Skip to main content

Columbia Business Monthly

2018 Best and Brightest 35 and Under

Sep 05, 2018 03:12PM ● By Emily Stevenson
The Midlands is home to a host of young professionals who contribute to their community as well as their careers and families. For the past three years, Columbia Business Monthly has honored several of these individuals in our Best and Brightest 35 and Under feature. This year, our recipients were selected based on their corporate accomplishments, as well as their activity in giving back to Columbia.

This year’s Best & Brightest section includes short biographies, written by each winner. Photos were taken at Spirit Communications Park.

Kassy Alia
Founder and CEO | Serve & Connect
Age 31
When my husband, Greg, a police officer with the Forest Acres Police Department, was killed in the line of duty on Sept. 30, 2015, the polarization between police and community deeply impacted me. It left me to wonder if his service and sacrifice were valued. Within hours of his death, I began speaking out, sharing his story and promoting a message of empathy and understanding.
That initial reaction has since grown into a nonprofit organization: Serve & Connect. Our mission is to build community resilience and well-being through transformative police and community partnerships. Our work seeks to promote proactive, collaborative, and prevention-oriented policing. Grounded in empathy, trust, and an appreciation for our shared humanity, we create opportunities for police and community to collaboratively and proactively build safer communities for all.
I am honored by this recognition from Columbia Business Monthly, an award that is not mine alone to cherish. It is awarded to many—spanning police and community—who have believed in a different path forward. This work only matters to the extent that it is driven by diverse voices who have opened their heart to creating solutions together. So, on behalf of all who have shared their stories and vision to make this happen, and specifically to our staff, board, and volunteers, it is a true gift to accept this recognition.
Renee Ballew
LawyerLisa | Associate Attorney
Age 29
I am so excited that my journey as a lawyer is positioning me to become a prominent and productive member in both the legal profession and my community, all while doing so under my terms. Professionally, I am thrilled to work with a firm that encourages creative and progressive thinking. I am able to utilize my creativity in crafting complex estate plans to meet the various needs of my clients. I have also chosen to be involved in community programs, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia and Habitat for Humanity. I hope to act as an example for younger generations as to what a female lawyer can achieve through hard work, determination, and a touch of pizazz. By working hard, remaining true to myself, and having a bit of fun, I am able to provide excellent service to my clients and build long-lasting relationships in the community.
Thank you to everyone who has helped along my journey thus far. I am honored to be selected as a recipient of Columbia Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under. I truly appreciate the bragging rights I will have at this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.
Brett H. Bayne
McAngus Goudelock & Courie | Attorney
Age 31
Born and raised in Texas, I arrived in South Carolina when I began law school at the University of South Carolina in 2008. After graduation, I was blessed to work as a judicial law clerk for Judge G. Thomas Cooper. Following that formative year, I joined McAngus Goudelock & Courie, where I do defense litigation and trial work. I was named to Midlands Legal Elite in 2017 and 2018 and SuperLawyers Rising Stars in 2018. I am overly humbled for the recognition I’ve received for successful case and client outcomes. I owe my accomplishments to the trust my mentors have in me.

In the evenings, you’ll find me at the law school working as an adjunct professor of trial advocacy and the faculty advisor and head coach for the nationally-ranked Mock Trial Team. When I participated as a student, the program was being rebooted from a period of dormancy. Dean Robert M. Wilcox asked me to head the program in 2013. With a lot of blood, sweat, and tears from the students and numerous alumni attorneys who generously volunteer to coach, the program is a formidable opponent on the national stage and was recently ranked 13th in the nation. I’m particularly gratified to see a lasting legacy of my work through the students I’ve coached who now make significant impacts in the legal community.

