40 under 40 Panel: A Message to My Younger Self

Join UGA 40 under 40 Grady honorees Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ‘08), Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04), Marie Broder (ABJ ’06, AB ‘06, JD ‘10), Bowen Shoemaker (ABJ ‘06) and Brittany Thoms (ABJ ‘04) as they discuss what they have learned in their early career success and what they wish they had known when they were students. Grady Ambassador and public relations major Meagan Perry will moderate the discussion.

Complimentary Chick-fil-A breakfast will be served beginning at 10 a.m. The panel discussion begins at 10:15 a.m. Masks are highly recommended at indoor events.

Friday, September 10 from 10-11:15 in the Studio 100.

Learn more about our honorees at our Instagram page.

 

40 under 40 Honoree Profile: Angela Alfano

Seven Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Profiles of several can be found after this feature. Grady College alumni honored in 2021 include:

  • Angela Alfano (ABJ ’10, AB ’10)
  • Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08)
  • Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04)
  • Marie Greene Broder (ABJ ’06, AB ’06, JD ’10)
  • Bowen Reichert Shoemaker (ABJ ’06)
  • Brittany Thoms (ABJ ’04)
  • Raquel D. Willis (ABJ ’13)

We are proud of their successes and are pleased to highlight them in their own words.

Angela Alfano is the senior director of corporate communications at Major League Soccer. She used her Grady College public relations education and experience with UGA Athletics sports communications to embark on a trailblazing career. Alfano has also worked in corporate communications for the National Football League, Washington Football Team and Tough Mudder. She regularly shares her time and expertise with current UGA students. Alfano was our 2019 John E. Drewry Young Alumni Award winner.

Grady College: What lessons learned from your time as a Grady College student have most helped you succeed in your professional life?
Alfano is one of the communications leaders behind Major League Soccer, one of the fast growing leagues in American sports. (photo submitted)

Alfano: “Grady College and professors set the standard of excellence in journalism and mass communications. The lessons learned are endless and the network Grady has developed is priceless. Grady taught me to be a ferocious consumer of media, to focus on developing exceptional written communication skills, to be passionate about your profession, and to positively impact your community. Grady taught me that details matter; and first impressions in any form of communication sets the tone for how that information is received by your intended audience. Make the effort and do it right the first time.”

GC: What advice would you give to your 20-year old self? 

Alfano: “Be confident in your abilities, yet coachable, and do not be intimidated by your new surroundings or workplace. If you have something of value to add, don’t be afraid to speak up; but don’t talk just to be heard. Above all, maintain and follow your personal moral compass; and don’t let others lead you to compromise it. When colleagues realize you have high standards, they will respect you more. And one of my favorite pieces of advice … keep lacing up those cleats, popping on those high heels, and keep shattering glass ceilings.”

GC: What motivates you? 

Alfano: “Reimagining ways to communicate important narratives and strategically place stories motivates me daily. Finding innovative ways to cut through the clutter, garner positive publicity, and highlight the business behind my organization’s brand inspires me. I’m also extremely committed to positively impacting the next generation of sports PR executives, championing the new wave of leadership in the industry, and serving as an accessible mentor to many colleagues across all areas of sports business. On a very personal note, this September my husband, Mike, and I are expecting our first child (can you say baby Bulldawg!). I hope to inspire our baby, and others, to give back, dream big and work hard to achieve your goals – even during life’s new chapters such as becoming a ‘working mom.’”

GC: What skill(s) or advice should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers? 

Alfano:: “Below are my four core pieces of advice to free agents – young alumni or graduates – for success early in their careers:

  • Experience is your currency in any industry, especially sports. Internships are synonymous with interviews and can be the pipeline into full-time jobs.
  • Personal branding. You are unique. Find and define your “it” factor.
  • Executive presence. Pair incredible work ethic and professionalism with developing leadership skills to be positioned as a young executive.
  • Informational interviews. The opportunity to connect with influential leaders in any industry is a game changer. Build your network while you parallel crafting your skillset.

“Now, get out there, cultivate your real-world experience, develop those industry relationships, and jumpstart your career!”

Alfano credits the foundation of her communications career to lessons learned in UGA sports communications. This is her and her co-workers in 2009. (Photo submitted)
GC: What is your favorite place on UGA’s campus? 

