Instagram Twitter Facebook

D Academy

In 2012, D Magazine Partners established a civic leadership training program for the local creative class, including entrepreneurs, educators, journalists, artists, marketers, and tech professionals. Led by Krista Nightengale, the program is modeled on the Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s esteemed Leadership Dallas approach with monthly immersions in different aspects of city business, including the justice system, education, local government, poverty, healthcare, urban and sustainable development, and how to brand the city.

Twenty-four fellows (nine from within D Magazine Partners and 15 from the community) were accepted into the 2014-2015 class, and their group project is Big D Reads.


D Academy Fellows, Class of 2014-2015

Ana Matijevic, Architectural Designer, SmithGroupJJR

Two days after her ninth birthday, Ana Matijevic found herself in a strange and unknown land—Fort Worth, Texas. Ana moved with her family from Zavidovici, in Yugoslavia, to Germany with her family to escape the Bosnian War. Five years later, they moved to America. “It was really traumatic, even though I’m not entirely sure I knew what was going on,” she says. “Everything was just very different.”

Only knowing her native language, Ana found that adjusting to American life was very disorienting. Ana, who is now 25, learned English while reading Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs with her third grade class. “My teacher was very sweet,” she says. “She was very patient with me.” After reading the book, the class members were given an assignment to write their own short stories. “I still remember how happy I was after I got an A on that paper,” she says.

Ana’s intellectual endeavors and hard work did not stop there. After attending the University of Texas at Arlington, she relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, where she got her master’s degree in architecture from Arizona State University. After moving to Dallas shortly thereafter in May 2014, Ana started working for SmithGroup JJR.

As an aspiring young architect, she is eager to combine her design passions with her desire to better her new community. “I feel like architects have a responsibility to their community,” she says. “They can help make the city better by meeting the citizens’ needs.” While she is enjoying becoming more acquainted with the city, she is holding it to a high standard. Despite Dallas’ growth, she believes there is much that still needs to be done in the city. “My first impression of Dallas was that this city has a lot of potential,” she says. “It is going through changes. I just wonder what identity Dallas itself wants to take on.”—Rachel Hiser

Ashley Mulder, Audience Development Manager, D Magazine

Ashley Mulder has a whole slew of affectionate nicknames given to her by her dad, including, but not limited to “smarty pants,” “college grad,” and “college girl.” This is because, Ashley, 30, was only the second one from her family to graduate from college, her greatest accomplishment to date. “While it may seem small to someone else, having a college degree changed everything for me,” she says.

As a young girl, she always dreamed of working at a magazine. After attending Calvin College, she spent seven years working at Hour Media in Detroit until moving to Dallas in September 2013. Coming from a hard-working, blue-collar family living in Detroit, Ashley has a soft spot for the young person who doesn’t come from an affluent background, and she appreciates the opportunities that a college degree can provide. This awareness has fueled Ashley’s desire to work with young children from lower-income families, encouraging them to achieve their full potential. “I would tell a young kid, ‘You absolutely need to go to school.’ I totally want to encourage kids to also pursue any artistic outlets or personal dreams, but they have to go to college. Places often won’t even consider you without a degree,” she says.

As the audience development manager at D Magazine, even though she primarily interacts with individuals from the middle- and upper-classes, she has developed a knack for interfacing with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds and creating relationships with them. “I think my skills are applicable across any platform, and I am fully convinced that I could garner and help an audience flourish, regardless of their resources,” she says. For Ashley, part of what has taught her to interact with anyone, regardless of their income, is her passion for volleyball. “The sport has given me the ability to move to a different state and pick up friendships right away,” she says. “It has given me the ability to communicate with new people right away.” —Rachel Hiser

Brooke Traister, Vice President, Tucker & Associates

A quick wave of heat passed through Brooke Traister’s body, trickling from her head to her toes, burning her cheeks. A tongue-tied Brooke instantly felt the unforgiving pang of embarrassment. She tried to filter the rapid, instantaneous thoughts flooding her mind into cohesive sentences. Her boss waited. And waited. That was more than four years ago. Now, Brooke, 26, serves as the youngest vice president of Tucker & Associates, a boutique public relations firm in Dallas. “This embarrassing display went on for what felt like several minutes before I was mercifully pardoned from the meeting, and on that day, I realized I had a lot to learn,” Brooke says. This experience encouraged Brooke to over-prepare for meetings and take on different duties in her job–two qualities that have shaped her both professionally and personally.

Despite the circumstance, Brooke thinks long-term. She and Chris, her husband of three years, recently purchased a home on the Richardson-Dallas line–a preparation for her future children’s educational benefits. However, she’s constantly looking to feel more connected to her community through working with organizations such as Destination Imagination and The Concilio, two education-based groups. “I know my job isn’t saving lives, so giving back is important,” Brooke says. “I feel like my time here on earth should be spent doing something worthwhile.” She feels strongly about the city’s education system and its long-term effects. “A poor education system expands the rift in the city’s class system, pushing more of the middle class out to the suburbs to find better schools, leaving the remaining citizens richer or poorer,” Brooke says.

