Each year, N.C. Central University recognizes outstanding alumni who have accomplished big things in a short amount of time. Namely, before turning 40.
The 40 Under 40 program is an Office of Alumni Relations-sponsored event that launched four years ago to honor alumni who have “made great strides in their respective fields,” all while under the age of 40, said 40 Under 40 Selection Committee Co-chair Angelique Stallings.
The nominees are invited back to NCCU’s campus to form the opening tunnel at the first home NCCU football game in addition to being invited to a banquet in their honor the next day.
“O’Kelly-Riddick is home to me,” said Turquoise Parker, 2010 graduate and former member of NCCU’s Marching Sound Machine. “Being able to touch that field again during pregame pumps me up.”
“I’m extremely excited about the gala,” said Audrey Barbee, 2011 graduate. “I’m excited to see the beautiful faces that have graced the verdant green, some familiar and some not.”
The program traces its origins back to the original co-chairs of the program: Renee Clarkbush, Jamie Patterson, David Hart, Frederick Ravin III, and Anita Walton, who was director of Alumni Relations at the time and now serves as Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.
This group came together in 2011 to pioneer a program to highlight exceptional Eagles who are a reflection of what NCCU stands for. The first award ceremony was held in 2012.
Nominees go through an extensive screening process before they’re selected.
First, they must either nominate themselves or have someone else nominate them. Then, they fill out a packet with details about their position.
Next, a selection committee screens each nominee for certain criteria (accomplishments, community service, philanthropy, etc.) and chooses finalists out of the available pool.
Finally, finalists are contacted and asked to provide headshots and resumes. After that, an announcement is sent out through the NCCU Public Relations, and the Office of Alumni Relations launches a social media campaign up until the event.
Noteworthy alumni who have been on the 40 Under 40 list include rapper and producer Patrick Douthit, better known as 9th wonder, celebrity wardrobe stylist Wouri Vice, producer Phonte Coleman, Vice Chancellor of Delaware St, Louis “Skip” Perkins, and NCCU Men’s Basketball Head Coach LeVelle Moton.
Parker teaches third graders in Durham Public Schools. In June 2016, she became involved with a protest in Raleigh for better teaching conditions for students. She and other protesters were arrested. She said her passion for education stems from her family.
“I wholeheartedly believe I am placed on this earth to develop the power within children,” Parker said of her job. “I’m a third generation teacher; my mother retired after 41 years in public education, so teaching is just in me. I watched my mother’s every move and mimicked her until it was my time to take her place.”
Barbee is a biologist at Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She returned to NCCU for graduate school and, in 2015, graduated with a Masters in Biology. She plans to do neuroscience research, she said.
“I initially wanted to be a pediatrician because I had seizures while I was growing up,” Barbee said. “However, it wasn’t until I went back to NCCU to get my master’s degree that I realized that it is the research that really makes the difference. Research finds the cure.”
Alumni in the arts, entertainment, healthcare, sciences, education, law, business, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, public service and government have been selected over the years.
The number of alumni younger than 40, who make up a third of the university’s alumni base, is expected to increase by at least 1,000 each year, according to the program website.
Story written by Victor Grubbs.