Bryanta Brooker-Maxwell
Office of Congressman James E. Clyburn | Executive Assistant
Age 33
I am a young, award-winning politico and champion for social justice. Hailing from the big city of Laurens, I moved to Columbia shortly after graduating in 2006 from South Carolina State University, where my passion of social justice and politics blossomed. Since my graduation in 2006, I have been a featured guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and NPR to discuss my absolute favorite pastime: politics. Currently, I am employed with the Office of Congressman James E. Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, as his executive assistant.
My civic duties consist of serving as the immediate past president of the Young Democrats of South Carolina, deputy chief of staff with the Young Democrats of America, board member for Mayor Steve Benjamin’s Talented Tenth Columbia, and a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. With family being the core of my being, my most important role on this earth is as a wife to my husband and a mother to our son. Besides owning my own consulting firm, Indigo Consulting, LLC, I realize that there is so much more to learn and know about myself that I’m constantly reminded the best is yet to come.
Dr. Anthony Broughton
Claflin University | Assistant Professor, School of Education
Age 31
I believe that “early learning is the pulse of the future.” I was compelled upon the completion of my doctorate in early childhood education from the University of South Carolina and the Center for the Education and Equity of African American Students to tap into this pulse, through my children’s music, book series, and educational consultant work. As a graduate of the Call Me MISTER program at Benedict College, becoming a teacher was one of the most rewarding experiences. I knew that I’d have an opportunity to touch the future by cultivating the next doctors, teachers, and engineers through high quality and culturally responsive learning experiences. I contribute to the educational field through my research, service with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated, and advocacy through the South Carolina Association for the Education of Young Children. My future goals include opening a childcare center and expanding my educational consultant work to advocate for equity and excellence in education. In my spare time, I enjoy jogs in the park, meditation, and performing my song “Watch the Letters Get Down” with children in local schools and supporting teacher development. I am a firm believer that to whom much is given, much is required.
T.J. Clayton
Colonial Life | Assistant Vice President, Contact Center
Age 35
I’m honored to be recognized alongside many of my peers across the Midlands. Raised in the Lowcountry, I attended Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston. But my love for this state truly began to blossom when I was an undergraduate at The College of Charleston. After going away to graduate school in Tennessee and then launching a consulting career in Washington, D.C., I eventually returned to Columbia to join Colonial Life as the assistant vice president, contact center.
Since moving to Columbia, I have become involved in several community-oriented ventures. If I’m not volunteering my time at EdVenture Children’s Museum, I can be found, along with my wife, counseling local couples on the adoption process. Our first son was adopted from Charleston, and we are passionate about helping couples navigate that seemingly overwhelming process. Most excitingly, I have had the chance to serve as a planning member for S.C. Male Achievement, which is a one-day workshop that provides more than 500 boys and men from fatherless homes with encouragement and empowerment.
After work, I can be found playing “See Ya Later, Suckers” (a game my kids invented) in the backyard with my wife, Victoria, and our two boys, Max and Cannon, or going for a run along the riverwalk downtown.
Josh Craft
M.B. Kahn Construction Co., Inc. | Controller
Age 35
I am proud to be serving as the controller of one of the largest construction companies in South Carolina. I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to work for a company that truly cares as much about its people as it does about its own success, and I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.
In 2004, I graduated from Bob Jones University in Greenville with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. While attending, I was a volunteer for the Special Olympics and a member of the University Business Association. After graduation, I moved my young family to Lexington, where I was born and raised.

When I started my career with M. B. Kahn, I knew that God had led me down this path, and I have been thankful for the opportunity ever since. Over the past 10 years, I have had the privilege to work alongside a great group of people that have been an encouragement to me along the way. I’m thrilled to have been nominated as one of Columbia Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under.
Blake Dowd
Synovus Bank | Lexington Market President
Age 28
I began my career with Synovus as a commercial banker after graduating from Presbyterian College. I have been with the bank for six years and was recently promoted to Lexington Market President. Synovus has given me an incredible opportunity to grow professionally, while working to serve our customers with the highest levels of sincerity, fairness, courtesy, respect, and gratitude. I take immense pride in being part of an organization that has stayed true to the concept that banking is a service to our community and the people who live here.
I strive to help lead and strengthen our community by remaining actively involved with the United Way of the Midlands YLS, Junior Achievement of Greater South Carolina, and Easterseals South Carolina.
I am honored to be recognized as part of Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under. I look forward to working with my peers as we continue to lead and serve Columbia.
Shanna Renee Garrett
S.C. Department of Education – Office of Special Education Services | Team Lead, Fiscal and Grants Management
Age 34
As a mom, I want to serve as a positive role model for my children. This includes making positive contributions to all children throughout South Carolina. This led to the creation of the S.C. Diaper Bank and my work as a team lead within the Office of Special Education Services.
In low-income households, babies and toddlers often spend the entire day in the same diaper. As a result, they experience signs of irritation and discomfort, cry more, and increase the risk of numerous health problems.
In 2015, I founded the S.C. Diaper Bank (formerly Mom4Moms), a 501(c)3, that provides diapers, wipes, ointment, and gently used baby items to parents in need throughout South Carolina. The SCDB has provided more than 50,000 diapers to parents and guardians.
My passion for assisting children in need extends to my career through my position as a team lead within the S.C. Department of Education. I serve one of the most vulnerable populations: children with disabilities. I am responsible for $400 million in federal annual funding, determinations, monitoring, and technical assistance for Local Education Agencies.
I’m a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Garrett family. I am honored to receive this award and would like to thank my husband, Nimai, my children, Narayan and Nadia, and mother, Tangela Nichols.

