Alumni Spotlight: Jena Paramesh

Jena Paramesh is a graduate of Alan C. Pope High School (2019) and of Tulane University (2023). Throughout high school, Jena attended many of our student programs, was a 21CL Youth Ambassador and during her college years she provided pro-bono consulting services to non-profits and small businesses. Jena is currently travelling and volunteering for a youth organization abroad before starting a consulting job with Capgemini Invent in New York City in January 2024. I consider myself a servant leader. I like to lead with the intention of impacting others meaningfully and with care and kindness. I’ve also recently learned that good leaders know when to and not to take on projects. If you are spreading yourself too thin it’s likely that others you work with will feel it too. It’s important to be intentional with the type of projects you choose to take on.” ~Jena Paramesh

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

Hi, I’m Jena Paramesh. I graduated in May 2023 from Tulane University with a BSM in Finance and a minor in Psychology and Management. Aside from my coursework, I involved myself in Consult Your Community, a pro-bono consulting club for non-profits and small businesses, Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity, and Jazbaa, my school’s Bollywood dance team. I am now set to begin a consulting role at Capgemini Invent in New York City this January (2024). As I prepare to start work I am travelling and volunteering for a youth organization abroad.

 

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I attended Alan C. Pope High School in Marietta, GA from 2015 to 2019. In the summer of 2017 I was part of the Turner Youth Voices Media Institute now known as Warner Bros. Discovery Youth Media Summit and of the Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI@ Goizueta) in 2018. I was also chosen to participate in the 2018 Summer Immersion Program where I shadowed at Hire Dynamics assisting on human resource tasks and special projects. My senior year I attended events throughout the year and served on the leadership team as a 21CL Youth Ambassador.

 

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?

When I first joined 21CL, I was a high school student with a passion for leadership and a desire to make a positive impact on my community. Over the years, 21CL has played a pivotal role in shaping my personal and professional development. It has helped build my confidence, effective communication, and teamwork skills. One particular aspect that I found immensely beneficial was the concept of building a personal ‘brand’ and crafting an effective elevator pitch. This skill set enabled me to stay true to my core beliefs and attract like-minded individuals. Additionally, I wasn’t afraid to speak up and run for different leadership roles, eventually leading to my position as co-president of Consult Your Community in my junior year. Looking ahead, I am confident that the foundation I built through my participation in 21CL will continue to guide my career.

 

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.)

On my third day at camp I introduced a senior director at Turner Broadcasting. I remember being so nervous to stand on stage and use a microphone in front of everyone. It was my first time introducing someone so important and furthermore in front of others of the same prestige. However, everyone I spoke to afterward was so supportive and friendly. It was an “aha” moment for me because instead of being intimidated by these leaders I was able to realize that they are all open and more than willing to help and offer encouragement. In addition to the professionals, my peers helped me feel comfortable and supported. I met so many unique and interesting students at camp and have seen them go on to do some incredible things. 21CL has given me lifelong friendships.

 

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so, how? And if you’ve recently learned something else about leadership please share!

I consider myself a servant leader. I like to lead with the intention of impacting others meaningfully and with care and kindness. I’ve also recently learned that good leaders know when to and not to take on projects. If you are spreading yourself too thin it’s likely that others you work with will feel it too. It’s important to be intentional with the type of projects you choose to take on – just because you feel like you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Consider the needs of the team and evaluate your own bandwidth. 

 

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

Embrace every moment and take notes! You’ll want to look back on it one day. The network you start to build within 21CL can help you later in your career or with finding the right first job. I would recommend keeping a log of everyone you spoke with and would like to connect with later on. Try to remember one personal detail about the person – like their dog for example and sprinkle it in the next time you connect. No one wants to feel like a corporate machine and if you are being brick walled make sure you still bring the energy – it’s contagious.   

 

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

This is so hard! There are too many words to describe this wonderful organization but if I had to choose 3 it would be Collaborative, Fun, and Inspiring. 

21st Century Leaders Announces 2023-2024 Youth Ambassadors

Group photo of the 2023-2024 Youth Ambassadors

21st Century Leaders Celebrates Relaunch of Youth Ambassadors Program

September 25, 2023 (Atlanta, GA)  – Congratulations to our 2023-2024 Youth Ambassadors! These 30 diverse students are committed to representing the interests and voices of the 1,600+ Georgia high school students of 21st Century Leaders (21CL) who participate in our programs each year. After keeping the Youth Ambassador program in hibernation for two years, 21CL is excited to relaunch this leadership opportunity for our students with refreshed design and purpose.

