Top 10 Under 10: A celebration of young alumni success

Ten young alumni were recognized for their achievements during the 2022 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards ceremony Saturday night.

Ten accomplished alumni from the past decade were honored April 30 at the 2022 Top 10 Under 10 Top Alumni Awards ceremony in recognition for their professional success, continuous work to better their communities and service as loyal alumni role models.

“We are truly grateful to be here tonight to celebrate your achievements but also the hopes and dreams that are unfolding in your lives,” said President Connie Ledoux Book during her congratulatory remarks, adding that each awardee was an example of the important work being done at Elon. “We want to celebrate and cheer you on. It’s a gift to us.”

Honored during the awards ceremony, which is sponsored by the Office of Alumni Engagement and the Young Alumni Council, were:

Cedric Pulliam ’12

Senior advisor for the chief medical officer, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

A double major in international studies and political science with a triple minor in African/African-American studies, criminal justice and non-violence studies, Cedric Pulliam came to Elon ready to foster change both domestically and globally. He was involved in the Student Government Association, s.m.a.r.t. Mentoring Program and Periclean Scholars, among other organizations, and completed four study abroad programs and 10 internships.

Cedric has served as a public servant in the U.S. federal government for nearly 13 years with a focus on foreign diplomacy, global and public health, global human rights, infectious diseases, international development and multilateral diplomacy. He worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention managing key HIV prevention cooperative agreements with state health departments and community-based organizations and provided expertise on LGBT+ health, health equity, testing diagnostics and homelessness issues.

Currently, Cedric is the senior advisor for the chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy. He advises and provides subject matter expertise across the entire infectious disease portfolio of the office, which coordinates the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America Initiative and the development and implementation of national strategic plans for HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, vaccines and vector-borne diseases. Additionally, he works with the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, HHS Behavioral Health Coordinating Council and several other interagency Federal Advisory Committees that are cross-cutting across infectious diseases, virology, COVID-19 and scientific research. Cedric volunteers with public health organizations throughout his community and advocates for key issues such as modernizing HIV criminalization laws in Virginia with the organization he co-founded, ECHO VA Coalition. He lives in Atlanta with his dog, Checkers.

Bill Powers ’13

Global account director at Havas NY

A strategic communications major with a minor in sport and event management, Bill Powers began his career in public relations before deciding that his true calling was advertising. He joined Erwin Penland in Greenville, South Carolina, as an assistant account executive working on Verizon. Bill launched numerous Verizon national advertising campaigns there before moving to New York to join McCann NY. Bill spent more than six years at McCann, playing a key role in the business stewardship of several brands, including Verizon, United States Postal Service, Coca-Cola, U.S. Bank and SAS and rising to the role of account director.

Bill received the 2014-2015 Club Leadership Award while serving on the American Advertising Federation Leadership Council in Greenville. While at McCann NY, his team was recognized as an Effie Awards finalist and Bill featured as “McCanner of the Month” in 2018. He now works at Havas NY, serving as the global account director for JLL commercial real estate with projects ranging from global brand strategy and creative development to regional initiatives supporting various business lines.

Bill has been actively involved in his community since graduating from Elon. While in Greenville, Bill served on the AAF Leadership Council as the VP of membership for two years and worked on a pro-bono account, Harvest Hope Food Bank, developing advertising collateral to promote their activity in the community. While in New York, he was involved with Back on My Feet, participating in weekly volunteer runs with a local homeless shelter in Times Square. He also helped raise money for the organization through local sponsorships.

Bill lives in Waxhaw, North Carolina, with wife Lauren ’13 and son Liam. They are expecting their second child in June.

Ryan Vet ’13

Entrepreneur, consultant, investor and instructor

Ryan Vet has always been entrepreneurial at heart with a keen desire to influence others toward positive change. Before studying marketing at Elon, he founded Digi Tech Studio, a multi-national marketing firm that served more than 200 clients in 25 countries, focused on supporting non-government organizations in their fundraising initiatives. He ran this firm for over 10 years, including while at Elon.

Shortly after graduation, Ryan was part of the founding executive team for Anutra Medical, a venture-backed medical device startup, before becoming VP of marketing at Netsertive, a digital marketing company. In 2018 he founded Boon, a gig-economy and marketplace platform that equipped entrepreneurs to rapidly build and deploy full featured marketplaces. The company was acquired in 2020. As an extension of his passion for craft beverages and love for Elon, Ryan co-founded The Oak House at Elon with Phil Smith in 2014 and opened a Durham location in 2019.

Today, Ryan spends most of his time as a consultant and adviser to many startups including Peoplelogic, DentalHQ, Vint and eWedded, and an investor in several other startups. He is the author of “Cracking the Millennial Code,” an adjunct instructor at the School of Professional Studies at William Peace University and a member of the Forbes Business Council. In 2022 he acquired the majority stake in the Speaking Consulting Network, a network of more than 250 international speakers, authors and consultants.

