Category: Community Affairs Board of Advisors

BOA Concludes Spring 2024 Meeting; Witt Inspires Leadership

BOA Concludes Spring 2024 Meeting; Witt Inspires Leadership

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Community Affairs Board of Advisors concluded its spring 2024 meeting at the Bryant Conference Center on April 22, where members discussed upcoming initiatives and reflected on the importance of leadership from keynote speaker, UA President Emeritus Dr. Robert E. Witt.        

Witt, who jokingly noted that his legacy will be known by hiring former Alabama head football coach Nick Saban, reflected on the growth of the University throughout his tenure and the role of alumni in providing leadership to inspire future generations. 

“One of the University’s strengths for a long time has been our alumni,” Witt said. “You’re our most effective advocates. You helped us come from where the University was when you were here on campus to where the University is today.”

As the Division of Community Affairs enters its 20th anniversary year on campus, Witt also remarked how the Division has laid a foundation for reciprocity among the campus and surrounding communities through the leadership of Dr. Samory Pruitt, whom he appointed to serve as vice president for Community Affairs in 2004. 

Earlier in the day, BOA members reflected on how they may continue the legacy of Community Affairs during panel discussions focused on committee interests in areas of public health, academic success, entrepreneurship, global and community leadership, and veterans’ support. The Board also welcomed its newest member Nicole King, who joined the Board since the BOA fall meeting.  

The BOA committee leadership presented their upcoming initiatives during the dinner, sharing thoughts on how they can inspire positive change in their communities. Additionally, Beau DeVaul, chair of the Global and Community Leadership Development Committee, acknowledged two UA students who were recipients of the BOA’s Study Away scholarships for the upcoming year, Hannah Francis and Steven Multer.

Expanding on Witt’s comments from the keynote dinner, BOA President Samarria Munnerlyn Dunson acknowledged the BOA’s role of leadership by imploring members to reflect on how they may uplift others through the foundation of their BOA committees that also complement the overall mission of the University.

“We speak often about our rising tide, and President John F. Kennedy is credited with making popular the quote, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ yet we are very much aware that there are those in our communities that don’t have the resources to ensure that when the tide rises, their boat is equipped to rise with it,” said Dunson. “What I love most about the Division of Community Affairs is that it is our goal to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to rise.” 

The BOA meeting began on Sunday, April 21, with lunch and an overview of Community Affairs programs and announcements for the BOA, followed by a reception at the A.C. Hotel. The spring 2024 agenda concluded with breakfast on Tuesday, April 23, at the A.C. Hotel in Tuscaloosa.

BOA Talks Power of Connectivity During Fall 2023 Meeting

BOA Talks Power of Connectivity During Fall 2023 Meeting

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

The Community Affairs Board of Advisors concluded its fall 2023 meeting with a dinner and gala in the Diamonds Direct Ballroom at Regions Field in Birmingham, where members discussed new initiatives and learned the importance of connectivity from keynote speaker, Birmingham City Attorney Nicole King.       

King, a UA alumna, shared how the connections she made and skills she developed at The University of Alabama impacted her career.

“The power of connectivity is just like the sturdy oak trees on The University of Alabama campus,” King said. “Standing tall in the storms and able to face the fiercest of winds, the branches may bend a little, but they would never break. And just as the branches of the tree remain unbroken, genuine connections grow stronger.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin also delivered remarks to the BOA via video, emphasizing the power of collaboration.

Earlier in the day, BOA members heard from panelists whose work corresponded to committee interests in areas of public health, academic success, entrepreneurship, global and community leadership, and veterans’ support. In keeping with the meeting’s theme, “Making Magic in the Magic City,” the BOA committee leadership presented their upcoming initiatives during the gala, sharing thoughts on how they can “make magic” through connectivity and reciprocity.

“Throughout all of our presentations we’ve learned about the value of connectivity,” said Jon Macklem, chair of the Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee. “In the space of entrepreneurship and innovation, we’ve been blessed by great speakers that talked about all the exciting things, all the magic that’s been created here in Birmingham through innovation, through supporting people who want to create new businesses and who want to explore new ideas.”

BOA members also highlighted how connectivity provides opportunities to utilize their individual strengths to improve quality-of-life initiatives. 

“I want to challenge us to all reflect on our strength and privileges, understand our role in power dynamics and embrace the power that comes through the community,” said Ibukun Afon, chair of the Public Health Committee. “Let us continue to come back and give back.”

