Jazz Musician + Composer + Music Educator
Ari Barnett began his love affair with the bass at age 12. At 19, he is an accomplished bassist and composer in the Tampa Bay area and has performed at numerous festivals and competitions. He recently founded the Social Collective, a group of young jazz musicians in Florida who are currently working on their first studio album, "Concrete Playgrounds". Ari is passionate about sharing his love of music with young people and recently founded the United Jazz Project, a masterclass series focused on bringing jazz education to young people. He teaches jazz bass at the Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts in Clearwater, Florida, one of the largest providers of arts education and outreach in the nation. He has always been fascinated by the power of thematic works by composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer. His own compositions pay homage to Eric Lewis and Jeff “Tain” Watts, among others. He looks forward to continuing his education with graduate studies in jazz composition and arranging.
Professor + Researcher in Computer-Mediated Communications
Carolyn Holton is a professor of Information Systems at Southeastern University and an award-winning researcher in various aspects of computer-mediated communications systems with particular emphasis on the impact of system monitoring and the use of these systems in detecting and deterring fraud. Her work has been published in Decision Support Systems, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication and presented at numerous conferences. Carolyn holds a BBA in International Business from The George Washington University, an MBA from Duke University, and a Ph.D. in Information Systems from the University of South Florida. She began her career at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. Her innovative internal communication solutions for Nortel's Caribbean and Latin American regions were featured in Fast Company and other business magazines in several countries. Carolyn is a strong proponent for the exchange of diverse ideas and critical thinking.
Licensed Mental Health Counselor + Business Consultant
Cheryl Cyr is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Mental Health Counselor with a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Argosy University and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Psychology with a certification in Behavioral Forensics from the University of Central Florida, and certification in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has a certificate in Psychological First Aid from Johns Hopkins and training in crisis intervention. She has been recognized by FEMA for her willingness to serve in times of crisis. She is the founder of Power Within Counseling & Consultation, the author of Safety and Success in Private Practice, and is a popular speaker at professional conferences, workshops, and retreats. Cheryl is also the co-founder, with her husband, of Pipe It Right Plumbing, LLC, in Haines City, Florida. When not working, she is a dirt-bike riding wife and mom who believes passionately in helping others deal effectively with life challenges.
Producing Director, Theatre Winter Haven + Inventor
Dan Chesnicka is the Producing Director of Theater Winter Haven, an award-winning community theater in Winter Haven, Florida. Prior to joining the world of theater, Dan was the co-founder and CEO of a product development company and is the inventor of Hitch Critters, Truck Antlers, and other novelty products that have sold hundreds of thousands of units and are responsible for millions of chuckles. Dan also spent a dozen years working at Walt Disney World and is credited with developing a number of innovative programs.
Dan's passion for community theatre was ignited by his children's involvement and after serving on the Board of Directors at Theatre Winter Haven, he assumed his current position three years ago. Under his leadership, Theatre Winter Haven won numerous awards at the local, state, and national level. Dan sees the performing arts as a way to connect people in the community and reduce isolation.
Entrepreneur + Author + Philanthropist
Franklin Cruz is a veteran, author, entrepreneur, and real estate investor with more than 18 years of business investment experience. He is the founder and CEO of True Investors Education, LLC, as well as co-founder of several other businesses. He is the author of several books, including a children's book on investing, and has appeared on a number of investment-related TV shows. Franklin grew up in New York City where his personal tragedies and challenges taught him to be an advocate for himself and others. After serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq, he returned to the U.S. and began his career in real estate. He lives with his wife and two sons in Lakeland, where he is passionate about mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and giving back to the community. He co-founded Hope for Homes Project, a highly-rated charity providing remodeling and improvement work on homes owned by working class families, which is now a part of Current Initiatives, a Tampa-based 501(c)(3) organization.
Nutritionist/Fitness Specialist + Entrepreneur
Jared Graybeal is a nutrition and fitness expert, entrepreneur, and passionate advocate for healthy living and lifelong learning with marketing and business management degrees. He is the co-founder and CEO of SuperFit Foods, LLC, a rapidly growing, healthy meal prep company serving central and north Florida, that also ships their fully customizable meals nationwide. Jared continues to innovate and conduct research to make sure that SuperFit meals are nutritious, taste great, and appeal to a wide range of consumers, including children and the elderly.
Somehow, Jared also finds time to share his expertise through e3 Business, a consulting agency he founded to help other businesses create long-lasting, positive, and sustainable success through a healthy workplace, sound management and leadership strategies, and effective marketing.
