Our annual competition honors the accomplishments and achievements of young men and women under the age of 40 who have demonstrated excellence in their professions and commitment to community service.
Their leadership skills, dedication and vision bode well for our county’s future. The 20 individuals profiled here were selected from among 75 nominees by a distinguished panel of judges: Judith Bean, president and CEO of the Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach Chamber of Commerce; Margaret Johnson, chief operating officer of Martin Resorts; Chip Visci, former Tribune publisher and communications consultant; Janice Fong Wolf, director of grants and programs, The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County; and Jonathan York, faculty director and associate professor of entrepreneurship, Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business.
The winners will be recognized at a special luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 28, where Dan Baum, co-founder of Shutterfly Inc., will be the guest speaker.
On behalf of The Tribune, we would like to congratulate the winners and thank everyone who made this year’s competition a success.
Sandra Duerr, executive editor
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President, GLO Bell Consulting
Lauren Bell, 35, is president of GLO Bell Consulting, which is committed to mainstreaming energy efficiency. The firm conducts comprehensive building assessments for homes, businesses and schools.
Bell has helped educate her clients about making their homes more energy efficient and lowering costs, getting tens of thousands of dollars back in rebates.
She volunteers her time teaching at science clubs and offers help to students in science for the San Luis Coastal school district’s STEM-focused curriculum, which gives children access to advanced learning opportunities.
Her son, Ian, and the children she helps in the community are her motivation.
“Waking up each day, doing the work I do, talking to my clients, paving inroads for home efficiency, educating contractors and architects how to build better buildings … it’s all for Ian. Everything I do is to co-create the world I want to give him.”
Bell, who a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Cal Poly, lives in Los Osos with her family.
Senior water resources engineer, San Luis Obispo County
Carolyn Berg, 30, is a senior water resources engineer for San Luis Obispo County, where she has worked since 2006. In her post, Berg has developed numerous programs that protect the health and welfare of the county’s natural resources, including creating the invasive mussel prevention program for Nacimiento Lake.
Berg played a key role in the local implementation of California’s Integrated Regional Water Management Program, and she worked to secure grants of over $23 million for local water projects. She enjoys educating students about water issues and critical issues facing women. She is a founding member of Many Hands for Change, a local organization dedicated to empowering girls.
The high level of engagement in the community inspires her.
“Everyone cares so much about SLO County and all of the resources that we have,” she said.
Berg, who has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Cal Poly, lives in San Luis Obispo.
Ranger services supervisor, city of San Luis Obispo
Doug Carscaden, 39, has been ranger services supervisor for the city of San Luis Obispo for a decade, protecting the city’s open space. Until two years ago, he was the city’s only full-time ranger.
Recognizing the need for more help, Carscaden created a Wednesday Workdays program. He leads as many as 20 people into areas that need special attention.
He also created a Junior Ranger Camp to educate local youths about natural resources.
“Being a ranger is a dream job for me,” he said. “I get to be outside helping nature while interacting positively with users who are staying fit and enjoying nature’s beauty.”
Carscaden often lectures at Cal Poly on open space management, recreation and tourism.
He has an associate’s degree from Cuesta College and a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism administration from Cal Poly. He lives in Templeton with his wife, Ali, owner of 15 Degrees C Wine Shop and Bar, and 3-year-old son.
Community engagement director, United Way of San Luis Obispo County
Rachel Cementina, 30, is community engagement director for United Way of San Luis Obispo County. Her responsibilities include staffing the committee that oversees its grant review process and distributes grants to nonprofit agencies.
Her leadership has “helped transform the way we interact with local agencies,” nominator Rick London said.
The organization’s Youth Board is also thriving under her leadership.
Outside the office, she has served as a high school mentor at Grace Church and volunteered as a committee member for several local nonprofits, including Spokes for Nonprofits, Prevention Alliance, Tobacco Control Coalition and Homeless Services Advisory Council.
“There are really two things that inspire me … my faith and my experience growing up in SLO,” she said. “I am the steward of the time and opportunities God has given me, and I am using them to serve others.”
A San Luis Obispo resident, Cementina has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Biola University.