With a background in journalism, Brooke uses the skill set she strengthened through internships with publications such as the Dallas Business Journal to her benefit. She focuses on the most important pieces of information in a situation and generates a better understanding of where people are coming from and what their needs may be. She has applied this to her work as well as her volunteer projects. “I believe we’re all better people, better employees, and better leaders when we understand how we fit within the greater picture and use our strengths to improve the local community however we can,” Brooke says. —Staci Parks

Cristy Ecton, Outreach Manager, Children's Medical Center

At the turn of the millennium, Cristy Ecton wanted to venture off into the world and help others. Cristy left her job as a media relations specialist at Children’s Medical Center, signed up for the U.S. Peace Corps, and lived with a host family in western Slovakia, learning the local language, and worked on securing the funds for a town playground.

While overseas for her Peace Corps service, Cristy also had the opportunity to work with the Dublin-based rock group, U2, to collect more than 700 pounds of leftovers from the band’s concert in Vienna. When Cristy returned from her journey abroad in 2001, she went back to Children’s as the outreach manager for their hematology/oncology department—a position she never would have imagined herself in had she not listened to a professor who encouraged her to pursue public relations while she was at Texas A&M University. For Cristy, Dallas and her career have always been connected. “I remember the first time I saw Reunion Tower,” Cristy says. “As we drove north on I-45, I grew excited to see the lighted ball on the horizon, and my passion for this city grew from there.” Cristy first moved to Dallas on a job offer from Carter BloodCare, and a year later started volunteering for Rock and Wrap it Up!, collecting and redistributing leftovers from concerts and events to give to the local homeless shelter in Dallas.

Whether it’s for the hospital, collecting leftovers for the homeless, or fundraising for a playground on the other side of the globe, Cristy has continued to help others however she can—connecting with individuals and organizations, taking new experiences head on, and staying open to new opportunities.

Nearly five years after returning to Dallas from the Peace Corps, the Houston native returned to Púchov in western Slovakia. She visited her host family and went to see the playground she’d helped fundraise for. “As I approached the playground entrance, I saw a modest sign posted at the gate that read in Slovak, ‘Playground was built thanks to …’ and my name was listed fourth down,” she says. “My greatest accomplishment is not one shining moment, but many small acts of adventure and exploring the unknown.”—Aaron Claycomb

Gray Garmon, Architectural Designer, Array Architects

Right after Gray Garmon graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, he packed up and moved to Ghana to join the Peace Corps. The Dallas native, now 29, had just finished his undergraduate degree in architecture, and instead of joining the workforce, he decided to volunteer for a 27-month service trip.

In the coastal West African country, Gray worked with locals who had AIDS and taught art to children in the small school. The biggest project he took on was building six composting latrines for the town of 900 citizens. Because there was no electricity or running water, the people in the town had no clean way to use the bathroom. Their only source of water was from a well.

Because of his studies in architecture, building the latrines, while not the cleanest of tasks, struck Gray close to his heart. He was seeing firsthand the opportunity to use efficient design in helping others. “I didn’t think that latrines would be my first major project as an architectural designer, but I did always believe that I wanted to use my skills to the maximum benefit of my community, no matter where I lived,” he says.

In the future, he wants to use his skills as a designer and architect to build latrines all over the impoverished world. “Some designs are not sexy, but everyone deserves good design,” he says.

After Ghana, Gray completed his master’s degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and then moved back to the Dallas area to enter the working world. He has just started working as an architectural designer with Array Architects, a firm in Dallas that specializes in healthcare-related building projects.

It could be said that architecture runs in Gray’s blood. His father and grandfather were both architects. His interest in design extends to his childhood. He used to compete in creative problem-solving competitions, facing off against others to complete an engineering challenge.

“I’ve always loved making things,” he says. “Now I get to do it for a living.”—Elizabeth Wieck

Hamilton Hedrick, Art Director, DCEO

Nearly every creative-minded person has at least daydreamed of themselves spreadin’ the news, leavin’ today, and doing what they love in New York City. Some of those people actually make it out there. A much smaller portion gets to do what they love in the city, and even fewer find success. Then, there are those like Hamilton Hedrick, who actually got to live our their dream. But that makes it sound easy. It wasn’t.

Hamilton dreamed of starting a career in New York, but knew that the only thing that could get him there was his own hard work. He dedicated himself to his art by getting two degrees in editorial journalism and visual design from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and got involved with as many organizations related to his field as possible. “The only way to make it there was to work as hard as I possibly could and eventually, if it was meant to be, it would happen,” he says. And so it did. Following graduation, Hamilton continued working hard at a publication in Dallas, where he built a portfolio that ultimately helped push him toward his next goal: New York. He became the sole art director for two New York-based lifestyle magazines: Vegas and Boston Common.

If you look at Hamilton’s portfolio, you will find work that is a testament to his experience, talent, and dedication. Now in Dallas, Hamilton is an art director at D, mostly working on D CEO. His experience working for Niche Media in New York and his unique understanding of art direction has helped him give his work at D, a sophisticated and modern look.