Reflecting on the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of UA, BOA President Samarria Munnerlyn Dunson acknowledged the legacy of Vivian Malone Jones and Dr. James Hood, along with others, and encouraged her fellow Board members to continue to make a difference in the lives of others.

“I stand here grateful for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of countless others,” said Dunson. “I am immensely proud of all the progress that our alma mater has made in the decades that followed and for the genuine and valuable relationships that we forged along the way. There is no doubt that The University of Alabama is where legends are made. The work that we do in the Division of Community Affairs, that is where a difference is made in the life of our students, the Tuscaloosa community and beyond.”

Joined by fellow BOA member Jessica Sanders Walker, Dunson presented Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, with a gift to thank him for his leadership and vision of the BOA at the conclusion of the gala.

The BOA meeting officially began on Sunday, Oct. 22, with a lunch and overview of Community Affairs programs and announcements for the BOA, followed by a reception at Graham & Co. The fall 2023 agenda concluded with a breakfast on Tuesday, Oct. 24, at the Elyton Hotel in Birmingham.

BOA Member Partners with SEA for Aviation Day

BOA Member Partners with SEA for Aviation Day

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – It looked like a scene out of “Top Gun” with Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” playing in the background as STEM Entrepreneurship Academy (SEA) students donned their aviator sunglasses and posed for pictures outside the hangar of Sanders Aviation and Sanders Flight Training Center in Jasper, Alabama, during a special aviation day of camp on Wednesday, July 12.

Held annually during July, SEA is a one-week residential camp that provides rising high school juniors and seniors from across Alabama with opportunities to improve their knowledge and application of STEM while developing their entrepreneurship skills during hands-on workshops and hearing from experts in the field at The University of Alabama.

New this year was an aviation day partnership made possible in part by UA alumna Jessica Sanders Walker. Walker is the vice president of Sanders Aviation and Sanders Flight Training Center, and founder of the nonprofit, Operation Aviation Foundation (OAF), which encourages youth to seek education and career pathways in aviation.  

While visiting campus this past spring, Walker reconnected with Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, who invited her to join the Community Affairs Board of Advisors (BOA). As a BOA member, she participated in the 2023 New Faculty Community Engagement Tour that resulted in a partnership with Andrea Ziegler, director of Community Education, and Jake Peterson, assistant director of Community Education. As part of the partnership, 2023 SEA students were invited to participate in an aviation day during OAF’s first summer camp.

During the camp, SEA students heard from industry professionals, including Tim Crumbly, NASA technical fellow for software assurance, and Kathy Byars, Center Executive Officer at Marshall Space Flight Center. Campers were also debriefed on the science of flying and participated in a flight simulator. As a woman in STEM, Walker is passionate about making STEM careers accessible to youth in underrepresented areas.

“As soon as Kathy Byars from NASA stopped talking, I saw all these young girls from [STEM Entrepreneurship] Academy run up to her, and they were just elated speaking to her,” said Walker. “That really warmed my heart because I remember what it felt like to be a young woman on campus at The University of Alabama, and there weren’t that many women doing things in a lot of STEM positions and aviation positions as there are now, so it is always so exciting to get to see someone like Kathy Byars in the role that she’s in and all the women who presented today.”

The motto of the BOA is coming back, giving back, which inspires Walker to expand aviation outreach within her community.

“The Division of Community Affairs has just been incredible,” Walker said. “I would like to thank the staff from Community Affairs and Dr. Kathleen Cramer, who has constantly steered me back to the University. I am forever grateful to Dr. [Samory] Pruitt, and The University of Alabama because it is about coming back, giving back.”  

Board of Advisors Hears from Trustee Simon, Announces Upcoming Initiatives

Board of Advisors Hears from Trustee Simon, Announces Upcoming Initiatives

by Dr. Elisabetta Zengaro
Communications Specialist, Division of Community Affairs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The Community Affairs Board of Advisors (BOA) concluded its spring 2023 meeting in Tuscaloosa on Monday, April 3 at the Bryant Conference Center with a series of meetings followed by the keynote address from University of Alabama System Trustee Kenneth Simon.

Simon, a graduate of The University of Alabama School of Law and former Jefferson County circuit judge, reminded attendees that sometimes a note of encouragement is all it takes to inspire others. He told the story of a handwritten message that his former professor wrote in the corner of a paper and its impact on his career.

