The University of Montevallo National Alumni Association Junior Board of Directors is proud to announce the 2023 class of 15 Within 15. This honor was established to recognize driven UM graduates who have demonstrated strong leadership and career passion within the first 15 years after earning their degree.
These rising stars have shown that they have what it takes to rise above the rest—those who have shown what it truly means to have a degree from Alabama’s only public liberal arts university.
Criteria for selection included leadership skills, creativity, sustained career progress, dedication, personal integrity, community outreach/volunteer work and unconventional wisdom. After a nomination period in the fall, the selection process was conducted by the Junior Board Nominations & Awards Committee, a UM staff member and a member of the Awards & Recognition Committee of the UMNAA Board.
Those selected for the 2023 class will be honored at an event during Founders’ Day celebrations in October.
The 2023 Class of 15 Within 15 are:
(listed in alphabetical order)
Brantley Ballenger ’18
Brantley received his B.S. in Exercise and Nutrition Science from Montevallo and a M.S. in Exercise Physiology from UAB. He is a Ph.D. candidate and Graduate Research Assistant at Mississippi State University. He is also the Lab Coordinator of the Disability Research Laboratory.
In addition, he is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Exercise Physiologist. His research interests include measurement of physical activity and the relationship between cardiovascular health and physical activity levels in adults with and without Down Syndrome.
Brandon Cleveland ’09
Brandon is an experienced banker with a focus on finance, banking, and non-profit work. His bachelor’s degree is in Business Administration from UM, and he holds certifications from the New York Institute of Finance.
He serves on the Mayor’s Small Business Council for the City of Birmingham, is a past recipient of the Civic Leadership Award from the Jefferson County Democrat Millennials, is a recipient of the Birmingham Business Journal’s “Rising Stars in Money” award and serves as Chairperson of the Birmingham Community Loan Fund.
He is the founder of Waterside Global, a ministry focused on serving men and boys of color to live a purposeful life through the teachings of the Word of God. He is also the Executive Director of the Daniel Payne Legacy Village Foundation, Inc.
Julia Davis ’20
Julia is an award-winning content creator and animal advocate. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communi-cation studies from UM followed by a master’s degree in advertising and public relations from The University of Alabama.
After graduation, she worked in higher education before discovering her passion for animal advocacy.
When her full-time job was eliminated in 2022, she decided to pursue content creation full-time. Her greatest joy is being able to dedicate more time to raising funds for non-profits and finding ways to unite people for the benefit of animals and humans alike.
Dr. Corey Duke ’13
Corey is a resident physician and neuroscientist completing his medical training (an M.D. and Ph.D.) in Child Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. His work is focused on developing targeted genetic therapies to treat neurodevelopmental disorders.
After his time at Montevallo, while studying at UAB, he started and produced the Magic City Medcast, which was a podcast produced by UAB’s medical students exploring the stories of medicine, medical school, and Birmingham. He served as founder and executive producer for seven years.
Stephen Elkins ’08
After graduating from UM, Stephen ventured to New York, where he studied musical theatre writing at the BMI musical theatre workshop and at Primary stages. His musical “PEDRO PAN,” co-written with fellow alum Rebecca Aparicio, earned festival accolades and an Off-Broadway run with NYMF in 2018.
He has written for short films and commercials and has worked as a musical director and performer on various projects. He is an organist at Christ Church Bay Ridge and leads the band, Wild Magnolia, playing bluegrass throughout New York and abroad.
In 2023, he received his MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from New York University.
Dr. Mechay R. Gray ’13
Dr. Mechay Gray grew up in the small town of Clay, Alabama. She went to UM and graduated with a B.S. in Biology with a Chemistry minor. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine from The University of Alabama School of Dentistry where she met her husband, Dr. Nathan Gray.
In 2018, she was one of 29 individuals from across the country to receive the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation Student Leadership Award for her commitment to caring for underserved communities. This award recognized not only her work in Fort Payne, Alabama, where she provided free dental work to anyone in need for the day, but also her work in Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic providing dental care and education through medical mission trips.
Recently, Mechay and Nathan moved back to Birmingham to run their own practice, White Oak Family Dentistry, in Homewood.
Jamie Haas ’19
Jamie is an experienced writer and social content creator with a passion for exploring Birmingham. Her career first bloomed with the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens as a communications and marketing associate, before finding her niche in social media as a senior digital community manager with Cayenne Creative.
Now a content coordinator at REV Birmingham, the foundation of her work is digital storytelling. By way of clever, precise copywriting and vibrant, scroll-stopping visuals, she provides a glimpse into the sights, happenings, and culture of the Magic City. In her off hours, you will find her volunteering at Railroad Park where she has served as President of the Junior Board for two years.
