept of “5 Why’s” which he describes as asking why five times to help you get to the true root cause of problems or issues.

     Chris believes in working hard but that it is equally important to try and maintain a positive work/life balance. Chris enjoys staying active and traveling with friends and family on vacation. Most of his trips revolve around skiing or a beach. He has a long list of places he still wants to see one day including Egypt, the African safari, Bora Bora, New Zealand, and the Greek Isles. Seeing life through his daughter Addison’s eyes makes him smile on a daily basis and helps to put things in perspective. Some of Chris’ favorite possessions are sentimental ones; like artwork from his grandfather whom he never had the opportunity to meet and newer “pieces” from Addison. Chris is also a dog lover and lists ice cream as his favorite food.

Chris encourages future leaders to:

Always… listen, have fun, and challenge yourself.

Never… think you have all the answers, take yourself too seriously, or get complacent.

Follow… your passion, gut, and instincts.

Connect with Chris:




Dr. Ceceilia Parnther, Research Associate, Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education


“If students are afforded the ability to do well, they will rise to the occasion.”

–Dr. Parnther

     Dr. Ceceilia Parnther, Research Associate, Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education in Kalamazoo, Michigan is persistently passionate about student success. It’s likely no surprise to those who know her that Ceceilia is leaving her mark on the education field. She describes herself as someone who enjoyed taking school seriously. Ceceilia received her Bachelor’s in Theater and Journalism from West Virginia University, a Master’s degree in education policy and leadership with a focus on post-secondary education from Loyola University Chicago and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Western Michigan University.

     Integrity education is a subject that Ceceilia believes students should be taught in school. This would enable them to learn how to learn, and more importantly the expectations of honesty. Integrity is a subject that employers and teachers worry about daily. However, expectations are often unclear. Ceceilia’s doctoral thesis research focused on academic ethics and was titled, “It’s On Us: A Case Study of Academic Integrity In A Mid-Western Community College.”

     Ceceilia’s leadership style is collaborative which stems from the leaders who have inspired her. She always admired her teachers and professors who had the ability to recognize each student, learn their interests, and push them to excel. Ceceilia stated, “There’s a reoccurring theme, a lot of people helped along the way.” She believes in giving back what has been given to her. Other qualities Ceceilia brings into the workplace are intuitiveness, openness, fearlessness, and the ability to think about the future. She is also flexible which she attributes to growing up as a military brat.

     When confronted with a challenge or a “no,” Ceceilia has a process to help her navigate through those difficult moments. First, she approaches it as a learning opportunity. Next, she asks for understanding or clarification on the issue. After, she evaluates what was said and makes a decision for action. ‘Don’t shelve things if you don’t have to” is a recommendation Ceceilia shared. There are topics and issues that if addressed can help student’s immediately.

     Ceceilia advises, “You’re only as good as the person who’s most unhappy in a work environment, which should be the barometer.” She believes in helping to create a work place in which people can openly express their opinions. A recommendation for others following along a similar path is to recognize what environments you thrive in and look for a similar fit. The culture of an institution or an organization is an important factor to happiness at work. Ceceilia is happy to go to work each day because of her passion for helping students.

     When she is not assisting students and furthering the research on academic integrity, Ceceilia is at home with her family. She has a husband and two daughters who love dance parties. To relax Ceceilia enjoys curling up with a good book and glass of wine. Other things that make Ceceilia smile include good people, good food, laughter, students succeeding, sunsets and the beach. She would love to do more international travel including visiting Dubai, Nigeria, and Morocco. A fun fact you may not know about Ceceilia is she was once a sales person for a video dating service. She describes the experience as car sales, but for love.


Ceceilia encourages future leaders to:

Always… be yourself. Don’t think your story or experiences are too small. Embrace fear and don’t be afraid of hearing no. Take risks on the things you’re passionate about.

Never… do anything that feels wrong in your gut, pay attention to that feeling.

Follow… your dreams because life is short and a lot of time is spent at work. Focus on fulfillment and make the big decisions worth it.

Connect with Ceceilia:





Sally Mundell, Founder/President at The Packaged Good

“We all need to be healed, and volunteering can be a healing process.”

     Sally Mundell, Founder/President at The Packaged Good in Dunwoody, Georgia believes in the power of gratitude. She graduated from Emory University with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics. Sally enjoys learning new things and her career path has reflected that desire. Some of her most recent roles have included consulting and Sr. Director, Direct to Consumer Marketing and CRM at Spanx.

