Elon recognizes distinguished alumni

Chris Bell ’92, Kathie Sink Niven ’89, LaToya Marcus Faustin ’04 G’10, Rich Johnson ’87 P’17 and Laurie Johnson P’17 were honored during the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony on March 24.

Surrounded by their families and Elon mentors and friends, five outstanding alumni were honored by the Office of Alumni Engagement Friday night for their contributions to their industries, communities and alma mater during the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony at The Inn at Elon.

The night included remarks by those who know the honorees best — family members and Elon mentors and friends — and many moments of appreciation for what Elon has meant for each honoree throughout their lives.

“I loved Elon, it was such a great experience,” said Kathie Sink Niven ’89, CEO of Biscuitville, Inc., who was honored as the Distinguished Alumna of the Year. If it wasn’t for a scholarship offered to her by then Elon President J. Earl Dainley ’46, she wouldn’t have been able to attend the school. All these years later, she can’t imagine life without her Elon experience. “It really set me up for the person and leader I am today,” Niven added.

For the past eight decades, the Office of Alumni Engagement has presented awards to honor Elon alumni who serve as active partners, advocates and investors. The Distinguished Alumni Awards are presented each spring and are the highest accolades conferred by the office.

2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Honorees

Chris Bell ’92

Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award

This award is presented to an alumnus who has distinguished himself in a profession and in the community and brought honor to Elon.

With a steadfast commitment to improving clients’ lives through purpose-driven financial services, Chris Bell serves as regional president for Truist Financial Corporation in North Carolina’s Triangle region. He is the company’s senior leader in the market responsible for delivering the full complement of the company’s services to clients in the area and directing
the commercial business.

Prior to being named to this position in September 2021, Chris was the middle market manager for Truist and the region president with SunTrust Bank in the Triangle East Region. His focus was on professionals and privately held operating companies and providing consultative relationship banking. He was responsible for the Triangle marketing and foundation efforts across all lines of business to include retail, wealth, business and commercial banking.

Chris graduated magna cum laude with a degree in business management from Elon, where he was also a member of Sigma Pi fraternity. Prior to joining SunTrust, which merged with BB&T to become Truist, Bell held management positions at Wachovia Bank and RBC.

Chris dedicates much of his time outside of work to serving his community, including on the boards of Dix Park Conservancy, Research Triangle Research Partnership, Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and The 50 Group.  He also serves on the Wake Education Partnership Advisory Council and the YMCA board development committee.

He is equally passionate about giving back to his alma mater. Chris was previously a member of the Elon Alumni Board, including one term as president, and a regional committee member for the Elon leads Campaign. He has also served as a volunteer for Elon Day, Alumni 360, class reunions and affinity reunions.

Chris lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his wife, Mason. Their son, William, is a senior at the University of South Carolina, and their daughter, Maggie, is a junior at Clemson University. In his spare time, Chris enjoys reading, traveling, going to the beach and golfing.

Kathie Sink Niven ’89

Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award

Awarded to an alumna who has distinguished herself in a profession and in the community and brought honor to Elon.

Kathie Sink Niven’s time as a student was just the beginning of her deep connection to Elon, having dedicated a significant portion of her career to a company with close ties to the university.

Kathie is chief executive officer of Biscuitville, Inc., a regional fast-food chain with more than 50 locations in North Carolina and Virginia, including at Elon. The company was founded in 1966 by Maurice Jennings ’57 P’87 GP’13 GP’18 GP’18, and Burney Jennings ’87 P’18 serves as executive chair. Kathie previously served as president and chief brand officer at the company.

Using the skills she first cultivated at Elon, she specializes in designing and executing brand strategy and organizational design. In 2014, she led the rebranding of Biscuitville, which included the addition of fresh southern® to its name; remodeling, relocating or rebuilding 100% of its restaurants; and a re-energized commitment to sourcing locally. Since joining the company in 2010, she has enjoyed an executive leadership role in driving Biscuitville’s growth from $55 million to over $150 million.

Before joining Biscuitville, Kathie served as vice president of field marketing for Quiznos Corp., senior director of marketing for Arby’s Roast Beef Corporation, field marketing manager for Burger King, manager of national field marketing for Krispy Kreme and director of client services for Bouvier Kelly, earning six addy Awards.

After graduating from Elon with a degree in English and a minor in communications, Kathie continued her education with coursework in leadership, branding and strategy at the Center for Creative Leadership and the Kenan Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and earned a certificate in design thinking from Harvard University. Always generous with her time for her alma mater, Kathie has served on the Elon Alumni Board and the President’s Advisory Council.

