Role Model Leaders’ Forum Honorees

Our past honorees include:

Jessica Ekstrom, 2013

  • During the summer of 2011, Ekstrom, a senior double majoring in communication and public relations, interned at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Western North Carolina. The experience changed her life. Ekstrom spent that summer making wishes come true for children with cancer. From granting trips to Disney World, to connecting girls with their favorite celebrities, Ekstrom saw how their faces lit up the moment their dreams came true, and decided to do something more for these girls who had touched her so deeply.
  • Ekstrom saw the loss of confidence and low self-esteem in those girls who undergo chemotherapy and lose all their hair. “I found that a lot of the girls like to wear headbands instead of wigs when they lose their hair to chemotherapy,” says Ekstrom. She sat down with a pad and pencil and started coming up with ideas. A “one for one” business model, resembling TOMS Shoes, came to life. Ekstrom wanted to start a new trend: fashion that makes a difference one sale at a time.
  • Ekstrom founded Headbands of Hope, which sold stylish headbands while helping fund childhood cancer research, and spreading hope to all girls. For every headband purchased, one is given to a girl with cancer and $1 is donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to fund life-saving childhood cancer research.
  • Being able to give back and help those girls in the hospital while raising awareness about childhood cancer has been rewarding for the young CEO. “Nothing compares to the smile on those girls’ faces when they receive their headbands,” she says.

Spring 2013 Commencement Speach

Doc Hendley, 2012

  • Doc Hendley is a 2009 CNN Hero.  He is President/Founder of the organization Wine To Water  and is also a professional public speaker represented by See Agency.
  • “When the idea came to me to start Wine to Water the only real job experience I had was tending bar,” said Hendley, “I dreamed of building an organization that fought water related death and disease using different methods than anyone else. So, I started raising money to fight this water epidemic that best way I knew how, by pouring wine and playing music.
  • In 2003, he dreamed up the concept of his organization while bartending and playing music in nightclubs around Raleigh, NC. In February 2004, the first fundraiser was held for what would one day be Wine To Water and by August of that same year Hendley was living in Darfur, Sudan installing water systems for victims of the government supported genocide. Putting his life in peril, along with those on his team who were committed to providing clean water for the world, two of which were killed during this period, Hendley returned home with an even stronger sense of the need of clean water around the globe.
  • When Doc returned home in August 2005, after spending a year in Darfur, the haunting memories of what he had seen in Darfur drove him to continue building the organization he started two years prior.  In 2007, after working two jobs and volunteering his time for 3 years, Wine To Water became an official 501 (c) (3) and Doc’s dream finally became a reality.  He now has projects in 9 different countries around the world and has saved thousands of lives by providing humanity’s most basic need and right, clean drinking water.Wine to Water, Doc Hendley continues to travel to underdeveloped, war-ridden nations, working in the field to bring clean water to those in need.

Saul Flores, 2011


  • “As a way of lifting the curtains of cultural censorship, Saul made an iconic journey from Quito, Ecuador to Charlotte, NC. The Walk of the is not a journey, but instead is a dream of hope determination and humanistic aspirations.” NC State’s own, Saul Flores shared his photographs and personal story, how life from the lens of his camera transformed his life.

Jackson Katz, 2010


  • Jackson Katz is an educator, author and film-maker who has long been recognized as one of America’s leading anti-sexist male activists. He is a former all-star football player who became the first man at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to earn a minor in women’s studies.
  • His multimedia lecture explored some of the ways that male culture contributes to sexual and domestic violence toward women. Topics included male peer culture in schools and colleges, men’s uses of pornography, prostitution and stripping, sexism in the sports culture and the US military, the many intersections between racism and sexism and the role of homophobia in all-male groups.

Morris Dees, 2009

  • Morris Dees co-founded the SPLC in 1971 following a successful business and law career. He started a  direct mail sales company specializing in book publishing while still a student at the University of Alabama, where he also obtained a law degree.
  • After launching a law practice in Montgomery in 1960, he won a series of groundbreaking civil rights cases that helped integrate government and public institutions. He also served as finance director for former President Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976 and for Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972.
  • Known for his innovative lawsuits that crippled some of America’s most notorious white supremacist hate groups, he has received more than 20 honorary degrees and numerous awards. Those include Trial Lawyer of the Year from Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award from the National Education Association and The Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice.
  • He was named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America by the National Law Journal in 2006. In addition, the University of Alabama Law School and the New York law firm Skadden, Arps jointly created the annual Morris Dees Justice Award to honor a lawyer devoted to public service work. Dees has written three books:  A Season For Justice, his autobiography; Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi; and Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat. In 1991, NBC aired a made-for-TV movie called “Line of Fire” about Dees and his landmark legal victories against the Ku Klux Klan.