     The power of giving is undeniable. Sally started The Packaged Good in February 2016, three years after the death of her husband who had IPF. She shared that she and her husband had conversations about the meaning of life before his death which has profoundly impacted her life. He encouraged Sally to focus on joy, gratitude, and giving back to others. These ideals are reflected in Sally’s life and The Packaged Good’s mission. The mission of the organization is, “to empower kids of all ages to do good.”

     The Packaged Good not only provides an opportunity to carry along her husband’s memory for her two daughters; it also serves a need in the community. Sally said, “I saw people wanted to be more hands-on and get involved with their younger children. There are not a lot of outlets for that”. The Packaged Good strives to reach volunteers in unique ways. They target the eight and under age range, communal giving, and social gatherings. In a given week the Packaged Good may host a child’s birthday party, a corporate event, and a ladies night out. Sally hopes that the flexibility in volunteering at The Packaged Good will encourage volunteers to increase the amount they volunteer in the community annually.

     Sally started playing basketball in the third grade and went on to play in college at Emory where she was a captain. Sports helped to shape her as a leader, and she likes to take a team- oriented approach in the workplace. Sally strives to surround herself with enriching people who can help her learn. Connecting with people and helping others motivates Sally. She also makes sure her decisions align with her values and the goals she would like to pursue. Sally’s leadership style can be defined in one word, influencer. She works hard to meet her goals in life.

     Women who create positive platforms such as Sara Blakely and Sheryl Sandberg have inspired Sally. She counts herself lucky to have worked in environments that celebrate her being a woman and what she brings to the table. Sally’s favorite word is inspiration, and she hopes her platform will inspire people to live a better life. She urges adults to prioritize giving and find a way to integrate it into their lifestyle. Sally is also working with schools to help teach children philanthropy. If she could give her younger self advice, she would say, “Be appreciative of mentorship and the people who help you. And it’s ok to share what you’re feeling.”

     As a single parent, Sally makes sure she checks in on her work/life balance. She also approaches parenting similar to a business by putting together a support team around her. Sally enjoys watching movies and snuggling with her girls. As a family, they would love to travel to Paris and Israel one day. Sally also enjoys walking, being outside in nature, taking a calming bath and reading articles. Sally is not afraid to open up about her life, and it makes her an extremely approachable leader. Expect to see a book by Sally on the bookshelves one day.

Sally encourages future leaders to:
Always… be a good storyteller. Figure out what your story is and be willing to open up to others.
Never… blame others.
Follow… your network. Your network is an investment into your future. Also make sure to help others as much as you can.

Connect with Sally:

Jonathan McLaurin, Director Asset Management at USAA Real Estate Company

“You cannot interchange the word leader and boss.”

     Jonathan McLaurin, Director Asset Management at USAA Real Estate Company, values positive perspectives in life. This serves him well in his career and personal life.

     Jonathan received his Bachelor’s from Indiana University where he double majored in Finance and Legal Studies. He attended leadership camps and programs throughout his life starting at a young age. These experiences helped him learn more about the characteristics of a successful leader. However, Jonathan feels he learned the most about leadership from attending church.The biblical studies of Jesus have taught him the true meaning of leadership, sacrificing for others. President Obama also inspires Jonathan because of his ability to stay cool and calm under pressure.

     When it comes to choosing a career Jonathan recommends “jumping out on faith.” He feels no one should take their first job after college based solely on money. Jonathan said, “Money can come later, however, if you only chase the money, happiness may never come.” When he first entered the real estate industry, many people were hesitant about the decision because he was on a different career path. Jonathan followed his heart and remains content with the decision because he followed his passion.

     Jonathan strives to empower people around him and take the focus off of him. He also strives to be a democratic and supportive leader. When describing his leadership style, Jonathan acknowledged that leading is a process. At the beginning of a project, he will be more hands-on; his ultimate goal is to step back as quickly possible. In his work environment Jonathan values efficiency and quality team members whom he can trust.

     While the corporate real estate industry has become more diverse, it’s still rare to see someone young African Americans in leadership positions. Jonathan believes the first leadership role he held that truly mattered was when he led a corporate real estate diversity council at twenty-four years old. He enjoyed enhancing and furthering diversity initiatives. Jonathan’s presence in the field and dedication to diversity help serve as examples to his peers and those that desire to be leaders in the corporate real estate industry. Jonathan does not let barriers stop him; he uses them as stepping stones. He believes, “A person’s success is best defined by the barriers that lie in the rearview mirror.”

