Awards celebrate the success of young alumni

In its fifth year, the Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards program highlights and celebrates alumni who have graduated within the past decade and are distinguished in their professions and invested in the future of Elon and its community.

Ten distinguished young alumni were recognized April 18 at the annual Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards Banquet.

President Leo M. Lambert joined family and friends who came to recognize the professional achievements and personal journeys of the 10 award recipients. “We are so proud of every single person here this evening,” Lambert said during the ceremony. “You have just learned about the control panels of your life and what all the buttons and levers do. You’ve proved by your accomplishments tonight that you can master them and that you can fly your wonderful lives in great directions.”

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In its fifth year, the Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards program highlights and celebrates alumni who have graduated within the past decade and are distinguished in their professions and invested in the future of Elon and its community. This year’s recipients join a cohort of 40 previous winners who are doing great things in their communities, work and life.

“All of our award winners tonight have taken a different journey to get here to this point, but they all share in three things: They are turning theory into practice, they are transforming their ambitions into purpose and their potential into achievement,” Brian Feeley ’03, director of Elon’s Office of Alumni Engagement, said. “It’s really remarkable what these young men and women are doing just 10 years out.”

Recognized were:

Erica Ayala ’08
Youth Leadership Development Associate, Children’s Defense Fund

(New York)

Erica graduated from Elon in 2008 with a degree in political science and a minor in African-American studies. As a student, she represented the Elon softball team as an Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar in 2006 and served as president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s Omicron Epsilon Chapter. She also served on the Young Alumni Council after graduation. Erica is pursuing a master’s of public administration degree at New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

In her role as youth leadership development associate at the Children’s Defense Fund-New York office, Erica manages the CDF Freedom Schools program and the internship program in the state. She also manages the CDF-NY Education Justice portfolio, where she focuses on the research, training and facilitation of restorative justice practices for the NYPD School Safety Division. In 2014 the Parent Action Committee honored her with the Outstanding Ally Award for her support of community-led workshops for School Safety Agents in the Bronx.

Prior to joining the CDF-NY staff full-time in August 2013, Erica committed seven years of service to the CDF Freedom Schools program. She has served as a national curriculum trainer, project director of the Norfolk CDF Freedom Schools in Virginia and site coordinator of the Grace CDF Freedom Schools in Mount Vernon, N.Y. She was also active in the CDF Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT) program and was instrumental in launching satellite rallies in support of the CDF-Minnesota 10-10-10 rally for children organized by college students and young professionals.

Shea Coakley ’07 (in absentia)
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, LeanBox


Shea graduated from Elon University in 2008 with a degree in leisure/sport management and a minor in business administration. He is the co-founder and chief executive officer of LeanBox, an innovative corporate food service solving the problem of access to healthy food in the workplace.He focuses on strategic partnerships, marketing and operational activities at the company.

Shea serves on an economic advisory council to the mayor of Boston, focusing on issues impacting the 20- to 34-year-old population. He is the co-founder of Perks, an annual conference and professional organization that brings non-traditional office benefits under one roof. He is thankful to Elon for opening his eyes to thinking about the world in a really unique way. “[Elon] taught me the world is a place that can be changed for the better,” he says. “It was never about the numbers and letters at Elon, it was about how the lessons can translate into improving the lives of people around you.”

He also gives back by staying involved with the Elon Boston Alumni Chapter and as an Elon career mentor. Outside of work, Shea has a passion for sports. A former college lacrosse player, Shea focuses his competitive side on squash, poker, skiing and his self-described “work-in-progress” golf game. He lives in Charlestown, Mass., with wife Liz Coakley ’07 and their dog, Logan.

Phil Collins ’08 (in absentia)
Associate Account Director, Imagination

(Hong Kong)

Phil’s career path has been unusual, to say the least. Born and raised in Tennessee, he spent time in Brazil completing an internship before moving to Asia, where he has been working for the past six years.