Hamilton looks forward to continuing to do what he loves in a city he is growing to love and understand more and more. In fact, some of Hamilton’s work on D CEO recently received gold awards in Best Use of Photography/Illustrations and Best Overall Design. Hamilton’s passion for what he does at D and his love for Dallas is clear in his work. “I think receiving such high marks is a testament to the tremendous talent I get to work with on a daily basis,” he says. “It’s a reflection of the thriving business community of Dallas that we focus on in D CEO.” —Jenna Peck

Hilary Lau, Assistant Editor, DCEO

Winding down the night, responding to a few final emails, preparing for rest during her executive trip to Mobil, Alabama, Hilary Lau reflects on the surreal life of being a journalist.

She recalls her childhood move to Arkansas, where life was slow-paced, nature was awe-inspiring, and family came together in a small kitchen to enjoy chicken spaghetti. She remembers her move back to Dallas, and her first post-graduate jobs where she spent long days feeling underutilized and uninspired. This in contrast to her life as it was now: fast-paced, full of diverse—sometimes, strange—travel experiences, delicious food, exciting people. She has successfully transitioned from simply working in an office to attaining her dream: seeking out hidden gems that were waiting to be unearthed in the beautiful, urban jungle.

Often these gems are not specific people or things, but experiences. One such example was her meeting with Kip Tindell, founder and CEO of The Container Store. When Hilary walked into the doors at the corporate headquarters, the bright, primary colors and thick, black lines of Piet Mondrian immersed her in a whimsical world. When escorted into Kip’s office, a yellow Lab was waiting for her there with a big, silly grin. The walls were lined with pictures of everyone from Oprah to Bloomberg. Describing corporate culture as “yummy,” while still sharing his ethical business philosophy, Kip himself seemed to embody the since of playfulness and practicality that make the products of his company so wonderfully appealing.

Arkansas and Oprah, Labradors and Mondrian, the memories fade away into the beginnings of sleep. Hilary Lau closes the computer; she needs her rest. An alligator farm is the first thing on tomorrow’s itinerary. —Stephanie Avery

Jaime Clintsman, Marketing and Events Coordinator, Downtown Dallas, Inc.

It’s November 17, 2011. Jamie Clintsman has been the marketing and events coordinator at Downtown Dallas, Inc. for less than a year, and somehow, despite all the issues that threatened to interfere with the year’s downtown City Lights event, the event has started. Santa is riding in a vintage red Cadillac, led by eight Mini Cooper “reindeer,” through downtown Dallas. And all is well.

At that moment, Jaime and her boss, Kourtny, realize that in all their planning, they didn’t anticipate the 45,000 people in the middle of Main Street, where Santa’s sleigh was headed. “We rounded up eight officers to help us clear the street, and then all of a sudden Kourtny, who is seven months pregnant, starts running to help,” Jaime says. “I start running to help her, but I can barely keep up.” In the end: it all worked out. “We got everything taken care of, and the night was a huge success.” Jaime says.

The event is Jaime’s greatest accomplishment. “We’ve done the event every year, but nothing has compared to that day,” she says. Part of what made her first City Lights so rewarding was its success despite Jamie’s lack of confidence in her new (at that time) position, but the experience has shown her how to be a better leader. “Having Kourtny look at me and trust me to take on anything makes me believe I can also pass things off to people and believe in them, no matter their experience or background,” she says. Jamie, who is now 31, understands the value that hard work and experience can bring not only to a career but also to D Academy. Having moved to New York City after graduating from high school to work at a music production company, Jamie gained a unique ability to interact with a variety of individuals, and she looks forward to stepping more outside of her comfort zone in the months to come. The only thing that might distract her is her dog Moose, a Doberman she rescued two years ago. “He’s the love of my life,” she says. —Rachel Hiser

Jason Brown, Associate, KW Net Lease Advisors

Of all the moments that can inspire a person to pursue a certain career, Jason Brown’s happened while he was watching TV. He was in elementary school— fifth or sixth grade, he recalls—and remembers seeing a commercial for a real estate agent. As he listened to the agent talk, he was drawn to the idea of being able to enact change in a community through real estate, and knew immediately that’s what occupation he wanted to pursue.

Despite this revelation, he didn’t take a direct route to get into the real estate business. After graduating from David W. Carter High School in Dallas, Jason, now 27, moved south to Austin to attend college at the University of Texas. He studied finance, and moved back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to start a professional career.

Jason embarked on a career in sales, holding a job at Pacific Sales in Hurst for four years. He ascended the professional ladder and was on the verge of being promoted to a senior position when he decided to quit in September 2013. “I decided to face my fear of the unknown, fight my insecurities, and step off the path traveled by so many,” he says. “I decided to start living life on purpose instead of by accident.”

That purpose, inspired at such a young age, was to work in real estate. So he took the plunge. Since November 2013, Jason has worked as an associate at KW Net Lease Advisors, a company in Fort Worth that specializes in commercial and investment real estate.

Aside from his new career, Jason loves to travel. He’ll go anywhere, up to the point that he spins a globe, puts his finger on it, and wherever it lands, he books a flight. He’s recently been on a Southeast Asian kick, even spending his honeymoon in Thailand. His next stop will be Europe.

