Optimist Club of Jasper

Optimist Club of Jasper

Friday, February 6, 2015

Where are they now? STAR student Alums:

STAR STUDENT PROGRAM – OPTIMIST REACH OUT TO FORMER STARS

As the Optimist Club of Jasper prepares for the 2015 STAR Banquet, the club is reaching out to former STAR Students and STAR Student Finalist to see what they are doing since graduated from Pickens High School.  The club has heard from some STAR Students that were part of the Optimist program and some STAR Students prior to the Optimist sponsorship.  Below are the responses that the Optimist Club has received.


Nancy Burns Hall
STAR Student Program 2002

I was delighted to find out that I earned a spot as a Star Student in the fall of 2001!  This was a big accomplishment, and goal that I had been working towards for the duration of my high school career.  Being named a member of the Star Student group was not only exciting due to the recognition and achievement of being in the top 10 for SAT scores and GPAs, but was also critical in helping me gain early admission status to the University of Georgia. 

Since graduating from Pickens High School, I attended UGA, was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Consumer Economics from the Family and Consumer Sciences College (FACS). 

Upon college graduation, I accepted a sales representative position with Daltile Corporation.  Daltile is a subsidiary of Mohawk Industries and is the largest ceramic manufacturer in the US.  Daltile manufactures, distributes, and markets ceramic and natural stone.  I have been fortunate to work with Daltile for 9 years in various positions.  I started in Orlando, FL where I worked as a sales representative with small dealer based accounts for two years.   I was then promoted to Atlanta and worked as an Architectural Representative specifying ceramic products for large scale commercial construction.  After 3 years in Atlanta, I was again promoted and moved with Daltile to the Washington DC area where I now reside.

Becoming a Star Student showed me that setting, working toward, and achieving goals is an important key to success.


Clay (Brady) Burns
STAR Student Program 2000


Since graduating Pickens High in 2000, I spent four years at Furman University where I received my BA in Economics and was commissioned through ROTC into the US Army as a 2nd Lieutenant.  I then served three years of active duty with the 10th Mountain Division as a logistics officer.  One of those years was in Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where I lead convoy operations delivering supplies to various operating posts throughout the greater Baghdad region.  

After the Army and for the past seven years I have been working with Shaw Industries in Atlanta.  I am a sales / project manager overseeing construction projects where we install commercial floor coverings.  My career at Shaw has been extremely rewarding and I plan to spend my foreseeable future here in Atlanta with Shaw.  I am also currently enrolled in the Evening MBA program at Emory University.  It is a two and a half year program and I have one year left before graduation and earning my Masters in Business Administration.

The biggest thing I gained from the Star Student program was confidence.  While in high school, I had a goal of being one of the top ten students and the competition helped drive me to succeed.  Once my goal was accomplished, I carried the confidence gained from that experience into future endeavors.  


Eric Smith
STAR Student Program 1986

Eric Smith was the STAR Student of PHS in 1986 and currently lives in New York City.  I am a  Biologist and the Director of Bispecifics at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. 
Plans and advice:  To be honest I am nowhere near where I thought my life would be when I graduated from PHS.  Both in choice of career or in physical location.  I have had a lifelong interest in science so the fact that I ended up with a scientific career is not really a shock.  However I had never really considered biology as a career in high school and actually didn't think that the field had any interest to me.  I actually thought I might want to be an astronomer, which is about as far from molecular biology as you could go.  But in my freshman year in college that all changed with Genetics course that I took.  It really fascinated me and ended up leading me to where I am now.  Likewise I never thought that I would end up living in a city like New York.  But I did a fellowship at NYU and ended up taking a job at Regeneron which kept me in the city where I remain to this day.  So by way of advice I would say to always keep your mind open to new experiences and don't be limited by your pre-conceptions about how your life is supposed to be or what you are supposed to enjoy.  Try to find out what you actually enjoy and do your best to keep doing that. Congratulations to all the STAR students this year!


Brian Smith
STAR Student Program 1988
My name is Dr. Brian Smith and I was STAR student from Pickens High School back in 1988. My STAR Teacher was June Gilbert.  I currently live in Americus, Georgia. I am a tenured professor of political science at Georgia Southwestern State University. I am married with no children.
When I was STAR student, I had some idea that I was going to become a teacher myself. I wasn’t certain what field I was going to teach in, but I felt that it would most likely be either in history or mathematics. I discovered at Oberlin College my love for the politics in history (especially of Russia and Eastern Europe) and became a politics major. I completed my Masters degree and P.D. from Brown University in political science and now work at a 4-year USG institution that is proud to focus on teaching. I specialize in teaching both international and comparative politics.
My advice to STAR Students - The opportunities to research career paths has never been greater. Find out what it is really like to work in any field you think you might be interested in, especially for those who are not at the very top of the profession. The public perception of many professions are often caricatures of what a career might be like for the vast majority of people who work in that career. I am not at the top of my profession, but I still love doing what I am doing. For me, however, that was a lucky result after many years of time invested. I didn’t do the research on what the career was actually like for most people. The more general advice I would give would be to travel and read as much as you possibly can. Travel and read. Get to relatively inexpensive Italy and soak in the different culture, enormous beauty, and mind-boggling deep history. Read histories and biographies that excite you. Read anything, travel anywhere.