Vice president of communications, Farm Supply Company
Cara Crye, 38, is vice president of communications for Farm Supply Company, where she has worked for nearly 20 years.
In 2009, Crye decided to rebrand the company to reflect changing demographics. Her efforts led to enhanced recognition of Farm Supply and an increase in sales and profit for the more than 60-year-old company.
Her enthusiasm for agriculture is reflected in her volunteer work. She is secretary/treasurer of the Edna Farm Center, serves on the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay high schools’ FFA Advisory Councils, and the South Coast Regional Agricultural Education Consortium, just to name a few organizations.
Crye helps others in tough situations and never seeks anything in return, said Farm Supply President Jim Brabeck, who nominated her for the award.
A fourth-generation SLO County resident, Crye said her parents taught her that “helping others is a part of life, not something extra.”
Crye, who has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from Cal Poly, lives in Santa Margarita.
Program director, California Career Pathways Trust Grant at Templeton Unified School District
Erin Gorter, 34, is program director of the California Career Pathways Trust Grant at Templeton Unified School District.
A former agriculture teacher at Templeton High School, Gorter wrote the $5.7 million grant used to develop educational opportunities for students in agricultural mechanics and agriscience.
Twenty-nine high schools, including eight high schools in San Luis Obispo County, benefit.
In 2014, Gorter left the high school classroom to become a teacher-in-residence at Cal Poly in the agricultural education and communication department. She is now a part-time lecturer at the university and is seeking a doctoral degree in agricultural leadership, education and communications.
“The students and educators I work with on a daily basis are what instill in me a desire to keep doing what I do,” she said.
Gorter has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree in agricultural science from Cal Poly.
She lives in Atascadero with her husband, Travis.
Administrative Services Officer, SLO County Behavioral Health Department
Katie Grainger, 31, is administrative services officer for SLO County’s Behavioral Health Department, where she develops policy and procedure for recovery residences, manages data, helps with grant research and leads opiate overdose prevention and education.
Grainger works to assist the most marginalized in the community. She has helped with grants, which brought funding for mental health treatment at the County Jail. She has volunteered as a meditation instructor at the California Men’s Colony, and with Get on the Bus, a program that facilitates visits between children and their incarcerated parents.
“I have learned more grace, resilience, compassion and true heroism from the people I work and volunteer with … so this award is for them,” she said. “Everyone is worthy of our dignity and respect.”
Grainger has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in public policy from Cal Poly. She lives in San Luis Obispo with her toddler son.
Certified public accountant and owner, Kasarjian & Co. CPAs
Melissa Kasarjian, 35, is a certified public accountant and owner of Kasarjian & Co. CPAs.
She bought an existing CPA practice in San Luis Obispo in 2011 and now has two offices, employing six people.
Aside from her busy practice, she serves as an expert witness in family law court and is treasurer of the Templeton Chamber of Commerce, where she’s helped chamber staff with financial matters.
Kasarjian is also an officer on the Templeton Chamber of Commerce board of directors, serves on the board of directors for the Templeton Education Foundation and has financially sponsored several local causes. She even coached her son’s soccer team last year.
“What motivates me to do the work I do is to help others,” she said.
Kasarjian has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture business and a minor in economics from California State University, Chico.
She lives in Atascadero with her husband, Mike, and two children.
Director of community relations, Cal Poly
Courtney Kienow, 32, is director of community relations at Cal Poly, where she works with the president and chief of staff to develop relationships with local individuals, government and business leaders.
Previously, Kienow was marketing director at San Luis Obispo law firm Carmel & Naccasha. She also worked as director of governmental affairs for the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and as district director for the California State Senate. A Cal Poly journalism graduate, Kienow was a news producer for KCOY.
She’s active in the community, serving as a board member of the United Way of SLO County and the Paso Robles Women in Business Committee, promoting opportunities for women and raising scholarship funds for Paso Robles High School students.
The people in her life who inspire her most do their best to have a positive impact on the world.
Kienow lives in San Luis Obispo with her husband, Ken, and two children.
Deputy district attorney, San Luis Obispo County
Chase Martin, 37, has been a deputy district attorney for San Luis Obispo County for the past three years.