The Youth Ambassadors met together for their first meeting of the 2023-2024 term on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; they were encouraged by guest speaker Kat Taylor (Director, Diversity & Inclusion at Nelson Mullins; Owner, HOTCOFFEE; 21st Century Leaders Board of Directors), exchanged perspectives, set a vision for their shared intention, built elevator pitches, and identified “legacy” as a guiding principal for themselves.

21CL’s Youth Ambassadors are responsible for representing the values and purpose of 21st Century Leaders in their schools, communities, and at 21CL events. During their term of service, they will work together to create meaningful opportunities to engage more (and new) 21st Century Leaders across Georgia.

The Youth Ambassadors serve as 21CL advocates to empower and inspire other high school students to lead. They represent the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of exemplary leaders as a collective body. The Youth Ambassadors will inform and participate in special projects and contribute to live program events, under the guidance of 21CL’s Junior Board of Directors and staff.

Our 2023-2024 Youth Ambassadors are:

  • Raveena Alli, Atlanta Girls’ School, Class of 2024
  • Rishi Byakod, South Forsyth High School, Class of 2025
  • Alonnah Copeland, Blackstone Academy, Class of 2025
  • Oluwatishe Deju, Homeschool, Class of 2026
  • Prateek Doddla, Chattahoochee High School, Class of 2025
  • Leah Duffey, Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy High School, Class of 2025
  • Emmanuela Ejoga, North Cobb High School, Class of 2024
  • Brooklyn Fields, Jefferson High School, Class of 2026
  • Joshua Girgis, Montessori School of Rome, Class of 2024
  • Brianna Hare, Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, Class of 2024
  • Cindy Hernandez, North Clayton High School, Class of 2025
  • Christian Hooks, Grayson High School, Class of 2024
  • Erin Howard, Charles R. Drew Charter School, Class of 2024
  • Wolfe Hudepohl, Lovett School, Class of 2025
  • Morgan Ingram, GMC Prep High School, Class of 2024
  • Nishanth Kavuri, Lakeside High School (Evans), Class of 2024
  • Joy Lin, Ware County High School, Class of 2025
  • Emoni Love, Wheeler High School, Class of 2024
  • Siri Manekar, Northview High School, Class of 2025
  • Maya Matthews, Westlake High School, Class of 2024
  • Olaoluwa Oguneye, Decatur High School, 2024
  • Vidhi Raiyani, Putnam County High School, Class of 2026
  • Kennedy Reid, Savannah Arts Academy, Class of 2024
  • Abigail Rong, Denmark High School, Class of 2025
  • Aadi Shah, Innovation Academy High School, Class of 2026
  • Rhea Shah, Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, Class of 2025
  • Thalia Smith, Midtown High School, Class of 2025
  • Ishita Sukul, Johns Creek High School, Class of 2024
  • Aarushi Verma, Lambert High School, Class of 2024
  • Katherine “Ivy” Yang, Alpharetta High School, Class of 2024

21CL Youth Ambassador Mission: The Youth Ambassadors’ mission is to serve as student ambassadors for 21st Century Leaders by upholding the organization’s mission and vision through servant-leadership while creating meaningful opportunities for Georgia’s next generation of youth leaders. The Youth Ambassadors strive to bring awareness to 21CL through a united voice, community service and outreach while enhancing our leadership and interpersonal skills. Our goal is to establish a strong foundation that cultivates future generations of leaders who can further expand our accomplishments.

Learn more about 21st Century Leaders at https://www.21stcenturyleaders.org/

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For media inquiries, please contact:
Nicole Meadows
Director of Programs & Communications, 21st Century Leaders
nicole@21stcenturyleaders.org | 404.373.7441

Alumni Spotlight: Alisa Garcia

Alisa Garcia is a graduate of Cherokee High School (2022) and currently a sophomore at Chattahoochee Technical College and soon transitioning to Georgia College to study Public Health. She is a servant leader who has attended many of our student programs, and recently served as a Summer Leadership Team member for two of our Summer Leadership Institutes– Earthcare and the Healthcare & IT Institute, helping to mentor and inspire our current students. “As an alumna of the program, I am grateful to be able to return as a SLT member and give back. Being involved opens many doors during and after high school, giving one the opportunity to grow, make long-lasting friendships, and network with like-minded individuals who you may encounter in future endeavors.” ~Alisa Garcia

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

I am Alisa Garcia, a current sophomore at Chattahoochee Technical College. Soon, I will be at Georgia College studying Public Health to become a Public Health Analyst. Recently, I participated in a one-day virtual summit with local health officials connecting over our passion to help change our communities. During my free time, I enjoy running, trying new places, being with family, and listening to Bad Bunny!

