Every year, we cull through hundreds of nominations and narrow it down to the best of the best. This year, you’ll meet social justice warriors and educators; a pioneer of safe skin care; and an official working to restore trust in government. Each one of the forty is making their mark in a unique way, but their common thread is that each one is a leader changing the world.
Have a glimpse into just a few of the outstanding winners this year.
Amos Davis 10L 10T
San Francisco, Ca
An Eagle Scout at age thirteen follows a path to becoming an attorney for Uber
Always eager to learn and to help, Amos Davis 10L 10T doesn’t shy away from challenges that may further his development. He came to Candler School of Theology with an interdisciplinary degree in philosophy, religious studies, and psychology, and immediately enrolled in Emory School of Law. From there, his career took a course that excited his curiosity. “It is rare to accurately predict the direction your career will take,” he says. “But when opportunity knocks, don’t be scared to answer the door.”
Davis wants current students to explore everything Emory has to offer. “From varied coursework, to diverse student groups, to unique internships, Emory provided a wealth of opportunities to expand my horizons.” With an Emory Public Interest Committee grant, he did a summer internship with the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. and traveled to New York City to compete in the National Moot Court competition. He also interned with The Coca-Cola Company, where he was later offered a job as a food lawyer. “I responded, ‘Absolutely!’,” he says. “I then immediately Googled, ‘What is food law?’” He credits Emory for all the possibilities presented to him. “At Emory,” Davis says, “opportunity is there for the taking.”
Leslie Johnson 09OX 11C 14PH 18L
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Public health researcher working to improve access to mental health treatment for people, both domestically and globally, living with chronic conditions
When describing her winding career path and discussing her multiple degrees, Leslie Johnson 09Ox 11C 14PH 18L laughs. “It’s just being open to opportunities, connections, and a bit of serendipity,” Johnson says. Over the years, since entering Oxford as a first-year student, Johnson has mainly worked in research surrounding mental health. She spent 11 months in India researching how to effectively integrate mental health and diabetes treatment. Domestically, she has supported work to prevent and treat depression in people with epilepsy, particularly in the African American community. Globally, she is thinking about creative ways to broaden the mental health system to address the shortage of specialists.
There was also that summer she fell into a job interviewing people about trees for Indiana University Bloomington. “Specifically, they were looking at how trees in Atlanta bring communities together and encourage healthier environments,” says Johnson, adding that while not in her field of study, it was “a great experience.”
When considering her years of study at Emory, Johnson says that she initially enrolled in Oxford because it offered a unique educational model. “You immediately know everybody and everything,” says Johnson who keeps in touch with many of the faculty and friends she made at Oxford. “There is a small-town feeling, but it allows you to have input into what's going on with your education and your community.”
After completing her next two years on Emory’s Atlanta campus, Johnson continued studying with her adviser. Along with pursuing the study of qualitative research methods, she delved into the study of religion, ultimately completing her master’s of theology at St Andrews in Scotland as a Bobby Jones Fellow. “I was looking at how we interpret health narratives through art,” says Johnson. “I never had any intention of doing public health, but I guess the lesson here is, never say never.”
Breanna Lathrop 08N 08PH
Chief Operating Officer
Good Samaritan Health Center
Public health advocate, family nurse practitioner, author, parent
In high school, Breanna Lathrop 08N 08PH decided on a health career after volunteering at a free clinic in her Iowa hometown. “I remember feeling like the clinic providers were heroes,” she says. “They had skills and could actually make a difference.” Today Lathrop is a hero herself. With Emory degrees in nursing and health policy and a doctorate from Georgia Southern, she is a leader at The Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta and a champion for healthy communities.
Good Samaritan provides health care to people in need. Lathrop is the chief operating officer and a family nurse practitioner. In addition to seeing patients and ensuring that the center runs smoothly, she works to improve health equity as an advocate and author. The book she co-wrote with Veronica Squires 06C, Good Samaritan’s chief administrative officer, explores how neighborhoods make people sick and offers ideas for creating change.
As a 2020 Culture of Health leader for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Lathrop co-founded a Coronavirus Support Network that connects communities nationwide with COVID-19 resources. Culture of Health prepares leaders to use their influence to ensure everyone has an opportunity for a healthy life.
Working what amounts to several full-time jobs, she relies on her three young children for inspiration. “Kids are born with goodness and openness that remind us we all still can change, and that is a great source of renewal for me. I really love what I do. In the face of brokenness and frustration, there’s something powerful about diving in and taking action.”
