Top 10 in 10 Young Professionals to Watch

Young professionals between the ages of 25 and 35 are changing the landscape – surpassing previous generations in numbers and diversity, these young professionals have taken on a new role of influence, especially in shaping the future of economic growth and labor markets. Placing a high value on entrepreneurship, leadership and social responsibility, studies demonstrate this ambitious and technologically-connected generation is setting the pace for the transforming work environments and social networks.

The Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Augusta Magazine, is pleased to announce 10 of Augusta’s most outstanding young professionals. The young professionals featured entered into a competitive nomination process in March and have emerged as this year’s most promising and rising stars. These outstanding individuals exemplify what can be achieved with passion and vision, and while we congratulate their current achievements, we look forward to watching them reach their dreams.

—Sue Parr, president
Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce

Will Dyer

Age: 35

Education: Doctor of Ministry, McAfee School of Theology; Master of Divinity, Candler School of Theology; B.A. in Religion, University of Georgia

Occupation: Senior Pastor

Employer: First Baptist Church (FBC) of Augusta

Primary responsibilities: Leading and providing vision to a congregation of more than 3,500 members; preaching, teaching, and overseeing the work of FBC.

Convictions: Dyer believes that the church is called to be a compelling force for good in the world. He takes seriously his calling to help FBC members lead well, which means showing them how to follow Jesus in their daily lives as leaders in medicine, banking, law, real estate and education.

Long-term goals: To continue to grow the mission activity of the church. In 2018, FBC contributed more than $700,000 to missional efforts in the area and across the globe.

One colleague described him as: An instrument of service to the Augusta community; a spiritual leader in the CSRA for years to come.

Life advice: The best way to live with joy, purpose and hope is to follow the way of Jesus.

Says the key to success in our city is: The church working as an agent of change for the good. Dyer believes his impact will be in continuing his faithful witness to Christ, which ultimately benefits all who live in our region.

Christen Engel

Age: 31

Education: Master of Education in Higher Education Administration, Georgia Southern University; B.S. in Business Administration, University of South Carolina

Occupation: Senior Associate Vice President of Communications

Employer: Augusta University

Primary responsibilities: Engel oversees strategic communications and marketing efforts to improve local economic development through recruitment and retention of top-performing students and faculty. As chief communications officer for AU Health System, she promotes the area’s only Level I trauma center, children’s hospital, and cancer research center.

Plans to: Improve educational access and attainment for first-generation students and military veterans in Augusta. She also wants to improve health outcomes and access across Georgia through better education about preventative and primary care services.

Colleagues describe her as: Honest, reliable, and able to think outside of the box

Professional achievements: Increased Augusta University’s news coverage by more than 126 percent, securing placements in Time magazine, ABC News and The New York Times. She became director at age 24 and was tasked with communications leadership for one of Augusta’s most transformational events – the consolidation of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences Universities.

Greatest victory: Survived childhood leukemia.

Meredith Guedry

Age: 31

Education: B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Belk College of Business

Occupation: Financial Advisor

Employer: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Primary responsibilities: Developing strategies and solutions for high net-worth clients, and building a book of business that helps individuals, families, and businesses prepare for retirement and future financial needs.   

Business goal: Develop a mentor-protégé relationship program through the Chamber of Commerce to help businesses with recruitment and financial planning.

Colleague has described her as: A servant leader who sees opportunity and works diligently to make every solution successful.

Volunteerism by the numbers:  Received the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Certificate of Recognition for over 75 hours of volunteerism in 2018. As chairwoman of the Done in a Day committee for the Junior League of Augusta, Guedry is on track to donate more than 400 service hours by the end of 2019.

Economic impact: With strong, local business-client relationships in place, Guedry’s goal is to help these companies grow. She is armed with resources and a skill set to ensure companies create a lasting economic impact in the CSRA.

J. Jordan Pierce

Age: 35

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, Augusta State University

Occupation: Augusta Market President

Employer: First Community Bank

Primary responsibilities: Leading a team of commercial lenders through strategic planning, personal development, and joint calling; overseeing branch expansion to Evans, managing relationships, and reaching out to new businesses.

Long-term goals: To grow First Community Bank’s deposit market share from 1.3 percent to 3.5 percent. This would represent deposit growth of around $200 million over the next 10 years. Pierce also hopes to open three additional offices in the CSRA. 

Impressive undertakings: Co-chaired the 2018 United Way campaign, which raised more than $3 million for the region. He has agreed to chair the 2019 campaign. Pierce is also working with the Housing Authority on low to moderate income housing needs, serving with community stakeholders to attract a full service grocery store to downtown.

Distinguishing characteristics: Being present; quick witted with a strong business acumen

Is committed to: Maintaining a spirit of service to ensure that our community is invested and remains strong and dynamic. 


Molly Pafford Richardson

Age: 27

Education:  A.B.J. (Bachelor of Arts, Journalism), University of Georgia, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications

Occupation: Director of Strategic Communications

Employer: TaxSlayer

Primary responsibilities: Manages content across all TaxSlayer platforms, including the company’s websites, products, blogs, email, social media channels, influencer campaigns and public relations efforts.

Notable achievement:  Assisted with the product and marketing development of new TaxSlayer offering, refundNOW, which allows taxpayers to get up to $1,000 of their refund in less than 48 hours.

Community impact: Mentors students at the University of Georgia and Augusta University. She wants to encourage more women to consider a tech career, which parallels her belief that Augusta is the next great technology epicenter.   

