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Meet the 2021 20 Under 40 Winners!

There are people who make their mark in their professions and in their communities even before they reach the middle or latter stages of their working lives.

That’s true anywhere – and no less than in Yuma.

In the second year of a partnership, Yuma Sun’s BIZ Magazine and the NexGen Leadership Council are recognizing the area’s vibrant community of young professionals and leaders in the 20 Under 40 Rising Star Awards program.

The awards, also sponsored by businesses and community organizations in the area, recognize a group of people between the ages of 18 and 40 who have excelled in their respective industries and who likewise are good citizens.

Honorees are men and women of diverse backgrounds who have shown extraordinary leaderships as members of both their professions and of their communities.

“The 20 under 40 Rising Stars Awards is a great way for those who are contributing in our community to be recognized,” said Stephanie Daniels, events manage...

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Kelly Miller, Food Safety Director, Griffin Family Farms

The next time you dig into a salad or your mom tells you to eat your veggies, you can rest assured someone like Kelly Miller, food safety director at Griffin Family Farms, has taken care to make sure they are safe to eat.

“As the Food Safety Director for Griffin Family Farms, my main focus is ensuring that our company produces safe and delicious food for consumers. I develop and share training with others on food safety topics, maintain food safety records, and perform food safety tasks such as taking water samples and participating in audits,” Miller said.

“I have been fortunate enough to spend the last 6 years in the agriculture industry and I have loved every minute!”

When asked about what she loves about her job, she shared “I truly believe that have found my passion! I share my love for the produce industry with almost everyone I meet. Every day offers a new dimension with farming and sharing this business with others is exciting. The agriculture industry i...

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Josh Topp, 4th Grade Teacher, H.L. Suverkrup Elementary School

When Josh Topp, 4th grade teacher at H.L. Suverkrup Elementary School was in college, it was not on his radar to become a teacher.

“My undergraduate degree is actually in marketing and business administration and not teaching. After working two years in retail management, I moved to Arizona and completed an accelerated teacher certification program and then went on to earn my Master’s in Educational Administration from GCU.”

The teaching bug took hold and Topp has now been teaching for 10 years.

“I love my school and the students, families and colleagues I work with each day. I love that my job is influencing and helping students along their journey to the rest of their life. I also love that each day is different and unpredictable.”

He noted his job responsibilities “consist of doing whatever it takes to help each of my students learn every day.”

Topp’s most memorable professional moment came when he got funding to modernize his classroom.

“I ...

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Sarah Snyder, Professor of English/Writing Program Administrator, Writing Specialist, Arizona Western College

For the last three years, Sarah Snyder has called Yuma home – and she couldn’t be happier to be here.

“It is such a vibrant place to live with the nicest people. We look forward to giving back everything that Yuma has given to us,” Snyder noted.

Snyder works at Arizona Western College as a professor of English, a writing program administrator and a writing specialist.

“I teach multilingual and monolingual students how to write at Arizona Western College. I mentor them through the struggles of being in college, and help them achieve their dreams through writing. I also serve the writing community at AWC by administering both the first-year writing program and the writing intensive program, both of which teach writing, but across the college,” Snyder said.

She’s also the co-advisor of the SalsaToros – the Latin Dancing Club at AWC.

“I am but a student under the guise of a teacher. I love that I get to constantly learn new knowledge and enhance my teach...

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Jessica Holzer, Licensed Attorney, Territorial Law

Licensed Attorney Jessica Holzer says the best part of her job is helping people.

“Many times, our clients come to us because they have suffered a serious injury that wasn’t their fault and do not know what to do. They have medical bills that are piling up, their personal lives have been severely impacted, and they feel helpless. I get to help them out of a very difficult time and hold the adverse parties responsible for their negligence,” Holzer said.

She became a licensed attorney in Arizona in March 2019, and works at Territorial Law. However, she’s worked in Yuma’s legal community since 2009, when she began working for the Yuma County Superior Court.

Currently, Holzer practices in civil litigation, representing plaintiffs who have suffered injuries or loss caused by the negligent actions of another person or entity.

Thus far in her career, her most meaningful professional moment came when she was sworn in as an attorney.

“Before going to law scho...

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Amber Shek, Economic Development Specialist, Greater Yuma Economic Development Center

Amber Shek says working at the Greater Yuma Economic Development Center as an economic development specialist is a joy.