Alfano: “Between the Hedges. Sanford Stadium holds such a special place in my heart. Not only is it home to our beloved Georgia Bulldawgs, but it is also the football field and press box where my sports PR career began. As an undergrad student media assistant, the foundation of my career began while working for Claude Felton, Loran Smith Senior Associate Athletic Director, and Mike Mobley, Associate Sports Communications Director, in UGA’s Sports Information Department. Claude and Mike generously mentored me throughout my time at UGA and both had a profound impact on my career. From setting up press boxes and interfacing with media, to writing game notes and working on media guides, they taught me valuable lessons that I utilize to this day. Most importantly, they taught me what it is like to be a great leader, to give back to the next generation of students, and to treat your co-workers like family.”

40 under 40 Honoree Profile: Brittany Thoms

Seven Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Profiles of several can be found after this feature. Grady College alumni honored in 2021 include:

  • Angela Alfano (ABJ ’10, AB ’10)
  • Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08)
  • Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04)
  • Marie Greene Broder (ABJ ’06, AB ’06, JD ’10)
  • Bowen Reichert Shoemaker (ABJ ’06)
  • Brittany Thoms (ABJ ’04)
  • Raquel D. Willis (ABJ ’13)

We are proud of their successes and are pleased to highlight them in their own words.

Brittany Thoms is the co-founder and president of See.Spark.Go, an Athens-based public relations agency. She and her husband, Andy Thoms (BSFCS ’02), founded See.Spark.Go in 2007 with the goal of telling the best stories in the world. They specialize in publicity, social media and digital marketing. Their team has worked with some of the nation’s largest brands on many successful campaigns and events.

Brittany Thoms and her husband, Andy, combined their passions of storytelling and entrepreneurship in Athens, the city that brought them together in the first place. (photo submitted).
Grady College: What advice would you give to your 20-year old self?

Brittany Thoms: “Every step has a domino effect. Do the very best with what’s right in front of you, and you’ll be surprised what doors will open. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand, ask for opportunity and look for it at every turn. The greatest way to “do your own PR” is to show up, be enthusiastic and work hard. Results come from doing the work, so find your motivation and get after it!”

GC: What motivates you?

Thoms: “One of our early employees would wear cheetah print and put on pink lipstick every Thursday. She called it ‘sassy Thursday’ and it motivated her to make the most of every minute pitching PR stories for clients. I kinda love that… What motivates me is seeing everyone around me succeed. We love celebrating “wins and wows” at SSG, and I literally get giddy when we get client feedback that says, “Perfect!” “That was awesome!” or “Thank you!” When you make a difference in someone else’s life, it’s motivating. Seeing your client in the news? Or grow in new ways because of a strategy you recommended? That’s highly motivating to do it again. I call it a natural high, and it’s so real!”

GC What skill(s) should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers?

Thoms: “I’ve realized over the past couple of decades that everything is public relations, and even more-so, everything is communications. Learn to communicate, how others like to receive information, how to write a client email, build a pitch deck, sell an idea, present at a board meeting, etc. My friend and HR mentor, Courtney Rhodes, calls it, “Executive Presence.” As a young alum, build skills that impress decision-makers–confidence, poise, grace, handshakes, look people in the eye and do a darn good job. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s. Be impressive because you care. Using good grammar means you care about your reader. Those things get noticed.”

One of Thoms’ mantras is “enthusiasm wins.” (photo submitted)
GC: How has your field evolved since your graduation to now?

Thoms: “Drastically! When I graduated in 2004, the New Media Certificate program was just getting off the ground. I didn’t even have a Twitter account. My phone was a Motorola Razor (flip phone) and my first desk donned a Gateway desktop computer. I will never forget running out to get a Starbucks and somewhat sweating over whether or not that important email had come through or not. The 15 minute hiatus from email was too much to bear! Nowadays, I wish I could simply “turn it all off.” One thing to note, however, is that the 24-hour news cycle, the endless scrolling of social media, the ability to engage an audience through relevant influencers and the evolving “citizen journalism,” has only made our industry more impactful, more ever-present, and a given line item on any marketing budget. Navigating the media landscape may be a little crazier, but the opportunities are endless, and I love that. Be creative!”

GC: How has the network of Grady College alumni helped you professionally?

Thoms: “I love staying in touch with former professors and even speaking at a few classes now and then, but I treasure the network of Grady in many more ways. Some of our biggest decisions in business have come at the counsel of fellow alumni. From understanding the “product” of public relations to successfully communicating ROI, to best practices in hiring and creating an engaged culture, Grady really does produce the best of the best of the best.”