Along the way, the business administration graduate has visited fascinating places and learned valuable lessons about the right ways to do business. “I’ve come to understand the importance of having the right attitude, and I’ve interacted with clients and colleagues from across the world, gaining insight into what makes people work better, faster and happier,” he says. “Fundamentally, I believe the key to success is to understand the person, understanding the problem and then combine original creative thought with common sense to reach the right outcome.”

A passionate international marketer and communications specialist based in Hong Kong, he has worked on some of the world’s biggest brands, including Ford, Lincoln, GE, adidas, UBS and Suntech, and in some of the world’s fastest moving and most dynamic markets in Asia and the Middle East. He has built a proven track record of success, which he attributes to his strategic thinking and personable attitude.

Mark Horsburgh ’07
Manager for Live Events, Turner Sports

(New York)

As part of the Turner Sports Live Events team, Mark produces concerts and fan events around some of the country’s biggest sporting events, including the NCAA Final Four and NBA All-Star game. A recent highlight included producing a nationally-televised concert in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, celebrating LeBron James’ return home to the Cavaliers.

After graduating from Elon in 2007 with a degree in business administration, he spent four years in New York City working for the sports and media agency IMG, overseeing the operations of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weeks in New York, Los Angeles and Miami. After transitioning into IMG’s college sports division in Houston to produce NCAA Championship fan events, such as the March Madness Music Festival, the division moved to Turner Sports. That transition resulted in Mark’s return to New York City with an expanded portfolio of events, including the creation and production of events for many of Turner Sports media assets.

Elon has continued to play a large role in Mark’s life, having worked, lived and traveled with other Elon alumni during the past decade. He recently completed a term on the Young Alumni Council and currently sits on the president’s Young Leaders Council.

Carolyn Klasnick ’09
Co-Owner, Producer and Videographer, Post Script Productions, LLC

(Pittsburgh, Pa.)

After graduating from Elon University in 2009 with a degree in broadcast communications, Carolyn moved back home to the South Hills of Pittsburgh and started a business, Post Script Productions, LLC, with Michele Hammerbacher ’08.

The two are growing the business into a team of passionate, creative storytellers with a mission to produce engaging films that move hearts and minds. They have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clients including nonprofit organizations, a mission in Haiti and power plants. They recently moved into a new location in the South Side of Pittsburgh and launched a new brand and website.

At her alma mater, Carolyn served on the Young Alumni Council for a three-year team. She also started the Elon Pittsburgh Alumni Club and currently serves as its president. In her community, Carolyn is an active member of her home church, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Upper St. Clair, where she serves as both a media consultant and Confirmation mentor to female confirmands. She is also an active member of the Women’s Business Network (South Hills Chapter), the International Special Events Society and the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University.

Mark Schwartz ’06
President, The Richmond Group USA

(Richmond, Va.)

After graduating from Elon University in 2006 as a Jefferson Pilot Business Fellow with a degree in accounting and a minor in computer information systems, Mark moved back to his hometown of Richmond, Va., where he worked for KPMG LLP for two years in their information technology risk advisory practice.

Following his time with KPMG LLP, Mark joined The Richmond Group USA, one of the nation’s leading providers of staffing solutions, where he represents a third generation in the business. As president and a shareholder of The Richmond Group USA Family of Companies, Mark leads a staff of professionals who provide permanent, contract, recruitment process outsourcing and management consulting staffing/human resource services. The Richmond Group USA consistently ranks as one of the top firms in their field nationally and has experienced substantial growth since Mark joined the firm.

Outside of work, Mark and wife Meredith, who graduated from Elon in 2008, support several local charitable organizations and consistently give back to their alma mater.

Amanda Taylor ’06
Founder and Chief Executive Office, DanceOn

(Los Angeles)

Amanda, who graduated magna cum laude from Elon University in 2006 with a degree in musical theatre, is part of a new class of entrepreneurs. She is not only aggressive and self-educating, but, more importantly, tech-savvy and cultured. After managing choreographers and dancers in New York City, she founded DanceOn in 2010.