It’s a job that he finds interesting as well as emotionally gratifying.
“Examining difficult legal issues is exciting in and of itself, but doing so with the aim of supporting victims and seeking appropriate outcomes for our county make the work far more meaningful.”
Martin didn’t pursue law right away. After receiving a degree in education from Northern Arizona University in 2001, he and his wife volunteered for the Peace Corps in South Africa, where he studied rural economic development. He obtained his law degree from the University of Idaho six years later.
Beyond his work in the District Attorney’s Office, Martin, the father of three boys, started a Boy Scout troop in Templeton and finds time to coach at least three teams a year.
He lives in Arroyo Grande with his wife, Katie, and their sons.
Account manager, Barnett Cox & Associates
Courtney Meznarich, 29, is an account manager at Barnett Cox & Associates.
Her social media work has helped several clients, including SLO Farmers Market and San Luis Coastal Unified School District.
The former TV assignment news editor donates her time to help needy families through the Food Bank’s GleanSLO program and the Get on the Bus program that allows children to visit their fathers at California Men’s Colony.
Born and raised in Paso Robles, Meznarich now lives in San Luis Obispo.
“I was born and raised in San Luis Obispo County, and I worked hard to stay here,” she said. “I want to be surrounded by people who care about this place as much as I do. To me, being recognized as an emerging local leader means I’ve done something right by San Luis Obispo County, my home.”
Dallas K. Mosier
Attorney, Carmel & Naccasha LLP
Dallas K. Mosier, 34, is an attorney with the law firm of Carmel & Naccasha in San Luis Obispo, where he strives to make an impact on the practice and in the community.
In addition to his legal work, Mosier volunteers frequently, offering free legal education seminars to new mothers and seniors and mentoring entrepreneurs at the Cal Poly SLO HotHouse. He serves as president of the SLO Legal Assistance Foundation board, a pro bono legal services organization, and is concluding service as the 2015 chairman of the board of the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce.
The Top 20 award is a testament to the support of his family, friends and business partners, Mosier said.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Irvine, and his law degree and master of law’s degree in taxation from Chapman University School of Law. Originally from Yorba Linda, Calif., Mosier and his wife, Renee, live in San Luis Obispo.
Principal, Central Coast New Tech High School
Dan Neff, 38, is principal of Central Coast New Tech High School, where he inspires staff and students to pursue the school’s vision and a high level of achievement.
Last year, New Tech students scored higher than their peers in language and math on the California Common Core state tests.
Neff believes strongly that “education is the great equalizer,” providing a chance for any student to accomplish his or her goals.
“To see a student’s passion and confidence be ignited and grow is a remarkable experience,” he said.
He works hard off campus, too. The Arroyo Grande native is active in the Nipomo Lions Club and coaches soccer and football.
Neff has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in entomology and a teaching credential from Cal Poly. He has a master’s degree in education from the university’s educational leadership and administration program.
He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and three children in Arroyo Grande.
Founder, Guerrilla Gardening Club
Taylor Newton, 38, is founder of the educational nonprofit Guerrilla Gardening Club, a young adult mentoring program and service organization. Founded in 2010, it specializes in zero waste education/entertainment, urban farming, urban forestry and community organizing for eco-tourism.
Newton has taught life skills to more than 250 at-risk young men and women through gardening and landscaping. His passion for plant science and marine biology began at Cal Poly, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of science in ecology-systematic biology.
“I have learned from my education and career that we will not successfully change how we treat each other and our planet with money and science alone,” he said. “The path to saving our plant is through human relationships and volunteer service.”
Taylor, a two-year past president of Eco Rotary Club of Morro Bay, has donated his time to many other organizations in the county. He lives in Morro Bay with his wife, Jennifer Randolph, daughter, stepdaughters and godbrother.
Founder, Trellis Wealth Advisors
Kevin Okimoto, 39, founded Trellis Wealth Advisors, a private investment firm.
He moved to San Luis Obispo, his wife’s hometown, in 2010 after living and working in the Bay Area for Sterling Stamos, a private investment firm where he was a founding partner. The move was sparked by a shift in life’s priorities.
“Since then, I’ve been passionate about building a business — and getting involved with a cause — that is a reflection of my personal values and professional beliefs,” he said.