40 under 40 Honoree Profile: Bowen Reichert Shoemaker


Join us for a panel discussion
“A Message to My Younger Self”
featuring five of our 40 under 40 nominees.
Friday, Sept. 10
10 a.m. • Studio 100
Due to limited capacity, reservations are required by Sept. 7 to ugagrady@gmail.com
Guests are encouraged to wear masks.

Seven Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Profiles of several can be found after this feature. Grady College alumni honored in 2021 include:

  • Angela Alfano (ABJ ’10, AB ’10)
  • Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08)
  • Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04)
  • Marie Greene Broder (ABJ ’06, AB ’06, JD ’10)
  • Bowen Reichert Shoemaker (ABJ ’06)
  • Brittany Thoms (ABJ ’04)
  • Raquel D. Willis (ABJ ’13)

We are proud of their successes and are pleased to highlight them in their own words.

Elizabeth “Bowen” Reichert Shoemaker (ABJ ’06) is an assistant United States attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a position she has held since 2018. Previously, she was a senior associate at Alston & Bird, LLP and a law clerk to the Honorable Hugh Lawson. While at UGA, she majored in public relations and was active with the Honors Program and The Arch Society. Shoemaker earned her J.D. at Mercer Law School where she served as editor-in-chief of the Law Review. In her hometown of Macon, Shoemaker serves on the executive board of the Macon Rotary Club, as an adjunct professor at Mercer Law School and on the executive committee of the Macon Arts Alliance.

Grady College: What lessons learned from your time as a Grady College student have most helped you succeed in your professional life?

Bowen Shoemaker: My time at Grady taught me the true value of teamwork. As a public relations major, many of our projects were group-based, and through those projects, I learned about team dynamics and working with all different personality types. I’ve carried those lessons with me throughout my professional career and I’m grateful that I learned how to work effectively with other people towards a common goal.

GC: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Shoemaker: My advice to myself (at any age, really) would be this: Be where your feet are. I think we often get so caught up in where we think we want to go that we forget to enjoy where we are. I would tell myself to enjoy each step of the journey. When you let go of expectations, you start enjoying the present and you are naturally preparing yourself for the next step – even when you don’t know exactly what that step will be. If you consistently work hard and treat people with kindness and sincerity, your journey will take you exactly where you need to go.

GC: What motivates you?
Bowen Shoemaker and her family at a ball game.
Bowen, pictured with her husband, Matt, and children, Elizabeth Allan and Phillips, says she tries to cheer at every tee-ball game and bake every birthday cake for her children. “Maintaining that balance is a proud accomplishment.”

Shoemaker: My biggest motivator is my family, especially my two young children (Phillips, 5; and Elizabeth Allan, 3). I work hard to try to ensure that the world is a little bit better for them and their generation. My work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney is motivated by wanting to work towards higher principles like gender equality, service above self, and dedication to community and country—all of which have the potential to make a lasting impact for future generations.

GC: What skill(s) should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers?

Shoemaker: I think the key to success is relationships. I have long said that I don’t always know the right answer, but I know the person who does know the answer! By investing in other people – getting to know them, working with them, and genuinely investing in relationships – you can develop meaningful connections that will help you throughout your career. So, be kind to your classmates and colleagues – you never know when your paths will cross later.

GC: What is your favorite place on UGA’s campus?

Shoemaker: Sanford Stadium, of course!

GC: What do you miss most about being at UGA?

Shoemaker: I miss being in a university setting with so many other students who are there just to learn, explore, and develop their unique skill sets and interests. As a UGA student you have access to so many incredible things – music, sports, art, food, culture – and you can learn about anything you want. The pleasure and privilege of that freedom to learn and control your schedule based on your interests is something I miss. Of course I also miss the best friends I met in college. And I miss Last Resort too!

40 Under 40 honoree profile: Greg Bluestein


Join us for a panel discussion
“A Message to My Younger Self”
featuring five of our 40 under 40 nominees.
Friday, Sept. 10
10 a.m. • Studio 100
Due to limited capacity, reservations are required by Sept. 7 to ugagrady@gmail.com
Guests are encouraged to wear masks.