Thus far, Jason says the risk he took in dropping his familiar job and pursuing real estate has paid off. “On my short walk with investment real estate, I’ve gained a specialized knowledge that I can use to make an impact in communities throughout the city of Dallas and the world,” he says. —Elizabeth Wieck

John Gay, Digital Imaging Specialist, D Magazine

“I make people look the way they think they do,” says John Gay. “I’m the digital plastic surgeon.”

John, the digital imaging specialist at D Magazine, spends hours in his office cleaning up wrinkles, making colors pop, and ensuring that the products put out by D Magazine Partners are as perfect as possible. It’s a job he’s been perfecting since the day after he graduated from Texas Tech University and moved to Dallas. “My greatest accomplishment to date would be coming into my own without a fear of failure,” he says. “After I graduated from college, I accepted my dream job with D Magazine and moved to Dallas without knowing anyone or even having a place to live.” His move paid off.

Now, the 29-year-old appreciates the city he’s been given the chance to get to know. “It’s got a thriving arts scene,” he says. “It’s a culinary hub. It’s got some really great green space because it’s surrounded by lakes.” But that doesn’t mean that Dallas is perfect. “One of the greatest issues facing Dallas is retaining and attracting employers and families from the suburbs,” he says. “The quality of public schools, transit, and public green space must all be attractive enough to lure families and companies to invest and build urban lives.”

While he spends his work days in a darkened room touching up some of Dallas’ most famous personalities’ imperfections, he likes to spend his off-hours fishing for largemouth bass in Lake Ray Hubbard with Lola, his black Lab.

John has taken D Magazine Partners’ motto—making Dallas even better—to heart. “I want to be remembered for making where I went a little bit better than before I got there,” he says.

Which is exactly why so many D Magazine cover models love him. —Connor Yearsley

Jonathan Ball, Managing Editor, D Custom

Born on a steamship during the rebel uprising against the generalissimo, Jon Ball has an active imagination and a penchant for hyperbole. While it makes him an entertaining storyteller—at times—it also means he’s prone to exaggeration, especially after a few mint juleps.

But Jon’s ability to effectively tell a story in a variety of mediums has helped him throughout his life and his professional career—from his time as a news radio reporter and magazine editor to creative director for a Fortune 500 company—including in his current role as managing editor at D Custom, the content marketing agency owned by D Magazine Partners.

One thing Jon doesn’t need to embellish is just how much he enjoys what he considers to be his most important role—father to his two young children, Cash, age 3, and Emma, 18 months. His role as a dad is what drove Jon to apply for D Academy. In particular, it was his desire to expand his understanding of how the city lives and breathes so that he can—in some way, shape, or form—turn that knowledge into action by positively impacting the city in which his children will be raised.

When not at work or answering questions for his D Academy profile, Jon enjoys making strangers sit through what is quite possibly the world’s worst Bill Cosby impression, asking people for gum, and recalling how glorious his hairline was in his misbegotten youth. So glorious. You really should have seen it. Simply exquisite. —J.B.

Julianna Bradley, Director of Regional Leadership Development, Leadership for Educational Equity

“We were ten miles from where Emmett Till had been murdered, and yet they had never heard his name,” Julianna Bradley says. Her students had never heard of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, or the civil rights movement.

She spent two years teaching those middle school students English in rural Mississippi as a Teach for America corps member—all of her students were African American, in a segregated school. When she first arrived, her students were four years behind in their reading level, and less than 10 percent could write a basic five-paragraph essay. But by the end of the academic year, by engaging with her students’ experiences, she helped grow their literacy skills, and cultivated an awareness for injustice so they could have an opportunity to live outside of poverty.

A life of travel and culture inspired Julianna to become an activist devoted to education and racial equality. She grew up in the same conditions as many of the kids she helps—she has walked in their shoes and has “seen the world though the eyes of many difference perspectives,” she says. From a trailer park in Georgia to living in Germany, Julianna became politically active and devoted to her own self-betterment. She grew up below the poverty line, but as a kid she turned to reading, and when she got older, she was a sharp study in school. That translated to a full ride at the University of Arizona, where she studied politics and became a first-generation college graduate. With a more worldly view and a drive for change, Julianna even did field work to help get the first Latina woman elected to the Tucson City Council.

Julianna is all about intersections—how to bring about change in the education systems from the inside and out, and how people can get involved to make change even at the local level. Because of her own journey, Julianna considers herself a relentlessly optimistic person—if she can do it, anyone can.

This year, one of her students from Mississippi came to live with her in Dallas so he could finish his senior year of high school. She opened her home to the young man and enrolled him in North Dallas High School, changing the life of yet another kid. “If I’m going to help create a culture where we eliminate poverty,” she says, “it starts with helping kids.” —Aaron Claycomb

Kate Crouse, Brand Manager, D Magazine

The first time Kate Crouse stepped foot in an American school was in August of 2002. It was the beginning of her sophomore year, and since the age of 2, she had spent very little time in the United States. Her transition back into an American high school was somewhat bewildering. “With international schools, everything is a little behind, and I was behind in just about every way,” she says. For her first day of American high school, Kate wore a shirt that read “Bangkok.” To Kate, who also thought the Backstreet Boys were still cool, the t-shirt didn’t strike her as particularly funny. “By the end of the day, though, I understood, and I immediately ran home and told my parents that we needed to go shopping,” she says.