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I attended Cherokee High School from 2018 to 2022. The summer after my freshman year, I participated in the Earthcare Institute. After an immersive week of workshops and networking, my eagerness to grow as a leader deepened. In 2020, I virtually participated in the inaugural year of Healthcare & IT Institute, where I networked with healthcare professionals. The following summer, I completed my 21CL high school journey with SYLI Program.

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?

Although my professional career is yet to unfold, 21CL strengthened my skill set which prepared me for college. Learning to enhance my public speaking skills has helped form connections in a public setting, and being exposed to a diverse cohort of students taught me inclusivity. Being part of 21CL transformed me into a confident leader, especially within my community, which pushed me to start my non-profit organization, The Glandorf Project. This position allows me to embody leadership qualities such as decision-making, empathy, and relationship building; qualities that were instilled in me from 21st Century Leaders.

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.)

There definitely have been many ‘aha’ moments throughout my time at 21CL. The shift from being in-person in my first camp to online for the rest was a huge ‘aha’ moment itself. Although, the most memorable one was my second day at Earthcare; this being my first time away from home, and meeting and spending so much time with new peers was hard adjusting, however, while we played camp games, I was able to form new friendships and the “homesick” feeling went away. Afterwards while we sat in the dining hall and talked, there was a sense of relief because I was not the only one missing home. There was a moment of realization that everyone had mixed emotions, yet we were connected through our passion to grow and become successful leaders. Once the welcoming feeling brought on by my peers and camp facilitators sunk in, by the last day I did not want to leave camp. The day was eye-opening and taught me to take advantage of the numerous opportunities this camp would bring, especially since it was a privilege to be one of 90 students chosen.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so, how? And if you’ve recently learned something else about leadership please share!

Through 21CL I was able to find the most fitting leadership style, servant leadership. This summer, I had the privilege to be part of 21CL’s Summer Leadership Team for two camps – Earthcare and Healthcare & IT. With both camps having a diverse group of students, it was moving hearing the impact I was able to make through my leadership style at both camps. As someone who puts others ahead and serves with humility, it was touching hearing how I naturally embodied the servant leadership characteristics throughout the week from my R+ memos. Throughout the camp, I strived to have an impact on the students and my listening and empathy skills definitely helped achieve that goal. From reading how I “made our group like family” to inspiring students to open up, it was a full circle moment of my roots with 21CL, since this program helped me become more confident with my leadership abilities.

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

My advice to any student would be to challenge yourself and truly take in every second with 21CL. As I sat in my school library in 2019, I was hesitant on submitting my application out of fear of not being accepted. However, it was the best decision to apply since I was able to grow and learn through my involvement. In my community, I was rarely exposed to diverse groups of students. By challenging myself to partake in 21CL programs, I was able to perceive things through a different lens and became open-minded. It is essential to take in every moment and greatly appreciate being part of such a program. Although you may believe your time with 21CL is over, it truly is not. As an alumna of the program, I am grateful to be able to return as a SLT and give back. Being involved opens many doors during and after high school, giving one the opportunity to grow, make long-lasting friendships, and network with like-minded individuals who you may encounter in future endeavors.

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

There truly are not enough words to describe 21CL since the program is THAT great! Yet, I will say these: Transformative, Inspiring, and Fun.

Fulton County + 21CL Present Youth Leadership Program

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Fulton County’s CONNECTED: Youth Leadership Program (CYLP) in Partnership with 21st Century Leaders

Providing high school students with an experiential leadership and rewards program

August 1, 2023 (ATLANTA) – The Fulton County Department of Community Development is partnering with 21st Century Leaders, Georgia’s premier youth leadership and non-profit organization, to connect, transform and inspire high school students from diverse backgrounds in Fulton County to become the next generation of leaders. Registration for participation in the program is from August 21 to September 18. Applicants must submit completed applications by Monday, September 18, 2023, at 11:59 p.m.