Jo Luck, 2008

  • Jo Luck is the President and CEO of Heifer International and also served as President of Heifer
    International Foundation from 1992 to 2001.
  • Since 1944, Heifer has helped more than 4 million families in 125 countries around the world, including the United States.
  • Luck was then Governor Bill Clinton’s first cabinet appointee in January 1979, and tourism’s economic impact in Arkansas doubled from 1 million to 2 million during her tenure.
  • She then attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and in 1999 attended Harvard Business School’s Executive
    Education Session on Governing for Nonprofit Excellence.

Millard & Linda Fuller, 2007

  • Millard and Linda Fuller are the founders of Habitat for Humanity and founders and current leaders of the Fuller Center for Housing.
  • In 2002, Fuller and his wife were awarded the Bronze Medallion from the Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C., honoring their pioneering work in service.
  • September 1996, former President Bill Clinton awarded Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
  • Awarded the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award in 1994.

Rev. Dale Johnson, 2006

  • Dale is the co-founder of Dominican Outreach an orphanage in Puerto Plata.
  • Prior to this time Dale worked for 14 years as a Human Rights Officer in the Middle East for the World Council of Churches and other NGOs.
  • He served as a missionary in Geneva, Switzerland, Midyat, & Turkey from 1999-2003.
  • Worked as the Aramaic language consultant for the movie “Passion of the Christ”

Gregory R. Smith, 2005

  • Greg serves as a children’s rights advocate. He is the founder of International Youth Advocates, and has been a keynote speaker at various conferences for global peace through education, youth and humanitarian causes in different countries.
  • By the age of two, Smith could name all the dinosaurs that had been discovered.
  • He graduated from high school at ten years old.
  • Graduated from Randolph-Macon College at the age of 13 with a B.S. in Mathematics and minors in History and Biology.
  • He received his M.S. in mathematics from the University of Virginia in May 2006 at the age of 16.

Judy Shepard, 2004

  • Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard and founder of the Matthew Shepard Foundation works as a LGBT Activist.
  • Nominated as a HERO semifinalist for the Volvo for Life Awards.
  • The Matthew Shepard foundation’s mission is to to support diversity programs in education and to help youth organizations establish environments where young people can feel safe and be themselves. Their vision is to educate and enlighten others on the importance of diversity, understanding, compassion, acceptance and respect. Lastly their goals are to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.

Samuel Tso, 2003

  • Born during the summer of 1922 on a reservation in Arizona called Lukachuki, meaning “where the white bamboos grow” far from hospitals and birth certificates.
  • Former Marine Code Talker who served are Iwo Jima and Nagasaki during WWII.
  • 2001 – He was awarded a Congressional Silver Medal – the legislative branch’s most prestigious award.

Coach Doug Blevins, 2002

  • Doug was born with a slight case of cerebral palsy. He would never walk unaided.
  • Coach Blevins has been working in professional football since 1994 when he was hired as the Kicking Consultant for the New York Jets.
  • Founded Kicking Consulting business, Doug Blevins Kicking & Punting, Inc.

Maya Angelou, 2001

  • Poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director
  • In 1981, Dr. Angelou was appointed to a lifetime position as the first Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University.
  • In January 1993, she became only the second poet in U.S. History to have the honor of writing and reciting original work at the Presidential Inauguration.
  • Mother Teresa Award, for her untiring devotion and service to humanity, August 2006
  • Fluent in: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, West African Fanti
  • Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album, 1994.

General Henry H. Shelton, 2000

  • Retired American career military officer.
  • Served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001.
  • Earned a degree in Textiles from North Carolina State University while earning his Army commission through ROTC training. Earned a Master’s Degree from Auburn University.
  • Shelton also served as an advisor to Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign from 2003-2004.
  • 17 U.S. Decorations and Badges including a Purple Heart

Sgt. Dana Bowman, 1998

  • He is a retired Sergeant First Class with the U.S. Army where he was a Special Forces Soldier and a member of the U.S. Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights.
  • He is a double amputee. He lost his legs in an accident during the annual Golden Knights training in Yuma, Arizona, in 1994.
  • Nine months later, he turned this tragedy into a triumph when he became the first double amputee to re-enlist in the United States Army.
  • Dana has given more than 400 speeches in the last few years.