Before attending college in Lubbock, where she earned her degree in public relations, Kate’s father’s job had taken her family all across the globe, including the United Kingdom, China, Venezuela, and Thailand. Now, the brand manager at D Magazine, Kate realizes how formative her childhood was and how such an abnormal experience has shaped her view of the city she calls home. “It makes me enthusiastic to try new things so that when I do move to a new place like Dallas, even though it is not some huge international city, I can find so many cool things about it, whether it is a new restaurant or shop.”

Kate has become involved with the community through her work with Dallas Summer Musicals Association, where she has been on the board for the past three years. To her, getting the youth more involved in the city’s thriving arts scene is of the utmost importance. “Exposure to the arts enriches your life in ways I don’t think people realize,” she says. D Academy gives her the chance to connect kids to the arts, but Kate’s also excited to meet the other fellows. “I’m basically a chronic new kid,” she says. “That is all I do. I’ve been a new kid my my entire life, so meeting new people is something I do enjoy doing.” —Rachel Hiser

Kimberly O'Neil, Founder, The Giving Blueprint

Kimberly O’Neil’s ultimate career goal was to be a city manager. And when she was 31 years old, she accomplished just that. In 2004, she became the city manager of Glenarden, Maryland, a city with a population of about 6,000, making her the youngest female African American city manager in the country.

Despite the huge sense of accomplishment she felt in getting the job, it wasn’t easy. The government business can be tough, especially for a young female. When she sat at a table with other government leaders, some more than 20 years her senior, many thought she was an assistant. “No one could identify with the things I was going through as a young leader,” she says.

O’Neil has always wanted to serve the public in some way. The New York native studied political science at North Carolina A&T State University, followed by not one, but two masters degrees in political science and public administration at universities in New York City. She’s also a certified public manager.

Kimberly moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area seven years ago, and was formerly an assistant director for the city of Forth Worth.

Nowadays, her path is altered, although her efforts to serve others are still the same. After working actively and moving up in the government sector for 17 years, Kimberly, 42, decided to bring her work focus to nonprofits. “I walked away from it all because I wanted to serve the community in a different way,” she says. “I didn’t want any red tape. Nonprofits are very near and dear to my heart.”

She has become a social entrepreneur. Kimberly is the founder and CEO of The Giving Blueprint, a company she started in 2012. The for-profit company supports nonprofits by helping them figure out the resources available to them, developing strategies to be sustainable, and growing the next group of nonprofit leaders.

In the future, she hopes to combine her government and nonprofit expertise to create a more collaborative and giving spirit within the community.

“I believe there are greater strides the nonprofit community can be making in Dallas, especially as it relates to diversity, community involvement, and impacting legislative decisions,” Kimberly says. —Elizabeth Wieck

Lacey Tomanek, Senior Managing Director, Partnerships and Human Capital, Teach for America

Ask Lacey Tomanek circa 2012 whether she would have expected to be in the third class of D Academy fellows, and she would have laughed in your face. Today, she is the Senior Managing Director of Partnerships and Human Capital for Teach For America in Dallas, but despite her upbringing in Carrolton and Frisco, Dallas was about the last place she intended to land. From an early age, Lacey felt that she didn’t match the stereotypes she saw in the North Dallas suburbs, so she took college as her opportunity for a one-way ticket out. “I had a very narrow view of who the voices were that people wanted to hear from,” Lacey says. “I thought it was a very certain type of person that I didn’t fit in with.”

When Hurricane Katrina hit during her time as a student at The University of Texas, Lacey found herself immediately motivated to fight the negative portrayal of New Orleanians in the media and instead become a part of the city’s healing. So, after graduating in the spring of 2008, she decided to escape Dallas even further and begin her Teach For America journey in New Orleans.

Lacey’s experience there expanded far past the things she taught kids in the classroom. It was about eating crawfish with their families, marching with them in Mardi Gras parades, watching them win sports games, and becoming a real part of the students’ lives. “My greatest accomplishment has been to impact the life trajectories of the students I taught in New Orleans,” Lacey says. “I made sure they were challenged every day in my class academically, emotionally, and socially.”

It wasn’t until eight years and three states later that she finally accepted a call from one of the countless recruiters from education-related organizations in Dallas. Reluctantly, she decided to at least take advantage of the free trip home that their fly-in interview offered. After less than 24 hours, the negative image of Dallas that she had held onto for so long had evaporated, and Lacey realized that the place she’d spent so long trying to escape was exactly where she was meant to end up. — Abby Kinsinger

Lauren DeLozier, Research Editor, D Magazine

As Lauren DeLozier navigated the morning rush-hour, she turned to one of her favorite radio stations. Jenna from Kidd Kraddick in the Morning happened to be talking about Lauren’s job. “She was saying, ‘Oh, I heard those doctors aren’t really the best. They just pay to be on the list.’ ” To D Magazine’s research editor, whose livelihood is based off of the countless hours she spends generating the magazine’s unbiased, unsolicited best lists, this was upsetting.