Ann-Stanton Cannarella Gore
Ameris Bank | Vice President Corporate Marketing
Age 33
A graduate of the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business, I am blessed to work in a profession that I love, leading Ameris Bank’s corporate marketing team. Even though most of Ameris Bank’s executive and enterprise offices are in Jacksonville, Fla., our marketing department is housed in Columbia. We support the entire organization (locations across the Southeast, with a banking presence nationwide), overseeing all branding, advertising, web development, social media, communications, customer experience, and culture-building initiatives.
Since childhood, my parents instilled in me the importance of helping others and giving back, and I am humbled by every opportunity I have to support others. In 2010, I launched the annual companywide Ameris Bank Helping Fight Hunger initiative. Since its inception, more than 4.4 million food items have been collected and $655,000 donated—all of which supports 65 communities across our bank’s Southeastern footprint.

Outside of work, I am a member of Trenholm Road United Methodist Church, and I enjoy serving on my church’s El Salvador mission team, volunteering with the Junior League of Columbia chairing this year’s Community Research and Program Development committee, and being a Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands board member. Most importantly, my husband Bennett and I are enjoying every minute with our 12-month-old daughter.
Mehdi Hasan
M. B. Kahn Construction Co., Inc. | Estimator
Age 27
I was born and raised in India, where I completed my school and undergrad in civil engineering. I believe that the best things in life happen just over the ramp of our comfort zone. This belief pushed me from the comforts of my home to the United States of America. I graduated from Clemson University—go Tigers!—with a master’s in civil engineering. I moved to Columbia in March last year to start working at M.B. Kahn Construction Company as an estimator.
As an estimator, I work in the preconstruction phase of projects and develop cost estimates by studying blueprints, specifications, proposals, and related documents. During my time here, I have worked to develop cost estimates for various projects ranging from $1-25 million.
I don’t think that we can be successful unless we have fun in what we do. I enjoy every part of my job and love enhancing my knowledge on every step of my journey.
I married my wife Meher while working here. Meher is a big inspiration and keeps me motivated every day. Outside of working hours, you can find us playing badminton/cricket in the public parks and hiking with friends.
It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under. Although I’ve been in Columbia only a little over a year, I feel proud to call it home and look forward to giving back to the community in whatever way I can.
Rachel John
Dennis Corporation | Marketing Director
Age 33
I am the marketing director for Dennis Corporation, an engineering, surveying, and construction management firm founded and headquartered in Columbia. I am blessed to work with such an incredible team of super-human professionals. Every day is an opportunity to help our clients with projects like transportation improvements, boundary surveys, and building safety inspection services. My dream has always been to have the freedom to be creative, helping people bring about real change while doing a job I love.
After graduating from Winthrop University in 2007, I moved to Columbia, where I found a group of creative and talented people dedicated to making Columbia a successful and vibrant city. While organizing an art show themed “The Future of Columbia,” I met my husband, who is an incredible photographer and artist. Together, we own Inkwell Art Reproductions in West Columbia, where we scan original artwork and make giclée prints for local artists. I served on the Trenholm Artists Guild board as the publicity chair, and I have displayed paintings and sculptures in a number of South Carolina shows, including ArtFields.
Being named one of Columbia Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under is an extraordinary honor.
Sam Johnson
Nexsen Pruet & NP Strategy | Project Specialist
Age 30
While my parents have Fairfield Country roots, I was born, raised, and started my career in Columbia. For about six years, I helped run the Office of the Mayor under Mayor Steve Benjamin’s leadership. It was an incredible experience that taught me so much, and I will forever be a public servant because of that very experience. One of the projects from that time that I am most proud of is starting the tradition of the Famously Hot New Year celebration. It has been such a rewarding opportunity to help lead the effort from year to year.
In a radical shift, I decided to attend the University of South Carolina School of Law and received my law degree. I was excited to join Nexsen Pruet and NP Strategy and to serve Columbia and South Carolina in a different capacity.
In the Columbia community, I serve as the chair of S.C. Afterschool Alliance and on the boards of the Capital City Club, City Center Partnership, Experience SC, the Nickelodeon Theatre, My Carolina Alumni Association, Senior Resources, S.C. PASOs, and the Talented Tenth. These organizations play important roles in weaving the fabric of what Columbia is made of and I enjoy serving them.
I am blessed to have married way out of my league. My wife Ashley Johnson is an attorney with McAngus Goudelock & Courie.
Merrell Johnson
MIRCI | Development and Marketing Officer
Age 32
I’m humbled and honored to be nominated as one of Columbia’s Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, Columbia offered me an immediate feeling of community. I have worked diligently to ensure that same feeling is portrayed in everything I’m involved in.
I am the development and marketing officer for the Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc. (MIRCI), a nonprofit established in 1960 that helps people diagnosed with mental illness, many of whom entering our programs from homelessness. We provide them with treatment and services to help them get access to their basic needs so they can live as independently as possible.
I serve as a board member with Communities in Schools of the Midlands, Carolina Women for Change and Empowerment, and Turning Pages. I volunteer with the United Way as a member of the Education Council, Mayor Steve Benjamin’s Talented Tenth, and Girls on the Run. For fun, I like to listen to Beyoncé, spend time with friends and family, and read.
I can’t count how many people uplift and support me. I’m truly thankful for them, and I accept this honor knowing that I’m a small cog in a big machine.
Ashly Kellogg
First Community Bank | Marketing Associate
Age 23
“Work hard, listen, and be nice” are fundamental values that shape everything I do. From a young age, I learned the impact kind words, an open ear, and a warm smile can have on someone’s day, and I try to share that kindness as often as possible. I’ve also learned the value a strong work ethic can add to your personal and professional happiness.
Since graduating summa cum laude from Columbia College in 2017, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a marketing associate with First Community Bank, an organization founded on the belief that everyone matters and that a spirit of service extends beyond your coworkers and customers and into the community. On a day-today basis, my work focus can range from designing digital outreach campaigns and managing the bank’s social media presence to writing policies and organizing the opening of new offices.
In my spare time, I work with local nonprofits to create social media pages and develop content strategies. I also spend time with Pawmetto Lifeline, fostering animals and capturing photos to help them find their forever homes, and volunteer with the American Heart Association—a cause that became close to my heart after losing my dad to heart disease in 2014.
Giving back to the community, working with First Community, and being selected for this honor are wonderful gifts that I am incredibly fortunate to receive.