“So, the words that he wrote, ‘Educate thyself, brother, and you will go far.’ That helped create a true vision for myself,” Simon said.

Years later, Simon wrote a letter thanking his professor for those words of encouragement. Simon read from his professor’s reply, noting its impact as follows: “I tossed the words out into the unknown and you and they have gone far, and now, 20 years later, they returned to me in the form of thanks. … Your letter seems to say to me you never know, brother, what your words can do for others.”

Resonating with how their words and actions can encourage others, the BOA committee leadership shared their initiatives for the upcoming year.

To support the Vision Days program, the Academic Success and Student Retention Committee announced members will contribute financially to Vision Days student support and will mentor students from the Vision Days program at UA.

The Alumni Engagement Committee announced plans to increase BOA membership within the UA Alumni Association.

The Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee discussed how to support the FUEL Alabama initiative to encourage entrepreneurship and engagement with alumni.

The Global and Community Leadership Development Committee recognized two students who received the Committee’s Study Away Scholarship during Monday’s banquet. Additionally, the Committee is working to collaborate with UA’s Career Center to assist students with career readiness and discussed partnering with the Black Belt Community Foundation and Crossroads to encourage civic engagement.

The Public Health Committee discussed ways to support the McCullough Institute for Pre-Medical Scholars, as well as the Rural Health Initiative, noting that they want to broaden these efforts to retain students in-state for their residencies and beyond.

The Finance Committee shared an update on the funds raised for the endowments to support each committee.

The Veteran Support Services Committee reported that they continue to work on logistics for hosting a veteran orientation on campus and that they are exploring innovative partnerships with campus and community members for veterans’ well-being, such as in adaptive sports and art therapy.

Many of these initiatives resulted from panel discussions faculty, staff and students at UA held that connected BOA members with partnerships and research initiatives to support the work of their respective committees.

Taylor Nichols, Board vice president, introduced new Board members Clay Armentrout and Jessica Sanders Walker, who have joined the Board since its fall 2022 meeting.

In closing, BOA President Samarria Dunson recognized BOA members for their dedication to UA and thanked Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, for his leadership.

“Dr. [Samory] Pruitt often speaks about the composition of this Board being good people who are also high achievers, but what he doesn’t recognize is it is his leadership, character and example that binds us together and fortifies our mission,” said Dunson. “Thank you, Dr. Pruitt, for all that you do for the betterment of this Board, for this amazing institution and for the citizens of the state of Alabama.”

The BOA meeting officially began on Sunday, April 2, with a lunch and overview of Community Affairs initiatives, followed by a walking tour of the UA campus and an evening reception at Hotel Indigo in downtown Tuscaloosa. The spring 2023 activities concluded with breakfast on Tuesday, April 4, at the hotel.

Dr. Raphael Bostic Addresses the Challenge and Opportunities of Rural Communities

Raphael W. Bostic headshot

Dr. Raphael W. Bostick, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, addressed how the Federal Reserve is responding to the needs of rural communities on Sept. 23 in a presentation titled “Toward a More Perfect Economy: The Challenge and Opportunity of Rural Communities.” This virtual conversation was held in partnership with the Hale County Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama, Stillman College and The University of Alabama Division of Community Affairs.

Community representatives joining the conversation included Felecia Lucky, president of the Black Belt Community Foundation; Dr. Josh Pierce, the Robert Hunt Cochrane/Alabama Banker’s Endowed Chair of Banking in the Culverhouse College of Business; and Alex Flachsbart, CEO and founder of Opportunity Alabama.

Bostic’s responsibilities involve maintaining stable prices and monitoring financial risks to support the economy. With the Federal Reserve, Bostic helps regulate monetary policy through the setting of interest rates. The Atlanta Fed serves as a pipeline for financial lending, investments and small business partnerships.

Bostic said the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a significant drop in spending and a rise in unemployment, as well as concerns about eviction, has drastically changed how the Federal Reserve provides resources for local businesses and families. He said the Federal Reserve has responded with assistance to families and small businesses by creating the Main Street Lending Program to support businesses that didn’t qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program.

Rural areas are especially challenged, he said, to find solutions in gaining access to broadband connections, affordable housing and delivery of healthcare. With the increase of virtual meetings to ensure social distancing, access to the Internet is more important than ever for individuals and small businesses to complete daily tasks.

“What we have first and foremost is a public health crisis, and the thing that will determine the trajectory of the economy is the trajectory of the virus and the nature of that crisis,” Bostic said.

Bostic also addressed the importance of providing financial literacy for rural citizens, saying that every American must know where to find information and receive answers to their questions. For specific resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he recommended this website:

Lucky, president of the Black Belt Community Foundation, said the “challenges in the Black Belt are real when it comes to technology.” Outside of the pandemic, rural communities are also widely affected by differences in technological resources. While some areas are in abundance of information and materials, some families and businesses are challenged with finding access to certain assets. To meet these needs, she said, individuals and organizations throughout Alabama, including the Black Belt, are collaborating to evaluate opportunities in rural communities. Flachsbart reported that Opportunity Alabama, a 501c3 organization, is working on an initiative with the Delta Regional Authority to ensure people of the Black Belt have access to technical assistance to support more local projects.

Community Affairs Board of Advisors Welcomes Four New Members

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By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs

The Division of Community Affairs Board of Advisors recently welcomed four new members to the group. They are Mario J. Bailey of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area, Galvin Billups of Birmingham, Kechia Davis of Birmingham and Matt Zarzour of Mobile.

“These four new members of the Board of Advisors bring energy and expertise at the highest level in city and state government, corporate leadership, the courts and legal practice, politics, philanthropy, real estate and more,” said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president of the Division of Community Affairs, who established the board in 2016. “We are indeed fortunate to be able to add such dynamic new members to our Board.”

Bailey earned the BA in political science in 2004 from The University of Alabama (UA). His interest in politics has led him to serve as an intern to former U.S. Congressman Artur Davis, as a field coordinator on the South Florida congressional campaign for former U.S. Congressman Joe Garcia and as chief legislative aide to former Florida State Representative Dwight Bullard. He was twice appointed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to the South Florida Regional Planning Council, for which he serves as treasurer. Since 2011 Bailey has worked as a senior government relations consultant with the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Becker and Poliakoff law firm, where he works with municipal government, business and education clients. Bailey is a Leadership Florida Connect Class IX graduate, as well as a Leadership Miami Class XXXII graduate, and was recognized with the 2018 South Florida Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award.

Billups is the executive director of the Division of Youth Services in the office of the Birmingham mayor, where he manages the Division’s operations and leads its mission of building communities through servant leadership by putting youth first. Billups earned his undergraduate degree in business management from The University of Alabama in 2003. Prior to his current position, he served as director of Resident Services for the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District, the largest affordable-housing agency in Alabama. In this role, he was responsible for the administration of the agency’s Family Self-Sufficiency, Homeownership, Section 3, Community Centers and the Resident Leadership Training Programs. Billups serves on various boards and agencies including Family Guidance Center of Alabama, Better Basics and Bancorp South CRA Advisory Board. He and his wife LaTosha, a Birmingham City Schools first-grade teacher, have three children. Billups enjoys volunteering, reading, writing, music, coaching youth sports and family.

Davis is a criminal judge with the Birmingham Municipal Court and a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Alabama. Prior to taking the bench, she served as a deputy district attorney with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office for 13 years. She earned the BS degree in criminal justice in 2000 from the University and earned her law degree from UA in 2003. Davis is a member of the American Bar Association, Alabama Bar Association, Birmingham Bar Association, Volunteer Lawyers Program of Birmingham, Junior League of Birmingham, Leadership Hoover Class of 2019–2020, and is an executive committee member of the UA Alumni Association/Jefferson County Chapter.

Zarzour is a 2007 consumer marketing graduate of UA, as well as a 2011 graduate of the Manderson Graduate School of Business with an MBA in real estate finance. He is currently the CEO of Zarzour Companies, a multi-disciplined real estate investment and development firm in Mobile. Zarzour is involved in several philanthropic efforts, including the Fuse Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to children’s initiatives along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. He is also a board member for Innovation PortAL, a business incubator in Mobile, and a member of the University of Mobile Business School Advisory Board. Additionally, he serves on the board of trustees for St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile.

The Board of Advisors is comprised of outstanding alumni with a commitment to community engagement and student success. While the members’ areas of study and current professions vary widely, each bears the common attribute of having been an exceptional student leader while at The University of Alabama.

Through the work of three committees—Academic Success and Student Retention, Global and Community Leadership Development, and Student Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives—the Board supports campus-wide initiatives that increase student success and retention, facilitate student involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation and develop thoughtful global and community leaders.

President Stuart R. Bell said of the additions to the Board: “I continue to be impressed by the quality and diversity of the membership of our Board of Advisors. These four new members are some of our most outstanding graduates over the past two-plus decades, and this new platform is an ideal fit for their talents. I offer my congratulations and best wishes to them in their new roles.”

The Board of Advisors executive committee is made up of Katie Boyd Britt, president; Joseph Bryant, vice president; Divya Patel, treasurer; Manda Mountain, secretary; David Bailey, chair of the entrepreneurship and innovative initiatives committee; William Suclupe, chair of the academic success and student retention committee; and Rashmee Sharif, chair of the global and community leadership development committee.

To learn more about the Board and its initiatives, visit

Board of Advisors Reviews Program Achievements, Hears Advice from Veteran Educator Dr. Edward Mullins

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

The Board of Advisors (BOA) of the Division of Community Affairs held its spring meeting March 31 through April 2 on campus and in several locations throughout Tuscaloosa.

The highlight of the spring meeting came on Monday, April 1, during a dinner at Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Tuscaloosa, when the Board officers and committee chairs reviewed progress of a variety of projects, discussed ways to continue projects to support University of Alabama students and heard from veteran educator and former dean Dr. Edward Mullins.

“The University of Alabama is a force for good,” said board member Justice Smyth, who gave the welcome on Monday night. He said the University exists primarily to educate students, to conduct research and to improve the quality of life for the people of Alabama. Quoting from the University’s mission statement, he praised the job of the Division of Community Affairs for its work in “advancing the intellectual and social condition of the people of this state, our nation and our world.”

A former Student Government Association president, Smyth now works as outreach director for the Alabama Transportation Institute at the University, and previously worked as director of corporate development for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Composed of 57 alumni from all over the nation, the Board — in an effort to help students make the most of their undergraduate experience at the Capstone — provides scholarships for underrepresented students, supports entrepreneurship and innovation on campus, and assists students in their desire to conduct service abroad.

The group was created by Vice President of Community Affairs Dr. Samory T. Pruitt in 2016 as a way to give young professional alumni an opportunity to fulfill its slogan of “Coming Back. Giving Back.”

“Dr. Pruitt sought campus leaders from a wide variety of academic disciplines and experiences, with the common denominator being that they were all socially conscious, ethical and well-rounded,” Smyth said to the gathering at Embassy Suites. “Not only has it given me an opportunity to reconnect with old classmates and make new friends, but this board has given us all an opportunity to serve and be a blessing in the lives of others.”

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Edward Mullins, former dean and department chair in the College of Communication and Information Sciences. He is currently a director of Research and Communication in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs.

“The major outcome of your success, as you come back and give back to our institution, is that you are breeding future success,” Mullins told the group. He shared stories related to his theme of “Family, Faith and Team,” about his time as a student, faculty member and administrator at the Capstone.

His first advice to the young alumni was to make family a high priority in their lives. Second, to make their religious faith a major part of their lives, and third to become part of a team.

Mullins intertwined other pieces of advice into his message, including staying in shape, getting out of your comfort zone, reading newspapers and books, being flexible, not being a clock-watcher, making friends with their blue-collar service providers, and finding a mentor as well as becoming one.

“You deserve a pat on the back for what you did at UA to prepare yourself for the real world. And you deserve a round of applause for what you are doing today,” Mullins said after running down the accomplishments of the group of 57 board members based on a spreadsheet he created that revealed exceptional diversity in travel, careers, majors, collegiate honors and current residence.

Representatives from the standing committees — the Global and Community Leadership Development Committee (reported by Sevanne Steiner), the Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee (reported by Nicholas Beadle), and the Academic Success and Student Retention Committee (reported by William D. Suclupe) — provided updates to the board members and Community Affairs staff.

Steiner, a senior planner for the city of Fort Worth, Texas, introduced the two recipients of the Study Away Scholarship. They are civil engineering major Elizabeth Cleaver, who will go to Ecuador, and first-year law student Alicia Gilbert, who will attend a law clinic at Harvard Law School. The committee’s purpose is to help students develop leadership skills and to communicate, compete and succeed in a culturally diverse world.