When it comes to compiling these groups, Lauren is up against a tough crowd, but her experience working on them has given her a keen insight into what she believes is one of Dallas’ biggest faults (and it has given her motivation to change it). She notices that people often consider information they are given at face value without researching it themselves. She also sees this false public perception in the way people view Dallas’ neighborhoods, including the way she originally judged Uptown. “It was a huge struggle for me to move to Uptown because of its public perception,” she says of her transition from growing up in Flower Mound, graduating form the University of Oklahoma, and then moving back to Dallas. “I just thought it was really expensive cars, not very nice people, girls in heels, and that’s just not me.” It’s only been a few months, but she has grown to enjoy her new community. Lauren, however, still wants to explore other areas. “I want people to realize that there is so much more to Dallas than just this little bubble.”

Lauren has a passion for the city—the whole city—and she is ready to explore more of it. And she wants you to know one thing about those best lists you read in D Magazine: they’re not pay for play. —Rachel Hiser

Lydia Varela, Owner, Renew Not Retail

Lydia Varela hunts for buried treasure. Okay, so the “hunting” is at thrift shops, the “buried” is deep in clothing racks, and the “treasure” is recyclable clothes, but in her eyes, the right item really is gold. Like a true thrifter, Lydia knows the locations and hours of every recycled clothing shop in town, and when she goes on vacation, finding the nearest thrift store is always one of the first things on her travel itinerary. There are few greater joys than discovering a Diane von Furstenberg vintage wrap dress tucked away in the racks of used clothing at a thrift store or a $14 pair of never-worn Seven jeans piled up in a heap at a garage sale. Lydia has used this inspiration to create Renew Not Retail, her community-based startup business focused on recycling and reselling donated clothes. “Renew Not Retail is my way to share that whole hand-me-down concept with my Dallas community,” Lydia says.

Lydia grew up in Ozona, Texas, population 3,000. She graduated on a Friday night and left for Dallas (population 1.24 million) Sunday morning. After 14 years, she left her job as the Asia Pacific Marketing Manager of Mary Kay Inc. during the thick of the recession to take the leap and start Renew Not Retail. “There was always going to be fear with that kind of a decision, but I went for it,” Lydia says. “My transition strategy was to network, volunteer, travel, and make it work.”

Two years later, Lydia has received the Dallas BIG Influence Award and continues to make tremendous strides with Renew Not Retail. Lydia has lived in Dallas for the past 30 years and doesn’t intend to leave. So, if sometime down the road, you come across a lady walking down the hallway with a stylish, thrifty outfit and jangling vintage jewelry, it just might be Lydia. At least, that’s how she’s always envisioned herself. —Abby Kinsinger

Maryam Baig, Development Associate, Undermain Theatre

Maryam Baig sat quietly in her bus seat, fighting feelings of sadness. The arranged marriage that had brought her to the United States two years earlier in 1997 had crumbled. Maryam, who grew up in Pakistan, was in search of something light, a reminder of happier times. As she looked up, she saw a sign for the University of Texas Dallas’ Eugene McDermott Library. An avid reader, Maryam stepped off the bus and walked toward the growing line outside the building.

She never made it to the library.

Instead, Maryam, found herself in line for UTD’s general registration. What began as a joke between Maryam, now 38, and the admissions counselors transitioned into a seven-year journey in which she earned two degrees—a bachelor’s in arts and performance and a master’s of fine arts in arts and technology.

In February 2012, Maryam’s life changed again with a phone call from one of her sisters. Her father was very ill. Maryam didn’t think; she packed. For the next few months, she was by her father’s side, caring for him, as he battled Stage 4 colon cancer. “I had slowly built my life in Dallas and was finally enjoying the relief of no longer being on uncertain terms when I decided to let go and move back to be with my family,” Maryam says. “I lost many opportunities and advancements due to this step but can say this with complete honesty: no regrets. It was humbling and wonderful.”

Maryam returned to Dallas in July of 2012, unsure if she would be forced to start over again. But within a month, she was working as part of Undermain Theatre’s administrative team as development associate.

Maryam, the daughter of Pakistani television personalities, grew up around actors, singers, producers, writers. “I was extremely into the arts,” says Maryam, who was headed to law school before moving to the U.S. “It took me a long time to reconcile my passion in that.”