“I love everything about my job. I get to work with some of the most open-minded and talented individuals who work very hard to create positive development in Yuma through so many different mediums. I love being able to take on new challenges to create new opportunities for the community that make a difference,” Shek said.

Shek said she works with a “talented team of forward thinking individuals to expand commerce and industry that brings quality jobs to Yuma.”

“I am honored to be able to act as a creative/marketing director, grant writer and researcher for the team.”

Currently, Shek’s duties include working with the Yuma Multiversity Campus Phase 2 project. She also co-hosted the Greater Yuma Attainable Housing Forum to promote education and housing development in Yuma.

That last task led to Shek’s most memorable professional momen...

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Sara Bowerman, Marketing Coordination Specialist, Gowan

As the marketing coordination specialist for Gowan, Sara Bowerman has a multinational reach.

“I work directly with both the Canadian and United States Sales teams, product managers, and the creative lead to project manage (budget, plan, execute campaign ads/projects) at Gowan Company. Projects include but are not limited to National and regional print ads, radio ads, trade shows, any other product-specific ad-hoc requests,” Bowerman said.

“I love that my job allows me to be creative while connecting with and educating people. In marketing, it’s all about telling a story and fulfilling a need. The product and the message change but that connection never does. Working in agriculture has been a change of pace but it’s been eye-opening and, in a way, comforting, as I am a Yuma native and agriculture is part of my family history.”

Her personal goal is to never stop learning, and to always be an active member of the Yuma community.

“I’ve applied to be on the Par...

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Jillian Attaway, Emergency Management Director, Quechan Indian Tribe

Being the emergency management director for the Quechan Indian Tribe is “extremely fulfilling” for Jillian Attaway.

“I love to help people. Being able to teach people about safety and emergency preparedness to hopefully lessen or avoid them being in crisis, providing them comfort, and getting them resources and the help they are in need of is extremely fulfilling to me. The best thing about our industry is the connections you make with other allied agencies. The Yuma and Imperial areas are full of wonderful people willing to go the extra mile for one another,” Attaway said.

Attaway is responsible for planning, implementing and evaluating a comprehensive department covering the areas of emergency management, safety, occupational health management, environmental management, and public health management programs.

“I develop and maintain the emergency management program for employees, contractors, and visitors to the Quechan Indian Tribe,” Attaway said, noting she p...

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Abraham Andrade, Owner Rolls & Bowls, Co-Founder Chicano Art Collective

When asked to describe himself as an animal, Abraham Andrade chose the bee.

“They are hard-working, they understand the importance of community and the value of teamwork,” Andrade said.

It’s the perfect choice for the man who owns Rolls & Bowls and is also the co-founder of the Chicano Art Collective.

Andrade notes that having two restaurants in different locations – San Luis and the Foothills – comes with lots of responsibilities, from customer service, staff management and training to creating new dishes and working hands on at whatever needs to be done.

Then, at the art collective, Andrade coordinates and organizes cultural events while also creating his own artistic portfolio, Espiritus del Desierto, which is based on 10 works of mixed techniques.

“They represent my vision of our culture and values of our region,” Andrade said.

There’s no question he’s a busy man. And yet, he has his sights set on another goal – one day opening a Rolls ...

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Ashlie Pendleton, Marketing Specialist, AEA Federal Credit Union

Ashlie Pendleton says she’s mostly a cat-like introvert. But not the annoying kind of cat – more like your favorite cool cat, the kind who likes to observe quietly in new situations, typically thinking through new things before reacting, she noted.

“I’m self-reliant, and keep calm in chaotic or stressful situations. I enjoy learning new things, and can ask a lot of questions,” Pendleton said.

She puts those skills to good use as the marketing specialist for AEA Federal Credit Union, where she helps manage and shape the banking institution’s public image, messaging and branding.

She loves the job because, “It is ever-evolving and allows me the opportunity to be involved in the community, make connections with others and be creative,” she said.

She’s worked in marketing and development in some form since she first started working at 18, varying in capacities in both the public and nonprofit sectors, she said.

Her most memorable professional moment came...

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Buna M. George, Executive Director, Greater Yuma Port Authority

Buna George loves to cultivate relationships – and as the executive director of the Greater Yuma Port Authority, she gets to do just that on a regular basis.

“I have the privilege of working with appointed representatives from Yuma County, The City of San Luis, The Cocopah Indian Tribe and The City of Yuma to facilitate international trade that enters through the San Luis Commercial Port of Entry,” George noted.