Jared is certified as a fitness nutrition specialist, personal trainer, and corrective exercise specialist by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Senior Care Advocate + Entrepreneur
Jessica Parker earned her degree in Health Administration from the University of North Florida and began her career working at senior living facilities. Through serendipity and hard work, she advanced quickly as an advocate for and front-line provider of high-quality senior care, specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia. As a Memory Care Activities Coordinator and a Director of Memory Care, Jessica was recognized for her passion and innovation as she immersed herself in studying and practicing leading therapies. She is now a Certified Nursing Assistant, a certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Trainer, and is certified to be an Administrator at Assisted Living Communities in Florida. In 2015, she founded Dawn Senior Services, LLC, which is dedicated to enriching the lives of seniors, the disabled, and their loved ones by providing individualized, high-quality care for those affected by a wide range of cognitive and physical limitations.
Communications Consultant + Entrepreneur + Educator
Joe McLeod is currently the department chair for the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Keiser University where he also teaches courses in speech, persuasion, and political communication. He is a former adjunct professor of business communications at Polk State College and is the co-founder and managing partner of McLeod Communications, an award-winning public relations and marketing communications firm based in Lakeland, Florida. Joe is a prolific writer on topics relating to communication, leadership, and politics, with his op-ed columns appearing in several major state and national publications. He holds degrees in communication from Palm Beach Atlantic University and the University of Central Florida, and is president-elect of the Dick Pope/Polk County Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association. A Lakeland native and military veteran, Joe serves as a teacher and elder at Rock Community Church.
Violinist + Composer + Student
Neil, a 10th grade student at Haines City High School International Baccalaureate (IB), is already an award-winning violinist and seasoned performer. He began his music education in 2nd grade with the piano and transitioned to violin in 5th grade. He was part of the All County Orchestra Festival from 7th through 10th grade and was selected to perform alongside some of the most gifted strings players in Florida as part of the 2017/2018 All State High School Honors Orchestra. Although he continues to play the acoustic violin, he has fallen in love with the creative versatility offered by an electric violin paired with a loop machine, using it to create his own compositions. Neil is a frequent performer at various social events and at his church, and finds performing in nursing homes and for those who might otherwise not have access to live music especially rewarding. In addition to music, Neil is also passionate about soccer, basketball, and chess.
Student + Musician
Rebecca Blackwelder is in her final semester at Southeastern University, where she is studying Music Performance. Her primary studies are with Ronald Gardiner, principal cellist of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, and chamber music with Annabelle Gardiner and William Goodwin. Rebecca has performed with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Imperial Symphony Orchestra, and the Bach Festival of Central Florida, and was a finalist in the Imperial Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition in 2015. Rebecca is also the bagpipe instructor at Lake Wales High School.
Student + National Geographic Bee Winner (2016)
Rishi Nair is a 14-year-old geography prodigy and 8th grade student at Williams Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Florida. His love of geography from an early age led to his becoming the 2016 National Geographic Bee champion. This annual competition, organized by the National Geographic Society, is designed to inspire and reward students’ curiosity about the world and is open to students from grades 4 – 8. In 2016, more than 2.5 million students from 11,000 schools across the U.S. entered the competition. Rishi has also won honors in public speaking and STEM fields and was a featured speaker at the International Baccalaureate Global Conference in 2017. He is a skilled Carnatic (South Indian) musician, performing both vocal and instrumental music. Next year, Rishi looks forward to attending the Middleton High School Pre-Collegiate STEM Academy. He is considering law, medicine, or international relations/political science as possible future careers.
Agriculturist, UF Citrus Research and Education Center
Steve has been a multi-county extension agent at the Citrus Research & Education Center since 1990 and employed by the University of Florida Extension Service since 1985. He has 33 years of experience as an Extension Agent and prior to that time managed family citrus operations in Dade City (north of Tampa) for 10 years. He has a strong rapport with citrus growers in Florida, and has extensive domestic and international experiences in citrus production and economics. He has published more than 480 articles dealing with various production, pest, and disease management topics related to citrus in either University or general trade publications and routinely aids citrus growers to enhance production programs as well as organizing extension programs and workshops on a wide range of citrus production and management practices. Steve has a B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Florida and an M.B.A. from the University of South Florida.
Advocate for Foster Children
Victor Sims, a product of the foster care system, is a passionate advocate for vulnerable children. He currently serves as a case manager for the Children’s Home Society of Florida. As a student at Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School, he simultaneously earned a high school diploma and associate's degree in liberal arts, has a bachelor's degree in psychology, and is working on a master's degree in public administration. In high school, Victor was named an Outstanding Young Leader by FosterClub, a national network for youth in foster care. He is a Champion of Child Welfare, serves on the National Foster Youth and Alumni Policy Council, was named as a Child Defender Fellow by the Children’s Defense Fund, has advised both the Obama and Trump administrations on the importance of social capital for children in foster care, and is a board member of Closed Mouth, a designated treatment center for individuals who are victims of abuse to speak out and receive appropriate therapy.
Musician + Educator
Victoria Keller-Higuita is a graduate of Southeastern University (B.M., B.S.) and University of South Florida (M.M.). Fall 2018 will be her 8th year teaching music at SEU, including piano, theory, and pedagogy. When she's not practicing Rachmaninoff, she can be found on a treadmill jamming out to the latest Audible find.