Most rewarding part of her job: The opportunity to interact with so many talented and passionate co-workers who are truly customer obsessed.

Her side hustle: Working as a Pure Barre instructor. For Richardson, it’s not only a break from the computer, pen, and paper, but also a way to challenge people to believe that they are stronger than they think – both mentally and physically.   

Morgan Schaffer

Age: 25

Education: B.S. in Marketing, Miami University

Occupation: Marketing Director

Employer: Textron Specialized Vehicles (TSV)

Primary responsibilities: Overseeing the North American marketing strategy of all TSV brands, including E-Z-GO, as well as marketing functions such as advertising, social media strategy, sponsorships and lead generation.

Is passionate about: Creating activities and events to recruit and retain young talent to the Augusta area. Schaffer’s marketing department will be hosting four or five summer interns; her goal is to ensure they get the most out of both their professional experience and time in Augusta so that they will stay in the area.

Described as: Wise beyond her years, hardworking, dedicated, and professional

Community involvement: Has served as a Salvation Army bell ringer during the holidays and participated in the CSRA heart walk and heart ball. Schaffer has also enrolled in local recreational leagues, which has been a great way to network with other professionals in Augusta.

Plans to: Take a more active role in initiatives such as local food banks and women’s organizations.

Mitchell Byrd Snyder

Age: 30

Education: J.D., University of Georgia School of Law; Bachelor of Business Administration in Real Estate, University of Georgia Terry College of Business

Occupation: Attorney

Employer: Hull Barrett PC

Primary responsibilities: Represents an array of clients, including tenants, local businesses, churches and governmental bodies. Snyder specializes in construction litigation, probate litigation, condemnations, intellectual property law, business torts and contract disputes.

Long-term goal: To continue learning from other attorneys at his firm and throughout the community by actively engaging in the Augusta Bar Association, the State Bar of Georgia and the Augusta Bar Foundation.

Fun fact: Snyder is the youngest president in the history of the CSRA Tennis Association. One of his main accomplishments during his tenure was bringing the USTA Georgia Mixed State Tournament to Augusta, which resulted in a local economic impact of approximately $550,000.

Commendable act: Provided more than 50 hours of pro bono legal assistance in 2018.

Community involvement: Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce Advocacy Committee member, Vice President of the Young Lawyers of Augusta, Augusta Bar Foundation Grants Committee member, Leadership Augusta Class of 2019

Alicia Marie Sweat

Age: 29

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing, Augusta State University

Occupation: Director of Operations

Employer: Burn Foundation of America

Primary responsibilities: Managing fundraising events; liaising between Doctor’s Hospital, the Burn Center staff, and burn patients and their families. Sweat also oversees daily business office operations, implements strategies for growth and coordinates contracts.

Personal motto: We are given two hands for a reason – one hand is to help yourself and the second is to help others.

Long-term goals:  As Doctor’s Hospital plans an $80 million expansion of the Burn Center, Sweat wants to create and cultivate more business partnerships to meet the level of increased care the Burn Foundation will experience. Over the next 10 years, she wants to continue fulfilling the mission of the Burn Foundation as well as establish similar services at other JMS Burn Centers/Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America.

Impressive achievement: Corporate donations have increased by 33 percent since Sweat began at the Burn Foundation.

Colleagues say her greatest strength is: Her ability to develop sincere and lasting relationships with donors, burn survivors, volunteers and associates.   

Vanessa C. White

Age: 34

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration, Augusta University; Master of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management, Troy University

Occupation: Program Manager

Employer: Augusta University

Primary responsibilities: To identify, develop and implement programs that are mutually beneficial for the community and organization. White’s role also involves volunteer recruitment, screening, onboarding, training, engagement and retention for the medical center and university.

Most rewarding part of her job:  Working with youth through VolunTeen and VolunJag.

Significant achievement: White expanded her programs to include professional development. Each week, students participate in educational sessions to enhance their professional skills, from interviewing to how to properly use social media platforms. She also created the Well Rounded In-Patient Volunteer Training program in partnership with nursing education, the center for patients and families, and the university simulation center to best prepare medical center volunteers for their interactions with patients and staff.

Is known for: Encouraging teamwork and camaraderie among volunteers.

Has an uncanny ability to: Match the right volunteer with the right position, with the right team, to create the right outcomes.

Le’Joi N. Williamson

Age: 34

Education: J.D., University of Arkansas School of Law; B.A. in Political Science, Albany State University

Occupation: Chief Assistant Solicitor General

Employer: Richmond County Solicitor General’s Office

Primary responsibilities: Williamson is second in command, managing an office of 34 employees, including 10 attorneys. The Solicitor General’s Office prosecutes all misdemeanor offenses that occur in Richmond County, ranging from traffic tickets to DUIs, thefts, domestic violence and vehicular homicides.

Has improved operations by:  Advocating for a streamlined approach to enforcing traffic violations. With the help of changes in the law and a receptive state court judiciary, all non-serious traffic offenses can now be paid online.

Deeply values: God, family, and a sense of community. As an Augusta native who went away and returned home, Williamson is aware of the lure to larger cities for the opportunities they may provide. She hopes to use her personal experience to encourage the area’s youth to pursue their dreams in Augusta.

Community impact: Has spoken to Youth Leadership Augusta participants, local students, and Boys and Girls Clubs to emphasize using good judgment in the face of adversity and peer pressure.

Colleagues commend her: Even-handedness and leadership skills 

Article appears in the June/July 2021 issue of Augusta Magazine.

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