Elon celebrates 2024 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni at awards ceremony

The 2024 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards honored the accomplishments of 10 alumni from the past decade during an April ceremony.

Surrounded by their loved ones and their Elon mentors and friends, 10 outstanding young alumni were honored with the 2024 Top 10 Under 10 Alumni Awards during a ceremony on April 27. The award recipients, who graduated from Elon during the past decade, included Sarah Alger ’17, Katherine Blunt ’15, Sean Burke ’14, Ashley Braun Darling ’13 (in absentia), Tom Darling ’13, Peter Fox ’14, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15, Oscar Miranda Tapia ’17, Dmitri Thompson ’18 and Erin Wilkins ’18.

During her congratulatory remarks, Elon University President Connie Ledoux Book expressed deep appreciation for the award winners’ transformative journeys of success from students to accomplished individuals. She also recognized the impact of family and friends in their success, highlighting the significance of relationships and unexpected paths, and underlining the transformative power of an Elon education.

“This evening inspires all of us here at Elon and remind us, when we’re working with our students today, that in 10 years they’ll be out there doing work far greater than we had imagined possible and they will surpass all of our dreams,” Book said. “That’s really what we’re celebrating — the power of an education to change your life forever forward and your family’s lives forever forward.”

Sarah Alger ’17

Information Officer, USAID – Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

Sarah Alger ’17, information officer with USAID – Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance

Sarah cultivated her passion for public health and human service at Elon, laying the foundation for a meaningful career in global health.

She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in public health and minors in human service studies, leadership studies, and wellness and health education. She was active with Campus Recreation and Wellness, the LEAD Program, Women’s Club Soccer, Just Dancing Around and the Elon Public Health Society. Sarah was also a member of the honor societies Omicron Delta Kappa and Kappa Omicron Nu. She studied abroad in India during Winter Term 2015.

Elon laid the foundation for me to be become a global citizen, a public health advocate and a lifelong learner. … These experiences undoubtedly launched my career working at the CDC and USAID and next the NIH. … This award is only possible with all of your support. I greatly appreciate the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and I look forward to seeing what the future generation of public health students from Elon accomplish as a major continues to grow here.

For her undergraduate research, Sarah collaborated with Watts/Thompson Professor of Public Health Studies and Human Service Studies Cynthia Fair to publish the first-known study on the needs of internationally adopted children with HIV in the United States. Following graduation, Sarah went on to earn an advanced degree in public health from The George Washington University in 2019.

Between her undergraduate and graduate experiences, Sarah served as an intern for the nonprofits Children of Uganda, CARE and Population Services International. She continued to pursue a career in global health programming when she joined DAI Global, LLC, an international development company with projects in nearly 200 countries, as its associate global health practice specialist. During her tenure, one of the projects that Sarah managed was the launch of USAID’s flagship maternal and newborn health project in Indonesia.

After spending a year in Uganda serving as a Strategic Information Fellow with the CDC Global Health Fellowship Program, Sarah joined the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance in January 2023 as a full-time information officer.

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Katherine Blunt ’15, energy reporter with The Wall Street Journal

Katherine Blunt ’15

Energy Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Katherine Blunt ’15 engaged in enriching experiences in and out of the classroom at Elon that paved the way for a successful career in journalism.

Katherine earned her degree in journalism with a focus on print and online news. As a student, she served as the news editor for The Pendulum and was a member of Catholic Campus Ministry, Phi Alpha Theta and Lambda Pi Eta. During Winter Term 2012, Katherine studied abroad in Germany. A Presidential Scholar and Communications Fellow, she was awarded Elon’s prestigious Lumen Prize in 2013. Her undergraduate research focused on how Adolph Hitler was described in popular American newspapers from 1923 to 1933.

I think something that all [Elon alumni] have in common is a real appreciation for all the special opportunities that we had at Elon, but really also all the people who are truly committed to helping us succeed. I majored in journalism and history, and when I think back on the four years that I spent here, I think first of the professors who helped me really to make the most of it.