Dr. Madeline Cartwright, 1995

  • Madeline Cartwright, nationally renowned educator and author of For the Children.
  • Ms. Cartwright came from a rural Pennsylvania family with thirteen children and she could not read by the third grade.
  • Restored the inner-city Blaine Elementary School.
  • She inspired families on public assistance to overcome hopelessness.
  • Worked as the parent involvement coordinator of the Philadelphia School District working with 257 schools.

James Graham, 1997

  • NC Agriculture Commissioner, 1964-2000
  • Jim Graham led the effort to expand North Carolina’s crops across the country and the world.
  • He opened an international marketing office and set out to let the world know that North Carolina’s farmers were the best.
  • He was named the first executive-in-residence for North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Served as North Carolina’s commissioner of agriculture for 36 years.

Mr. Li Lu, 1996

  • Li Lu is Founding General Partner at Himalaya Capital Partners, L.P.
  • A graduate of Columbia University.
  • Author of Moving the Mountain: My Life in China
  • Lu serves on the board of directors of numerous startup technology companies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions .
  • Awards and honors include: World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders for Tomorrow for 2001, Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellows, and the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Award from the Congressional Human Rights Foundation.

Chief Wilma Mankiller, 1994

  • Wilma Mankiller former Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. As the leader of the Cherokee people she represented the second largest tribe in the United States.
  • She has won the respect of the Cherokee Nation, and made an impact on the culture as she has focused on her mission – to bring self-sufficiency to her people.
  • The success of the Bell project that thrust Mankiller into national recognition as an expert in community development. Mankiller went to work for the Cherokee Nation, founding its Community Development Department and devising programs like the Bell Water and Housing Project.
  • Principal Chief Ross Swimmer asked Mankiller in 1983 to run for election as his deputy. Mankiller received death threats during her campaign and some who opposed a woman leader for the tribe.
  • She is the most celebrated Cherokee of the 20th century, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998

Ms. Kay Yow, 1992

  • Began her college-coaching career at Elon College in 1972.
  • Led NC State into the NCAA Tournament 18 times, including ten Sweet 16 appearances and the Final Four in 1998.
  • Yow has earned numerous coach of the year awards, including Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year by College Sports News (1998), Women of the Year In Sport by the National Organization of Women (1988), the Converse/WBCA Coach of the Year (1990) and the National Coach of the Year by Sports Illustrated For Women (2000).
  • She is the only women’s coach in history to win a Gold Medal at both the Olympics (1988, Seoul) and World Championships (1986), has compiled a 21-1 record in International competition.
  • Yow was inducted into the Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1988) and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2000)

Dr. Isabella Cannon, 1991

  • Cannon emigrated with her family from Scotland to the United States at age 12.
  • Cannon graduated from Elon in 1924.
  • Cannon made history in 1977 when, at age 73, she became the first woman elected mayor of Raleigh.She received Elon’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983 and was awarded the Elon Medallion by President J. Fred Young in 1991.
  • In 1999, she was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Gov. Jim Hunt for her dedicated service to North Carolina.
  • She was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998.

Dr. Leroy Walker, 1990

  • Professor and coach at North Carolina Central University.
  • Coached 77 track All-Americans and eight Olympians.
  • Walker was elected to the board of the United States Olympic Committee in 1972, and then in 1976, he was chosen as the coach of the U.S. Olympic track and field team. Dr. Walker was unanimously chosen as USOC president on October 11th , 1992.

Dr. Elisabeth Zinser, 1989

  • Vice-chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
  • Named president of Gallaudet University on March 6, 1988 which led to a protest by students, alumni, faculty, and staff who felt that although she was a qualified administrator, she didn’t have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead Gallaudet University.
  • Zinser resigned. “My resignation was not in response to demonstrations … but to pave the way for the civil rights movement to progress.”
  • Elisabeth Zinser is president of Southern Oregon University.

Governor James B. Hunt, 1988

  • Four-term Democratic governor of North Carolina (1977-1985 and 1993-2001).
  • Hunt is a graduate of North Carolina State University with a B.S. in agricultural education and a M.S. in agricultural economics.
  • Served as the Student Body President at NC State.
  • Hunt served on the Carnegie Task Force, which created the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Dr. William Friday, 1987

  • He holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University where he served as Senior Class President and a law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Served as the head of the University of North Carolina system from 1956 to 1986.
  • Friday led the expansion of the UNC system from three schools to a nationally renowned group of 16 colleges and universities.
  • Was NC State’s 1 st Commencement speaker in 1941.
  • Bill Together with his wife Ida, they have been champions for academic achievement, health care, eradication of poverty, and the education of North Carolina’s children.