Ryan received his MBA from Purdue University Global and certificates in change management and global business from Cornell University and Harvard Business School, respectively. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with wife Jessica ’14 and son Braeden. They are expecting their second child in June.

Nasia Thomas ’15

Theatre actress

Born in Queens, New York, and raised in Virginia, Nasia Thomas grew up engrossed in music, from seeing Broadway shows on every school break with her grandmother to attending the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, Virginia. She was thrilled to be accepted into one of the top theater programs in the country at Elon, where she made lasting friendships, trained vigorously and honed her craft with a host of talented faculty and staff mentors.

After graduating from Elon with a BFA in music theatre in 2015, Nasia went on to grace the stages of many prestigious theater houses such as The Kennedy Center, The Muny, The Princess of Wales Theater in Toronto and The Ahmanson in Los Angeles. She went on a Broadway national tour and then made her Broadway debut in 2016 as Little Eva in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” She has gone on to do two more Broadway shows: “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations” as Tammi Terrell and most recently the revival of “Caroline or Change” as Radio 1.

While Broadway shut down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nasia starred in a revival of “The Last Five Years” that was reimagined as a site-specific, immersive production filmed entirely in a New York City apartment. The production received a Drama League nomination for Outstanding Digital Theater, Individual Production. She has also done some film and television roles, recorded a couple of cast albums (including the Grammy Award-nominated cast album for “Ain’t Too Proud”) and performed on The Tony Awards, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Good Morning America.

Nasia, who will be playing Nettie in the upcoming production of “The Color Purple” at The Muny, lives in New York with her dog, Romeo.

Mackenzie Zendt ’15

Presidential Management Fellow at the National Institutes of Health

A double major in public health and international studies, Mackenzie Zendt conducted research on HIV with Watts/Thompson Professor of Public Health Studies and Human Service Studies Cynthia Fair as part of the Elon College Fellows program. During her time at Elon, she also studied abroad for a semester in Spain and volunteered as a mentor at a local high school through YoungLife. After graduation, Mackenzie began her career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a community health worker in rural Kentucky.

When the Zika epidemic began in 2016, she volunteered to join a CDC team deploying to Puerto Rico to respond to the outbreak. She continued working on several CDC emergency response teams while pursuing a master’s degree in epidemiology at Georgia State University. During that time, Mackenzie also spent a semester with the nonprofit organization Partners in Health at their location in Chiapas, Mexico, working alongside Mexican doctors to build a health care system for the rural poor.

After completing her master’s degree, Mackenzie was accepted into the Presidential Management Fellowship program, which is designed to attract citizen-scholars from academic disciplines to be future leaders in government and public policy. As a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., she has rotated through various positions related to epidemiology, research, science policy and management. She also served on several interagency teams working to collect, analyze and report domestic and global COVID-19 data directly to the White House’s covid-19 Task Force. Mackenzie is currently detailed to the U.S. Agency for International Development, working on global covid-19 vaccine distribution.

Danielle Deavens ’16

Co-CEO at Bold Xchange

When Danielle Deavens began her Elon journey in 2012, she knew she wanted to study abroad and pursue a writing-intensive major — and that’s about it. But mentors and friends helped her carve out a college experience that was formative to the life and career she has today.

In typical Elon fashion, Danielle was a busy student. She majored in print and online journalism with a minor in professional writing and rhetoric. During her first Winter Term at Elon, Danielle traveled to Turkey with the Honors Fellows program. She was also an active member of the Omicron Iota chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She studied abroad during the fall of her junior year in London, where she interned at a mental health nonprofit. When she returned, Danielle worked closely on her Honors thesis with J. Earl Danieley Distinguished Professor of Cinema and Television Arts Naeemah Clark, exploring Jet Magazine’s coverage of the Civil Rights Movement.

Danielle also served as editorial intern at three professional magazines during her college career, which helped her snag post-graduate roles at Food Network Magazine and Brides Magazine. In 2018, Danielle developed a strong interest in entrepreneurship and joined Venture for America, a two-year fellowship matching recent graduates with startups in emerging cities. During that program, Danielle and her now-fiancé and fellow honoree Doug Spencer ’16 started their own venture. Bold Xchange is a platform that makes it easier to discover and support Black-owned brands. The company has been contracted to create gift boxes full of Black-owned brands for companies like The Home Depot, CarMax and CapitalOne.

Danielle lives in St. Louis with her fiancé, Doug.

Doug Spencer ’16

Co-CEO at Bold Xchange

Doug Spencer joined Elon Volunteers! his first semester at Elon, coaching a local basketball team with other first-year students. This led him to apply to the Isabella Cannon Leadership Fellows Program. He was accepted as a lateral entry, beginning his four-year exploration of leadership and service at Elon.

While a student, Doug joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. After returning from a semester abroad in London, he served the fraternity as chapter president for three semesters. Through Alpha Phi Alpha and a student organization called Men of Character, Doug frequently mentored at the Burlington Boys & Girls Club and Grove Park Elementary School. At various points, Doug held on-campus roles such as university tour guide and executive intern. After graduating in 2016 with a degree in business management and minors in marketing and leadership studies, Doug was appointed Youth Trustee on the Elon University Board of Trustees and served on the Ninth Presidential Search Committee.