Following graduation, Katherine took a reporting job with the San Antonio Express-News. Her first major investigation was exploring the failure of the state’s new public-private toll road. She then joined the Houston Chronicle and spent a year reporting on how Joel Osteen built Lakewood Church into one of the nation’s largest megachurches.

In November 2018, Katherine began covering renewable energy and utility companies for the Houston office of the Wall Street Journal. She and two colleagues investigated the massive wildfire that engulfed Northern California due to faulty infrastructure from power provider Pacific Gas & Electric. Their coverage was a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting; it also earned a Gerald Loeb award, the highest honor in business journalism, and the Thomas L. Stokes Award for environmental journalism. Katherine’s work on the disaster was the foundation for her 2022 book, “California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric – and What It Means for America’s Power Grid.”

Within her community, Katherine serves on the board of Food Runners, a nonprofit that collects excess meals from restaurants and businesses and delivers them to local food programs. She helps lead a wide network of volunteers that relay close to 20,000 meals each week. Additionally, Katherine is a Newsroom to Classroom volunteer with The News Literacy Project.

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Sean Burke ’14, loan officer with PGIM Real Estate

Sean Burke ’14

Loan Officer, PGIM Real Estate

Since graduating from Elon with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a minor in accounting, Sean Burke ’14 has made significant contributions in his career and his community.

As a student, Sean was an Odyssey Program scholar, president of Sigma Chi fraternity and a Business Fellow. He studied abroad in Mexico, Barcelona and the Pacific Rim. He also held an internship with Citi in summer 2013 before taking a position with the company as a finance analyst after graduation.

The first thing that Elon taught me when I got on campus was to be a global citizen. To me, that meant being part of something bigger than myself. It meant using my experiences at Elon through the Odyssey Scholars Program and the Business Fellows Program to help guide me in my career. And Elon’s emphasis on that global citizenship inspired me to work in a career that has a true impact on the community around me.

Sean spent three years with Citi before joining PGIM Real Estate Finance in 2017 as a senior investment analyst. PGIM is one of the largest real estate investment managers in the world with $210 billion in assets under management. Since joining PGIM, Sean has assisted with the structuring of more than $2.7 billion in debt financing transactions. In his current role as a loan officer, he is responsible for originating and structuring multifamily affordable and conventional loans. Sean’s passion for affordable housing stems from his time at Elon when he volunteered with the Odyssey scholars in the Mississippi Delta.

In spring 2021, Sean married fellow alum Ranen Jones Burke ’14 at the Duke Mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina. The couple continues to reside in the Queen City, where they have attended several regional Elon alumni events. An active member of his community, Sean has volunteered with Shelters to Shutters supporting poverty alleviation and Hank’s Yanks Baseball Foundation in youth development. He also served on the Charlotte Young Leaders Council of the Urban Land Institute. Most recently, Sean acted as a mentor in the Urban Land Institute’s Etkin Scholars Program, which introduces college students to the real estate industry.

As a member of the 1889 Society, Sean’s giving has supported the Anonymous Odyssey Scholarship Annual Fund, the Elon Experiences Fund, Hillel, Elon’s Greatest Needs, the Leon V. and Lorraine B. Watson Scholarship, and the N.C. Independent College Fund Scholarships. His brother, Alec Burke ’17, is also an Elon alumnus.

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Tom Darling ’13, co-founder of Darling Wines

Ashley Braun Darling ’13 & Tom Darling ’13

Co-Founders, Darling Wines

Ashley Braun Darling ’13 and Tom Darling ’13 have forged fulfilling careers from their passions while making meaningful contributions to their communities.

During her time at Elon, Ashley dived into a plethora of experiences, participating in various organizations including Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Catholic Campus Ministry, Invisible Children and the Student Union Board. Additionally, she sang with the all-female a cappella group Sweet Signatures and is a sister in the Tri-Sigma sorority. Her academic journey included completing The London Theatre program during a semester abroad in England, ultimately earning a degree in media arts and entertainment with a specialization in broadcast and news media.