With the help of her roommate, Lace Varn ’07, Amanda started the company with a very simple thought: dance is a universal passion that had no specific “channel” dedicated to it. She made a pitch to create a dance channel to Google and two things happened: the company awarded her a significant grant to start the business to participate in YouTube’s premium $100 million, 96-channel initiative, and introduced her to Madonna, who happened to be pitching the same idea. And so the two became co-founders of DanceOn.

Listed on YouTube since 2007, DanceOn receives an average of 30 million monthly views. To attend to this growing demand, Amanda employs a full-time staff of 20 to manage and deliver fresh episodic and tutorial content across the DanceOn Network, which includes House of Crews, Just Dance News, the incredibly successful Dance Showdown, among others. In January 2012, Amanda moved the company to Los Angeles.

Lace Varn ’07 (in absentia)
Vice President of Brand Partnerships, DanceOn

(Los Angeles)

Lace graduated from Elon University in 2007 with a degree in music theatre and a minor in English. She values her study abroad in London and the overall experience and connections made at Elon, particularly meeting future business partner and DanceOn chief executive officer, Amanda Taylor ’06.

DanceOn originated in their living room in the Lower East Side in New York City, when inspired by the popularity of TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and the viral nature of dance videos on the Internet, the roommates came up with the idea for an online “programming brand exclusively dedicated to dance.” Upon moving to Los Angeles three years ago, the company has flourished with co-founder Madonna and AMC Network support.

Lace created DanceOn’s brand partnerships department and launched the first-ever premium YouTube partnership with Coca-Cola. The company is the #1 dance entertainment network globally and a top 5 YouTube channel for pop culture and entertainment.

Andrew Wilen ’08
Owner, Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen

(Charlotte, N.C.)

An energetic and creative leader, Andrew grew up in Baltimore, Md. He graduated in 2008 from Elon University with a degree in corporate communications and double minors in leisure/sport management and business administration.

Following graduation Andrew worked in marketing and media relations for the Carolina Panthers and later managed promotions for Bank of America’s Global Sponsorship Marketing events. He continued his career path in event planning at LivingSocial Adventures as the Charlotte events manager. In 2013 Andrew and his girlfriend, Alyssa Gorelick, decided to fuse their talents and ideas to begin Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen. The pair runs hands-on cooking classes inside Atherton Market focusing on healthy and sustainable cooking with local ingredients.

Besides running his own business, Andrew also works part-time for Charlotte Center City Partners in South End and is a member of the Governance Committee for the Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte. Additionally, he serves on Elon’s Charlotte Alumni Chapter and works with the nonprofit Common Grounds, where he has directed three separate festivals to benefit the Urban Ministry Center in their efforts to end chronic homelessness in the Queen City.

Christine Winans ’10
Senior Sourcing Associate and Co-Op Manager, Bristol-Myers Squibb

(Lawrenceville, N.J.)

Christine is passionate about helping young leaders reach their highest potential by leveraging global experiences and cultural awareness.

While studying business administration at Elon University, Christine spent her junior year studying abroad in Beijing, China. While there she learned to speak Mandarin Chinese and interned at the American Chamber of Commerce, PRC. Leveraging her international experiences, Christine returned to the United States to begin her professional career in the Aerospace Defense industry at Boeing Military Aircraft and earned a Masters of Business Administration degree from Drexel University. After five years of increasing responsibility at Boeing, Christine moved to the biopharmaceutical industry and joined Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Christine has remained involved with Elon since graduating. For two years, she served as the president of the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter and its 1,100 members. While employed at Boeing, she built a strategic partnership between the company and the university to develop successful new hires and currently serves as an Elon career mentor. Over the years, Christine has helped more than 30 Elon students gain full-time employment.

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