Alumni Impact

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Positive change. That’s the impact that so many CofC students want to make. And a vast majority of them get the knowledge and skill sets they need at the College – as well as the inspiration – to make that happen. They graduate and take those assets out into the world.

Here is a small sampling of Cougars who have stepped in where they perceived need and are making their mark in substantive and truly important ways. Ultimately, they’re creating a more sustainable world.

Meet our Alumni:

Sarah Koch, ’04 — Art History & Studio Art double major

Sarah Koch is the co-founder and executive director of Development in Gardening (DIG), an international nonprofit using regenerative agriculture as a way of addressing nutrition, food security, climate resilience and livelihood development to assist some of the world’s most vulnerable people. DIG’s directors and staff prioritize communities that are left out of other development opportunities; communities such as the elderly, people living with HIV, the displaced, the physically disabled, young mothers, the ultra-poor and others. The organization’s work directly addresses eight of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and its abiding philosophy is that food is a powerful interventional tool for systems change.

Koch has been doing this work for 17 years, and during that time, DIG has partnered with over 50,000 farmers to develop 110 projects across eight African countries. Though the organization has worked in the Caribbean and Central America, its efforts are currently focused on growing its impact in Kenya, Uganda and Senegal.  

“By cultivating the earth in a regenerative way that also provides for nutritional resilience and food security, we can establish a foundation for prosperity and growth for whole communities, over generations. How we steward our planet, feed our communities, and fuel our bodies is of paramount importance for today and for our collective future. Quite frankly, a better world is rooted in food."

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Sarah Koch '04, co-founder and executive director of Development in Gardening

 


Ben Poucher, ’05 — Urban Studies major

As a lifelong sailor, it’s not surprising that Poucher makes his living in the sailing industry. But what is surprising is the role he’s created for himself. He’s the executive director of Warrior Sailing, a national nonprofit program that teaches sailing and associated skills to wounded, ill and injured service members and military veterans.

Since 2013, Poucher and his Warrior Sailing colleagues have been helping these individuals find a new lease on life by introducing them to sailing via a series of basic training camps, certification courses and participation in competitive events such as Charleston Race Week and the Chicago-Mackinaw Race. The organization stages clinics and training camps all around the U.S. And in 2022, Poucher and company announced an ambitious goal of changing the lives of 750 veterans through their work.

Getting military service members on the water can provide physical, mental and emotional therapy for a variety of injuries and illnesses,” Poucher explains. “Sailing is an outlet that helps them cope with the long-term effects of PTSD, brain injury, amputation, paralysis and nerve damage. It’s also an exciting way for our Warrior Sailors to express their most natural abilities – teamwork and competitive drive.”

Ben Poucher '05, executive director of Warrior Sailing

 


Kenyatta "Kenny" Gardner, ’08  Political Science major

When he’s not advising clients, researching cases or actively litigating in the courtroom, Gardner spends part of his time working as a board member and advocate for Turn90 (formerly the Turning Leaf Project). This regionally-based nonprofit helps adult men recently released from incarceration find their footing by developing the skills and mindset needed to function well in society.

Gardner has been a strong community supporter since his days as an undergraduate. While at the College, he founded HELP, a nonprofit that worked to fight poverty and homelessness in the Lowcountry by collecting food, clothing and money and donating that to area shelters. Of his work with Turn90, he says:

“It is fulfilling to serve on Turn90’s board because the work of creating opportunities for success for men recently released from prison is vital for our society.”

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Kenyatta "Kenny" Gardner ’08, attorney-at-law and board member of Turn90

 


Alexa Rosenthal, ’10  Psychology major

Alexa Rosenthal is the co-founder and Chief Ecosystem Organizer of Ecoversity, an e-learning platform and community builder that works to accelerate a regenerative future. In the past 21 months, the organization has graduated 538 students from 37 countries and given scholarships to 58 students with over 60 regenerative projects activated. Ecoversity, the Earth Leadership School, offers courses in regenerative permaculture, herbalism, mushroom cultivation, regenerative urban design, music as medicine and more. Rosenthal and her co-founder Stephen Brooks believe that society must re-educate itself to preserve its place on the planet, and the lessons to be learned come directly from nature itself.