Tom exhibited a service-oriented mindset and entrepreneurial drive throughout his academic and professional endeavors. During his time at Elon, Tom balanced his studies with active participation in Men’s Tennis, Club Ice Hockey, Catholic Campus Ministry and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. He also volunteered with various service organizations, including Loaves & Fishes food ministry.

Right here is the magic of Elon. Not only can you learn and earn an incredible degree from this university, but more importantly, you learn the necessary life skills to pursue your dreams and enter the real world. It’s the people and the place that shape you and prepare you for what is to come, and to me, this is where Elon excels. — Tom Darling ’13

Post-Elon, the couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Ashley ventured into the marketing realm, initially serving as a sales account manager at TransPerfect before transitioning to a role as an email marketing and social media specialist with Fishbowl Marketing. In 2014, she co-founded Grip the Mat, a yoga studio offering pop-up classes followed by group social experiences. Tom served as a sales manager with The Knowland Group, which provides sales solutions for the hotel, meeting and event industry, and as a clinical sales specialist for Medtronic, a health care technology company.

Tom’s journey into winemaking began after a transformative trip to Northern California, leading him to work part-time in a tasting room in Middleburg, Virginia. In 2016, he and Ashley relocated to Napa to pursue winemaking as a full-time career. Tom gained invaluable experience as a cellar hand and sales associate at several Napa wineries before co-founding Darling Wines with Ashley. Starting with just two barrels of Syrah, their venture quickly gained traction, with their wines earning placements in prestigious establishments like Bouchon Bistro in Napa Valley. Today, Darling Wines produces exceptional Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay sourced from coastal vineyards meticulously farmed with respect for the environment. Their wines can be found in esteemed Michelin-starred restaurants, local favorites and retail wine shops across the Bay area.

Ashley and Tom live in Sonoma, California, with their children. In addition to their entrepreneurial pursuits, they remain active in their community. Tom serves as a sales rep at Springboard Wine Company and sits on the board of ACEing Autism, a nonprofit utilizing tennis to support children with autism spectrum disorder. Ashley continues to teach yoga at Sonoma Yoga and founded the Conscious Motherhood mother’s circle, embodying their commitment to holistic wellness and community engagement.

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Peter Fox ’14, vice president of the Blackstone Group

Peter Fox ’14

Vice President, The Blackstone Group

Peter Fox ’14 sharpened his business acumen at Elon and now holds a significant leadership role with the world’s largest alternative asset manager.

During his time at Elon, Peter served as vice president of Phoenix Capital and was active with Model UN, Club Golf, College Republicans and the Financial Management Association. He also studied abroad in the European Union in winter 2013. During his final year at Elon, Peter was part of a team that qualified as state finalists in the 2014 CFA Institute Research Challenge. He graduated with a degree in finance and a minor in accounting. In 2021, Peter furthered his education with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

I’m honored, and at the same time very humbled, to be on this stage. The accomplishments of my peers make me look very small. That said, I would not be here without the support of family and friends, and I think everyone up here who’s been here can say the same exact thing. Thank you to the people who are here, but more importantly, thank you to the people who are not.

Since graduating, Peter has steadily advanced his career in investment banking. Beginning as an analyst with the Corporate Finance Group at Credit Suisse, he progressed into associate and senior associate roles at Coller Capital. He joined The Blackstone Group in 2021 as an associate before being promoted to vice president. Blackstone is a leading global investor that manages $1 trillion in assets including real estate, private equity, infrastructure, life sciences, growth equity, credit, real assets, secondaries and hedge funds.

In September 2019, Peter married fellow alum Tayler Sirabella Fox ’14. The couple resides in Larchmont, New York, where Tayler works as an AVP of product development with Global X ETFS. Tayler and Peter welcomed their son, William, in June of this year.

Peter returned to Elon in 2017 to participate in a “Perspectives in Banking” panel discussion with finance majors where he provided tips for job hunting within the banking industry. He previously served on the New York regional committee for the Elon LEADS Campaign and is currently a member of the President’s Young Leaders Council. Members of the 1889 Society, Peter and Tayler have generously supported the Love School of Business, Elon’s Greatest Needs, the Phoenix Club, Football, the School of Communications and Men’s Basketball.