Fulton County’s CONNECTED: Youth Leadership Program (CYLP) is an experiential program designed to provide students with a full year of robust experiences, enabling them to develop critical leadership knowledge, explore future career interests, and make informed decisions about the necessary educational and training pathways to achieve desired future career goals. Participants will also have access to live and online leadership training, special incentives, and connection with diverse peers and professionals throughout Fulton County.

Through this collaboration, YCS and 21st Century Leaders will follow an EPIC approach model: Engaging (fun and unique learning), Participatory (active and ongoing), Interactive (employer and training driven), and Connected (interest-driven/social developmental) utilizing 21st Century Leaders’ (21CL) proprietary online learning platform, Leadership Connect®, which is housed on Rali, an Atlanta based learning management system and one of 21CL’s partnering companies.

For consideration, students must meet the following criteria:

●      Must be enrolled in high school

●      Must be a Fulton County Resident

●      Access to a computer/tablet and Wi-Fi will be required to fully participate in this virtual leadership program

Leadership, recognition, and inclusivity describe just a few of the many qualities exemplified by CYLP. As such, there will be several opportunities throughout the year to provide incentives that encourage and reward participant engagement, including:

 ●      $25 Sign-on

●      $25 New Year Bonus

●      $100 Weekly Gift Card Drawing

●      $25 End-of-Year Bonus

●      Technology Prizes (Ear pods, Laptops, tablets)

●      Special Experiences

●      Live Workshops + Leadership Summits

●      Opportunity for paid summer internship (seniors only)

Completed applications may be submitted through the Fulton County website application link at www.fultoncountyga.gov/CYLP.

For more information, please contact Dionne Ferrell, Youth Coordinator, at dionne.ferrell@fultoncountyga.gov.

About 21st Century Leaders

21st Century Leaders® is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that connects, transforms, and inspires high school students from diverse backgrounds across Georgia to leverage diversity, explore career opportunities, and become leaders in their school, community, and ultimately the workforce. Since its inception in 1989, 21st Century Leaders has served more than 16,000 diverse high school students from over 250 Georgia high schools through year-round leadership development, diversity and inclusion training, and career exploration programs. For more information about 21st Century Leaders, visit www.21stcenturyleaders.org.

For more Fulton County news, sign up for the weekly e-newsletter #OneFulton at https://goo.gl/Nb1L84. You can also visit Fulton County’s website at www.fultoncountyga.gov or connect with the Fulton County government on Twitter at @FultonInfo or Facebook at @fultoninfo.

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Department of External Affairs
MEDIA CONTACT: Marc Baucom
404-374-9925 (cell)
mark.baucom@fultoncountyga.gov
141 Pryor St. SW, Suite 3090
Atlanta, GA 30303
www.fultoncountyga.gov

https://www.facebook.com/FultonInfo

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Alumni Spotlight: Gareth Thompson

Gareth Thompson is a graduate of Wheeler High School (2019) and of the University of Georgia (2023); this fall he will start working as a Contract Compliance Associate at KPMG. Throughout high school, Gareth attended many of our student programs, was a 21CL Youth Ambassador and recently served as a Summer Leadership Team member and alumni roundtable speaker, helping to mentor and inspire our current students.

I really encourage students to be all-in when attending these programs. You get out what you put in! Your spot in 21CL is a spot that hundreds of other students are vying for – why waste it? It is such a good opportunity to meet with professionals and start growing your professional network – something that is even more difficult to do on your own.” ~Gareth Thompson

Paint a brief picture of yourself and what you are doing now.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics and Risk Management & Insurance, along with an emphasis in consulting. I was involved in several organizations during my collegiate career – notably the Asian American Student Association (AASA), and the professional business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi of which I was Ethics Chair. Throughout college I interned at State Farm Mutual Insurance for two summers, one as an Auto Claims Intern and the second as a Special Investigative Unit Intern. This fall I plan to work full time as a Contract Compliance Associate with KPMG in the Atlanta office. As I await professional life, I enjoy travelling with friends, playing sports, playing music, and making art.