Rebecca Obeng 18MR 20F
Assistant Professor, Northwestern University
Pathologist, Northwestern Medicine
Chief Medical Officer, Sub-Saharan Africa Health Care Initiative
A physician-scientist working to end health disparities in sub-Saharan Africa
Rebecca Obeng 18MR 20F describes herself as someone who is “rooted in family, love, community, and culture with a drive to live up to her highest potential.” She is a gastrointestinal pathologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University. She also works with a team at Sub-Saharan Africa Healthcare Initiative (SsahiPath), a non-profit organization, to improve diagnostic services in Africa.
Dr. Obeng earned a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University in 2014 and in 2017, she joined SsahiPath while she was in medical residency at Emory. SsahiPath has given her the opportunity to combine her expertise in pathology with her long-standing passion for global health and eliminating health care disparities. As chief medical officer, she works with government health officials and laboratory leaders to conduct needs assessments and identify concrete actions they can take to improve their health services and patient care.
“I am proud to have a supportive village of family and friends who encourage me to push boundaries, challenge myself, and make an impact,” she says. “We can do anything we want to if we put our minds to it and if we have the right environment and support along the way.”
Brandi Ray 10MBA
Senior Director of Marketing
A marketing director working to advance diversity recruiting at PepsiCo
Brandi Ray 10MBA believes in paying it forward because, without strong relationships, she might not be where she is now. Her career at PepsiCo began with an internship she earned after connecting with an Emory alumna at a recruiting event. “I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for others,” Ray says. “Everyone has a role to play in supporting the next generation.”
As senior director of marketing on the Cheetos brand, she has overseen innovative advertising strategies including a pop-up restaurant, a highly regarded show during New York Fashion Week, and a chart-topping Super Bowl commercial. She is most proud of how she has supported others through mentorship, her leadership of the Mosaic African American Employee Resource Group, and her involvement in diversity recruiting. Most recently, she helped influence the agenda on PepsiCo’s $430 million commitment to support the Black community over the next five years.
Ray credits her success to the training she received at Emory and spends as much time as she can connecting with current students. She tells them, “no one can get anywhere on their own. Make sure you’re building relationships, not only to help yourself, but to help others.”
Romina Savova 08C
CEO and Founder
Her fintech tool solves swarm of retirement headaches
Anyone savvy enough to succeed at Morgan Stanley should easily figure out their retirement rollover, right? When Romina Savova 08C left her job at the financier’s London office, she discovered she was not alone in her confusion over the British system of pension funds. Sorting out what she needed to know was the beginning of PensionBee, an app that today allows UK workers to easily track their retirement savings. Savova oversees investments of almost $1B, making her one of the few female CEOs in the country’s top 100 public companies.
Emory attracted Savova partly because Atlanta reminded her of her hometown of Pretoria, South Africa. Before graduating summa cum laude in international affairs and economics, she founded Model United Nations at Emory (MUNEmory.org). Interest in diplomacy receded as she got a Harvard MBA and moved to London where fintech was the buzz. Entrepreneurship “usually looks a bit easier than it is,” she says. “And once you get into it, you will realize that it’s hard, but that’s okay because if it were easy, someone else would be doing it already.”
Michael Wang 03OX 05C
New York, NY
He fuses AI into monitoring patients, making meals, and more
In the early 2000s, Fusion brought college dance teams to Emory to create new forms of cultural dance. It was the first startup for Michael Wang 03OX 05C, an inventor and advanced practice clinician specializing in cardiothoracic surgery who fuses artificial intelligence to serve humanity. His company Inspiren makes a sensor that monitors a patient in bed, recording their physical movements, to help ensure patient safety and guide caregiving. Another company, MÓGŪ, makes a flameless, robotic system for preparing nutritious Chinese food; it was inspired by his family’s Long Island restaurant.
A classically trained pianist, Wang began inventing by composing music in high school. He says that Fusion “made me realize I really enjoy the prospect of building a business, of bringing diverse people together in teams. It gave me the idea that perhaps the path of entrepreneurs is where my passion is.” Wang’s clinical expertise in cardiothoracic surgery, and direct patient care informed his work that led to patents on health care technology. “It’s important to pursue something that is truly worthy to you, something you truly believe in, and throw everything you have toward a noble cause,” Wang says. “That is something that's going to drive our society forward and allow us to become the best version of ourselves.”
For more, and to meet the rest of the 2020 honorees, go to the 40 Under Forty page. Connect with the honorees and let us know what you think. Also, do you know someone who would be perfect for the Class of 2021. (Is it you?)