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Class Notes

Office for Philanthropy welcomes new leaders

Bryan Steros
Bryan Steros

Bryan Steros has been named interim vice president for philanthropy, overseeing all academic fundraising as well as the Office of Alumni Relations and Women in Philanthropy and Leadership. He is also spearheading I’M IN 2 – The Endowment Campaign for Coastal Carolina University. He joined the philanthropy office  seven years ago, and his fundraising background includes working at the Seton Hall Law School, Fordham University, New York Medical College, Ramapo College of New Jersey and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. A native of East Brunswick, N.J., Steros earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Ramapo College of New Jersey and an MBA from Fordham University with a concentration in management.

Diane Fabiano Sanders ’05
Diane Fabiano Sanders ’05

Diane Fabiano Sanders ’05 was named executive director of alumni relations in October 2018. She joined the CCU staff  11 years ago, and has held positions in the Office of Admissions and Merit Awards, Office of Alumni Relations and the Office for Philanthropy. During her tenure in philanthropy, Sanders was in charge of the the faculty and staff giving campaign, which she led to a record high of 74 percent participation. In her most recent role as director for philanthropy, Sanders was charged with fundraising for the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, retired employees, and campus life and student engagement.


1978

Carey Green is in his 20th year as the head women’s basketball coach at Liberty University, which won the 2017-2018 Big South Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.

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1983

Chip Smith and his business partners have purchased the Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort in Calabash, N.C.

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1985

Johnny Gardner has been elected chair of the Horry County Council. He also serves as the principal attorney of his law group in Conway.

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1986

Connie Roberts is the new principal at Townsend Elementary School in Townsend, Tenn. She previously served as assistant principal at Carpenters Elementary School in Maryville, Tenn.

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1989

Cindy Parker retired after a 29-year career teaching mathematics at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter, S.C. She is now serving as the executive director for the South Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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1991

Nancy Opalko has retired as children’s librarian at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library in Oxford, Miss. She worked at the library for 25 years.

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1993

William Royce reports that his daughter, Devyn Royce, recently completed her freshman year at CCU. “Only three more years until she becomes an alumna,” he says. “I am glad she decided to attend CCU.”

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1995

Cedric King is the manager for community relations at Pinova Inc. in Brunswick, Ga.

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1996

Shane Hubbard is serving a four-year term on the Conway City Council. His wife, Becky Bradham Hubbard ’89, ’96, is chair of the early care and education department at Horry-Georgetown Technical College.

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1997

Jody Jenerette is the head football coach at West Florence High School. He recently served as head football coach at Aynor High School.

Brian Batten has been promoted to senior associate with Dewberry Inc. He is a senior coastal scientist and works primarily in leadership and technical roles on diverse coastal-sector consulting projects. He earned a doctorate degree in coastal oceanography in 2003 and a master’s degree in marine environmental science in 1999, both from Stony Brook University. Batten is an appointed member of the of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Technical Mapping Advisory Council. He is also leading a comprehensive flood resilience study for the City of Virginia Beach.

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1998

Tom Gwyer, a 25-year veteran of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department, was named the department’s new fire chief in July 2018. He had served as deputy fire chief since April 2016.

Chadwick Hardee is president of APDC Cleaning Services in Kissimmee, Fla. Hardee is a former executive for hotel chains Ritz Carlton, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Wyndham and Hyatt.

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1999

Jordan Roberts Teich is a civil litigation lawyer who focuses on maritime, environmental and commercial matters. She recently moved from New Orleans, La., back to Charleston, S.C., with her husband, David, and son, Sam.

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2000

Amy Hall is the president of The Barber Shop Marketing & Promotions, a full-service marketing and advertising agency based near Dallas, Texas.

Tyler McCart is a regional manager at Haskell, a furniture manufacturing company. His territory includes Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He most recently served as a vertical business development manager at Office Depot.

Shanda Poston is the new principal at Scranton Elementary STEAM (Service, Teamwork, Effort, Achievement and Mastery) Academy in Florence County. She previously served as assistant principal at Scranton Elementary.

Tonya Prentice was presented the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from the National Science Foundation at the White House on June 25. This is the nation’s highest honor for teachers of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She is a fifth-grade teacher at Woodstock Elementary School in Bryant Pond, Maine.

Kelley Weiss is the new principal at Alpine Crest Elementary School, which is part of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn. She previously served as the assistant superintendent in Enfield, Maine, as well as a principal and assistant principal for more than seven years.

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2001

Matt Daly has been promoted to director of golf operations at Founders Group International, which owns 22 Grand Strand golf courses. Daly, the 2017 Carolinas PGA Merchandiser of the Year, was promoted in 2017 to regional operations manager for FGI’s south end courses. He has been head golf professional at FGI courses TPC Myrtle Beach, the Grande Dunes Resort Course, Myrtlewood Golf Club and Pine Lakes Country Club.

Dale Long was named Conway police chief in April 2018. He has more than 27 years of law enforcement experience and has been with the Conway Police Department since 2010, most recently serving as detective sergeant.

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2002

Jabrina Berry is an assistant property manager with Colliers International’s Real Estate Management Services division in Columbia, S.C. She has 11 years of property management experience in South Carolina.

Paige Bird, a licensed broker and realtor with RE/MAX Southern Shores in Myrtle Beach, ranks No. 76 nationally on RE/MAX’s latest Top 100 list for residential real estate sales during January-April. She has been named South Carolina’s No. 1 RE/MAX agent five times.

Stephen Bismarck received the University of South Carolina Upstate’s Excellence in Teaching and Advising Award for the 2017-2018 academic year. He also was promoted to associate professor with tenure in the School of Education.

Kristin Kerns has been named teacher of the year at Cyber Academy of South Carolina, where she teaches fifth-grade English language arts. She is one of eight finalists from across South Carolina for the Charter Institute at Erskine’s teacher of the year award.

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2003

Tom Griffin is a special education teacher and acting varsity baseball coach at Conway High School. He also serves as director of the annual Griffstrong Golf Tournament, which raises funds for families affected by cancer.

Tyler Hasbrouck is the vice president of e-services at Credit Union 1 in Alaska. He has worked at the credit union for more than 14 years.

M.J. Huggins III has served as Carolina Financial Corp’s executive vice president since 2010. Prior to joining the company and assisting with the founding of Crescent Bank, he served as area executive and senior vice president of Carolina First Bank. He attended the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.

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2004

Jake Foutz is the owner of Fitness Xperts, which was recently voted the No. 1 personal training gym in Orlando, Fla., by the Orlando A-List.

Debbie Wright Wingfield was promoted to manager for the Manatee Protection Program and Marine Mammal Stranding Team of Volusia County, Fla.

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2005

Michael Hitch and Meredith Johnson were married in Hartsville on June 16, 2018. He teaches at Belton Middle School in Anderson School District Two.

Josh Spivey is the athletic director at Aynor High School. He began teaching at the school in 2006.

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2006

Travis Dannelly is the president and chief operating officer of the United Way of Horry County. He previously worked in the banking industry.

Ashleigh Branham Dixon has been promoted to DNA serologist with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in Columbia, S.C.

Joseph Farry has been promoted to manager of parcel transportation at DSW Inc. in Columbus, Ohio.

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2007

Bryan Bender is a fourth-generation farmer with Bender Potatoes in Chambersburg, Pa.

Kotie Kimble is an assistant men’s basketball coach with the Charlotte 49ers.

Jessica Lowery, a teaching associate in CCU’s public health department, has opened The Power of Elderberries. 

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2008

Michael Abraham, PGA head golf professional at Hidden Valley Country Club in Salem, Va., has earned PGA Master Professional status, the highest educational designation that can be obtained by a PGA member. He previously worked in Myrtle Beach as PGA head golf professional at Pine Lakes Country Club and as the assistant PGA professional at the Members Club at Grande Dunes.

Greg Johnson is the athletic director at West Florence High School. He previously served as assistant principal at Darlington High School.

Kelly Jenack Leasure and Jack Leasure celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary on July 20, 2018. They live in Canandaigua, N.Y., with their three boys: Oscar, Arlo and Beauden.

Joanna Vrancart and Sean O’Mara welcomed their first child, Rylee Morgan Vrancart O’Mara, on March 23, 2018.

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2009

Zack Byrd is the new assistant women’s golf coach at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. Highlights of his professional playing career include reaching the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and playing in the 2011 U.S. Open.

Kim Wysong is a sixth-grade teacher at North Myrtle Beach Middle School. She most recently worked as an instructional technology facilitator in the Durham and Chapel Hill schools in North Carolina.

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2010

Caroline Boineau and James Thomas were married in Brookgreen Gardens on June 2, 2018. She is a realtor with Tradd Residential.

Tegan Hinaman served as an athletic trainer at the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, an all-star high school football game between New Hampshire and Vermont held Aug. 4, 2018. She is an assistant athletic trainer at Castleton University in Vermont.

Maranie Rae Staab recently exhibited her photography at Penn State New Kensington. Her work has been published in Esquire, Huffington Post, Mashable and on CNN.

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2011

Roosevelt Board is the franchise owner of the new Chick-fil-A in the recently renovated food district in  Staten Island Mall in New York. He has worked with the company for more than seven years, including serving as general manager of the Chick-fil-A in Murrells Inlet and as the grand opening supervisor for restaurants across the country.

Paige Cribb has been elected the first female president of the PGA Carolinas Section. She is the director of student support for CCU’s PGA Golf Management program.

Kristen Lang recently relocated from Chicago back to her hometown of Baltimore, Md., where she is working for M&T Bank’s mid-Atlantic headquarters as a marketing project analyst.

Zachary Loberger recently accepted a position as a commercial project manager for Siemens Building Technologies in Atlanta, Ga.

Aaron Ludgatis and Kara Buffington were married at Creek Club at I’On in Mount Pleasant, S.C., on April 7, 2018. He is a regional sales manager at Magic Tilt Inc. of Clearwater, Fla. The couple lives in Charleston.

Michael Midgette, a PGA-certified teaching and coaching golf professional, recently played in a golf marathon at the Boca Raton (Fla.) Municipal Golf Course from sunrise to sunset to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Derek Murphy is the director of development and stewardship for the Phi Gamma Delta Educational Foundation in Lexington, Ky. He regularly participates in Out of the Darkness community walks in memory of his friend and CCU alumnus Patrick Ziegler.

Nina Oates and her family own The Hideout on 47, a restaurant in Parkersburg, W.Va., that has become a noted venue for nationally known stand-up comics.

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2012

Jessica Cinardo is the executive producer at WMBF News in Myrtle Beach. She began working at the station as a news content specialist after graduating from CCU.

Kyle Finnerson is a certified personal trainer and has opened Studio Fitness in Rutland, Vt.

Sydney Hough and Aaron Fann were married in Granite Falls, N.C., on July 21, 2018. She is a drama teacher at Rawlinson Road Middle School in Rock Hill, S.C.

Matthew McCoy is the founder and artistic director of Bay Area Musicals in San Francisco. He previously served as the casting director and associate artistic director at Berkeley Playhouse, where he still works as a guest director, choreographer and teaching artist.

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2013

John Johnson is the assistant equipment manager for the University of Maryland Baltimore County Retrievers, the first-ever No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament history.

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2014

Daniel Baker participated in Miami University’s earth expeditions global field course in Belize. He studied coral reefs, manatees, howler monkeys, jaguars and other wildlife while learning the methods communities are using to sustain them in Belize. A graduate student in Miami’s global field program, Baker is a zookeeper at Houston Zoo. He lives in Houston, Texas.

Brantay Cohens was recently named the teacher of the year at Myrtle Beach’s Ocean Bay Middle School, where he teaches eighth-grade mathematics. He also was a top 10 semifinalist for Horry County Schools’ teacher of the year.

Joe and Ashley Baker Griswold ’15 celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary on July 15, 2018.

Alison McQuarrie has graduated with honors from the Master of Health Administration program at the University of Scranton.

Alex Ross plays with the Winnipeg Bombers. He previously played quarterback with the British Columbia Lions.

Maeve Snyder is the new coastal training program coordinator at the North Inlet-Winyah Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Georgetown, S.C. She recently earned a master’s degree in biological sciences from the University of South Carolina.

Andrew Wyeth and Allison Guinta were married this past May in Charleston, S.C. They reside in Conway with their twin sons, Easton and William. Andrew works with hybrid production management and sales for Gale Contractor Services.

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2015

Felicia Butler has been named the teacher of the year at Coastal Leadership Academy, where she teaches social studies and math. She is one of eight finalists from across South Carolina for the Charter Institute at Erskine’s teacher of the year award.

Christina Davis is the new area coordinator with the housing and residence life team at Emory & Henry College in Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in student affairs in higher education from Missouri State University.

Andrew Dorn competed in the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament in June 2018, finishing in a tie for 62nd place in a field of 120 players.

Ruby Durham is a member of the NBC Charlotte News team. She previously worked in Myrtle Beach at WMBF and WBTW.

Brittany Hoffnagle is an environmental scientist and GIS specialist with Woods Hole Group, an international environmental, scientific and engineering consulting organization in Falmouth, Mass. She graduated with a master’s degree in coastal marine and wetland studies from CCU.