     Effective communication is the foundation of impactful leadership. Jonathan thinks it’s important for leaders to be able to walk into any room and hold meaningful conversations with anyone in that room, regardless of who they are. A lot of people cannot do this, and it is a quality that differentiates Jonathan from others. Another lesson he shared is, “You will encounter ‘no’s’ but the closed doors will guide you to the open doors that really matter.”

     When Jonathan is not at work, he enjoys shooting landscape photography. His favorite object is a lens which aligns with his favorite word, perspective. One day Jonathan would love to rent an RV for an entire summer and take pictures at national parks across the country. Being able to spend time, doing nothing in particular, with the people he loves makes Jonathan smile.

Jonathan encourages future leaders to:
Always… do what’s right, even if it’s not the most popular choice.
Never… follow the crowd.
Follow… your instincts.

Connect with Jonathan:
Photography website:


Azizah Puspasari, MPA. Civil Servant in Indonesia.

“I am very strong inside, but I didn’t realize it.” –Azizah Puspasari

     Azizah Puspasari graduated from Western Michigan University with a Master’s in Public Administration on 12/17/16. Receiving a Master’s degree is a remarkable accomplishment for any student; however, it is truly special for international students. Azizah was born and raised in Indonesia and came to the United States for the first time to pursue her Master’s.

     Azizah’s undergraduate degree was in accounting, and she later transitioned to the Public Administration field. Before coming to Michigan, Azizah worked as a civil servant at the National Institute of Public Administration in Jakarta Indonesia. She will return home to Indonesia in January and continue to work for the government. Her Institution has three divisions consisting of research, policy making, and training/education. She works in the training/education division which correlates with her Master’s concentration, Human Resources.

     The Institution she works at, and her government highly value education. They help employees pursue advanced degrees in other countries. This process is not easy, and Azizah was tasked with learning English, leaving her family and home, and adjusting to a new country. The flight time from Michigan to Indonesia is 20 hours so returning home for a visit is a rare occurrence for many international students.

     When reflecting on her time in the United States, Azizah discussed some of the things she missed most about home. Unsurprisingly at the top of the list was her family. Azizah is married and being away from her husband was difficult. She also missed the food and weather in Indonesia. Her favorite dessert is called Serabi, and it similar to a pancake and contains coconut milk. After living in Michigan, she has a lot of recommendations for international students pursuing their Master’s in the United States. Some tips she has include finding foods to eat and what to buy in preparation for the snow. A lot of her friends were amazed by her winter pictures and would ask, “What does snow taste like?”

     Some of the other adjustment challenges Azizah faced included deciding what to write about for papers due to the differing education system. After choosing a topic, it would take Azizah much longer than a student whose first language is English to write a paper. Studying for quizzes and exams, as well as typing also required perseverance because of the language barrier. Azizah only took English classes once a week for three years in high school, one semester of English in college, and then an extensive English class for nine months before coming to the United States. Some programs offer culture classes to students; Azizah’s did not so she did not know what to expect.

     There were many things that Azizah loved about living in a different country. She liked that there are rules for driving such as the requirement for children to sit in a car seat. Azizah was also impressed with credit card security. Someone used her card once, and it was an unusual transaction, so she received a call from the bank to alert her. She could not believe that stores allow you to return items. In Indonesia, if you’re allowed to return an item, you will not be refunded the full amount. Azizah was also impressed with the streaming quality in the United States. She was happy she made great connections while in school and will miss those friendships, she plans to keep in touch via email and social media.

     Azizah needed constant motivation to get to the finish line, graduation day. Her husband and mother were her two primary sources of strength and they provided prayers, listening ears, and reminders that she could do it! She also credited some of her classmates with inspiring her even when they were unaware. She does not fully understand it, yet Azizah was admired by her classmates and professors alike. To know a student is nervous to speak, but watch her share her opinion and experiences, is incredibly powerful.

     Azizah has dreams to pursue her Ph.D. in Public Administration one day. She would like to continue enhancing her English skills and learn more about research in preparation for that journey. She would love to study in Australia because it is much closer to Indonesia. Other bucket list items she has include having children, returning to the U.S one day, and travel to Mecca. Receiving her Master’s in a different country was the hardest experience Azizah ever had. It taught her to “let it go,” live and experience life, and not worry so much about the future which she recommends for others as well.