Sarah Kennedy
Colonial Life | Unum | Front End Developer
Age 35
A Columbia native, I began my professional career in nonprofit administration at the Columbia Museum of Art. The Main Street district was starting to boom, and the museum was the perfect place to work during this revitalization. I worked at the CMA for seven years starting as an assistant then moving to event planning, where I worked on programs like Arts and Draughts. I was eventually promoted to oversee management of technology and visitor services. It was in this role that I discovered an interest in computer science and decided to invest in that by taking a huge risk.

In 2014, I opted into unemployment and temporarily relocated to Greenville, S.C. to attend a course to learn coding for websites and apps. Following completion, I accepted a position on the design & experience team at Unum, developing websites for the marketing of our brands.

In my free time, I work for my own company, Sara and Kyle LLC, creating websites for local nonprofits and businesses. I also serve on the board of directors for The Jasper Project and advisory committee for the Digital Art & Design at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies. I also love traveling and spending time with my partner Phill Blair and our three dogs and cat.

Alex Latham
Garvin Design Group | Architect
Age 26
Since joining Garvin Design Group upon completion of my graduate studies in architecture at Clemson University in 2016, I have been a part of the design and coordination of multiple projects throughout South Carolina. A native South Carolinian, I am thrilled to be able to impact the development of the state’s built environment and, in turn, the surrounding communities.
I have been fortunate to pursue my interests in design both professionally and personally, always bolstered by a strong support system of family, friends, and mentors. Wishing to provide others with similar assistance and encouragement, I am grateful for opportunities afforded me through involvement with a variety of impactful Midlands organizations. Memberships in the American Institute of Architects Greater Columbia, Urban Land Institute of South Carolina, Columbia Museum of Art Contemporaries, Junior League of Columbia, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Columbia have enabled me to parlay my passion for great design into meaningful community service.
I am grateful and delighted to be included among the accomplished and hardworking professionals honored as Columbia Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under this year.
Amanda Loveday
NP Strategy | Senior Project Advisor
Age 32
As a young person growing up in Irmo, I wanted to be the next Katie Couric. I worked as a member of the media immediately after college, but after interviewing all the 20 candidates for president in 2007, I decided life as Olivia Pope (granted, this was four years before she made her network debut) would be much more interesting.
I have had the opportunity to work with politicians and business leaders from across the country to assist in their efforts to communicate both efficiently and effectively. After many years working in politics, I made the transition to a more business-focused position.
I began my career with NP Strategy more than two-and-a-half years ago and have enjoyed every moment of it. Our firm’s efforts to shape the message and public awareness for our clients is exciting and rewarding.
Most importantly, our entire team focuses on how we can be more engaged locally to grow our personal contributions to our community.
I’m honored to be selected of Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under as I have called Columbia my home for essentially my entire life. My husband, John, and our two boys, Rutledge and Rowan, thoroughly enjoy everything this city has to offer, and we look forward to helping support its continued growth.
John Loveday
S.C. Whitmore School | Principal
Age 34
As a first-generation college graduate, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of higher education. Inspired by innovation and the opportunity to help close the achievement gap in South Carolina, I transitioned from a high school social studies teacher to an online teacher in 2008. Since 2015, I have served as the principal of S.C. Whitmore School (SCWS).
The mission of SCWS is to re-engage at-risk students and help them graduate high school. By offering an online self-paced environment, students are provided a safe and supportive place to complete their school work. Founded in 2011, SCWS has graduated more than 500 students from all across South Carolina.