Seven Grady College graduates are represented in this year’s UGA Alumni Association 40 under 40 class. Profiles of several can be found after this feature. Grady College alumni honored in 2021 include:

  • Angela Alfano (ABJ ’10, AB ’10)
  • Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08)
  • Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04)
  • Marie Greene Broder (ABJ ’06, AB ’06, JD ’10)
  • Bowen Reichert Shoemaker (ABJ ’06)
  • Brittany Thoms (ABJ ’04)
  • Raquel D. Willis (ABJ ’13)

We are proud of their successes and are pleased to highlight them in their own words.

Greg Bluestein accepts Young Alumni Award from Dean Davis
Greg Bluestein accepts the Young Alumni Award from Dean Charles Davis in April 2014.

Greg Bluestein (ABJ ’04, AB ’04) is a political reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As a political reporter, Bluestein covers the governor’s office and state politics. He joined the newspaper in June 2012 after spending seven years with the Atlanta bureau of The Associated Press, where he covered a range of beats including politics and legal affairs. He contributes to the AJC’s Political Insider blog and is writing a book, “How the Peach State turned Purple,” about the 2020 Georgia elections. He discussed the publication process, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and identifying local angles in national stories in this episode of The Lead podcast.

Bluestein received the College’s John E. Drewry Young Alumni Award in 2014, and he was the Spring 2021 Grady Convocation speaker.

Grady College: What lessons learned from your time as a Grady College student have most helped you succeed in your professional life?

Greg Bluestein: I learned that absolutely nothing beats experience. I was so glad to take advantage of the opportunities that Grady College and UGA afforded me: the chance to work for The Red & Black, interview presidential candidates and U.S. senators, travel to Washington for symposiums and get right into the thick of practicing journalism. My academic experience helped prepare me for internships across the nation, and positioned me to land fulfilling professional work after graduating.

GC: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Bluestein: I would tell myself that it’s OK not to land your dream job out of college. That building a career is a construction project that starts with a foundation and goes up from there. Just because you’re not where you want to be at 22 doesn’t mean you’ve somehow fallen flat. Oh, and to keep enjoying college. My four years at UGA really were some of the best of my life.

GC: Is there a piece of advice from one of your Grady College professors that still guides you today?

Bluestein: The late, great Conrad Fink always reminded us to think of “the little old lady in Keokuk.” He wanted his students to remember that our work has a vast impact, shaping the views of people we may never meet. Fink also taught his legions of students a code of ethics and standards that we strive to abide by. I still think WWFD — What Would Fink Do — when I’m confronted with a tough decision or prickly situation.

Conrad Fink and Greg Bluestein
Conrad Fink and Greg Bluestein ca. 2004. (Photo: submitted)
GC: How has your field evolved since your graduation to now?

Bluestein: It’s hard to keep up with how many ways journalism is evolving! I graduated with a newspapers degree — something that doesn’t exist anymore. These days, I host podcasts, headline weekly radio shows, appear on national TV, post blog stories and curate a newsletter in addition to my regular job writing for the newspaper. That’s not to mention the surge of social media that’s constantly challenging and changing my field. I may not have learned the art of TikTok at Grady, but I learned how to adapt to whatever comes my way.

GC: How has the network of Grady College alumni helped you professionally?

Bluestein: Just about everywhere I go in the professional world, I’ve been helped by the UGA network. At one of my first jobs at The Associated Press, a legion of Grady alums guided my career. Likewise at the AJC, where a proud cohort of Grady grads are in key roles at the newspaper. Now our generation is grateful to serve as mentors to the next class of Grady students coming up.


Greg Bluestein shares Conrad Fink’s lesson about “the little old lady from Keokuk,” along with other advice in the 2021 Spring Convocation address, delivered digitally due COVID-19.

40 Under 40 honoree profile: Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08)


Join us for a panel discussion “A Message to My Younger Self” with five of our 40 under 40 nominees.
Friday, Sept. 10
10 a.m. • Studio 100
Due to limited capacity, reservations are required by Sept. 7 to ugagrady@gmail.com.
Guests are encouraged to wear facemasks.

Our College alumni represent seven of the UGA Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40.

We are proud of their successes and are thrilled to highlight them in their own words.

Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ ’08) is an anchor and reporter for 11 Alive News in Atlanta.

 

How has your field evolved since your graduation to now?