Kathie lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her husband and fellow Elon alum, William “Drew” Niven ’89, and their two children, Will and Ellie. They enjoy traveling, sailing, camping, game night and all things fun and adventurous.

Rich ’87 P’17 & Laurie Johnson P’17

Distinguished Service to Elon Award

This award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service that promotes the advancement of Elon.

Rich ’87 P’17 and Laurie P’17 JohnsonRich and Laurie Johnson are exemplary stewards of Elon’s commitment to creating engaged, experiential learning opportunities for all students, routinely supporting the university with their time and finances.

Rich and Laurie have been among Elon’s most active and impactful volunteers, always answering the call to serve Elon. A leader within Elon’s alumni body, Rich has been an Elon leads Campaign steering committee member, Elon leads regional committee co-chair, Parents Council member, Elon Alumni Board member, Alumni 360 volunteer, Elon Day volunteer and social media ambassador. Laurie also served on the Parents Council and participated in the Women’s Philanthropy Focus Group.

Dedicated members of the Elon Society and the Order of the Oak, Rich and Laurie’s generous financial support of Elon includes a $50,000 gift naming the Alumni Room in the School of Communications, a $50,000 gift naming the Men’s Basketball Conference Room in Schar Center and a $100,000 gift that named a room at The Inn at Elon and created an endowed Elon Engagement Scholarship. In 2020, they included Elon in their estate plans with a $250,000 bequest. Laurie and Rich’s annual gifts have also supported Elon’s Greatest Needs, the Phoenix Club, the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business and the Division of Student Life.

Rich graduated from Elon with a degree in mass communication. He spent his entire career in the banking industry, including leadership roles at the Community Bank of Northern Virginia, PNC and Virginia Heritage Bank. He retired in 2022 as senior vice president and chief consumer lending officer at MainStreet Bank. He is now a certified volunteer firefighter with Loudoun County, Virginia, and plans to achieve his EMT certification in summer 2023. Laurie earned her bachelor’s degree from American University and her mba at George Washington University. She joined Accenture in 1989 and recently retired as managing director. She was named Accenture’s Inventor of the Year in 2012 for her patented “Behavior Mapped Influence Analysis Tool.” Laurie now serves as director of learning at the Boulder Crest Foundation, a nonprofit that helps struggling veterans and first responders overcome trauma.

Laurie and Rich are also both members of the Fairfax, Virginia, chapter of the Harley Owners Group. This spring, they will participate in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America for the second time to benefit the Victory Junction camp, which challenges children who have a serious medical condition to try things they never imagined possible. The couple lives in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Their daughter, Grace ’17, is continuing their legacy of service to Elon as a member of the Young Alumni Council.

LaToya Marcus Faustin ’04 G’10

Distinguished Alumni Service Award

This award is presented to an alumnus or alumna who has given extraordinary service to    his or her community.

A versatile strategist and creative leader, LaToya Marcus Faustin has devoted her professional life to improving her community and uplifting underrepresented voices.

As executive director of She Built This City, LaToya provides industry disruptive programming that sparks interest and builds pathways to lucrative careers in the skilled trades for youth, women and marginalized communities. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based nonprofit aims to dismantle barriers and stigmas in traditionally male-dominated industries through innovative, sustainable practices, providing women and girls with exploratory opportunities and advanced training in construction, automotive, manufacturing, engineering and other maker spaces.

LaToya credits her time at Elon with affording her the connections and experiences she needed to build the skills she has used throughout her career. As a Leadership Fellow, member of the yearbook committee and even a dancer at Spring Convocation featuring Elie Wiesel, she took part in everything she could at Elon. After graduating with a degree in corporate communications and a minor in Spanish, LaToya spent three years on the border of Texas and Mexico teaching high school English to underserved youth through Teach for America. Her time in the classrooms of the Rio Grande Valley sparked her desire to work in community advocacy and economic development.

She later returned to Elon to earn her MBA before becoming regional director of Citizen Schools, an education-based nonprofit that partners with local middle schools to bring real world learning to the classroom through partnerships with major corporations, small businesses and community members. She was the founding executive director of the Park Community Development Corporation, where she established a vision and executed strategy around affordable housing, workforce development and healthy living. She also started her own consulting firm, Stay Ready Consulting Solutions.

Equally committed to community service beyond the scope of her work, LaToya serves on the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee for Habitat for Humanity Charlotte. She was a board member for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance – Central Chapter and involved in West End revitalization efforts with the City of Charlotte’s economic development team. She is currently a member of the Elon Alumni Board and previously served on the Young Alumni Council. LaToya lives in Charlotte with her family.