Maryam loves—and appreciates—her position with Undermain, as she’s able to work with creative people on an everyday basis. “[Dallas’ art scene] is ever-evolving, and it is not self-congratulatory,” she says. “Dallas seems to encourage new work and new talent. You have space to make your own art, if so inclined. It never ceases to amaze me with its offerings.” —Staci Parks

Matt Goodman, Senior Editor, DCEO

Sometimes, when you choose a career in journalism, you don’t start out with the boring stuff. Sometimes, life happens, and you hit the ground running, telling stories about events that have a massive impact on the community and country. As a recent graduate from the University of North Texas, Matt Goodman started out reporting on the business community for the Killeen Daily Herald when the 2009 Fort Hood shooting happened, a mass murder that killed more people than any other shooting on an American military base. They don’t prepare you for that kind of thing in college, but Matt reported on the shooting as well as the community’s support in the aftermath of the event. He was thrown into new situations that pushed him to engage with new topics and interests that have helped shape his very well-rounded career, even doing things like going into the shooter’s home a few days after, and writing about what was there. Matt says it’s hard to find the word that describes the experience of covering such a terrible event, but it was an experience that he says, “totally threw me out of me comfort zone.” For Matt, journalism has proved to be an extremely dynamic path that has taken him to places and stories that have influenced not only his career, but who he is as a person.

Now a senior editor for D CEO, Matt covers healthcare and edits the magazine. A Texas native, Matt graduated with a degree in journalism and was editor in chief for the UNT student newspaper. Since then, he has been a reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald, a reporter and digital media producer at CBSDFW, and a digital journalist for WFAA. Naturally, as someone who has covered so many different things, Matt seeks to learn and write about even more, particularly in the local communities of Dallas, which is why he applied to D Academy. “It’s a beneficial way to learn more about the city,” he says. “It will make me a more well-rounded writer and journalist who can inform the public about the issues I cover for D Healthcare Daily, D CEO, and D Magazine.” —Jenna Peck

Renee Blostein, Interactive Designer, D Magazine

The Geobukseon, a Korean warship commonly known as the turtle ship, once carried Admiral Yi Sun-Shin into the dark waters of the Myeongnyang Strait where 133 Japanese warships waited for him. With only 13 other ships at his side, he managed to destroy 33 enemy vessels and emerge from the waters, not only alive but victorious. This man is the direct ancestor of designer Renee Blostein. In true designer fashion, the beautiful, graphic image of the turtle ship is inked onto the underside of her arm, slightly hidden from view, but absolutely eye-catching with a shelled deck and a dragon’s head roaring at the bow. The design is a symbol of a story begging to be told.

This rich and whimsical thread of Renee’s life is not exclusive to her ancient ancestry. As a child, she spent her days watching her mother paint in watercolor and cook fabulous Korean food. She joined her father for afternoon yoga sequences and observed him take on the roles of vice principal, martial artist, and traveler. Inside her family home there was this fantastic upbringing, and outside there was the great outdoors of Texas.

Renee grew up in Fort Worth, studied at the University of North Texas, and entered the work force at the front line of the recession. In a time of uncertainty, fear, and above-average struggle for the creative types, Renee used her talents to secure a position which would eventually lead to the position of interactive designer at D Magazine. “It’s such an exciting field to be in,” she says. “There is so much that we are capable of now, so many ways that we can interact digitally with the consumer. We just have to pay attention to other publications to keep up.” —Stephanie Avery

Sara Ortega, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator, Uplift Education

Sara Ortega did everything right. After a successful college career at Texas Tech University, she moved from Lubbock to Fort Worth and started her first job as a reporter for a small community newspaper. But something felt out of place. Her job wasn’t challenging her in the ways in which she had grown accustomed, and she felt the instinctual pull for change. Five months after starting her reporting job, Sara, now public relations coordinator for Uplift Education, enrolled in Texas Teachers’ alternative certification program.

“I always saw myself as a teacher and felt [it] was as good a time as any to start that process,” says Sara, 27.

While in the program, Sara began working as a Spanish teacher at one of Uplift Education’s charter schools. Sara spent three years in the classroom, first as a Spanish teacher, then as an eighth grade English teacher. “It’s so cliche, but it’s true that teaching is one of the most challenging careers,” she says. “It takes different skills. There’s a lot of resilience that goes on in teaching.”

At this time, Uplift was experiencing a growth spurt, which led to an opening in the organization’s communications department.

Always seeking a different challenge, Ortega was interested, hoping to merge her journalism past with her newly acquired teaching skills. In the summer of 2012, Sara enrolled in the Frank W. Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas, where she focused on strategic communications. Sara, who graduated with her master’s degree in August, believes in Uplift’s work. “One of things that stood out to me is the innovation and the chances they take on people and programs,” Sara says. “They are not afraid to try something new. I think in education reform, you have to be open.”

Away from her job, Sara is a proud downtown Dallas resident, who likes exploring the city’s different neighborhoods—those that are established as well as those taking shape. “I feel like it’s a great time to be living downtown because there’s so much going on and so many new things happening while still maintaining a community feel,” Sara says. —Staci Parks

Sean Clancy, Bowler's Ed Brand Manager, Bowling Foundation Coordinator, US Bowling Congress

Just a few days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Sean Clancy was fresh with optimism, working his first job out of college at Tulane University for the athletic department’s promotion and marketing team. It was just another day in New Orleans—hot, humid, and infested with mosquitos—and it was also student move-in day.