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I attended Wheeler High School from 2015 to 2019. I attended three summer leadership institutes: EarthCare at Berry College in 2016, SYLI at Emory University in 2017, and Turner Youth Voices Media Institute at Georgia Tech in 2018. I was a 2018-2019 21CL Youth Ambassador and attended Fall and Winter Leadership Summits in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Since high school, I recently returned to 21CL as a Summer Leadership Team member for EarthCare 2023.

What was your memorable or ‘aha’ moment during your time at 21CL?

It’s so hard to pick just one memorable moment! I would have to say that the first night of EarthCare my roommates and I all went into one room and just started talking for hours, playing music, and becoming close friends. I was skeptical about joining camp at first – it was my first time away from home at an overnight camp but knowing that people were with me sharing the same experiences made it a lot more welcoming and bearable. If they could do it, so could I! Knowing that everyone involved, from the campers to the staff, were 100% all in on making the program the best it could really be encouraged me to give it my all and eventually return for years to come.

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

I am not the loudest speaker in the room, and sometimes it’s difficult for me to have my voice heard, especially among large groups. Working on the 21CL projects helped me speak up, and even encourage others to do the same. Being around so many different people with different experiences meant that everyone had a unique perspective to the tasks we were trying to solve. I learned to understand that, not to devalue my own contributions, and look for ways I could get others involved, even if I wasn’t the loudest. Starting off small in 21CL has helped me hone these collaborative skills into other projects that I’ve had to do in college and throughout various internship experiences.

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

I really encourage students to be all-in when attending these programs. You get out what you put in! Your spot in 21CL is a spot that hundreds of other students are vying for – why waste it? It is such a good opportunity to meet with professionals and start growing your professional network – something that is even more difficult to do on your own. The skills you learn are transferable skills that will make you head and shoulders above your peers as you venture into college and professional life. But don’t only focus on the professional! The personal relationships you form will last you a long time. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other campers or even the staff. Who knows? A relationship in camp might turn into a job opportunity down the line.

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

Powerful. Fun. Foundational.

Alumni Spotlight: Camaran Henson

Camaran Henson, a graduate of Brookwood High School (2012) and of the United States Naval Academy (2017), currently works as the Vice President, Global Program Manager at Citigroup and is a former Naval Officer who served in the US Navy for more than ten years. While in high school, Cam participated in one of 21st Century Leaders’ Summer Leadership Institutes, the media- and technology-focused program sponsored by Warner Bros. Discovery (formerly Turner) known at the time as Leadership Plugged-In. In this post he shares how that training helped him throughout his high school years and after.

“Outside of sports, this was the first time I had to engage with peers for a desired outcome. As someone who “likes to do it all” this experience gave me insight on how to rely on and trust in my team.” – Camaran Henson

Paint a brief picture of yourself and what you are doing now.

After graduating high school, I attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. While there I earned my Bachelor of Science in Economics. Following graduation, I was commissioned into the navy as a Naval Officer. I had the opportunity to serve in the Navy for an additional 6 years and led teams of 30-300 personnel. I have now transitioned out of the naval service and work as a Vice President, Global Program Manager at Citi. In this role I serve as an internal consultant to Citi’s transformation goals.

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

While in high school in 2010, I participated in a 21CL summer camp program known as Leadership Plugged-In at Georgia Institute of Technology.

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?

21CL was my first exposure to networking with peers outside of the classroom. It gave me the opportunity to work with individuals with different backgrounds at an early age in my life and the networking and interpersonal skills I learned guided me through my time at the Naval Academy and beyond!

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.)

While at the 21CL camp I had to work with a group to do a presentation. Outside of sports, this was the first time I had to engage with peers for a desired outcome. As someone who “likes to do it all” this experience gave me insight on how to rely on and trust in my team.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so, how? And if you’ve recently learned something else about leadership please share!

Recently I have learned that leadership is to try and look at situations from another person’s perspective.

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Take on challenges and utilize this time in your life to work out the “kinks.” Step outside of your comfort and challenge yourself in the areas that you think you need to develop.

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

Insightful, Engaging and FUN!

Alumni Spotlight: Michael Garcia

21CL Alumnus Michael Garcia is a graduate of Cherokee High School (2020) and currently a third-year BBA student at the University of Georgia (2024); during high school, Michael participated in many of our programs including EarthCare, SYLI, Leadership exCHANGE and was 21CL Youth Ambassador for two terms. In this post he shares how all this has shaped his career trajectory!