Over the past three years, I have been most proud of two main accomplishments. The first is our school’s graduation rate increase of 43 percent. The second is a 122 percent increase in the monetary value of SCWS student academic scholarships. I am very fortunate to work with a fantastic group of educators that make success like this possible.
I serve on the board of the Lexington/Richland County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council (LRADAC) and the LRADAC Foundation, as well as the Public Charter School Alliance of SC. My wife Amanda and I are both alumni of the University of South Carolina. We have two boys, Rutledge and Rowan, and we enjoy raising them in the Capital City.

Jesica Johnson Mackey
HDR | Senior Strategic Communications Coordinator
Age 35
I am honored to be selected for Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under.

With a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and a master’s degree in public administration, I am a proud University of South Carolina grad twice over. My goal has always been to work with organizations that seek to educate and improve communities. I started my professional career in Columbia, and I have traveled statewide to build and execute communication and marketing plans for government and nonprofit agencies. These experiences led me to my current position as a strategic communications consultant with HDR Engineering. I am passionate about helping my clients manage their social and political risks, improve their images, and gain public or political buy-in for their projects—ultimately inspiring positive change in communities.
Outside of work, I’m actively involved in the community and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. I also serve on Emerge South Carolina’s Board of Directors, United Way of the Midlands’ Education Council, and Mental Illness Recovery Center, Inc.’s Marketing Committee. Additionally, I am a recent graduate of the Columbia Chamber Leadership Columbia Class of 2018. Last, but certainly not least, I am a proud wife to my husband Joey and mother to my daughter and son, Olivia and William.

Caroline Mauldin
South Carolina Future Minds | Executive Director
Age 35
The daughter of two entrepreneurs, I like to think that my childhood in Columbia was grounded in the same deep appreciation for business that is echoed in these pages. Customer service, cost of goods sold, and competition were regular topics at our dinner table—along with the values of compassion and servant leadership. In hindsight, it was only natural that my career would later be anchored by the idea of activating business for the greater good.
At Accion International, I witnessed the power of financial services to help the working poor move up the economic ladder. At the U.S. Department of State, I saw how the private sector principles of transparency, accountability, and innovation helped governments around the world serve their people better. And while in graduate school at Massachusettes Institue of Technology and Harvard Univeristy, a friend and I launched a social enterprise, Wild For, that harnesses market forces for African farmers. (Wild For teff chips coming soon to a market near you!)
Now at the helm of SC Future Minds, I am convinced of the business case for a strong public education system. South Carolina’s teachers are the stewards of our future. Quite simply, by investing in them today, we are investing in our collective economic and social progress tomorrow.
Nadia J. Muhammad
Embassy Suites by Hilton | Catering Sales Manager
Age 35
In 2005, I was crowned Miss Capital City Classic, and in 2006-2007 I was crowned Miss Benedict College. While creating a platform as a pageant queen, I noticed I was drawn to the community in hospitality management. My recruiter led me to that career path in Washington, D.C. 11 years ago. Now, I am the catering sales manager of the sales and marketing department with the Hilton Worldwide.
While attending Benedict College, I always went to Taylor Street to see the historic home of Dr. Matilda Evans, who is my great-grandmother and the first woman to be licensed as a doctor in the state of South Carolina, to remind myself of where I come from and what she did for the community.
Hospitality management is one of the most complex—and most rewarding—leadership careers there is. You’re not only delivering a service, you’re creating exceptional experiences! To be a part of a community that creates smiles and memories keeps me going. As a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc and other elite organizations, I enjoy the various platforms in which I give my time back to service. One most important to me is giving back to our young women clothing items to prepare for interviews.
Thank you for creating an exceptional experience, memory, and a story I can share for a lifetime.