Connor Romito participated in Miami University’s earth expeditions global field course in Belize. He studied coral reefs, manatees, howler monkeys, jaguars and other wildlife while learning the methods communities are using to sustain them in Belize. Romito, an associate animal trainer at Discovery Cove, lives in Orlando, Fla., and is a graduate student in Miami’s global field program.

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2016

Brandan Albee has been promoted to second assistant manager at Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif.

Kelsey Dominik was selected in the third round of the inaugural American Softball Association Draft in June 2018.

Hailey Gilbert has joined Frampton Construction Co. as an administrative assistant based in its Charleston office.

Brianna Tramutolo is an environmental scientist intern at EWMA, an employee-owned environmental consulting and remediation firm in New Jersey.

Tyler Wyeth earned a master’s degree in international political economy, with a specialization in international development, from the Brussels School of International Studies - University of Kent. His master’s thesis was on “The Potential of Renewable Energy for Southern Mexico in a NAFTA Facilitated ERA.” He served as president of the Graduate Student Union during his studies.

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2017

Nathaniel Marshall was named chief personnel officer for Florence School District One.

Martin Melchor is the new head men’s and women’s soccer coach at Jacksonville College in Texas.

Jeremy Razook is a digital marketing strategist at Fuel Travel Marketing. He previously served as an intern at Fuel and MyrtleBeach.com.

Benjamin Rutherford is an admissions and community outreach coordinator at CCU.

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2018

Jake Freedman is a public relations associate at the Brandon Agency in Myrtle Beach. He previously served as an intern at the agency.

Nikko Austen Smith plays Asha on the television series Queen Sugar, which airs on the Oprah Winfrey Network

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Alumni Profile

Nike Ohonme: The Shoes of Kilimanjaro

Nike Ohonme 1
Nike Ohonme ’17

This past July, CCU alumna Nike (pronounced “Knee-kay”) Ohonme ’17 hiked to the summit of Tanzania’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, the largest freestanding mountain in the world. She undertook this challenge as part of a Christian mission trip celebrating the 15th anniversary of Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that has provided pairs of shoes to nearly 7 million children in more than 90 nations. The mission of Samaritan’s Feet, founded by Nike’s parents Manny and Tracie Ohonme, is to inspire hope in children by providing shoes as the foundation to a spiritual and healthy life and the basis of education and economic opportunities.

Nike, a marketing specialist for a health care company in Sioux Falls, S.D., was the only woman on the hiking team. On July 9, the team visited an orphanage where they washed the feet of many children and distributed shoes. On July 15, they reached the summit of the mountain.

“Mt. Kilimanjaro is a beast, one to be respected,” said Nike after the climb. “I wanted to do something big, something that would make me challenge myself to new physical, emotional and spiritual heights. This trip was a way for me to achieve those things all while supporting my parents and their 15 years of global service.”

Nike Ohonme Group

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Alumni Profile

Jessica and Jake Lowery: The power of elderberries

Jessica and Jake Lowery:  The power of elderberries

It all started with a Facebook post on Jan. 1, 2018.

“I shared a Facebook post of myself making my elderberry syrup along with the list of benefits it offers, including combating the flu,” says Jessica Lowery ’07 of Myrtle Beach. “I had such an unexpected response that I began making it in big batches. Within a couple of weeks, we had to get an LLC, a business license and DHEC approval!”

Lowery and her husband, Jake ’04, started selling their syrup locally, but after a couple of months realized they needed to do more to meet the demand triggered by the harsh flu season. They took a food safety class through Clemson University and were accepted into the Waccamaw Market Cooperative, which enabled them to sell their syrup at Horry County farmers markets.

Then retailers came calling, and the couple had to move the business into a commercial kitchen in order to keep up, all while maintaining a happy and healthy home life. The Lowerys are parents to three children all under the age of 7.

Made with organic elderberries, local organic honey, ginger, cloves and cinnamon, the Lowerys’ elderberry syrup has many properties with known health benefits, including lots of vitamin C. She recommends taking it for a runny nose, allergy and flu symptoms, sore throat, and for prevention purposes.

It can also be used as a natural fever reducer and has been known to help alleviate chronic inflammation and pain.

Lowery graduated from CCU in 2007 with a degree in health promotion. She earned her master’s degree in health education from the University of South Carolina and returned to CCU as a teaching assocate.

Jake graduated in 2004 with a degree in finance and works as a financial planner. Or he did, until the Power of Elderberries LLC became so successful that he left his job to work for the new company full time.