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Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15, actress, writer and founder of By Phylicia Productions

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15

Actress & Writer, By Phylicia Productions

From the McCrary Theatre stage to the big screen, Phylicia Pearl Mpasi ’15 has made her mark in the entertainment industry with her writing and performing talents.

Phylicia Pearl is a graduate of Elon’s music theatre program and minored in communications. She was a member of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, the French Club, Active Minds, Catholic Campus Ministry and the theatre honor society Alpha Psi Omega. Phylicia Pearl spent the spring of her sophomore year participating in the Elon in L.A. program. Shortly before graduating, she was cast as a vocal swing and held the understudy role for Shenzi in the Broadway National Tour of “The Lion King.”

Thank you. Thank you for accepting me into the university and the music program all those years ago.  … Thank you for teaching me I could sing songs and ultimately live life in my own key when I did not come prepared for those lessons. Thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for creating the roots that would allow me to blossom into who I am today.

Throughout her post-graduate career, Phylicia Pearl has enjoyed success as an actress, writer, comedian and singer who tells stories that showcase the excellence of underrepresented people through a comedic lens. She continued performing in various roles in “The Lion King” both on Broadway and on tour until 2020. She began creating YouTube videos during the pandemic before pivoting to writing. Phylicia Pearl wrote for “We Stay Looking,” an HBO scripted podcast produced by Issa Rae that received both Webby and Ambie Award nominations. She was also a staff writer on the Paramount+ series “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.”

In 2023 Phylicia Pearl made her big screen debut as young Celie in “The Color Purple,” based on the Broadway adaptation of the 1985 film and produced by Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey. She won the NCAACP Image Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance for her work and was nominated with the rest of the film’s cast for a Critic’s Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

In addition to TV scripts, Phylicia Pearl has also worked as a freelance writer for Honeysuckle digital magazine, where she wrote pieces on the intersection of pop culture and social justice and had the opportunity to interview Malcolm X’s niece. Within her community, Phylicia Pearl volunteers with the National Eating Disorders Association and works to bring the cultural benefits of theatre to low-income children in her hometown.

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Oscar Miranda Tapia ’17, Ph.D. candidate at N.C. State University

Oscar Miranda Tapia ’17

Ph.D. Candidate at North Carolina State University

During the Elon LEADS Campaign launch in Boston in 2019, Oscar Miranda Tapia ’17 spoke about his experience as an Odyssey student and shared his gratitude for donors who made attending college a reality. Now, he’s made it his life’s work to further educational opportunities for others.

An Odyssey Program and Golden Door Scholar, Oscar was active with several organizations on campus including serving as treasurer and president of the Latinx-Hispanic Union from 2014 to 2015. During the summer before his senior year, Oscar participated in the Elon in NYC program. After graduating in 2017 with a degree in psychology, he spent a year as a Community Impact Fellow with Alamance Achieves before going on to earn his master’s degree in education from Harvard University in 2019.

It’s hard to conceptualize being here today. Never did I think that I would go to college or think that I would go to college debt-free, much less live in New York City considering my rural background, or even graduate from Harvard. The 5-year-old me from Mexico could have never imagined this, but this training has been a true blessing.

Oscar returned to his alma mater to help launch The First-Generation Initiative through his role as assistant director of first-generation student support services. In 2021 he was honored with the Latinx-Hispanic Union Staff Service Award for this work. Oscar spearheaded efforts to provide resources to the population of first-generation students who did not have a built-in support system like the Odyssey Program. This meaningful work is highlighted in the book that Oscar recently co-authored with President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert, Assistant Provost Peter Felten and Isis Artze-Vega. Published in August 2023, “Connections are Everything: A College Student’s Guide to Relationship Education” serves as a guide for students who are looking to develop powerful relationships during their college years.

Oscar departed Elon in 2022 to pursue his Ph.D. in educational leadership, policy and human development at North Carolina State University. He currently serves as a research associate at the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research and is also a graduate assistant at the William and Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. Oscar sits on the board of LatinxEd, an educational and equity leadership organization that is hosted on Elon’s campus.

