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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Alumni Spotlight: Morgan Hodgkinson

Morgan Hodgkinson, a graduate of Collins Hill High School (2017) and of University of Georgia (2021) works for SeamonWhiteside as a Civil Design Engineer. She participated in EarthCare Summer Leadership Institute while in high school. “We learned how to make other people feel included. That was the first time I realized how different people’s values and needs were in relationships and how to pick up on those values in conversations.” ~Morgan Hodgkinson

Paint a brief picture of what you are doing now.

I am a civil design engineer in Charleston, South Carolina. My company, SeamonWhiteside, specializes in designing innovative spaces that enrich lives and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

I graduated from the University of Georgia with an Environmental Engineering degree. While in college I was a research engineer for the USDA ARS and also performed research under Dr. Jenna Jambeck regarding the effects of plastic pollution in rivers and in landfills.

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

21CL gave me the opportunity to learn soft skills that school did not teach me and provided me the opportunity to practice these new skills in an inclusive setting.

There are many distinct memories where the skills I learned during 21CL came useful. The coolest experience was when I was representing the undergraduate student population at The University of Georgia for the annual Board of Regents Conference where I spoke on my research and the impact it would have on the environment. Presidents of various colleges and universities across the state came up to me impressed with my public speaking and my networking skills. Without 21CL I wouldn’t have been comfortable in that situation.

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 EarthCare the summer of 2016. Prior to that summer leadership institute, I had an interest in the environment but I didn’t understand how many unique careers were in the industry. EarthCare gave me the opportunity to learn soft skills like how to give a proper handshake, public speaking tips and networking. Little did I know at the time, it showed me my future career path. I believe in order to achieve greatness, you have to have confidence in yourself and 21CL taught me just that.

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

I remember the session about learning how different personalities work together. Everyone took a leadership personality quiz and got a color band. We learned how to make other people feel included. That was the first time I realized how different people’s values and needs were in relationships and how to pick up on those values in conversations.

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! Leadership in my mind focuses on 2 main categories: being aware of your surroundings and being confident in your actions. Most sessions during the leadership institute focused on how to build these categories. Another thing I have learned about leadership recently is being in the right mindset. “Optimism drives the world forward.”

21CL Launches STEM Leadership Program with Science ATL



Partners with Cox Enterprises

ATLANTA (September 8, 2021)– 21st Century Leaders (21CL) and Science ATL, in partnership with Cox Enterprises, have launched a STEM leadership program for metro Atlanta high school students.

The collaborative program will include a version of 21CL’s school-based program tailored for STEM and Science ATL’s Chief Science Officers program. It will also include a self-guided online STEM Leadership curriculum module within 21CLs’ Leadership Connect®. This online platform is housed on 21CL’s partnering company, Rali, an Atlanta-based learning management system.

21CL and Science ATL will launch five STEM+21CLubs across Metro Atlanta counties and school districts for the 2021-2022 school year including:

  • Banneker High School in Fulton County
  • Forest Park High School in Clayton County
  • South Cobb High School in Cobb County
  • South Paulding High School in Paulding County
  • Tucker High School in DeKalb County

Each STEM+21CLub will serve up to 25 students throughout the school year while engaging the larger student body through STEM-focused and student-led service projects, leadership forums, career coaches, and leadership and STEM online curriculum. Following this pilot year, the program’s goal is to open up to additional schools throughout Georgia for the 2022-23 school year.

“Every young person, no matter their background, has the ability and the potential to become a leader in their school, community and ultimately the workforce. They just need the opportunity, resources, and confidence to believe it,” said Kate Hewitt, executive director of 21st Century Leaders. “We’re grateful for partners like Science ATL, Cox Enterprises, and our five piloted high schools who recognize and believe in that same vision.”

The new program builds on the strengths of Science ATL’s Georgia Chief Science Officers program that empowers youth to lead STEM enrichment activities in their communities. It also leverages 21CL’s 33-year history of year-round youth leadership development programs that collectively connect, transform and inspire students to embrace diversity, explore career opportunities and develop as leaders. The impact of the program, while measurable in real-time, will also provide long-term impact results with employability skills, enhanced college and career readiness, scholarship opportunities, and internship and professional connections.

“Partnering with 21st Century Leaders is a great way to broaden access to STEM careers and to empower more youth to use STEM to make the world a better place,” said Jordan Rose, executive co-director of Science ATL. “I am so proud of the two student leaders from our Chief Science Officer program who helped to develop the new STEM curriculum for 21CL’s Leadership Connect platform – what a great example of youth voice in action!”