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

I am Michael Garcia and I am currently a third-year student at The University of Georgia pursuing a BBA in Risk Management and Insurance with a certification in Legal Studies. I am very active on campus at UGA, participating in many activities and organizations such as Association of Latino Professionals for America and I am excited that I will be president for my chapter this upcoming school year; I will be interning this summer as a Consulting Intern for Crowe in New York City. In my free time, I love exploring new cities. I enjoy trying different restaurants, going to concerts, or simply having a self care night at home.

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I attended Cherokee High School from 2016 through 2020 and during my high school years I was fortunate to attend two different leadership institutes, EarthCare at GCSU in 2018 and SYLI @Goizueta in 2019; I also attended the Fall Summit – Leadership exCHANGE – in 2018. After completing the EarthCare institute, I was inspired to get more involved with 21st Century Leaders so I applied for their Youth Ambassador program and I served two terms as an Ambassador, from 2018-2019 and again from 2019-2020 where I was the Chair for the Youth Ambassador program. When I was a rising senior, I was blessed to be awarded the 2019 Georgia Youth Leadership Award. Ever since, I try my best to stay informed and connected with 21st Century Leaders – I actually just attended the 2023 GYLA ceremony in March. It felt great to reconnect with the individuals who make 21CL possible and it felt even better to get inspired by what these students are accomplishing!

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 experienced many “aha” moments throughout my time with 21st Century Leaders, however, one moment stands out for me. After receiving news that I was a GYLA awardee, my peers and I were invited to meet our mentors and network with one another. During that event, I was interviewed on camera and was able to speak with my peers who, I felt, were doing so much better than me. Living about an hour away from Atlanta, that car ride to the GYLA Meet & Greet meeting was definitely an emotional one for me. I am a first-generation high school graduate and college student, and growing up I did not think about colleges or entering the corporate workforce. I could never have imagined someone like me being in a room with 20 outstanding leaders. That was the first time I felt proud of myself! It was the first time that I actually believed that I stood a chance at succeeding beyond high school. None of that would’ve been possible without my mom, who supported me even when she didn’t understand what all this was about. It wouldn’t have been possible without the exposure to diversity, critical thinking, and growth I endured during the 21CL Summer Leadership Institutes.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so, how? And if you’ve recently learned something else about leadership please share!

One of the most important skills that 21CL taught me that continues to effect my leadership style is to always be an empathetic leader. An eye-opening experience for me was during SYLI when we took a day to learn about diversity and which is one of the things that makes 21st Century Leaders so unique. As a student, you’re connected with a cohort of students who come from different backgrounds – ethnic, religious, socio-economic, etc. The beauty in this is that diversity is celebrated and students are encouraged to learn from different perspectives. Having this exposure gave me an advantage when I began my college journey because I was already involved with different diverse groups. As I continue to learn about leadership, there is a consistency between empathy and diversity. Knowing how to leverage both makes one a stronger leader.

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

My advice to students would be to go for it and give yourself a chance. I remember when I applied for the various opportunities within 21CL I hesitated with submitting my application – whether it was for Youth Ambassador or SYLI I did not think I would stand a chance. However, all it took was believing in my skills and giving myself a chance. I would also mention that once you’ve accomplished one thing, don’t stop there. Continue putting yourself out there and ensuring that your brand as a student is known. After all, there is only one “you.”

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

There are so many ways I could describe 21CL, however, I would say this program is the token to “propelling your career.” This organization teaches you more than professionalism. It enriches students with social and communication skills, all of which are key to succeeding in your profession.

Alumni Spotlight: John Graves

21CL Alumnus John Graves is a graduate of Sonoraville High School (2018) and of the Georgia Institute of Technology (2022); he currently works as an Associate Consultant for Bain & Company. Throughout high school, John attended many of our student programs, was a 21CL Youth Ambassador and was one of our 2018 Georgia Youth Leadership Award winners. In his post, John shares how 21CL inspired him to accelerate his personal growth and find environments that encourage innovative thought among young people, and more!

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

My name is John Graves and I graduated from Sonoraville High School in 2018. I spent the next 4 years getting my Bachelor of Science in Economics Degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. After graduating in May of 2022, I started working as an Associate Consultant for Bain & Company in their Atlanta office. In my free time I enjoy all things outdoors including running, cycling, backpacking, and helping out on my family’s farm.