Bellamy: “Local television news has changed a lot since I graduated 13 years ago. Those changes seemed to accelerate almost as soon as I entered the field. Not only has digital content become a bigger part of a reporter’s role, but social media has become a major part of doing our job as well. Reporters are now expected to shoot, write, edit and present their stories, but they’re also often expected to write digital versions as well for their station’s website. Beyond that while you’re gathering content for a story, or otherwise going about your day, reporters and anchors are expected and encouraged to post on various social media sites. That can include the stories you’re working on that day or in the future, but also personal information as well. My company has also placed an emphasis on creative shooting and storytelling, as we look for more ways to engage our viewers. That can also involve using new technology, beyond a standard camera to capture video and sound. It can also mean finding innovative ways to use our editing tools. Our industry is constantly evolving.”

 

What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

Bellamy has been a journalist for multiple television stations around the south.

Bellamy: “If I could give advice to my 20-year-old self, I’d say continue to be yourself, don’t doubt who you are and a no isn’t a never. It can be difficult not to compare your experience to that of others, especially in TV News, but I’d tell my younger self, and anyone reading this, that who you are is enough, and even when it feels like it isn’t, it might be for a good reason. That job, that opportunity, that position that you think is perfect, might not be for you! There’s something better out there that will reveal itself at the right time. That brings me to the “no isn’t a never,” a phrase that, for me, goes hand in hand with “one person’s ‘no’ might be someone else’s ‘yes’.” In life, the person making a hiring decision may not like something about you, but that might be the thing that lands you a position with someone else. Just because one new director doesn’t want to give you a shot, doesn’t mean another won’t. Always look for the right fit, at the right time and go with your gut — you can’t go wrong!”

 

Is there a piece of advice from one of your Grady College professors that still guides you today?

 

Bellamy: “My Grady professors were adamant about getting things right, being fair and leaving yourself out of the story. Those principles still guide me and our colleges throughout the journalism industry today, and always will. They’re even more important now in the age of social media and the internet, when people can post and publish inaccurate content, and the race to be first can lead to problems. People’s trust in journalism has been shaken lately, so clinging to those standards is the way to earn it back and be a true advocate for our audiences and communities.”

 

How has the network of Grady College alumni helped you professionally?

Bellamy says the mediums for the job have added a digital component, but the core principles of journalism are steadfast.

 

Bellamy: “The Grady College network of alumni has not only been a source of pride for me, since becoming a Grady Grad myself, but it’s also helped me along in my career. I can name several people who took the time to mentor and guide me in the process of trying to land my first job in TV News. Those same people were also there to help me try and advance my career when I looked to move to the next level as well. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have jobs where there was at least one fellow Grady Grad on the team. It’s great having someone like that to build an instant connection with, knowing they’ve had a similar experience to you and can be a source for guidance or support. It also doesn’t hurt having someone else to cheer on the Dawgs with, especially when you’re living outside of Georgia. Having had those interactions myself, I’ve tried to share that same experience and encouragement to current UGA students, recent Grady Grads, and new colleagues.”

 

What skill(s) should graduates and young alumni have for success early in their careers?

Bellamy: “Self-confidence, a willingness to learn and an ability to make connections are skills that I think graduates and young alumni should have for success. If I could do anything over in my career, it would be putting in more work into making connections within my industry and cultivating those relationships. Networking well with others opens so many doors for growth and career development, but you also make good friends and mentors along the way as well. It also drives your desire to give back and help the next generation, like others helped you.”

40 under 40 honoree: Mikaya Thurmond (ABJ ’12)

Grady College is proud to have four alumni recognized as 2020 40 under 40 honorees, presented by the University of Georgia Alumni Association.

The 40 under 40 distinction recognizes the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of UGA graduates under the age of 40.

This interview with Mikaya Thurmond (ABJ ’12), anchor/reporter at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, is one of a series of conversations with Grady’s honorees this year. Other honorees are:

Ashley McMaster (ABJ ’12)
Eric Jones (ABJ ’12)
Jamelia Outlaw Smith (ABJ ’03)

Grady College: What experience during your time in college had the biggest influence on where you are today?

Thurmond: “I began working as a tour leader at the UGA Visitor’s Center in my freshman year and it had a tremendous impact on me. By the time I graduated, I led thousands of guests on tours and honed an incredible set of skills. Most impactfully, I learned the importance of showing up with a smile to my job every day because guests relied on me to have the best experience possible. I’m also grateful to have spent hundreds of hours public speaking, which refined my presentation skills as a journalist. I would not have traded that experience for anything.”

Grady College: What advice do you have for current students?