Connect with Azizah:

Dr. Udaya Wagle, Director of SPAA at WMU

“Society is better off when individuals think of themselves as a part of society and contribute”.

-Dr. Wagle

     Dr. Udaya Wagle, Director of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Western Michigan University, has a passion for cultivating value in the public sector. He received a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business from Tribhuvan University, located in Nepal. Dr. Wagle also has an MS in Nonprofit Management from Eastern University and received his Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

     Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa inspire Dr. Wagle. He admires Gandhi based on his ideals and philosophy and Mother Theresa for her values and focus on public service. Dr. Wagle also found inspiration from his uncles as a child. He heard stories about their success and knew he would not be satisfied staying put. From a young age, Dr. Wagle wanted to contribute to society which motivated him.

     Dr. Wagle never envisioned himself becoming a leader and still does not describe himself as a leader in the conventional sense. As a leader, he tries to be democratic, conciliatory, and bring others together. For the Public Affairs and Administration department, Dr. Wagle strives to set the direction for the future by thinking strategically and cultivating relationships.

     Throughout his life, Dr. Wagle has not planned his next step. After one phase of his life is over, he then ponders about what opportunities he would like to explore next. Dr. Wagle believes in making the most of each choice because you can never go back. He sets short-term goals for himself, however, does not plan long term.

     There have been enormous barriers for Dr. Wagle to get to where he is today. He grew up in a rural area without electricity or transportation. From eighth grade on he had to live on his own with his older brother, away from his family so that he could be near the schools he attended. During college, Dr. Wagle worked and went to school full time in Nepal. He then faced the decision about coming to the United States as an immigrant student for further education. Dr. Wagle would visit the American Library in Nepal and read about colleges he could only imagine attending. He recalls all of these challenges as daunting and enormous.

     While Dr. Wagle remains very humble about how far he has come, it is very apparent how hard he’s worked to be successful. In college when he had the option to write in English or Nepali, he always chose English to push himself. His experiences have helped shape the way he teaches and his expectations of students. Dr. Wagle believes in persevering despite challenges, failures, and naysayers. He recommends being able to justify your work, advocating for yourself when approached with challenges, and always be responsive.

     Dr. Wagle’s first and most unique job was working at a government office as an external auditor when he was eighteen. However, he remarks that many of his friends would describe being a professor as unique because it is not a “normal job.” All of Dr. Wagle’s jobs have involved the public sector, public sector motivation has been a factor in his career choices.

     If you’ve had Dr. Wagle as a professor, you know that he values education and can be serious in the classroom. He also enjoys humor and smiling; he believes laughter is healthy. Accomplishments for himself, the school, and his family make him smile. Dr. Wagle is not very good at relaxing and likes to stay busy. When he does relax, he likes to jog, ride bikes, and spend time with his family.

     Dr. Wagle stresses the importance of cultivating the value of public service, not only for public administrators but every person in society. He feels, “you should not look at yourself but what the community will gain and what you’re contributing to society.” Dr. Wagle overemphasizes knowing and advises students to know their limitations.


Dr. Wagle encourages future leaders to:

Always… be a responsible and accountable leader who takes consequences seriously.

Never… blame others, be willing to face the consequences.

Follow… what you think is right. However, gather as much information as you can in preparation for making a decision.


Connect with Dr. Wagle:




Michael Hobbs, Entrepreneur &DJ

“I can be foolishly persistent sometimes. But I always tell people if you get 999 no’s, that 1000th time is the yes.”
–Michael Hobbs

     Michael Hobbs an energetic entrepreneur and DJ known as Young Degree has been coined a show stopper. He has a music publishing company, Internet radio station with a focus on podcast, and provides consultations for companies.

Michael recalls first leading in middle school when he became a patrol leader for the Boy Scouts. At a young age, he realized he was able to relate to a lot of people which helped him lead. There are several people throughout his life that influenced Michael including teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and musicians. Michael currently looks up to men such as Denzel Washington, Cory Booker, and President Obama.

Michael received a publishing deal after his first year of college so he decided to put school on hold and pursue his dreams. He later went on to finish his Bachelor’s online because he values education. If he could turn back time, he wouldn’t have left school when he did. Michael wants to set an example for his son, and this is one of his biggest motivators. Michael would love to teach someday and desires to go back to school to receive his Master’s and Ph.D. in education.