Kathleen Muthig
Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, P.A. | Special Counsel
Age 32
As a lawyer at Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd, it is a privilege to work alongside talented and driven professionals. Most of my clients are banks, lenders, or other businesses in the midst of litigation—I strive to help them resolve disputes and provide counsel in many different areas of law.
We have a wonderful community at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where I serve on the women’s council and volunteer with the youth. I am also passionate about my board service with both Palmetto Health Cancer Centers and the Junior League of Columbia.
Apart from my legal and civic work, my husband and I have two young children, and I spend most of my free time with them. My children are my inspiration to work hard for my clients and my community.
I am honored to be named among this list of individuals who are all rolling up their sleeves so that our community will continue to be a great place to live, work, and raise our families.

Matthew “Matt” Neely
M. B. Kahn Construction Co., Inc. | Project Manager
Age 35
My experience with M. B. Kahn Construction began at a young age and had a large contribution to my love of the construction industry. I spent many Christmas and summer vacations working on construction projects, both commercial and residential, throughout college. After graduating from Clemson University, I returned to M. B. Kahn as a field engineer. In my current role as project manager, I work on a wide range of projects as a general contractor and also on projects in our masonry division. I feel this provides me with a unique insight into our industry. As a general contractor, I work closely with project owners to bring their visions to life while managing the overall quality, financial, and scheduling aspects of the overall project.
As a Columbia native, I am proud of my contribution to the growth and development of the community through my career. I am an active member at First Presbyterian Church; my family and I are active in and contribute to a number of ministries and organizations around the city.

I am thankful to work for a company that embodies the same values of integrity, honesty, hard work, and quality that are essential in both my personal and professional life.
Jamesha Shackerford
Central Carolina Community Foundation | Program Associate
Age 24
I graduated from Columbia College in 2015. I’ve always had a love for philanthropy and civic engagement, specifically how they work together to drive community change. As the program associate at Central Carolina Community Foundation, I manage the Foundation’s Scholarship Program and several competitive grants to nonprofits, government entities, and educational institutions, and I get the opportunity to connect entities who desire to invest in our community with organizations that are addressing community needs. One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is helping a donor establish a scholarship fund and sharing with them the impact their scholarship has made on a student. I often tell people you don’t have to be a millionaire or even make six figures to be a philanthropist. Philanthropy at its core means, “To give of your time, talents, and treasures.”

In the community, I serve as a facilitator for Race to the Table SC, an organization that promotes interracial connections and understanding of racial issues through dialogue that go beyond superficial conversation. This creates a safe space where people can express racial concerns that are often addressed only vaguely or in a reactive way.

My love of philanthropy, the community, and racial reconciliation is what drives not only my professional life, but personal life. I’m honored to be selected for Columbia Business Monthly’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under.