Thurmond says she is most motivated by her faith. (photo submitted)

Thurmond: “Your time at the University of Georgia will be one of the best eras of your life, so HAVE MORE FUN! There is nothing more important than connecting with your classmates and investing in the campus community during this time. Those relationships will be invaluable after graduation. Enjoy them now.”

Grady College: What skill that you have mastered would you tell your college-aged self to practice?

Thurmond: “You must watch the news. When I was a student, I remember my Grady College professors encouraging me to make news consumption a part of my daily homework. In this career, you need to have a vast understanding of the most unimaginable topics. Knowledgeability is paramount for your success in this industry. You cannot be unprepared.”

Grady College: What motivates you?

Thurmond: “I’m most motivated by my faith. I believe that each person has been put on this earth to live out God’s purpose for their life. My calling is to bring as much light into the world as possible. With my platform as a local newscaster, I have an opportunity to be a bright spot for someone. I push myself each day to show up as a good steward in some way.”

Grady College: What was your vision for your career? Have you followed this path?

Thurmond: “My vision for my career has always been unconventional. Growing up, my parents encouraged me to simply follow whatever path makes me happiest. I am blessed that I’ve never had to compromise on that goal. When you do what makes you happy, going to your job never feels like “work.”

Thurmond speaks at a community function. (photo submitted)

Grady College: What did you love most about your time at UGA?

Thurmond: “In my time at UGA, I loved that was so close to my extended family. Athens is home to my dad’s side of the family. For all four years, I really appreciated that I was always less than 10 minutes away from one of my 8 aunts and uncles—not to mention my dozens of cousins!”

40 under 40 honoree: Jamelia Outlaw Smith (ABJ ’03)

Grady College is proud to have four alumni recognized as 2020 40 under 40 honorees, presented by the University of Georgia Alumni Association.

The 40 under 40 distinction recognizes the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of UGA graduates under the age of 40.

This interview with Jamelia Outlaw Smith (ABJ ’03), director of diversity and inclusion at Cox Enterprises, is one of a series of conversations with Grady’s honorees this year. Other honorees are:

Ashley McMaster (ABJ ’12)
Eric Jones (ABJ ’12)
Mikaya Thurmond (ABJ ’12)

Grady College: What experience during your time in college had the biggest influence on where you are today?

Smith: “I’ll choose two experiences. My time as a resident assistant in Creswell Hall–yes, I chose to stay in Creswell for an extra two years–and my summer as an orientation leader. These experiences had an incredible impact on where I am today because these jobs reinforced my love for guiding and directing the experiences of young people and my interest in making an impact. As both a resident assistant and orientation leader, I was the first introduction both parents and students had to the University of Georgia. In a small way, I hope I was able to shape their experience in a positive way. Throughout my career, I’ve always been able to guide and support employees and members of the community, and I think much of that comes from my early days at UGA.”

Grady College: What advice do you have for current students?

Smith: “Don’t rush it! Everyone is in such a hurry to finish school and move on with their lives. That’s definitely how I felt while I was there. Now, looking back almost 20 years later, I wish I had slowed down a bit and enjoyed the experience more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging students to spend five or six years in school. But just enjoy this moment in your life and find some way to leave Athens and UGA a better place than when you found it.”

Grady College: How has your UGA community helped you in your career?

Smith: “UGA grads are everywhere! There isn’t a place I can go where I can’t strike up a conversation about Georgia football or something else happening at UGA. This has been invaluable during my career. I started off in sales, and as a young African American woman, I sometimes struggled to find commonalities amongst my clients. Then I discovered animals and alma maters. People love to talk about their pets and their college football teams. Thanks, UGA, for always giving me something to talk about!”

Grady College: What was your vision for your career? Have you followed this path?

Smith: “This is a great question. I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve always been open to the next big adventure! What I do know is that as I get older, I gain more clarity about who I am, what I need and what type of work fills my cup. My vision was to always have a job where I can give more than I take. If you asked me if I have followed this path, I would say that yes, most of the roles I’ve had I’ve been able to leave a bigger footprint than I’ve taken and for that I’m grateful.”

Jamelia Outlaw Smith and her family on a beach vacation together
Smith, her husband and two children take a selfie together on vacation. Hard work means balancing life as a professional and parent.

Grady College: How have unprecedented times in 2020 challenged your work as a professional?