Michael first realized music was more than a hobby when he was working at CNC music factory. He recalls walking into a studio and being in awe. At that moment he knew that he wanted music to be his career. Many people did not think that being a DJ could turn into a full time-career; Michael has shown it can be done.

The process of becoming a DJ and entrepreneur has not always been easy. There are still barriers that Michael has to face today including overcoming stereotyping. Some may look at him and think he can only play one style of music. However, Young Degree’s slogan is, “party differently”. This slogan exists because Michael loves playing music and putting on a show for a diverse range of audiences. He has been featured on the knot for his work at a wedding and received glowing reviews from various cruise ships.

When Michael decided to focus on himself and stop seeking validation from others he was able to pursue his dreams seriously. He started reinvesting money he saved back into himself and his career. This fueled his ambition and enabled his career to catapult to a new level. Michael continuously asked himself, “Who do I want to be?” He urges others to take themselves seriously because that is when doors will start to open.

If you have the opportunity work with Michael, expect him to lead by example. As a leader, he aims to be fair, humble, and accommodating. He will also stress the value of first impressions. Michael believes in his industry, “You only have one chance to get it right. Nowadays it’s rare to regain someone’s attention if you didn’t impress them.”

To wind down Michael likes to listen to relaxing music such as old school R&B, jazz, classical, etc. He also likes to go for a walk to free his thoughts. Michael’s drink of choice is Jack Daniels. Hilarious fact: This interview was conducted over Skype and while the interviewer assumed Michael was sipping water the entire time, it was actually his favorite drink. Tandem skydiving, visiting Dubai, and owning an exotic animal are items on Michael’s bucket list. His son, good people, and complements make Michael smile.

Michael encourages future leaders to:

Always… be aware of where you are and who you’re with. Always be aware of what you represent, you never know who is watching you. There are many opportunities you can take advantage of if you’re aware of your surroundings so always smile, say hi, and be courteous.
Never… agree to something just because it’s there or take the first opportunity.
Follow… the guidance and counsel of those you trust and believe in. Also follow your heart and best judgment.


Connect with Michael:
Twitter: @YoungDegree
Instagram: youngdegree

Rev. Damon Williams, Ph.D: Senior Pastor & Professor

“As a leader, you must find ways to revive yourself. Your cup will get empty and your battery will get low. You have to revive, renew, and recharge.” –Dr. Damon Williams

     Rev. Damon P. Williams, Ph.D. serves as the Senior Pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga. He’s also on the academic faculty, as a part-time professor, in the industrial and systems engineering department at Georgia Tech.

     Yes, leading students and a congregation require a special skill set. Damon received a B.S in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Georgia Tech. Then he went to the University of Michigan where he received his M.S and Ph.D. in Industrial & Operations Engineering. Next, he attended Columbia Theological Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity in Theology/Theological Studies.

     Staying in school for fourteen consecutive years required a plethora of self-motivation and stick-to-itiveness. Damon listed some of the barriers that many minorities face when they do not know someone who has pursued a higher degree. The only people he knew pursuing a Ph.D. were in his program. This barrier motivated Damon. He’s constantly driven by the ancestors he’s met and those he hasn’t. Damon knows that those ancestors could only dream about many of the opportunities he has taken advantage of. Damon aspires to help the youth professionally and spiritually and he serves as an example for those that aspire to get an advanced degree.

     Growing up Damon was able to watch his parents take on executive leadership roles for his home state of Maryland and the federal government. His parent’s example served as an inspiration for Damon. Damon also discussed his JV basketball coach who believed that people do not know the maximum they can give. His coach encouraged the athletes to reach further than they imagined. Anyone who has seen Damon in action as a softball coach knows he has the same philosophy. One of his favorite things to do is quote the movie “300” to help motivate his teammates.

     Damon worked in corporate America for one summer which led him to choose the path of academia. As a professor he has the opportunity to work with colleagues that are the best in their field. This level of excellence pushes him to be his best. The path to pastoring was not as clear. Damon felt called to minister in 2005. However, he did not know that would lead to being a pastor. Damon remarked, “When God calls, you go.”

     Damon’s leadership skills are ever evolving, at the center is always the example of Jesus. Damon is truly a servant leader who leads by example. Anything he asks of others, he is also willing to do including staying overnight at the youth lock-in.