Cox Enterprises’ funding, along with support from the United Way and Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, will help ensure these opportunities come at no cost to the students while also providing financial support to the partner schools and faculty members overseeing the STEM+21CLubs.


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 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

About Science ATL
Science ATL Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing people together through the wonder of science. Our mission is to cultivate an equitable community of lifelong learners across metro Atlanta who are connected and inspired by the wonder of science. Through public events like the Atlanta Science Festival, and community-building initiatives like the Georgia Chief Science Officers youth leadership program and the STEM Professional School Partnership program, we are improving access to STEM/STEAM learning opportunities and building community around science. Learn more at

Cox Enterprises
Cox Enterprises is dedicated to building a better future through our leading communications, automotive and media companies. Our major operating subsidiaries include Cox Communications and Cox Automotive, and we are strategically investing in new industries and emerging technologies, with sizeable interests in clean technology and health care. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, Cox is a global company with nearly $20 billion in annual revenues and brands that include Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book and Cox Homelife. Founded in 1898 by Ohio Governor James M. Cox, the company is a family-owned business committed to its people, communities and planet. To learn more about Cox, visit, view our collective impact report at, or follow us on Twitter via @CoxEnterprises or @AlexTaylor_Cox.


Alumni Spotlight: Brent Gills

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Alumni Spotlight: Brent Gills

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This month’s Alumni Spotlight features Brent Gills, who is currently an MA in Management/MIM student at Wake Forest University and founder of The Gills Consulting Group. Brent graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School in 2009 and has degrees in physics from both Hampton University and Florida A&M. He attended 21CL programs from 2007-2009, including the very first EarthCare, sponsored by Georgia Power.

At 21CL’s annual golf outing, Leaderboard at East Lake, on October 11, 2017, he shared his story about the opportunity given through 21st Century Leaders that led him to his passion for STEM careers and prepared him with skills for fruitful connections. Read his takeaways from being a 21st Century Leader, and his speech to call forth leadership and support for the 21CL community.

How did participating in 21CL change you and/or lead you to where you are now?

21CL taught me to have the confidence to actually go after the things I wanted. Without actually seeing people face to face that had the types of jobs I’d only read about, it’s hard to imagine yourself in some of those positions. You can say, “I’d like to be a VP or CEO in the future,” but I never truly believed it until I sat down and had a conversation with men and women who sat in those seats. You never know what things from 21CL you’ll actually ever need. I remember being at a Physics conference and actually sitting at the same table as a Nobel Laureate. If it weren’t for the table etiquette (both conversational and utensil) that I learned at camp, and trust me, it was definitely practiced at my home, I probably would have embarrassed myself in front of the people at the table. Instead, I’d had plenty of practice, so I was poised in my delivery.

What was a memorable ‘aha’ moment in 21CL?

I would have to say I had that moment after using a business card that we got at camp one summer. The gentleman I gave it to was so impressed that a young person took the time to have business cards made that he took his time to make sure I was successful during every part of college. That gentleman is still a mentor of mine today.

How did 21CL prepare you for your next steps? What tools and perspectives have helped you along the way?

As I stated earlier, 21CL gave me the confidence I needed to actually know that I can and should be competing with EVERYONE out here no matter where they may come from. I’d been around leaders from all over the state, so when it came to running for Freshman class President or any other elected position while in undergrad, I was prepared. The organization also gave me a bridge into networking and why you actually do it. Learning to network is something that most people don’t get to learn about until they’re much older, and having those experiences in high school made me better prepared than my peers in both undergrad and graduate school.

What’s something you’ve recently learned about leadership?

I’m slowly learning how to say no. I’m always reading about how that’s the most important thing that effective leaders are good at.


Brent’s Speech

“What is something that most people take for granted? Family? Time? Well, how about opportunity?—-And it’s a shame that so many of us take opportunity for granted. Because without it, we wouldn’t have the chance to do what we do or have the things we have.