Smith: “Well since you asked–LOL! My husband and I each have a full-time job and two small kids at home. We are no different from many families that struggled to be full-time while maintaining our sanity and our careers. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve relied a lot on my faith and the grace of God to get us through this difficult season. In June, we were dealt another blow following the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that followed. As a diversity and inclusion professional, this impacted me directly and I have never been busier. The work is hard and heavy and while I don’t sleep much these days, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help create real change, even if that happens one company at a time!”

Grady College: What did you love most about your time at UGA?

Smith: “ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING! On a more serious note: friends who turned into family, football and the food. Yes, I loved the late night pizza at Snelling.”

40 under 40 honoree: Eric Jones (ABJ ’12)

Grady College is proud to have four alumni recognized as 2020 40 under 40 honorees, presented by the University of Georgia Alumni Association.

The 40 under 40 distinction recognizes the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of UGA graduates under the age of 40.

This interview with Eric Jones (ABJ ’12), entertainment booker and producer for ABC’s Good Morning America, is one of a series of conversations with Grady’s honorees this year. Other honorees are:

Ashley McMaster (ABJ ’12)
Jamelia Outlaw Smith (ABJ ’03)
Mikaya Thurmond (ABJ ’12)

Grady College: What experience during your time in college had the biggest influence on where you are today?

Jones: “I would without a doubt have to say my experience as a White House Intern in Spring 2011 for the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama forever changed my life and helped mold me into the man I am today. As a young Black man literally going from Vidalia, Georgia to the White House…it is something I sometimes have to stop and let sink in sometimes. These were the best six months of my life. Managing volunteers and retired dedicated citizens as we helped support one of the most influential First Ladies of our time, flagging incoming correspondence to Mrs. Obama for her speechwriting team, and staffing East Wing and Social Office events — were all hallmarks of my time there. Not only did I do incredible work, I learned so much about myself, meeting people and showing them my true authentic self without fear or shame. Although it took me off of campus and out of Athens for a semester, what I gained and made up for in terms of career advancement and life experiences was immeasurable.”

Grady College: What advice do you have for current students?

Jones: “I would tell current students to not be afraid of putting in the work. Nothing great or worthwhile comes without trials or tribulations. It’s very easy to fall into complacency with where you’ve gotten or what you’ve accomplished thus far, but keep going and continue setting an authentic and realistic yet quality standard for yourself that is parallel to no one else. There’s only one YOU!”

Grady College: What motivates you?

Jones: “It may be an unexpected answer, but honestly…pressure. My favorite quote is ‘Pressure is a Privilege,’ a line from tennis legend Billie Jean King. And although that quote was meant to characterize those intense moments on the court facing off against a formidable opponent, I take those words and apply it to the situations that happen in my life, at work, etc. The opportunity to perform, thrive and succeed under pressure is a privilege. And it is an honor to be in that position and to have that level of responsibility and expectation to pull through and overcome. It’s a guiding principle for me that continually drives and motivates me.”

Jones jokes with singer Ciara during her appearance to announce American Music Award nominations on Good Morning America in 2017.

Grady College: What was your vision for your career? Have you followed this path?

Jones: “Believe it or not, my original career vision was not to be on the red carpets and traveling the world with the most famous stars like Will Smith, The Rock and Helen Mirren. I actually thought I wanted to be a pharmacist! I volunteered at my local hospital pharmacy in Vidalia, Georgia, worked at a local pharmacy and also served as a member of a Medical Staff Youth Advisory Board. Obviously, I did not follow that path in the end. I’m beyond thankful that I listened to myself and made the decision to follow my heart and my passion in entertainment and television. As a young kid, I was always the one watching E!, shouting out and identifying every celebrity on carpets and award shows. It was second nature to me! I remember at UGA freshman orientation coming to that realization that I have always enjoyed connecting with people and was always enamored with TV and entertainment. And here I am today.”

Grady College: What do you envision for your professional journey moving forward?

Jones: “I envision more ownership and visibility in what I do. Personal and professional branding have become increasingly vital to my success as an entertainment producer. As much as the two are married, I look forward to reaching new and expected heights while setting the bar higher and higher for myself.”

Grady College: What did you love most about your time at UGA?

Jones: “I loved the people. I valued my friends who then became my family and continue to be to this day. Life-changing faculty, professors and advisors helped influence the young professional I am right now. I am forever indebted to every life that touched mine in a positive way over the course of my four years at UGA.”