     Not only does Damon set high expectations for himself, but he also wants the best for those around him. He describes his expectations as ridiculous. Damon declared, “I love hard, and then I have extremely high expectations.” He rallies around those around him and encourages people to reach new heights. As a leader Damon casts the vision and then attempts to tap into what motivates each individual.

     Damon encourages students to make sure they take school seriously, but also have some fun. Damon was the type of student who wanted to break the curve. He would continue studying even when he knew he would receive an A because a 100 would be even better. He has not counted out going back to school. If he does, he would love to get a degree in Counseling because he uses those skills daily. He feels they should teach counseling and conflict management in seminary.

     Damon is one of the busiest people you will encounter. When he does have time to relax, he likes to watch television or a quality romantic comedy. He would also like to go get massages more often. Some of his bucket list items include traveling to more international locations, having a daughter and singing with Boys II Men. Yes, Damon is also a jokester who loves to laugh. His one year-old son Thomas and wife Khalia keep a smile on his face.



Damon encourages future leaders to:
Always… have a vision and plan. Grow thick skin. Find ways to revive yourself.
Never… respond publicly to something that should be kept private. Never behave unethically.
Follow… your passions, if the fire stops burning, it’s time to move on. If you’re a Christian, remember to follow the Bible.

Connect with Damon:
Providence Website:
Providence Facebook:
Providence Instagram: providenceatl

Sophia Franklin, Behavioral Health Coordinator

     Sophia Franklin, LCSW received her Bachelor’s in Social Work from Mississippi State University and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Southern Mississippi. She currently works at Mercy Care in Atlanta Georgia as the Behavioral Health Coordinator.

     Sophia always knew she wanted to help others, but was unsure what form that would take. She first remembers leading and managing a crisis at ten years old after being involved in a car accident. Sophia recalls wanting to help calm everyone down and reminding her family of the silver lining; no one got hurt. In college, she wanted to become a physical therapist, until it was dissection day. One of her professors inspired her to pursue social work, and she has continued excelling along that path since.

     Today, society is increasingly becoming more aware of the value of social workers and those working in behavioral health. When Sophia first started working in social work, many people were not invested in the field. It was difficult for her to find internships and many people did not know the variety of career opportunities that existed. Sophia pressed on despite the barriers because she knew social work would allow her to impact society.

     Sophia would not make any changes if she could start her career over again. She feels that everything has been divinely ordained and worked out as it should. Each situation has helped sharpen her skills and prepared her for the future. Achieving goals, no matter the size keep Sophia motivated. Her family and the desire to help them have a comfortable life also inspire her. The impact that she can have on a client’s lives motivates her daily.

     Sophia has a plethora of memories and stories about clients that have affected her personally. She remarked that “each client has taught me more about myself as a clinician and person.” Sophia recommends always putting the clients first. In the past, she hasn’t taken no for an answer when it comes to what’s best for her clients. Her drive prompted her to be fearless and innovative.

     Sophia told a story about a client who shall be called “Jim”. Jim always made sure that Sophia said hello every time they saw each other. When he passed away, Sophia was devastated. However, she was happy she was able to provide solace for his family. She helped the family in setting up a service, and there is still a plaque today at her former workplace in memory of Jim.

     If you have the opportunity to work with Sophia, expect to feel comfortable as if you have known her forever. While she no longer has a couch in her office, in the past coworkers and clients would come sit down on her couch to discuss their problems. Sophia welcomes vulnerability. She strives to be a laid back leader and values open communication, transparency, and honesty.

     Nurturing and caregiving came naturally to Sophia, even before she had two children of her own. She wants all caregivers to remember that they have to take care of themselves as well. Sophia knows for those in the helping profession self-care often comes last. She wishes there was a class offered for social work students on self-care to teach people how to manage stressful situations.

     To take care of herself, Sophia enjoys watching reality television to relax. It is a time for her to unwind and doesn’t require thinking or processing. Her son’s, Stokely and Langston as well as her nephew, Tristan and niece, Nyla keep her smiling. One day she would love to take a trip to see the beauty of Hawaii.

Sophia encourages future leaders to:
Always… remember employees are people first.
Never… discredit someone’s idea.
Follow… your heart. Also, think about how you would like to be treated, and treat others in that manner.

Connect with Sophia: