Alumni Spotlight: James Nixon

One of my favorite lessons learned that I still apply personally and professionally is from the FISH philosophy.  I learned, “even if we disagree, don’t make me wrong.”  This means that there are always different perspectives and often not just one right answer or means to get something accomplished.

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Alumni Spotlight: Nolie Burns

Programs like 21CL are important because they expose students to diverse experiences, people, institutions, and perspectives that they may not receive within their own community. These programs promote post-secondary readiness while creating well-rounded individuals who can take on the world with just a little more confidence than the student who did not get the same exposure.

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Alumni Spotlight: Andrea Bern

21CL was my first exposure to any sort of leadership training. Everything that I learned and experienced during my summers as a participant and staff member helped to build my foundation for the style of leader that I have been and am today.  21CL made leadership training fun, interesting, and impactful especially as a high school student. 

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Alumni Spotlight: Terri Hancock

21CL built my confidence to try new things and not limit myself. I was the first in my family to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree and later a master’s degree. My parents instilled in my core values of giving, but 21CL prepared me to explore new possibilities and new methods to do so.

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Alumni Spotlight: Tavanesha Shepard

For our 35th anniversary, we’ll be sharing the stories of 35 alumni showcasing the leaders they are today and how 21st Century Leaders inspired and impacted their journey. Alumni will represent the 3.5 decades since our founding in 1989 – the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s. Take a read and be inspired!

35th Anniversary Alumni Spotlight

90’s Decade
Name: Tavanesha Shepard
H.S. Grad Year: Class of 1998
High School: Kendrick High School (Columbus, GA)
College: Savannah State University
Current Role: Manager, Talent, AFLAC Inc.

How has your career unfolded and how did participating in 21CL help prepare you for your next steps going to college, taking on a new leadership role in community/college and after?

I have always been a leader but very recently became a people leader.  I don’t tell people often, but I fought the idea of becoming a people leader for a long time.  Even though everyone around me saw the potential and recognized my leadership skills, it’s not a path I proactively pursued.  But God has a way of intervening in our lives and placing us where we’re supposed to be in his timing. 21st Century Leaders prepared me for my collegiate journey by helping to expose me to college life when I was a sophomore in high school.  By having our leadership programs on a college campus, it literally felt as though we were attending college.  I wanted more of that feeling, so there was no question what the next steps were for me after high school.  From there, I was not afraid to take on leadership roles in the organizations I was a part of in college.  21CL allowed me to develop and exercise the skills that I needed to lead effectively early on, and I continue to use those skills today.

What’s your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL? (Particular program, meeting a professional and diverse peer, speaking in public for the first time, etc.)

I remember staying on campus at Middle Georgia State University with a few of my classmates and students from other schools and feeling like, “I’m supposed to be here.”  From the team projects that helped me build my collaboration skills to the nuggets of success that I gained from the leaders in attendance, I suspected that leadership was the path that God was steering me towards.  The networking and bonding that took place with the students from other schools and learning from their diverse backgrounds is also one of my favorite memorable experiences.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? 

I would say my leadership style is more of a servant leader.  I’m of the mindset that I work for my team, and one of my main duties is to explore what they need to be successful in their current and future roles.  I believe I adopted the servant leadership style because of the teachings and experiences I encountered at an early age through 21st Century Leaders. The program taught me the importance of humility and empathy in leadership, which are must-have skills for leaders in the 21st century.

Why do you believe programs like 21CL are important? And what advice would you give to a current or future student?

Programs like 21CL are so important because they allow students to experience what’s possible.  It’s eye-opening when we encounter seasoned leaders who never really grasped foundational soft skills that are essential to leading others.  Such programs allow students to begin developing critical leadership skills and begin putting them into action at an early age.  My advice to current or future students is to become a sponge and soak up all the development and leadership experiences that you have an opportunity to engage in, even when it’s an uncomfortable experience.  Growth happens in uncomfortable spaces.

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Alumni Spotlight: Cisely Marshall

I believe 21CL plays a pivotal role in the holistic development of the youth. They empower students by providing them with essential leadership skills, fostering self-confidence, and nurturing a sense of responsibility; students gain valuable experience in teamwork, communication, and problem-solving, all of which are fundamental aspects of effective leadership.

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