Nine UNC Charlotte alumni making a big impact in Charlotte

Nine UNC Charlotte alumni making a big impact in Charlotte
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This content was created in partnership with UNC Charlotte


From opening local restaurants to shaping the future of education in our schools, Niners are doing big things in Charlotte.

As of today, there are 150,000 living UNC Charlotte alumni. About 70% of those alumni have stayed local and they’re making a big impact on our region.

We recently talked to nine local UNC Charlotte alumni about their time at the University, what they’re doing now, and how they’re making a difference in our city.

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Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.


Miguel Avila ’18, Co-founder and CEO of Daily View Pools

Degree: Belk College of Business (B.S. in Economics)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I am a Venture For America Fellow (VFA), CEO at Daily View Pools LLC, a Java student at Tech Elevator, and a startup mentor at the Swartz Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

The training, mentorship, and continued education opportunities have directly impacted the growth of Daily View Pools LLC, a family-owned swimming pool construction company I co-founded with my brother and father while I was a student at the Belk College of Business.

What advice would you give to current UNC Charlotte students?
Push yourself to show up. There are a lot of opportunities on campus through student organizations and university departments. 70% of the work is just showing up and giving 100% to every interaction.

What do you wish more people knew about the University?
The assets available to help students, faculty, and the Charlotte community launch and grow companies. We have so many resources and cool businesses operating out of Venturprise, including the Small Business and Technology Development Center, a hub for entrepreneurial activity on campus. In my junior year in college, I helped develop the first iteration of entrepreneurship.uncc.edu to create a central location for entrepreneurs to access information about the programs and funding opportunities available to startups.

Miriam Espaillat ’13, Co-founder of Sabor Latin Grill

Degree: College of Health and Human Services (M.S. in Social Work)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I am co-founder of Sabor Latin Street Grill, Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina, and La Caseta. I currently work for my company as Director of Community Engagement.

The big turning point for my current role was in 2016. Being an immigrant, I have a special passion for the immigrant population. As the news started reporting children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, my heart broke as many of these children were (are) from my country, El Salvador. This is what gave birth to my current role. I began to work with community agencies that work with second chance employers and participate in career job fairs. I now work with agencies to place community members with barriers to employment and I serve on community boards:

What do you think is the most valuable part of your UNC Charlotte education?
I had one professor, Dr. Lori Thomas, who I connected well with and she became a great guide for me as I struggled through my personal and career life. As a mother, wife, woman, and professional I became very overwhelmed on how to balance life. Having someone provide a neutral perspective was crucial in my ability to get through tough decisions.

What do you wish more people knew about the University?
The campus itself is beautiful. I believe UNC Charlotte does a great job in adapting itself to meet the needs of students and stay relevant in a city that is growing and constantly changing.

Ryan Kennedy ’04, Founder and CEO of Atom Power

Degree: The William States Lee College of Engineering (B.S. in Electrical Engineering)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I’m Founder and CEO of a company called Atom Power, which has made the world’s first and only Underwriters Laboratories-listed solid-state circuit breaker. I got here by working in the electrical distribution fields before school, while in school, and after. Eventually, after working a successful career as an engineer and project manager, I took a huge risk and quit my full-time job to start Atom Power from scratch.

What advice would you give to current UNC Charlotte students?
Pay attention and really get into your humanities classes, particularly if you’re in a technical or engineering field. Seeing the art and history and putting into words some of the great things beyond your own field are what give you an edge in your career post-graduation.

Note: Ryan just won the Diversity in Cleantech Award from the Triangle Cleantech Cluster – congrats!

Emily Miles ’02, 2019-2020 Principal of the Year

Degree: The Cato College of Education (B.A. in Elementary Education)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I am an elementary school principal at Sterling Elementary in CMS. After graduation, I became a teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and taught for 5 years before moving into different roles. I was a literacy facilitator, dean, and assistant principal before I became a principal.

What role do you think the University plays in shaping the future of Charlotte?
In my world of education, I know that the University has and will continue to impact public education in a major way. UNC Charlotte is building a pipeline of future teachers. The University also has a strong leadership pipeline.

What advice would you give to current UNC Charlotte students?
Find joy in your college journey. Responsibility, time management, and prioritizing your coursework are crucial to your success, but so is having healthy, positive relationships with family and friends and spending quality time with people that inspire you to be a better person.

What do you wish more people knew about the University?
I think many people do know this but the changes that have been made over time to the campus are tremendous since I graduated in 2002. The campus is just beautiful, and the history and growth of the University over the past 20 years is something for Charlotte to be proud of.

Boris “Bluz” Rogers ’06, Emmy award-winning poet, author, and Blumenthal Performing Arts Creative Engagement Director

Degree: College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (B.A. in Communications Studies)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
Currently, and most recently, I am the Director of Creative Engagement for Blumenthal Performing Arts. How I got here has been a very untraditional process. Meaning, I went to UNC Charlotte prepared for a career in something completely different, but talent, hard work, trusting in my own sense of self, and opportunity led me to where I am today. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with ESPN, CBS, the Hornets, and Panthers as well as major corporations and leaders from around the world.

What do you think is the most valuable part of your UNC Charlotte education?
I would definitely say the relationships and networks I developed and maintained while I was there and even after graduating. UNC Charlotte is teeming with some of the most amazingly talented faculty and staff in the country and the alumni that the University produces are genuine game changers and trailblazers.