“Sean,” his boss said from behind his shoulder in the small dorm room. “You may want to consider packing up and leaving town due to the hurricane.” “He can’t be serious,” thought Sean, a hurricane survivor many times over. “We’re suspending resident move-in activities,” his boss added. And, in just a single day, Sean packed his belongings and became an evacuee, leaving his hometown and starting over.

After evacuating New Orleans, Sean moved to North Carolina. He jumped around, moving to Atlanta, Georgia, to work part-time for the Atlanta Braves. Then moved to Kansas City to work with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Fast-forward five years after Katrina, and Sean moved to Dallas. Since 2010, he has called Dallas his new home. He went back to school at the University of North Texas to earn his master’s degree in recreation and leisure studies with a concentration in active lifestyle and sustainable transportation. He got married, bought his first home, and secured a new job. He went from Cajun to Cowboy. “I don’t have a dialect, and I certainly don’t sound like I’m from New Orleans,” he says. “But it comes out every now and then.”

Ultimately, Sean was able to find the same things he lost after evacuating his hometown in 2005: family, culture, community, and a job he loves. After a few years in Dallas, Sean got a gig working for the United States Bowling Congress as their brand manager. “Although I’m not the world’s best bowler, I do have some ties to bowling,” Sean says. Sean found the courage to move on; and despite having to start over, he’s continued to believe in himself and his journey. Had he never left New Orleans he would have never met his future wife in a bowling alley in Atlanta. —Aaron Claycom

Shameel Thawerbhoy, Co-Founder, Apollo Tutors

A nervous anticipation settled in the pit of Shameel Thawerbhoy’s stomach. After years of working at—and helping improve—his family’s business, Swiss Cleaners, it was time for Shameel to follow the path he’d been carving for himself through his entrepreneurial venture Apollo Tutors. The problem was, he had to tell his father. “He didn’t talk to me for a week,” Shameel, 27, says. But his father, as well as Dallas’ education community, has come around.

As the son of Indian emigrants who’d built their own successes on the foundations of traditional American business, Shameel has always valued the importance of education.

Shameel entered the University of Texas in the fall of 2005, but returned to Dallas after his freshman year to help with the family business. This detour didn’t slow him down; in 2010, he enrolled in SMU to finish his degree, while continuing to work full-time at Swiss Cleaners.

While at the cleaners, Shameel improved the company’s computer system by streamlining the process. He also started a route service, scaling from five to more than 250 houses a week. Combined, these efforts increased Swiss Cleaners’ sales 300 percent.

But Shameel’s passion for education wouldn’t go away. In the summer of 2013, he and an SMU classmate, Arvind Venkataraman, launched Apollo Tutors, which has a buy one, teach one model, a concept in which a child in need receives an hour of free tutoring for every hour a client is tutored.

Students from SMU and Dallas’ more privileged schools serve as tutors, reaching out to students in the city’s poorer schools with fewer resources—mainly those located in West Dallas. In this, Shameel sees the company as a “full circle of giving back.”

“I don’t think some of the kids realized that they could drive across the bridge to help,” Shameel says. “Seeing young Dallasites reach out of their bubble to genuinely connect with their peers in less-fortunate parts of the city is incredibly rewarding.” —Staci Parks

Will Groves, Vice President, Private Client Manager, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management

Will Groves carefully placed his navy suit and borrowed tie across the back seat of his Nissan Maxima. Will, now vice president of US Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, doesn’t usually prep for job interviews this way. But in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, he fled from New Orleans to Dallas. Not knowing where the Crescent City was headed, he was at a crossroads, but his connection to Dallas—he attended college at Southern Methodist University—led him back.

Within a few days after returning to Dallas, Will found himself on the trajectory to his current role, arriving just in time for an interview at a commercial bank in its global trade group—a job he’d always wanted.

“My clothes were literally in my car,” he says. “But I knew this would be a good fit.” While in graduate school in New Orleans Will, a Louisiana native, worked full time at Chase Bank in investment management. Although the combination was challenging, Will found solace in juggling these two entities, as he was able to implement the classroom to the job. After finishing his MBA, he stayed in the city, in search of a job in credit.

Now, Will, 36, spends most of his days engrossed in money—how to spend it, how to invest it, how to preserve it. He helps high-net-worth clients navigate what the bank has to offer as well as what would be most beneficial to their needs.

But Will’s job, in addition to his time spent as a volunteer for several notable North Texas organizations and nonprofits, has allowed him to see a greater picture, carefully connecting issues that hinder Dallas, namely poverty, something Will is familiar with from his years in New Orleans. “In New Orleans, it’s more in your face,” he says. “In Dallas, it’s more insulated. It’s down the road, someone else’s problem.”

Will wants to change that.

He makes a concerted effort to be involved in his community and with its people, as evidenced through his work with Junior Achievement, Young Texans Against Cancer, Young Professionals in Energy, and the Dallas Museum of Art. For him, community service is in his blood—something he learned early in life from his family.

As Will and his wife, Sarah, prepare for the December arrival of their first child, Will’s intention to continue the family tradition of volunteering is clear.

“To me, it was always part of life,” Will says. “They set the example.”—Staci Parks