After stints in marketing at Fortune 500 company Lumen Technologies and venture-backed D.C. startup Quantified Ventures, Spencer enrolled at Georgetown Law School. He graduated in May 2021 and became full-time co-CEO of Bold Xchange, Inc., the company he co-founded with fellow honoree and fiancée Danielle Deavens ’16. Bold Xchange is an e-commerce platform that makes it simple to discover and support Black-owned brands. Companies such as The Home Depot, CarMax and DocuSign have partnered with Bold Xchange to bolster their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The company has been featured in outlets such as New York Magazine, Glamour and

Doug lives in St. Louis with his fiancée, Danielle.

Mia Ginaé Watkins ’16

Creative Operations, Riot Games

Mia Ginaé Watkins developed a love for storytelling for written and visual media at a young age and self-published her first novel at age 16. During her time at Elon, the cinema and television arts major and Communications Fellow was involved with the Cinelon film club, where she wrote, edited and directed short films and music videos. Her creative talents expanded into the WSOE radio station, home of the quirky audio sketches she wrote and produced.

In 2014, she interned at Dim Mak Records through the Elon in LA program. She studied abroad in Australia and New Zealand for Winter Term and in Hong Kong as part of the Imagining the Internet research group. Mia presented findings from that trip at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and co-published her work in Elon’s academic journal Perspectives on Undergraduate Research and Mentoring.

In her previous role as a communications specialist at PlayStation, she won two company awards and contributed to several PlayStation game titles including “Days Gone,” “Knack II,” “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy,” “MLB The Show,” “Death Stranding” and “The Last of Us Part ii.” Mia has written, directed and produced several short films and music videos that have screened at more than 15 festivals and accumulated accolades including Best Music Video at the DC Black Film Festival and Toronto Short Film Festival, and the Platinum Award at Mindfield Film Festival LA.

Mia currently runs an online writers’ summit, which she created with friends and colleagues during the COVID-19 shutdown. As of today, she has led more than 20 virtual writer summits with industry professionals from the United States, Canada and Germany. She lives in San Diego.

Carlos Andino ’17

Equal Justice Works Fellow at Washington Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

Carlos Andino arrived at Elon with a passion for dismantling systemic racism. He submerged himself in the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion work and majored in political science to better understand the systems he hoped to influence. Carlos assisted in the development of the Elon Student Government Association’s first committee focused on promoting inclusivity and diversity and held leadership roles with the Presidential Student Leadership Advisory Committee and the North Carolina Student Legislature, where he argued Against LGBTQIA+ and racial discrimination on and off campus. He also served as captain of the Elon Men’s Cross-Country team.

After graduating a year early in 2017, Carlos attended Emory University School of Law in Atlanta. He cultivated his passions around racial justice by being part of the university’s Latino and Black law student associations. In both organizations, he founded new divisions of moot court competitive teams and led eight all-women of color teams to their first national placement.

Carlos now serves as a fellow at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in Washington, D.C., where he provides litigation, advocacy and community programming to meet the identified needs of Black and Brown residents in neighborhoods in the Metropolitan D.C., areas that are plagued by unjust, racially motivated police practices. Over the past year, he has brought lawsuits against police departments and landlord developers alleged to have discriminated against Black and Brown residents of the district. He has also drafted legislation, testified before city council and hosted community events to promote the dismantling of systemic racism.

Carlos lives in Washington, D.C., with his partner, Katharine Milbradt ’18, and college roommate, Spencer Wagner ’18.

Ben Lutz ’17

Founder at Al Fusaic

During his time at Elon, Ben Lutz was a double major in international and global studies and political science with a triple minor in Middle East studies, peace and conflict studies, and interreligious studies. He studied abroad five times, all in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region with an emphasis on Arabic learning. He credits most of his grasp of Arabic and the cultural nuances of the region to Lecturer in Arabic Shereen Elgamal, his most formative mentor, teacher and champion in all his studies.

Ben was president of the Arabic Language Organization for two years and heavily involved in Model United Nations for four years, including a year as president. Model UN influenced his desire to focus his career on diplomacy, negotiation, mediation and peace-building, which led him to his current job. He serves as director of communications and operations at Mediators Beyond Borders International, maintaining the global organization’s network of mediators who support international peace-building efforts through effective mediation strategies.

In 2020 Ben founded Al Fusaic, an educational and cultural platform for resources related to the MENA Region. To date since its launch, he has published more than 500 articles focusing on language learning, history, politics, food, culture, a recommendations library and more, all related to the region. He has onboarded 110 writers, produced five unique podcasts, created six separate 101 courses and instituted seven organizational partnerships.

Ben holds a master’s degree in Middle East security politics and peace studies from the University of Bradford in England and is currently a Ph.D. student in the Centre for Religion, Reconciliation, and Peace at the University of Winchester in England. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he annually selects the American Delegates for the G7 and G20 Youth Summits.