Beadle, an attorney-advisor specializing in workforce development at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, DC, is co-chair of the Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee. He reported on how his committee has launched a business law clinic within the Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law at UA. His committee’s purpose is to support innovative and entrepreneurial student business ventures.

Army officer and combat veteran Suclupe, an administrator for the Department of Veterans Affairs, reported that his committee is close to endowing a scholarship in honor of U.S. Navy Commander Charles Keith Springle, who earned his doctorate in social work from UA. Additionally, Suclupe reported that veterans now have priority registration through the efforts of the BOA. His committee will also work with elementary students to help them with study skills, while exposing them to the University at an early age. His committee’s purpose is to support the recruitment, mentoring and career development of future, current and past UA students.

The dinner was the culmination of spring meeting events that took place March 31 and April 1, including work meetings and a tour of The Edge, the University’s entrepreneurial center.

To learn more about the BOA visit:

Community Affairs Board of Advisors Hosts Fundraising Gala

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Fellow

The University of Alabama’s Division of Community Affairs Board of Advisors (BOA) undertook a new endeavor on Sept. 10, holding its first fundraising gala in downtown Birmingham at the Harbert Center.

The group utilized the theme “Coming Back, Giving Back,” which has been its mantra, for this occasion. Nearly 400 people attended the event, which raised $10,000 in advance of the evening while also collecting additional donations at the event. All will be used to support student-centered initiatives of the board.

Community Affairs Vice President Samory T. Pruitt, PhD, established the board in 2016. It is composed of UA graduates who, as students, provided exemplary leadership and service to the University during a period of accelerated growth and change in the student body from 2003–2013.

“Dr. Pruitt had a vision before any of the rest of us did to bring young leaders together who wanted to go ahead and plug back in and make a difference,” said Board President Katie Boyd Britt, a former UA Student Government Association president, who earned her undergraduate degree in 2004 and her UA law degree in 2013. Currently, she serves as chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby.

“I know a lot of us were lost in our efforts to reconnect, to know what was going on so that we could be able to make a difference and an impact,” Britt continued. “You changed that for all of us,” she said to Dr. Pruitt from the podium. “This is a group of change agents. You hand-picked this group. You believed in us. You have funded it and made sure that you gave us a voice again. Your leadership is unparalleled and we are so grateful for the time, energy and political capital that you spent to make this group happen. Thank you for believing in us, Dr. Pruitt.”

These tremendously successful and talented alumni have come together not just to raise funds in support of campus-wide initiatives that will increase student success and retention, but also to facilitate student involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation, and to develop thoughtful global and community leaders. The group has funded scholarships for undergraduate students and continues to seek new ways to support the University in other capacities.

“Everybody here on this board obviously has day jobs, but each of them is trying to find ways to use what they do during the day to make an impact on the University by night. People are coming from not only all over the United States, but all over the world, to make sure they have an opportunity to give back in this way,” Britt said.

To date, members of the Board have donated personally — both in financial resources and time. The group offered its first study-abroad and domestic-study opportunities earlier this year to two UA students to help them develop leadership skills and cultural competency. Additionally, one member has committed to endow a scholarship for underrepresented students from the Birmingham area.

“From day one, this has been an impressive group of servant leaders,” said Carol Agomo, director of Community and Administrative Affairs. Agomo, who oversees the group’s members and subcommittees, said, “I remain impressed by the leadership shown by the members of this group, as well as by their willingness to serve. The success of this event is but one example of the good things this group has accomplished.”

The gala was attended by alumni and supporters of the University, including Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who brought greetings on behalf of the Magic City and spoke about the city’s partnership with the BOA and Community Affairs.

“We are all here today because we share the same passion for education, for workforce development and the development of the next generation of leaders. You all keep a finger on the pulse of global trends to help our emerging leaders remain competitive,” said Woodfin, 37, who was elected mayor in 2017.

Woodfin said he joined the group in their passion to keep the best and brightest young people working in Alabama, and applauded the group’s ability to open doors of opportunities to our next generation of leaders.

“I imagine that’s not an easy task, but this advisory group was created for that challenge,” he said.

Woodfin explained that he has partnered with Community Affairs to bring students to Tuscaloosa in a shared effort to expose young people to additional college choices outside of Birmingham.