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I attended Sonoraville High School in Gordon County from 2014-2018. I participated in the Summer Youth Leadership Institute (SYLI@Goizueta) program at Emory University in 2015. I also was fortunate to serve on the 21st Century Leaders Youth Ambassador team from 2015-2016 and attend some fall / winter leadership summits. To end high school, I was honored to be a recipient of 21CL’s Georgia Youth Leadership Award in 2018.

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?

My full-time career is still just beginning, but my career preparation began quite a long time ago. My involvement in 21st Century Leaders during high school helped fuel my interest in exploring innovation through entrepreneurial leadership. As I built a business-focused leadership and communication toolkit throughout the program, I was exposed to the stories and ideas of Atlanta business leaders, 21CL alumni, and my peers. Seeing the true breadth of opportunity that young people have to innovate excited me as I heard stories of the successful students that had come before me. This immersive week inspired me to accelerate my personal growth in these areas by finding an environment that encouraged innovative thought amongst young people. That is how I ended up at Georgia Tech, and ultimately why I am at Bain & Company 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.?)

Attending the SYLI Summer Institute was an ‘aha’ moment for me in several big ways. First, as a high school freshman going into my sophomore year, I was able to learn about the college admissions process, how to challenge myself academically, and where to set my sights from my older, more prepared, student peers. Second, I was exposed to powerful stories of successful student-led nonprofits in Georgia that eventually inspired me to start a non-profit initiative in my hometown. Finally, and most importantly, I learned how impactful it is to surround yourself with people with unique interests, experiences, and goals to challenge your own. That summer at SYLI exposed me to all of these things and truly provided the direction behind much of my high school experience.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? If so, how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

I hope the groups that I have led over the years would agree with this, but I like to think 21st Century Leaders helped me become a more effective leader by emphasizing the importance of listening to others. In situations of leadership today, I enjoy the exercise of asking members of a group for their first take on how to deal with a problem or situation before I assert my own proposed path forward.

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

My advice to current and future students is simple. Enjoy friendships with people that have different backgrounds. There is so much to learn by surrounding yourself with diverse perspectives. Friends I made in 21CL programs all those years ago have had an enormous impact on my academic/career path.

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

Hard to do but I think I would use the three words, “our collective future,” because each of the students in programs I personally attended, and all of the program alumni, are on their way to change our generation’s shared future.

Alumni Spotlight: Sharlesha Bennett Kofa

Sharlesha Bennett Kofa is a graduate of Midtown High School (2009) and currently a third year Bachelor of Science Degree student at Clayton State University. She is a homeschooling mother of three beautiful children and works for Newton and Rockdale Counties, working on family and youth programs.  Sharlesha is passionate about community service and volunteering, and she was one of our alumni volunteers at 21st Century Leaders’ 2022 Leaderboard at The River Club Charity Golf Event!

“There is a saying that goes like, “You’re only as strong as your Network” and 21st Century Leaders taught me how to navigate professional environments and build those strong and lasting networks.” ~Sharlesha Bennett Kofa

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

Currently, I am a third year Bachelor of Science Degree student at Clayton State University majoring in psychology and human services. Last fall I started working as an Intern for Newton County Family Connections in Covington, Georgia; I also work closely with the Newton/Rockdale County Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Newton County Substance Abuse Coalition. One of the most exciting things I am doing at the moment is assisting Newton County’s Youth Action Team on an annual Kick-The-Habit Prevention Event. It’s through my internship advisor that I was able to make great connections that have led me to several community outreach volunteer opportunities.

Outside of school and volunteering, I am very passionate about total mind and body wellness. I enjoy working out and reading lots of motivational uplifting books.

How did participating in 21CL transform you and lead you to where you are now?

I am naturally a very shy person but experiences gained from participating in 21st Century Leaders during my high school years helped me gain the confidence needed to step out of my comfort zone and put my best foot forward. At the time, I didn’t realize the kind of impact it would make on me but I can confidently say that I entered the “real” world knowing how to dress properly and conduct myself in professional settings. There is a saying that goes like, “You’re only as strong as your Network” and 21st Century Leaders taught me how to navigate professional environments and build those strong and lasting networks.