At the organization’s beachfront campus in Costa Rica, Rosenthal, Brooks and their staff are growing a community of permaculture farmers, herbalists, chefs, yogis, builders, and artists. The mission of Ecoversity, Rosenthal says, is to “practice and teach a simpler, regenerative way of living that nourishes the mind, heals the body, celebrates the spirit and honors the Earth.”

“My goal with Ecoversity is to create curriculum that will create a better world, specifically by working with positive psychology, permaculture, sustainability, community and entrepreneurship to give students the skills they need to feel empowered to make positive change.

Alexa Rosenthal '10, co-founder & Chief Ecosystem Organizer of Ecoversity

Thomas Laffay, ’11  Latin American and Caribbean Studies & Political Science double major

Thomas Laffay is a documentary director and visual journalist specializing in long-term documentary investigations in Latin America. Based in Bogotá, Colombia since 2016, he has covered the ongoing violence against environmental and human rights defenders over the course of that country's troubled peace process. He is a recipient of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant for investigating mercury trafficking in the Guiana Shield. He was awarded a 2021 Online Journalism Award for Best Medium Format Documentary for his work covering the Siona Indigenous Nation, whose members are clearing landmines from their ancestral territory.

Laffay’s work has been featured by The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, National Geographic, VICE Global News, ARTE, The Guardian and InfoAmazonia, among others, and he reports for the Colombian national newspaper El Espectador as a photojournalist. He’s a recipient of the inaugural 2020 Andrew Berends Fellowship and is currently producing his first feature documentary together with the Siona Indigenous Nation of Putumayo, Colombia. 

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Thomas Laffay '11, director & cinematographer of Siona: The effort to De-mine Sacred Space in the Amazon

 


Ewan Oglethorpe, ’12 — Data Science major

Ewan Oglethorpe went to work for a big tech firm right out of college, but after learning about the impact of the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal, he switched gears. Right away, he traveled to Katmandu and began investigating how he could help. The result of his effort was the creation of Data Friendly Space, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization committed to improving humanitarian responses through better use of data and better data.

Oglethorpe’s organization offers information management and analysis as well as tools and processes to international aid organizations such as the United Nations and the International Federation of the Red Cross. DEEP (Data Entry and Exploration Platform), a proprietary system that Oglethorpe developed, has been used to track the spread of Ebola in Western Africa, and to monitor human rights abuses in Southeast Asia. As Data Friendly Space enters its seventh year, Oglethorpe remains committed to driving the adoption of modern technologies among global responders to help them work more efficiently. The organization now has offices in four countries. 

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Ewan Oglethorpe '12, executive director of Data Friendly Space and co-creator of DEEP

 


Kelsey DePorte, ’15 — Sociology major

Kelsey DePorte was very involved with the Center for Sustainable Development and the Office of Institutional Diversity while studying at the College. She served two internships for the Center. Then, after graduating, she moved to Northern Europe and began investing her energies in a variety of important initiatives pertaining to sustainability and social justice.

DePorte has lived and worked in The Hague, Brussels, Amsterdam and Helsinki. She manages and organizes events for Regeneration 2030, a youth-founded nonprofit whose leaders are determined to rethink and ultimately remake societal systems, rendering them sustainable and equitable. And, for the past four years, she has also worked as an environmental and social justice campaigner engaged in such efforts as Stop Cambo, Paid to Pollute and Shell Must Fall. She also developed an “adhacking/brandalism” campaign for Gastivists and spearheaded a youth-oriented election campaign for the Federation of Young European Greens

“Supporting young people to become leaders and take control of their future (for the better) in this day and age is critical. Young people know that we can't continue with the status quo and are demanding change. It's a population that knows we must radically change our system from how we use finite resources and even how we interact with each other.”

Kelsey DePorte '15, event manager for Regeneration 2030

 


Brandon Chapman, ’16 — Political Science & African American Studies double major

Brandon Chapman now works as a field manager for the justice transformation team at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The Leadership Conference – a 70-year-old coalition with over 230 member organizations – is the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights association. This organization promotes and protects the civil and human rights of all people in the U.S. through public education and administrative and legislative advocacy. In his work, Chapman and his colleagues seek to build an America as good as its ideals.