40 under 40 honoree: Ashley McMaster (ABJ ’06)

Grady College is proud to have four alumni recognized as 2020 40 under 40 honorees, presented by the University of Georgia Alumni Association.

The 40 under 40 distinction recognizes the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of UGA graduates under the age of 40.

This interview with Ashley McMaster (ABJ ’06), vice president of membership and development at America’s Essential Hospitals, is one of a series of conversations with Grady’s honorees this year. Other honorees are:

Eric Jones (ABJ ’12)
Jamelia Outlaw Smith (ABJ ’03)
Mikaya Thurmond (ABJ ’12)

Grady College: What experience during your time in college had the biggest influence on where you are today?

McMaster: “The decision to walk into the Grady career services office had the biggest influence on where I am today. I knew I wanted to start my career anywhere but Georgia – and a big city was my ideal. Before talking with Cecil Bentley, Grady College’s former director of external relations, my search had been focused in Atlanta because I wasn’t sure where to start, and I knew I needed a job by graduation. This was 2006, and Internet job searches were still relatively novel. Cecil had access to job postings that I never would have found. One of those positions was at SmartBrief, a digital media company based in Washington, D.C. Cecil encouraged me to apply despite my knowing very little about the city; I got the job and have been in Washington ever since.”

Grady College: What advice do you have for current students?

McMaster at Homecoming 2005 with Uga. She was at the Grady Alumni Tailgate as part of my Grady Ambassador duties. If you look closely, you can see the Ambassador polo. (photo submitted)

McMaster: ” I give the same three pieces of advice to all college students:

  • Study abroad. I know it’s expensive, which is what prevented me from doing it, but the experience will be worth it. You’ll always be able to pay it back later, and there are scholarships available if you can’t manage to find the money. In fact, my husband and I recently endowed a scholarship at UGA for this exact purpose — Bobby Friedmann Passport Terry Scholarship.
  • Get to know your professors. Each semester, pick at least one professor and get to know him or her on a first-name basis. These relationships are invaluable when you want to know more about the subject, require a letter of recommendation for grad school or need a professional introduction. It will enrich your educational experience and pay dividends in your career.
  • Go to class. As with most of life, half the effort is just showing up. Also, you’re a student, so treat class like it’s your job. You’ll learn more, get to know your classmates and develop discipline. And if you find you absolutely hate the class … deal with it? Most of adulthood is suffering through stuff you don’t really want to do.

Oh, and one other thing: ditch your high school boyfriend/girlfriend. You don’t need the baggage, and there are so many people to meet. Trust me on this one.”

 

Grady College: What motivates you?

McMaster: “Helping others. Whether through work, serving on a board, volunteering time, giving money or voting – my motivation is supporting other humans and seeing them succeed, be happier or improve their circumstances (whatever that may be). My husband and I often talk about whom we’d help, and how, if we won the lottery. Until then, though, I’ll keep working hard and being kind to people.”

McMaster teleworks and monitors homeschooling during the pandemic with her son, Marshall, and dog, Wally. She says this is how typical work day in 2020 looks. (photo submitted)

Grady College: What was your vision for your career? Have you followed this path?

McMaster: “I thought I would be a journalist, specifically a writer for Rolling Stone magazine. I did not follow this path. Although I started my career as an editor, it has taken a number of twists and turns. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be a writer or reporter, and I really enjoy my career in membership and development. Regardless, I will always need the writing and editing skills I learned in journalism school. I’m content to have live music be my hobby, if not my career!”

Grady College: How have unprecedented times in 2020 challenged your work as a professional?

McMaster: “I’ve worked fully remotely twice in my career – first, between 2007 and 2009 and again in 2017. What makes 2020 different is that I had just started a new job two weeks before the world went remote. In this position, I manage a team of five people, who I was just getting know, and I work in development, which typically requires travel. Plus, I now have a son, who has been at home doing schoolwork and enjoying way too much television on summer break. All of this has taught me to be more flexible, more discerning in time management, and to build personal relationships with my team beyond our professional goals and day-to-day.”

Grady College: What did you love most about your time at UGA?

McMaster: “The friendships were what I loved most about UGA. Making friends as an adult can be challenging. College is such a special time – you’re out from under your parents, have very little responsibility, and get to spend unchecked amounts of time with your friends to build lasting memories, make mistakes and define who you are and want to be.”