Marsha Arrendale Craig
STAR Student Program 1977

My father showed me the article you put in the Progress asking about former STAR students.  I was the STAR student for Pickens High a long time ago in 1977. I now work for DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware as a Global Business Director in Performance Polymers. I manage a large global polymers business and travel all over the world to meet with my team and our global customers.  I live in Landenberg, PA which is just outside Wilmington, DE.
After graduating from Pickens High, I went to Georgia Tech and earned a degree in Chemical Engineering in 1981. I have worked for DuPont ever since in many different leadership roles in engineering, R&D, marketing, and business management.  I am married to Phil Craig. We have one son Ben who graduated last year from Georgia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  He now works for John Deere in Iowa. 
When I graduated, I knew I would attend Georgia Tech but I had no idea where that would lead me. Pickens High and GT prepared me very well for my career.  We still come back home at least a couple of times a year to visit my daddy John Arrendale in Tate who is now 89 years young.  I also serve on the External Advisory Board for Georgia Tech's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering so that brings me back to Atlanta occasionally as well. In my mind, there is no place in the world nicer than Pickens County.

Kenton Baggs
STAR Student Program – 1982

(From Lawton Baggs)
Kenton Baggs was the PHS STAR Student in 1982.  After completing 30 years of service to public education in Georgia, he retired at the end of September, 2014.  Kenton spent 29 of those years in service to Pickens County Schools.  During this time he was a Special Education Teacher and spent most of those years coaching basketball.  He is married to Stephanie Baggs and they have 3 children.  Kenton spends most of his time now spoiling his granddaughter. 

Vernie Pendley
STAR Student Program – 1982

I was the PHS STAR Student in 1988 and now lives in Colorado Springs, CO.  Mr. Roy Cowart was my STAR Teacher.  I am currently an Instructor Pilot at US Air Force Initial Flight Training.  I had hoped to be an astronaut or President back in those days.

After high school I graduated from the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, I flew the Lockheed C-141B Starlifter, Beechcraft T-34C Mentor, Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II, and Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan II during almost 21 years of active duty before retiring from the USAF on January 1, 2012.  From that point I have been here at USAF Initial Flight Training as a contractor.

During my USAF career I graduated from St Martin’s University with a MBA.  While flying the C-141 at McChord AFB, WA, I met my wife to be, Nicole Wood who was a USAF Weather Officer at McChord. We have been married for 19 years and have two beautiful children, Vanessa-12 years old, and Derek-8 years old.

If you are a former STAR Student or STAR Finalist, the Optimist would love to hear from you.  Please email the club at pickensstar@etcmail.com

The Optimist Club of Jasper will host the annual STAR Banquet on Thursday evening, March 5, 2015.  The banquet will be held at 7:00 p.m. at Chattahoochee Technical College, 100 Campus Drive, Jasper, Georgia.  Anyone interested in attending the banquet should email the Optimist Club at pickensstar@etcmail.com  Reservations are required and tickets are $22.00 per person.  The Woodbridge Inn, who has catered the Optimist STAR program since the first banquet, will again cater this years’ banquet.

Ms. Cathy Cox, President of Young Harris College and former Georgia Secretary of State, will be the guest speaker for this year’s banquet.

For 25 years the Optimists have recognized the PHS STAR Student and Teacher along with nine STAR Finalists with the largest and most unique local STAR Banquet in this statewide program.  In the local program, the Optimists not only recognize the STAR Student and Teacher, but an additional nine STAR Student and Teacher Finalists. 
Andrew Haygood is the 2015 STAR Student and his STAR Teacher is Mr. Michael Oubre.

The 2015 Star Finalists are:
Student                             Teacher
Jesse Brooks                    Christi Hobgood
Johnson Collins                 Joe Wright
Ryan Evans                      Lynn Cantrell
Savannah Friedman          Gail Culbreth
Abygayle Gibson               Lisa Payne
Kari Henke                        Robbie Cheatham
Olivia Parker                     Nikki Towery
Brad Rutledge                   Sue Gibbons

Kyle Watters                     Bobby Timms

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