She also works with such diverse entities as Customs and Border Protection and the Arizona Department of Transportation, and notes there are a variety of projects underway.

“I want people to know, it takes an army and it takes a lot of time to coordinate projects of this volume for a community,” George said.

“The San Luis Port of Entries as well as the Mexicali Ports of Entries that focus on lawful trade and travel, those 200k+ people that come to and from Mexico on a monthly basis have an indirect benefit to each of the cities within the county. O...

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John Hessinger, Community Development Director, Better Business Bureau

For as long as John Hessinger can remember, he’s had two focuses in his career: helping and building.

“With the BBB I am able to do both daily, and, each bring unique challenges with unique opportunities. I love connecting to this community and digging in,” Hessinger said.

As the community development director for the Better Business Bureau, Hessigner focuses on member/business outreach in Yuma and Imperial counties, a process that involves marketing solutions, event promotions and more. He also works with the media to share information from the BBB such as press releases and community happenings, while serving on a variety of community boards and committees throughout Yuma.

Part of his efforts, he noted, is to help build Yuma up, “through business, through promotion and through volunteerism.”

He’s been at the Better Business Bureau for four years, but said his most memorable professional moment came in March, when the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce calle...

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Elene MacAdam, District Manager at Yuma County Pest Abatement District & Yuma County Citrus Pest Control District; Co-Owner at Foothills Shopping Center, Co-Owner at Be Free Investments, Co-Owner at Wheezy's Sports Bar

Elene MacAdam is one busy woman.

She’s the district manager at the Yuma County Pest Abatement District and the Yuma County Pest Control District. And, she’s the co-owner of the Foothills Shopping Center, Be Free Investments and Wheezy’s Sports Bar.

Just one of those titles is a full-time job – yet MacAdam is passionate about each of her professions.

“I love doing field work and the ever changing challenges in the mosquito control and insect portion of my job. I also love mentoring other young professionals and teaching them about shortcuts and strategies that will make their jobs, lives, and businesses run more efficiently,” she said.

With so many projects on her plate, MacAdam said she’s been blessed with many memorable professional moments.

“Opening up Wheezy’s was one dream from my childhood that was a very proud moment and then winning Yuma’s Best Sports Bar was a huge moment! All the community fundraising we are able to do with this business has...

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Alex Bejarano, Community Liaison & Director of Public Relations, Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. & The San Luis Walk-In Clinic, Inc.

Helping underserved and disadvantaged people has always been Alex Bejarano’s passion. At the Regional Center for Border Health, Inc. (RCBH) and the San Luis Walk-In Clinic, he has a chance to make a difference, each day.

Bejarano is the community liaison and director of public relations for the agency, ensuring that the community is aware of the services available there, while communicating with the media to keep the agency’s message out front.

Recently, he has also been overseeing COVID-19 testing for refugee/asylum seekers in coordination with the U.S. Border Patrol, and helping to supervise COVID-19 testing and vaccination teams at RCBH and the clinic as well.

“RCBH is a unique company, aside from the one-stop shop medical care we provide for our patients, we are in a way a public service agency and always try our hardest to help with whatever situation that may come up in people’s lives,” he said.

It’s an enriching experience. He said his most memorabl...

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Jackson Ramer, Sports Reporter, Yuma Sun

Jackson Ramer is a one-man show. As the only sports reporter for the Yuma Sun, he covers eight high schools and Arizona Western College athletics, from golf to football to volleyball and then some. He also designs pages for the Yuma Sun, handles social media for the sports department and shoots photos too.

It’s a never-ending list of responsibilities, and yet Ramer notes he loves his job.

“My life has revolved around athletics since I picked up a golf club at the age of two and now being able to tell the stories of so many hardworking athletes and coaches is very rewarding. So many students at the high school level will not pursue athletics following their time here in Yuma, but that doesn’t take away from their abilities to work hard and build a foundation for success later in life. Having the opportunity to tell their stories, cover games and create personal relationships with so many in the community is what I love about this job. In a small town like Yuma, Friday ...

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Shara Skinner, Student Leadership and Activities Coordinator, Arizona Western College

Growing up, Shara Skinner never expected to become an educator. Instead, she said the career fell into her lap – but now, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else in the world.

“College students are hungry for knowledge and it shows. It is an intoxicating feeling getting to go to work every day knowing that there is a good chance that you are going to have a conversation that leads to someone’s growth while opening opportunities. It is really the most rewarding experience in the world and second to none,” Skinner said.