“He claims he is just the dishwasher, but if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here right now,” Jessica says. “He has a dream, and we share that dream.” That dream is to have fewer people in doctors’ offices, and that includes Coastal students.

Jessica and Jake Lowery:  The power of elderberries 2
Jessica ’07 and Jake Lowery ’04 at CCU’s Farmers Market.

“Because I’ve been teaching at CCU for 10 years, I know that students are sick all the time,” Jessica says. “They have the flu, and they take all these over-the-counter medicines. At the end of the day, I’d love it if they were able to take something all-natural to find relief without any side effects and be back on their feet and in class within 24 hours. That’s what it’s all about.”

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Alumni Profile

Nikko Austen Smith: Breakout role


Nikko Austen Smith ’18

Nikko Austen Smith ’18 is playing the role of Asha in the dramatic series Queen Sugar on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Smith, a native of Houston, landed the part a few months prior to graduating from Coastal’s BFA acting program, summa cum laude, in May 2018.

“This was my dream role on my dream show,” Smith says. “I had to take it.” She appeared in nine episodes of the show’s third season, which aired through the summer months. Adapted from a novel by Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar is about the troubled relationship of three Louisiana siblings.

Earning her spot on the show took about two weeks, most of that time spent waiting anxiously for callbacks. First there was the audition notification from Smith’s agent, then a self-taped audition sent straight to the casting director. For several days, Smith could do nothing but cross her fingers and wait.

Then came the first call: “I was needed in New Orleans in two days,” Smith said. Auditioning for the role in person meant testing her chemistry with the rest of the cast in front of production staff, including the show’s director and producer. A day later, she got the role.

As a theatre student, Smith appeared in the CCU productions of Big Love, Bullets Over Broadway and On the Razzle as well as several independent film productions shot in North Carolina.

Monica Bell, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre, said Smith’s value as an actor lies not only in her talent, but also in her authenticity.

“Producers are drawn to Nikko’s strength, how active she is, how contemporary she is,” said Bell. “Nikko is very detailed, very honest. She’s willing to be bold. Some actors have the ability to allow a camera into their work. Their energy invites the camera in.”

Smith credits Coastal’s BFA program with helping her to develop her unique approach. “CCU taught me how to begin mastering my craft and how to be completely unapologetic in everything I do,” said Smith.

Queen Sugar has been renewed for a fourth season and will return in 2019.

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Alumni Profile

David Mellis: Economic impact

David Mellis
David Mellis ’08

While growing up in Hertfordshire, England, David Mellis ’08 always imagined he would make a name for himself as a professional tennis player. When it came time for him to consider where he would go to college and pursue his tennis career, he looked to the United States and its National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Through his search, Mellis discovered a school in a favorable location with a strong NCAA Division I tennis program—Coastal Carolina University.

“Having played in not-so-good U.K. weather for so many years, the idea of playing tennis in South Carolina weather and by the beach is what led me to Coastal,” Mellis said.

Mellis played the No. 1 to No. 3 singles positions at CCU and thoroughly enjoyed his athletic experience, from having a “great coach” in Chris Powers to forming lifelong friendships with his teammates.

But it was a thought-provoking moment in a freshman economics class that would have the most profound impact

on his life. He recalls how economics professor Yoav Wachsman read off six or seven high-profile names from a diverse range of industries and asked the class, “What do all of these people have in common?” The answer: They all have economics degrees.

“I knew I wanted to be in business but wasn’t sure what area,” Mellis said. “Having a degree with a wide range of outcomes had to be a good thing. So that is what led me to pursue a double major in economics and finance.”

With the idea of becoming a tennis star well behind him, Mellis is finding his niche in the financial services sector. Shortly after graduating cum laude from CCU, he began his career with Deutsche Bank in Jacksonville, Fla. Five years later, he moved up to New York City and joined Goldman Sachs as a financial risk business analyst before being promoted to associate lead specialist for short-term interest rates trading.

In 2016, he accepted his current position at Wolfe Research, an up-and-coming equity research firm headquartered near Grand Central Station. As an equity research sales associate, Mellis works with 50 European-based clients to deliver fundamental and quantitative research ideas that have helped to generate approximately $3 million in revenue this year.

“The business program at Coastal is extremely good,” said Mellis, who became a chartered financial analyst in 2015. “The Wall College prepares students who want to be in the financial services world. There are not many places that can better prepare you for success. I would not have anything close to the career I have today if it weren’t for my four years at Coastal.”

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