One of the strategies that Chapman’s team employs is building strategic campaigns with partners at the state and local levels to advocate for redirecting funding from the criminal legal system to other more productive programs.

We work to hold elected officials accountable to enact policies and laws that actually keep us safe, such as well-funded education, affordable housing and mental health services, instead of more jails, prisons and police,” he says.

 

"I'm inspired by the late Ms. Ella Baker who said, 'Oppressed people, whatever their level of formal education, have the ability to understand and interpret the world around them, to see the world for what it is, and move to transform it.' In this work, I train and learn from local community members working to dismantle the criminal-legal system. I work with community members building the people power needed to hold public officials to account.”

Brandon Chapman '16, Field Manager for The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights

 


Damien Beri, ’16 — Biology major

Damien Beri is committed to restoring reef ecosystems around the Hawaiian Islands. That’s an enormous job, but he’s developed a novel way to achieve this. He founded The Coral Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that uses a crowd-sourced approach for conserving and restoring various species of coral

Hawaii’s first community-based coral restoration initiative, The Coral Conservancy trains and teaches community members to identify and help restore broken, damaged corals. Part of the organization’s work involves planting new corals and re-affixing broken corals.

“At the Coral Conservancy, we believe that coral reefs are a public resource, and given that, the communities that rely on them should be allowed to take part in their recovery. We recognize that future generations hold the key to this. By providing young citizens with experience and training in the field of coral restoration, we hope they will go on to become future leaders in charge of preserving coral reefs and helping them recover.

Damien Beri '16, founder of The Coral Conservancy

Sam Norton, ’16 — Political Science major, M.S. ’21 — Environmental Studies

Sam Norton launched Heron Farms in 2020 with the mission of creating a sustainable agricultural system and restoring global marshlands by using the earth’s most abundant resource – seawater. Based in Charleston, S.C., Heron Farms operates the world’s first indoor saltwater vertical farm.

Norton and his farm staff grow and market Salicornia, also known as sea beans. These resilient plants are native to the coastal marshes of South Carolina and Georgia (as well as elsewhere). They’re crunchy and salty and are rapidly becoming a staple ingredient for restaurants, which use them as a garnish and a plant-based salt substitute. Norton discovered the potential of raising sea beans commercially while conducting research for his master’s degree in environmental science. He has since expanded his company’s work to include reseeding Salicornia in areas of dredge spoils and consulting on marsh restoration in Bangladesh.

“I grew up eating these things that we called sea pickles,” Norton says of Salicornia. “But I’ve since realized the huge potential in these plants. They can be grown in salt water, which helps put less strain on fresh water supplies, and they can help reduce the salinity in our marshes because they store salt. Consequently, one of our missions at Heron Farms is to restore one square foot of marshland – by planting Salicornia – for every pound of sea beans we sell.

Sam Norton '16, founder of Heron Farms

Lauren Shipley, ’17 — International Studies major

Lauren Shipley is the co-founder and executive director of Artisan Global, a nonprofit that develops sustainable jobs, strategies and workspaces alongside international artisan businesses in post-conflict regions. Currently, the organization’s efforts are focused on developing creative industries with entrepreneurs in Northern Uganda. In Gulu, Northern Uganda, Shipley and her cohort have established Artisan Center, a new, shared creative space that functions as an accelerator for young entrepreneurs and artisan businesses. Here, individuals are busy creating in photography, art, fashion design and product design.

Shipley describes her organization’s impact as building long-term solutions with communities facing cycles of extreme poverty in a post-conflict setting. Through a multi-dimensional approach, Artisan Global supports entrepreneurs in the region who are transforming their respective communities. The organization helps launch careers by offering industry training, creative workshops, mentoring and business consulting. Artisan Global acts as a catalyst by covering costs for sewing machines, new materials and other resources that allow for these small businesses to expand in Uganda and internationally.