For almost 17 years, Skinner has worked at Arizona Western College, and currently is the student leadership and activities coordinator, as well as a psychology professor. She oversees the clubs and organizations, the campus food pantry, the esports team, student government and more.

“Every year holds something new because there is a different group of students and they all hold new ideas, goals and challenges for us to attack together. I make it m...

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Dr. Nikki Hage, Dean of Students, Arizona Western College

Dr. Nikki Hage says it’s hard to explain the feeling of helping someone recognize their talent and achieve it. As Dean of Students for Arizona Western College, Hage gets to do just that – and then some.

“Having a career in a profession that helps others develop and witnessing their development is indescribable. I love my job! Helping others achieve their life’s passion is my life’s purpose,” Hage said.

Hage notes that her focus is serving the students on campus.

“My team and I are responsible for providing AWC students with innovative care and exemplary programming that enhances student success and the overall student experience. In addition, I am responsible for serving as a proactive solution-oriented advocate for students to ensure all students achieve their professional and personal goals,” she said.

Her career is a rewarding one.

“I have had the pleasure of seeing many of my middle school students graduate from college and move to different coun...

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Justin Jahn, Senior Director of Information Technology, AEA Federal Credit Union

Justin Jahn takes information technology to a new level for AEA Federal Credit Union.

As the senior IT director, Jahn said it’s satisfying to help businesses through his efforts at AEA.

“Information Technology is a force multiplier for businesses, and I find gratification in helping businesses serve their customers and solving rapidly changing and complex challenges. At AEA I’m not only able to realize this personal and professional growth but the work we do serves a key role in the community and I’m proud to be part of it!”

He has been a technology professional for 11 years, and notes he has had the privilege to experience all aspects of IT, from computer repair to network engineering and programming, culminating into his current role as a technology strategist.

He said his most memorable professional moment was a months-long project that showcased his team’s abilities and strengths.

“In the Credit Union world, core data processors serve as the foun...

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Vanessa Castillo-Bell, Business Counselor, AWC Small Business Development Center

Getting ready to realize your dreams? Vanessa Castillo-Bell is here to help.

Castillo-Bell is the business counselor for the Small Business Development Center at Arizona Western College, and bringing dreams to fruition is her mission.

It’s a job with a wide variety of responsibilities, helping local small businesses with business plan development, sources of financing, account and record keeping, marketing strategies, startup/expansion assistance, government procurement, technology solutions, cash flow analysis, human resources, data analysis, website design and contract negotiation. She also teaches social media and marketing techniques, all the while developing new approaches and processes to meet the needs of the local small business community.

Her plate is a full one, and yet, she loves what she does.

“No amount of money can take me away from my gift. My true passion is supporting small business owners with their own business goals and create a vision ...

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Susanna Zambrano, Associate Dean for South Yuma County Services, Arizona Western College

As the Associate Dean for South Yuma County Services at Arizona Western College, Susanna Zambrano considers her role to be the glue that keeps the campuses and departments connected and working well together, all of which come together to provide an amazing student experience for students in San Luis, Gadsden, Somerton, and across the district.

“I am a part of a wonderful team that goes above and beyond to help students every day,” she said.

Zambrano has been working in higher education over the past 15 years, starting as a work-study student in 2002 and working her way up.

“My dad always told me that college is the best time of my life, so it made sense to make it a profession,” Zambrano said.

When asked what she loves about her job, she shared, “I truly love the mission and vision of the college of transforming lives and eliminating poverty. For me, my job is all about the students. I no longer live in poverty, and I want to be a part of eliminating pove...

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Julie Koepp, Career Development Coordinator, Arizona Western College

To say that Julie Koepp wears many hats as the Career Development Coordinator for Arizona Western College is an understatement.

“At the heart of all my responsibilities, my efforts are to serve students with support while they pursue academic and professional success. I meet with students one on one and in group settings to explore the academic programs at AWC that align with their interests and career goals. I also help oversee AWC’s online employment job board: Jobs 4 Matadors. In addition, I collaborate with internal and external partners to provide annual career related events, such as AWC’s Major Fair and Annual Student Etiquette Luncheon. Most recently, I have launched ‘Andale’s Apparel,’ a free clothing resource to provide students with professional attire to pursue opportunities like interviews, networking, and conferences with confidence. I oversee all operations and tracking responsibilities for the district wide program. I also teach a career exploration class fo...

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