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Dmitri Thompson ’18, CEO of Rise Media and co-founder of RISE League, Inc.

Dmitri Thompson ’18

CEO of Rise Media and Co-founder of RISE League, Inc.

Dmitri “Meech” Thompson ’18, a former member of Elon’s Division I Men’s Basketball team, ended his Elon career as one of the best scorers in program history and has gone on to make a tremendous impact in the lives of children in his hometown.

As an undergraduate, Dmitri served on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and volunteered as a counselor with the Boys & Girls Clubs. In summer 2015, he traveled with the Men’s Basketball team as they studied abroad in Europe. He served as team captain his senior year before graduating with a degree in sport and event management and a minor in communications.

I’d just like to thank Elon for being such an amazing, amazing university, and for making my life easy, because my goal, my mission in life is to inspire; inspire the youth, inspire anyone I come in contact with, and giving someone like me, a young Black boy, this honor, it’s going to inspire a lot of people like me.

Following graduation, Dmitri spent two years playing professional basketball internationally in Nicosia, Cyprus. While playing abroad, he and his brother, Dwight, began a series of entrepreneurial initiatives that made an indelible footprint on their hometown of Orlando, Florida. Inspired by their desire to give back to the Boys & Girls Club, a program they were involved in as youth, the brothers designed and sold shirts to raise enough money for a sizeable donation. The success of their initiative led to the creation of the streetwear clothing brand DT Apparel, with the message “Rise Up, Take Courage, Do It.”

In 2019 Dmitri and Dwight established RISE League, a program designed to help underprivileged youth connect the skills they learn on the basketball court to the business world. In addition to basketball training sessions and clinics, it also offers monthly seminars, job tours, employee shadowing and college scholarship opportunities. In November 2023, the nonprofit received a $75,000 grant from Dick’s Sporting Goods to help with program and scholarship costs.

Most recently, the Thompson brothers started Rise Media, a full-service creative agency that offers photography, videography, editing and Photoshop services for businesses and the public. In addition to leading the company as chief executive officer, Dmitri also acts as director of media for JRZ Marketing. Using his background in media production, he collaborates with small-to-medium-sized businesses as they build their respective brand identities.

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Erin Wilkins ’18, manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at Goodwin Law Firm

Erin Wilkins ’18

Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Goodwin Law Firm

Erin Wilkins ’18 has been a stalwart advocate for people from historically marginalized communities throughout her time at Elon and her professional career.

As an undergraduate, Erin served as a SMART Mentor, SAAC representative, campus visit assistant, teaching assistant, first-year orientation leader, diversity ambassador and a student worker in the Health & Wellness Center. While studying abroad in Denmark in spring 2017, she worked as a math tutor at the Copenhagen International School. She completed an internship with Cone Health as a community health and wellness extern later that summer. Erin graduated from Elon with a degree in public health studies before going on to receive a Master of Arts in education and human development from The George Washington University, where she is currently an adjunct professor in the business school.

From the moment I heard about Elon, I knew I wanted to be a student here. It’s the only school I applied to … And I just knew in my heart of hearts that this was the place for me. … Elon gave me four of the best years of my life. Great friends, a wonderful education and memories to last a lifetime.

In a short span of time, Erin has built a distinguished career in the legal industry and currently serves as the manager of diversity, equity and inclusion at the law firm Goodwin in Washington, D.C. She advises partners on how to incorporate DEI competencies into their legal practice and management styles and empowers staff who have been historically marginalized, including women, people of color, disabled individuals, members of LGBTQIA communities and veterans. Erin recently championed the creation of a women of color initiative within the firm. She previously held similar roles at the law practices of Venable and Reed Smith LLP.

Erin also works to make a difference in her community through her service in the Junior League of Washington. As a member of the scholarship committee, she helps provide resources to young people who are facing financial challenges in pursuing their education. She also promotes community service projects that address issues such as women’s empowerment, education and poverty.

Erin lives in Alexandria, Virginia. She continues to contribute her time and resources at Elon as a leadership member of the Elon Black Alumni Network and supporter of the Black Alumni Scholarship.

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