Illya Shuler
First Community Bank | IT Associate
Age 25
After attending the University of South Carolina and obtaining a bachelor of science in integrated information technology, I received a temporary assignment as an IT associate at First Community Bank in Lexington. Brought on to help with the monumental task of converting the bank’s software system—the first conversion of its type in the bank’s 23-year history—I spearheaded the installation of vital software on workstations and servers, such as Teller Capture, document scanners, and signature pads. Upon successful completion, I was afforded the opportunity to join the First Community family.
Since joining the bank, I have developed a procedure for maintaining third-party applications on all company computers. I have also had an integral part in opening new office locations. On a day-to-day basis, I eagerly lend technical knowledge and professional assistance to coworkers with IT-related questions and issues.
Outside the office, I share my time with local nonprofits. As a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., I embrace opportunities to give back to the community through canned food drives, clothing donations, and programs such as Toys for Tots and the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk.
I am truly honored to be selected for Columbia Business Monthly’s Best and Brightest 35 and Under.
Alana Simmons
Hate Won’t Win Movement | President & CEO
Age 28
I am a dual career realtor and nonprofit CEO.
As an agent with Keller Williams Realty, I pride myself on helping my clientele not just buy and sell homes but to use their purchases to build wealth. My core business values are clients, commitment, and creativity. Because of that, I’ve helped young professionals, families, and investors all over the country to make their real estate dreams a reality. My career mantra is to build a career worth having, life worth living, and legacy worth leaving.
I moved to South Carolina in 2015 after my grandfather passed in the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston. After learning hate was the motive of this crime, I started a social media challenge that grew into a nonprofit: Hate Won’t Win Movement, Inc. Our organization advocates for unity through demonstrations of love and offers support to victims of hate crimes. I’ve been blessed to continue the legacy of my grandfather by sharing with groups across the country about how they can use their platforms to improve their community.
I’ve served through the Columbia Urban League Young Professionals, the United Way Midlands Education Council, the Elizabeth City State University Foundation Board, and the Richland County Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
In such a talented city, I consider it an honor to be recognized as one of Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under.
Nicole Stroud
M. B. Kahn Construction Co., Inc. | Corporate Marketing Coordinator
Age 29
In 2011, I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing. I began my professional career with M. B. Kahn Construction as a receptionist with anticipation that I could grow with the company. Now, as the corporate marketing coordinator, I develop and implement marketing and advertising campaigns, maintain promotional materials inventory, plan meetings and training, maintain databases and social media presence, and prepare reports. Ultimately, I assist in ensuring the company’s marketing efforts help achieve immediate and long-term business goals.
Outside of the office, I am a wife to my college sweetheart, mother to a wonderful little boy, and proud dog mom. I consider myself fortunate to be able to serve both my family and community by assisting with various fundraising events that benefit those in need and giving back through volunteering my time and talents at Awaken Church. I enjoy sharing the Gospel with those of all ages by serving on the kids’ ministry, care, and hospitality teams. I thrive when I know I am helping others move forward and improve their lives.
To be named alongside some of Columbia’s most accomplished young professionals is truly humbling.
Sheila M. Willis
Fisher & Phillips, LLP | Attorney
Age 33
I am someone who truly believes, “Nothing great was ever achieved without great enthusiasm,” and, “Good is not good enough, if better is possible.” For me, this means that in everything you do, it must be done with passion, drive, and determination. Complacency is never an option. These principles are my guideposts as I strive to enthusiastically serve my clients and community with maximum impact.
I’m an attorney with the law firm of Fisher and Phillips, LLP, where I help employers find practical solutions to a variety of labor and employment matters, providing advice and counsel on employment discrimination issues and pay equity concerns, as well as litigating employment matters in federal and state court.
When not representing clients, I’m serving my community through my work with the Junior League of Columbia, as well as being president of the S.C. Women Lawyers Association and president-elect of the S.C. Bar Young Lawyers Division. Being involved in several other worthy organizations, I am often asked a curious, “Why?” My response is easy: I’m passionate about turning the good into the better, and if I can be of service to that, I will be.
Chris Wolfe

Nephron | Vice President of Quality Engineering

Age 33

After retiring from the LPGA tour in my early twenties, I wasn’t sure where life was going to take me.  Having Engineering and Economics degrees from Vanderbilt, I turned to a career in the energy industry with roles in design engineering, operations, and corporate planning.  I recently joined the Nephron Pharmaceuticals team as Vice President of quality engineering.

Columbia became the home base for my husband and two Wolfe cubs and offered opportunities to apply my passion for education, golf, and community service.
I serve as advisory board chair for City Year Columbia, an organization that helps improve student grade level performance. I also chair the advisory board for The First Tee of Columbia, an institution that has grown to 350 participants, teaching children life skills through the game of golf. In addition, I serve as the state leader for Million Women Mentors South Carolina, which focuses on increasing mentorship of girls and young women interested in STEM. This year, my mother and I started a scholarship to be awarded to a girl in South Carolina pursuing a STEM degree.

I’m honored to be included in Columbia Business Monthly's Best & Brightest 35 and Under in my “life after golf!”