Tonight, we’re not celebrating, but I want you all to see the gravity of the opportunities that you’ve been creating. We’re here so that you can know about the success that this program has had. The 21st Century Leaders Program’s goal is to empower the next generation so that they can encourage the generation behind them to go the extra mile for our world. If it weren’t for the British Physicist (or electrical engineer, whatever you engineers in the room want to refer to him as) Michael Faraday, who came from extremely humble beginnings, getting the opportunity to listen in on lectures and work as Sir Humphrey Davy’s secretary at the Royal Institute of Great Britain, we wouldn’t be enjoying the light that’s enabling all of us to see each other at this very moment. Georgia Power’s business is based on the work of Faraday and other physicists who were obsessed with electromagnetism at the time. While 21st Century Leaders has a goal to uplift the children in our communities, to exude leadership in their everyday lives, I want to set a goal for the rest of us: to never let the next great scientist or leader slip through the cracks.

Now let me take you all on a journey. The year was 2007 (goodness gracious so long ago right?). I was 16, had an un-nurtured love for science, but was known as the class clown because I did not take my future seriously. Then 21st Century Leaders and GA Power gave me the opportunity to attend an environmental sustainability/leadership camp (EarthCare).  What a combination, right? It was perfect for me, because I knew I had an interest in being a scientist, and I had the natural ability to lead teams of people. I learned about power, different sources of energy, leading and working in teams with people who might not look like I do or be from the same Decatur neighborhood as me. I learned about public speaking, business and leadership etiquette, teamwork, and most importantly, networking. I lost my fear of talking to people and asking for advice or help, which in my experience is the most important thing you can ask someone for.

21CL taught me how to seize opportunities, and I brought that with me in 2009 when I was a freshman at Hampton University studying physics but was uncertain, hesitant about my choice because of the stress associated with becoming a scientist… Let me add that when I went on my college visit, a fellow 21st Century Leader alum came along with me, which speaks to the strength of our network. Speaking of networks, I even met my mentor Dr. Ramsey Smith, by giving my 21st Century Leader business card. Dr. Smith, a chemical physicist at NASA, played an instrumental role in my development as a scientist. He said, “Brent, a day should not go by without you researching something for yourself. Think for yourself. Form your own opinions. Verify whatever you’re told.” After that conversation, I was confident in my choice of studying science and caring about the things that I did. I then knew that the time I put into my studies and research would be worth it. I got a chance to work in optics laboratories, do research on dark matter and energy. My eyes opened up because of one opportunity. Using many of the skills that I learned during my tenure as a 21st Century Leader, I was elected as SGA President at Hampton, where we initiated a Green campaign and brought 150% more recycling bins and other sustainability tools to our campus. But it started with opportunity. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point, he stated “small things can make a big difference.” One person who comes through this program can birth new opportunities, just as Michael Faraday did with the field of electromagnetism.

Opportunity is the major difference between a millionaire and a lower middle class American worker, even more so than effort. When someone gets an opportunity, they’re able to make something more of themselves…they’re able to see what’s available to them outside of their daily struggle. They have the choice to be successful or not, instead of their environment making that choice for them. If Robert Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners wouldn’t have been the lucky kid from his town to attend Cornell for a summer engineering program, he wouldn’t have ever known what chemical engineering was, and hold the 5 patents that he holds today. Mr. Smith subsequently attended Columbia Business School and became the founder and chairman of one of the largest private equity firms in the world. If Albert Einstein wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work for the Swiss Patent Office, he wouldn’t have had the scientific background that he had, which means that he probably wouldn’t have theorized the special theory of relativity, which lead to us creating the atom bomb to win WW2 and us being able to use nuclear energy to power entire cities. What would’ve happened if Dr. Einstein wouldn’t have theorized the things he did?

Without opportunity, people cannot succeed. I don’t care how self-made you consider yourself to be…it just wouldn’t happen. I can definitely say that 21st Century Leaders gave me the opportunity to do some of the things I’ve done. I hold two degrees in physics and I’m now working on my MIM at Wake Forest University, while leading a consulting firm that a former professor and I started at the beginning of this year. My consulting firm, The Gills Consulting Group, focuses on STEM consulting and policy, and environmental sustainability, which is something I hold near to my heart.

I know that all of you are here because you care about your communities. You care about this world that we all live in. If it weren’t for people like you all, and Bob Watson, people like me wouldn’t have known the different fields within engineering, or be as concerned with our environment and how it works. I wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for the opportunities that were awarded to me through this very program. People like you empower others around you to reach higher, do bigger things, to take those extra steps…

Each of you in this room has had a door opened for you. It’s about reciprocating that gesture and making it so that more people can experience the successes that you have. Now, Isaac Newton said that energy cannot be created, nor destroyed. We already have a good bit of energy here in this room with 21st Century Leaders and we have to make it a priority to keep this energy flowing.”