Cameron Hall ’13
As Executive Director of Annual Giving and Lead Generation for the University of South Carolina, Cameron excels in building better programs from the ground up by using data analytics to improve strategies, processes, and procedures. He is adept at cultivating partnerships and building lasting relationships across departments, ensuring the optimal conditions in which to empower staff, enhance outcomes, and support ongoing growth. Cameron is also a plant dad with more than 75 houseplants, and he creates content for Instagram and TikTok on the topics of coffee, cooking, and baking.
Adam Herndon ’12
As Vice President of Business and Data Analysis at PFS Investments, Adam Herndon is based in Atlanta, Georgia. After completing his BBA from UM and MBA from UAB, Adam has led a project management organization that specializes in complex technology transformations in the securities industry. As a registered stockbroker and investment advisor, Adam has found a niche working to bridge the gap between business, finance, and technology. Adam credits the MIS courses he took at Montevallo while pursuing his undergraduate degree for sparking his love in this segment.
Dr. Rebecca Leach ’15
Dr. Rebecca Leach is an Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Arkansas.
Her research lies at the intersection of organizational and health communication. Rebecca uses a social scientific approach to examine the factors that promote wellbeing in the workplace, including compassion, justice, and resilience. Her research has been published in twelve journals. Some of her favorite classes to teach are Happiness in the Workplace and Organizational Communication Theory.
|Julia Maloney ’13
Originally from Jacksonville, Alabama, Julia graduated from Montevallo with a degree in Political Science in 2013. After working for nonprofit organizations in Birmingham, she enrolled in law school at the University of Virginia School of Law.
She has received two Assistant Attorney General Awards and an Award of Excellence from the U.S. Department of Energy. And she served as the 2023 UM Founders’ Day speaker.
Abbey McNeely ’15
Well equipped with a liberal arts education and the support of her Montevallo family, Abbey McNeely moved to New York City in 2016. She participated in The Edit Center Intensive workshop and developed a passion for unscripted documentary storytelling.
Over the last five years, Abbey has jumped between reality, true crime, and historical docuseries. She focuses on telling compelling stories. Her most well-known project is “The Murder Tapes,” a nine-season true crime series following police investigations through surveillance footage and body cameras. Her team shared the stories of more than 60 victims who lost their lives.
Recently, Abbey assisted a team of Emmy-nominated directors and editors in creating Showtime’s “Deadlocked: How America Changed the Supreme Court.” This four-part series follows the development of the U.S. Supreme Court from the 1950s to today, exploring how America’s culture has influenced our most powerful political body.
Jeff Norris M.Ed., Ed.S. ’12
Jeff Norris began his career teaching third grade, fifth grade, and gifted education. He attained National Board certification and degrees in Educational Leadership and Teacher Leadership while leading local and state professional development.
Jeff then entered administration working as an administrative assistant, assistant principal, and principal. As the pandemic prompted many to consider changes, he returned to his true passion: classroom instruction – as a sixth grade English and now math teacher.
His passion can definitely be seen in his work. In May 2023, he was named the Alabama State Teacher of the Year. He firmly believes all members of the education community have the ability to positively influence and lead others.
Kacie Slaughter ’09
Kacie Slaughter is the Director of Recruitment for the University of Montevallo and has previously served in roles at UAB as the Director of Recruitment, Scholarships, and Student Engagement, and at Clayton State University as the Executive Director of Admissions.
Kacie has a passion for providing access to higher education for minority populations, advocating for women in leadership roles, and creating a safe and equitable community for her students and colleagues.
She has served as VP of Professional Development, Access, and Inclusion for ALACRAO, President of the Junior Alumni Board, presented on various leadership topics at regional higher education conferences, and is a current member of the Safe Zone committee and American Association of University Women.
Liucija Smaizyte Wright ’15, MBA ’22
Liucija is an Associate Vice President and Financial Advisor at Morgan Stanley. As a certified Financial Planner™ professional, she focuses on creating and presenting personalized wealth planning solutions by building long-term relationships with clients to help them achieve their financial goals.
She first interned with Morgan Stanley in 2014 and returned in 2016 as a Wealth Advisor Associate.
Originally from Lithuania, she came to the U.S. on a full athletic scholarship to play tennis. She graduated magna cum laude, and first in her class in the Stephens College of Business, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in Finance, and minors in MIS and Pre-Law.
She is on the boards of multiple organizations including Alabama Women in Business, Alabama Economics Club and Girl Spring. She is multilingual: fluent in English, Russian, and Lithuanian.