“The success of our students is not their burden to bear alone. We all have a stake in this,” he said. “I applaud you in your continued efforts to invest in our young people and our students, not just for the University’s future, but for their future as well.”

The evening was not only a celebration of new initiatives; it also was a time to reflect on the successes of the board’s first three years.

“It has been incredible to see from the first day we gathered until today, how far we’ve come as a board,” said BOA Treasurer Divya Patel, a 2006 UA graduate who currently works as director of operations for Windsor Hotel and Quality Inn in Americus, Ga. “Dr. Pruitt told us we were paving the road and going over it at the same time. Today, we can successfully say we have built a road. It’s very exciting to be at this point, but this is just the beginning on our journey of coming back and giving back.”

Among the guests at the gala were several UA vice presidents and deans. The evening ended with a performance by UA graduate, Grammy-Award nominee and Motown singer-songwriter Sebastian Kole, who entertained the audience with original songs and upbeat popular covers.

In speaking about the makeup of the board, BOA Vice President Joseph Bryant shared, “The board is not political, it’s not self-serving, we are from diverse backgrounds, we have different views and live in different locations, but we are all gathered here because of our love for the Capstone and our home state of Alabama.” Bryant, a 2001 UA graduate who served as the first African-American editor of The Crimson White, is now the interim vice president of Community Engagement for the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.

Community Affairs Thanks Inaugural Board of Advisors, Welcomes New Board Members

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator

Since its inception in 2016, the Division of Community Affairs Board of Advisors has positively affected numerous students and future students of The University of Alabama with its substantial reach and influence. Whether raising funds to provide study abroad scholarships and support for business startups, mentoring current and future students, or committing to fund an endowed scholarship — as one member has done — this group of young alumni has continued the legacy of excellence that personified its members when they were students at the Capstone.

“I have been amazed by the accomplishments of this group,” said Dr. Samory Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs. “We anticipated that the members would do great things — that was their collective track record when they were students at The University of Alabama — but never imagined how much they would achieve in such a short time.

“The inaugural group set the bar high for those who will follow them. The University, the Division and countless students are fortunate to have had the benefit of their leadership, commitment and energy, and as we begin the next chapter of this group, we want to recognize our inaugural members, some of whom are continuing with the board and some who will be rolling off, as well as announce our new members,” said Pruitt.

Inaugural board members continuing to serve include David Bailey (chair, Student Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee), Nicholas Beadle (co-chair, Student Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee), Katie Boyd Britt (president), Porcia Bradford Love, Casey Brunson, Joseph Bryant (vice president), Kyle Buchanan, Mary Margaret Carroll, Prince Cleveland, Luke P. Connell, Rebecca Cornwell, Sarah T. Dunlap, Tyrell Jordan, Kendra Key, Elliot A. Knight (co-chair, Academic Success and Student Retention Committee, Colby Leopard, Holly Luther (co-chair, Academic Success and Student Retention Committee), Andrea Mabry, Karla S. Martin, Coyn Mateer, Stephen McNair (co-chair, Global and Community Leadership Committee), Reginald Miller (co-chair, Student Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee), Manda Mountain, Divya Patel (treasurer), Robin Preussel Phillips, Elizabeth W. Riddle, Zac Z. Riddle, Anna Catherine Roberson, Chris Sanders, Rashmee Sharif (chair, Global and Community Leadership Committee), Cliff Sims, Justice D. Smyth, Sevanne Steiner, William D. Suclupe, Sarah Kate Sullivan, Justin Zimmerman and Andrew Zow.

Inaugural members rolling off their time of service with the board are Ryan Brown, Kathryn Crenshaw, Emma Fick, David Germany, Calvin Harkness, Calvin Han (secretary), Victoria Javine (chair, Academic Success and Student Retention Committee), Victor Luckerson, Cassandra Mickens, Randall Minor, Melissa Pouncey, Ann Taylor Shaw, Jessica Averitt Taylor, Emily Vaughn, Aimee Vinson and Kate Werner.

New members joining the board include Jonathan Adams, Adedeji Akindele-Alo, Hamilton Bloom, Amber Bradford Buchanan, Will Clayton, Ryan J. Davis, Allie Esslinger, Kevin Garrison, Brandon Green, Martha Griffith, Kristy Kirkland, Aneesa McMillan, Will Nevin, Susan Page, Norma Powell, Paul Rand, Hailah Said, Susan Speaker, Gabriel Warren and Stephen Williams.