Which programs did you participate in? How did the skills/tools/perspectives you acquired from 21CL prepare you for your next steps, going into college, taking on new leadership roles in your community, college and after?

I participated in the Winter Leadership Weekend, now known as Goizueta Youth Leadership Summit, in 2008 and 2009. I also participated in the 21CLub at my school. Another important skill that I acquired and took with me to college and that has also been very beneficial is to be proactive and to take the initiative. Sometimes being the first person in a group setting to speak up and introducing yourself can make all the difference.

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 will never forget standing in front of a full room together with my group members and having to speak in public for the very first time. In one of those public speaking sessions, we had learned to try to minimize the number of times we say “umm,” so when we got on the podium I kept repeating in my head over and over again, “Do not say ‘Umm’,” and by the time it was my turn to speak I had almost forgotten what I was supposed to say; but I was still able to pull it together and my group did an amazing presentation.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

Yes! I learned about community service and acquired great skills necessary for effective leadership, indeed “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!”

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Alumni Spotlight: Rosalba Mazzotta

Rosalba Mazzotta, is a graduate of Campbell High School (2020) and currently a 3rd-year Biochemical Engineering student at the University of Georgia who intends to pursue a Double Dawgs accelerated master’s in Biochemical Engineering researching the combustion of Biofuels under Dr. Brandon Rotavera. She serves as president of the UGA Chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and as a College of Engineering student ambassador. In 2022, she worked as a decarbonization intern at General Electric- Gas Power. During high school Rosalba participated in several of 21CL programs. “I want to say that the school you go to doesn’t matter as much as what you do there. What does matter most is the community that you build and what you do with them. Finding a place where you can grow and have access to opportunities is very important.” ~Rosalba’s advice to high school students

Paint a brief picture about yourself and what you are doing now.

I am a 3rd-year Biochemical Engineering student at the University of Georgia. I intend to pursue a Double Dawgs accelerated master’s in Biochemical Engineering researching the combustion of Biofuels under Dr. Brandon Rotavera. I serve as president of the UGA Chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and as a College of Engineering student ambassador and in 2022, I worked as a decarbonization intern at General Electric- Gas Power.

When were you in high school and which 21CL programs did you participate in?

I graduated from Campbell High School in Smyrna (2020) and during my high school years, I participated in several 21CL programs including: the Summer Youth Leadership Institute at Goizueta School of Business-Emory University in 2017, the Fall Summit-Leadership exCHANGE of 2018 and Goizueta Youth Leadership Summit in 2020.

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

21CL taught me about the importance of mentorship. When I started going to UGA, the first thing that I did was register for the Mentor Program and join AIChE. My mentor worked for GE so in addition to receiving guidance on surviving my degree program, I learned more about the culture, and thanks to her influence I applied to my first internship there. At GE, I had to use several skills that I started to cultivate at SYLI- the biggest one is networking and talking to adults. My role and these skills put me in contact with people as important as one of the Vice Presidents for GE-Gas Power Americas who now knows my name AND my face.

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.?)

My most memorable moment from 21CL is the Business Case Study competition during the 2020 Winter Summit also known as Goizueta Youth Leadership Summit, I won a mug from earning third place with my team- how could I forget it? More than that, 21CL gave me a chance to practice problem-solving working with absolute strangers. During this training, I found out that I like the process of putting together a solution and figuring out how to present it. I’m not job-hunting yet, but when I get there I will be looking for a job where I can combine my passion for public speaking with technical knowledge.

Did 21CL assist you in developing a leadership style that makes you an effective leader? if so, how? And have you recently learned something else about leadership? Please share!

The most important thing about leadership that I learned during 21CL trainings and as a type-A person was to make space for quieter people. I have no problem speaking up, and in a group of people it is easy to lose the contributions of quieter people. I do my best to give others the space to talk and it has resulted in some great ideas!

What advice would you give to a current or future student?

With college admissions coming up, I want to say that the school you go to doesn’t matter as much as what you do there. What does matter most is the community that you build when you get to college and what you do with them. Finding a place where you can grow and have access to opportunities is very important. I however know that there are many things I would not have done if I were at a different school. Also, if you’re into science and engineering, visit UGA college of engineering for a tour!

How would you describe 21CL in three words?

Inspiring, dedicated, interesting