What advice would you give to current UNC Charlotte students?
Pursue your dreams with passion. Don’t be afraid to fail, failure will inform you of how much you want to succeed. Take chances, remember to breathe, live, and enjoy this time of discovery. Have fun and make your mark

What do you wish more people knew about the University?
I wish they knew more about the amazing people who attend and graduated from here. I wish they knew more about the history of the University and the exciting future planned. I want them to know that UNC Charlotte is not just a stop on the rail line but an integral part of the thriving and growing city of Charlotte. This place is where you can truly take control of your destiny.

Stacey Rose ’08, Television Writer and Playwright

Degree: College of Arts + Architecture (B.A. in Theater, Minor in Film)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I’m currently a playwright and television writer [for 9-1-1 on Fox starring Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, and Oliver Start]. After graduating, I produced theatre in Charlotte with the local company On Q Performing Arts. Then, I went to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and got an MFA in Dramatic Writing. Things kinda took off from there.

How did your time at UNC Charlotte prepare you for the career you have now?
It made me incredibly self-sufficient. From working with fellow students while I was at UNC Charlotte I developed a passion for autonomy in storytelling that has lived with me since. When I want to see my work in the world, and I see no other way, I put it there.

What role do you think the University plays in shaping the future of Charlotte?
I believe by virtue of drawing students from a multitude of locations, UNC Charlotte plays a pivotal role in building a bridge between Charlotte and the nation. It is part of the reason, I feel, the city is growing so rapidly.

Liz Ward ’14, Founder of advisory services firm Give Impact

Degree: Belk College of Business, Childress Klein Center for Real Estate (M.S. in Real Estate)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I recently founded a new advisory service firm called Give Impact that is focused on affordable housing and upward mobility solutions in the Carolinas.

I read about affordable housing in a textbook in 2012. At the time, I was making a lot of loans for market-rate multifamily projects as a lender at Wells Fargo and was studying at night to get my master’s degree in real estate development at UNC Charlotte. What I read struck a chord because my family lived in apartments for many years on a thin teacher’s budget. The notion that there was high-quality housing being built with rents protected for those who can’t afford market rents was amazing. I left banking in 2015 to work for The Housing Partnership developing and preserving affordable housing.

What do you think is the most valuable part of your UNC Charlotte education?
Exposure to local industry professionals and thought leaders. I could learn about real estate development and affordable housing at many other universities, but UNC Charlotte is the only place that can give you a direct line into the local market if you plan to build your career here.

What advice would you give to current UNC Charlotte students?
My advice is to take advantage of your time as a student. Attend all of the events, take the time to meet the industry professionals who volunteer their time in the programs, and get to know your classmates.

Everyone has a unique story and you never know how it can lead to an opportunity where you can help one another. The time in your program will fly by quicker than you think, but the content and relationships you develop will be there long after if you invest in them while you’re in the program.

Michael Vaccaro ’97, Novant Sr. Vice President of Nursing Services

Degree: College of Health and Human Services (B.S. in Nursing)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I serve as the Senior Vice President of Nursing Services at Novant Health. As I got engaged in activities within my nursing unit, it opened my eyes to the influence that I had as a nurse and it sparked my interest in leadership. I then pursued a leadership position as a nurse manager and that started me on my leadership journey.

How did your time at UNC Charlotte prepare you for the career you have now?
Nursing school was certainly challenging and one of the things that helped me was the relationships with my fellow classmates. We were all going through the same thing together and we would often lean on each other for support during the rigorous clinicals, studies, exams… What I recognize now is that ability to support one another was important for our success in school but also prepares you for what it is like in the healthcare setting.

What role do you think the University plays in shaping the future of Charlotte?
I have been amazed at the growth and innovation that has occurred on campus over the last 10 years. It truly has been so much fun to watch and I am so proud to call it my alma mater. My pride for the University goes beyond my attendance and extends to the pride I feel as a Charlottean. We are a fast-growing city that is attracting a lot of industry and innovation. To have a university in our community that matches the growth and innovation is a wonderful thing for Charlotte.

Madlen Ivanova ’16, Senior Manager of Data Science at Lowe’s

Degree: College of Computing and Informatics (B.S. in Computer Science, M.S. in Computer Science and Business Analytics, Ph.D. in Computing and Information Services)

What do you do now, and how did you get there since graduating?
I am a Senior Manager of Data Science at Lowe’s, a Fortune 50 home improvement company. After graduating, I worked in a smaller Charlotte-based company for about a year, and then I started as a data scientist at Lowe’s. I quickly grew up into my current role.

How did your time at UNC Charlotte prepare you for the career you have now?
UNC Charlotte prepared me in many ways. The faculty members are great and really inspired me to learn and develop myself. I stay in touch with some of them even today. Every class was a new experience and taught me important concepts that I use every day.

What role do you think the University plays in shaping the future of Charlotte?
I think the University plays a big role on many levels. It has built great relationships with small and big Charlotte companies and it does a lot on the social responsibility end too. I have seen many great initiatives coming from each of the colleges at UNC Charlotte. One initiative I worked on with UNC Charlotte in the past three years is Women in Data Science (WiDS), which aims to inspire and educate more people to enter the field of Data Science and address the issue with the gender gap in the data science field (and the technology field in general) and open the conversation on all the ‘why-s’ behind it.


 Check out more game-changing alumni at UNC Charlotte and stay up to date on all things Niner Nation.


This content was created in partnership with UNC Charlotte. 

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