The University of Alabama established the Division of Community Affairs Board of Advisors in 2016. The board, consisting of former students who provided exemplary leadership and service to the University during a period of accelerated growth and changes in the student body from 2003–2013, developed its mission to support campus-wide initiatives that will increase student success and retention, facilitate student involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation, and develop thoughtful global and community leaders.

River Pitch Competition Works to Build Tuscaloosa Entrepreneurship Community

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By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Correspondent

For junior marketing student Eric Voce, the River Pitch Business Idea Competition was the difference in “thinking about an idea and actually making it happen.”

Voce was one of eight $1,000 winners of a business proposal pitching competition held Nov. 14 at the Tuscaloosa River Market. Each contestant had three minutes to explain their idea, followed by four minutes for questions and two minutes for the judges to grade each presentation.

UA’s Division of Community Affairs served as a sponsor of the event through its Board of Advisors.

Board members Reginald Miller and Andrea Mabry, who serve on the Student Entrepreneurship and Innovative Initiatives Committee of the board, served as judges for the competition.

“The winners will move on to Business Plan Competition, which will be held next fall,” Miller said.

Mabry said she was impressed with the variety of ideas and the success of the first-year event.

Voce’s winning idea was a venue application called “What’s the Move,” which he came up with to help friends trying to decide on a location of where they would go on a given occasion. “The app works as advertising for the stores and restaurants and for your friends to figure out what to do each night,” Voce said.

This was exactly the kind of idea the organizers had in mind when they decided to hold the competition.

“People here have ideas and we’re just trying to give them a forum to get their ideas out,” said Theresa Welbourne, executive director of the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute and professor of management at The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “We are excited to have UA, the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the Tuscaloosa community all working together.”

The event attracted 53 contestants, and with judges and facilitators about 90 people in all. It was organized by the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute and the EDGE Incubator and Accelerator of the Culverhouse College of Commerce, along with sponsorships from areas businesses, such as Ward Scott Architecture and other Chamber members.

“We want to build the entrepreneurship community in Tuscaloosa,” Welbourne said. “It’s really about the networking. The forum helps people learn to pitch their business ideas and to meet people who might be able to help them.”

Before the competition, UA held several workshops open to community members, faculty, staff and students. One of those faculty members, Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, turned out to be one of the $1,000 winners. She is an associate professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine and deputy director of UA’s Institute for Rural Health Research. Her idea, which she already holds a patent for, is a beauty aide that attaches to a hair dryer.

“I came up with it while I was sitting at the salon under the dryer and I fell asleep,” Foster said. “My hair dropped out of the hood, so it didn’t dry. I wanted to develop an attachment to keep your head straight.” She developed the idea about 20 years ago. “I still think it is marketable. That’s why I dusted the idea off. It will save time for the client and the hairdresser,” she said.

Voce already has a prototype and a website. He said he will use the funding to continue to develop his website. “I’m going to be pitching to bars and restaurants in the next week or two. I wanted to have a visual for them to see before I went to them to try to pitch an idea,” Voce said. “Everyone seems pretty interested, especially if I can show there are going to be users.”

Voce said participating in the program has encouraged him to continue to work on his innovative ideas. “Even more than the money, it was proof of the concept. That was the most exciting thing for me,” Voce said. “The fact that people actually believed in my idea and thought that I could be successful has motivated me now to flesh it out and keep on going with it.”

Payne-Foster said she will use her funding to update her design and create a prototype using a 3D printer. “I will continue to try to refine it and market it to hair shows and beauty supply retailers. The haircare industry has annual revenue of $62 billion. It’s a big market,” Foster said.

Kirs Irwin, a Culverhouse doctoral student, has served as a facilitator for previous workshops and served as a judge for the pitch competition. “I think it’s good to bring together ideas that can actually build the community. I’m just interested to see how the contestants do and see the variety of ideas,” Irwin said. He hoped to give them good feedback so they can continue to improve their ideas.

Additional winners were Noah Campbell (concussion detection device that could be applied to sports such as football), Slade Johnston (a hunting/outdoor exchange application), Maddie Johnson (a prosthetics idea), Clayton Wagenhals (a personal apparel cooling device), Valencia Winston (flavored popcorn,) and Lauren Gwin (self-defense jewelry).