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Lauren Shipley '17, co-founder and executive director of Artisan Global

 


Luke Shirley, ’18 — Religious Studies major

According to a 2019 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics.” Shirley says, “mental health disorders in the U.S. have surpassed every other condition as the main source of impairment and limitation among adolescents. Young adults in particular struggle to cope in healthy ways and the resources to assist them are often limited even if they can get past the stigma associated with asking for help. I think we have to ask, is it any wonder that so many young adults either take their own lives or lose their lives to substance abuse? That’s one of the reasons why I founded Quest in Recovery.

Luke Shirley is the founder of Quest in Recovery, a nonprofit based in Charleston, S.C. that seeks to help young individuals overcome the challenges and barriers surrounding mental health and recovery. Shirley and his Quest colleagues help by engaging them in recreation, education and service in the community, as well as through Quest’s mentorship program. 

“ At Quest, our impact is focused on connecting young adults in need of mental health resources with mentors and allies who can help lift the stigma and shame that still surrounds these challenges,” Shirley explains. “I battled depression through most of my adolescence and particularly during college. With the help of my mother’s wisdom, mentors and the community I discovered via recreation, I saw the light in my darkness. This is the gift that I hope Quest in Recovery can give to others no matter where their story begins or what challenges they face.”

Luke Shirley '18, founder of Quest in Recovery

Jose Chiriboga, ’18 — Computer Information Systems major

Jose Chiriboga is the founder and proprietor of REMU Apparel, a company that operates in his home country of Ecuador, pays a living wage to workers who manufacture apparel primarily from repurposed fabric. (The company’s motto is “upcycle, empower, explore.”) Chiriboga’s motivation for establishing the company grew out of his recognition regarding the egregious waste he saw in the fashion industry. He also sought to create a company that would operate sustainably regarding worker compensation and thereby begin to address the exploitation of laborers that is so prevalent in this industry as well.

“ In the U.S. alone, the average person discards 82 pounds of textiles each year. They’re not just throwing away that material, but all of the energy required to produce it as well. That includes all the electricity, all the water all the raw material. That’s where I see a massive opportunity for change.”

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Jose Chiriboga '18, founder and proprietor of REMU Apparel

 


Mikel Hannah-Harding, ’19  — Meteorology and Physics double major

Mikel Hannah-Harding was one of the College’s first graduates to major in meteorology. He went on to secure a job as a weekend meteorologist and multi-media journalist for WRDW News 12/WAGT NBC 26 in Augusta, Georgia, and has become popular in those roles. When he’s not presenting the weather or compiling information for his forecasts, he spends time supporting his community. His popularity means that Hannah-Harding is readily welcomed into local schools.

This year, Hannah-Harding set a goal for himself to make a positive impact on youth, both locally and in his hometown – Beaufort, S.C. Recent outings have involved speaking to second, third and fourth graders at Riverview Charter School in Beaufort, and similar classes at North Aiken Elementary School in Aiken, SC.

“ Speaking to those students, I focused on the duties of a meteorologist, how we do our job, and talked about severe weather, the differences between watches and warnings as well as some of the best methods to stay safe when it comes to lightning, tornadoes, tropical systems, along with other severe weather phenomena. I also aim to encourage and inspire students to pursue their dreams no matter what background they come from.“

Mikel Hannah-Harding '19, meteorologist and multi-media journalist for WRDW News 12/WAGT NBC 26

Rebekah Edmondson, ’20  — Sociology major

Rebekah Edmondson transferred to the College after serving active duty in Afghanistan as part of an elite unit in the U.S. Army. Her work there involved training and leading over 30 Afghan women so that they could help gather information from other Afghan women behind enemy lines. Edmondson led members of that team on nightly missions.

Since graduating, she has worked with the PenFed Foundation in Washington, D.C., as a program manager, helping to resettle Afghan refugees, including some of the same women she worked with when she was in Afghanistan.

“Every day, I am amazed to be working for an organization that does so much to impact the lives of veterans in new and innovative ways. Having personally worked with several of these courageous women while serving in Afghanistan, I am honored beyond words to be serving in this new capacity, helping to ensure that our Afghan allies continue to explore their unlimited potential despite the tremendous challenges they face.”

Rebekah Edmondson '20, program manager for the PenFed Foundation

 

 

 

Updated October 2022