In addition to his investment work, Okimoto, who had a chance to play professional baseball for the San Diego Padres, co-founded the nonprofit Sandlot Group of San Luis Obispo, which supports local youth activities. He is also a board member at French Hospital Medical Center.
Okimoto, originally from Palo Alto, has a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Santa Clara University. He lives in San Luis Obispo with his wife, Mary, and three children.
Associate director of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy, Cal Poly
Christine Robertson, 37, is associate director of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly, where she recently developed an open government technology platform.
Robertson worked in the California State Legislature for nearly a decade, serving as chief of staff for both the California Senate and Assembly. She also played a key role in the Los Osos Wastewater Project.
In Sacramento, Robertson said she witnessed “the lack of institutional creativity, willpower and humility to find ways to truly help people. Creating this institute was our refusal to accept the status quo.”
Robertson also supports North County veterans programs, donates to the women’s shelter, volunteers for the school PTA and supports projects in developing countries.
She has undergraduate degrees in political science and history from Cal Poly and a master’s degree in philosophy, policy and social values from the London School of Economics.
She lives in Atascadero with her husband, Rob, and two children.
City council member, City of Grover Beach
Mariam Shah, 39, is a member of the Grover Beach City Council.
A former corporate lawyer, Shah moved to the Central Coast from Ohio in 2008, settling in Grover Beach in 2010. She decided to run for City Council after noticing homeless people in the local park and drug activity at a home on her street.
Shah works with local advocacy groups, law enforcement and citizens to address homelessness, affordable housing and other issues in the city.
As a council member, Shah views her role as advocating for all citizens, whether they are vocal or too busy to get involved. Shah is active with the Grover Beach Library, Grover Beach Exploration Station, League of California Cities and other organizations such as Womenade.
She has bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and American culture from the University of Michigan, and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
She lives with her husband, Asad, and two young children.
Ty Oliver Smith
Chief of museum interpretation, Hearst Castle
Ty Oliver Smith, 38, is chief of museum interpretation at Hearst Castle, where he has developed special programming to increase funding and visitation to the park.
Smith volunteers at the state and county levels. He is vice chairman of the California Missions Foundation, works with the Friends of the Hollister Adobe and is a founding member of the Leadership Committee of San Luis Obispo Partnerships in Education. Smith’s work for state parks began in college, and he remains committed to “connecting people to their own natural and cultural heritage on the Central Coast.”
The Paso Robles native has a doctoral degree in public history from UCSB, a master’s degree from California State University, Sacramento, a bachelor’s degree in history from Cal Poly and an associate’s degree from Cuesta College.
He lives with his wife, Karin, and 7-year-old son in Cambria, where they own Hide & Tallow gift shop.
Director and curator, The History Center of San Luis Obispo County
Eva Ulz, 33, is director and curator of the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.
Ulz views her job as building “resources that everyone in our county can use to collect and tell the stories that are important to them.”
Under her leadership, the center has thrived. She led the team that revived the History Center’s “La Vista” as a book-length, peer-reviewed annual. She created an institute to train volunteers and pursued partnerships with other institutions.
Moreover, she has balanced the center’s budget.
A lifelong lover of history, Ulz gave her first historic house tour at the age of 9.
She trained on the job as an educator at the Delaware Historical Society before moving to New York City, where she said she learned about “every aspect of museum operations.”
She moved to the county in 2012 and lives in San Luis Obispo with her partner, James Papp.
Energy and sustainability analyst, Cal Poly
Eric Veium, 34, is an energy and sustainability analyst at Cal Poly, helping to advance the university’s leadership in those areas.
As a Cal Poly student, he co-founded Cal Poly’s Green Campus Program and worked to ensure the new recreation center would be LEED certified.
Today, as part of the leadership team for SLO Clean Energy, he urges community leaders to create a local clean energy economy.
“In my life, I am committed to transforming humanity’s relationship to energy,” he said. “Day to day, I work to create a vibrant community, thriving economy and livable planet.”
Veium graduated from Cal Poly with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering. He and his wife, Alicia Klein, recently had twin boys. They live in San Luis Obispo.