Introducing the PHOENIX 40 Under 40 class of 2018. We think you’ll agree: They’re a compelling group of young’uns.
40 Under 40 Data
Over the course of interviewing our 40 Under 40 inductees, we collected basic, standardized information about their origins, education and backgrounds. Before we meet them, let’s crunch the data.In February 2018, we began soliciting our subscribers and social media followers to nominate Valley residents “of a certain age” who are “moving the chains, making a difference or otherwise crushing it” in the realms of business, sports, the arts, media, philanthropy, politics, et al.
We had three criteria:
From more than 300 nominations, PHOENIX editors culled their favorites, added their own nominees and solicited nominations from eight distinguished panelists (see right). We collated the nominees and asked our panelists to rank their favorites in several broad fields (e.g. law/politics, the arts, etc.).
PHOENIX editors added their own rankings, and a final list of 40 Under 40 inductees was drawn up (actually slightly more than 40, since we grouped some colleagues into collective “spots”). Enjoy getting to know them. We did.
A Word on Millennials
Are all the sub-40 Valley achievers on our list, by definition, millennials? Not necessarily. Pew pegs the millennial starting-point birth year at 1981, but some critics place it at 1982 or later. By either standard, the 38- and 39-year-olds on our list are technically Generation Xers. One of our 2018 inductees – you’ll have to read ahead to find out who – is arguably post millennial, given a birth year cutoff point of 1999.
The People’s Entrepreneurs This trio of motivated moms registered the most reader nominations of all our 40 Under 40 listees.
Ilsa Manning, 39
Ilsa Manning “fell in love” with perfume after taking a job in England with Givaudan, the world’s largest flavor and fragrance company. The native Arizonan married an Englishman and moved back to her home state. In November 2014, Manning had an epiphany: “Everything that we can do and be is infinite. I had been looking at my life as if I hadn’t achieved anything, when in fact I had achieved everything I set out to do.” Ilsa’s Fragrances was born from that moment of self-awakening, and her first perfume is appropriately named Infinite #1. She donates 5 percent of every purchase to Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization that inspires girls to be joyful, healthy and confident. “I’m supporting positivity and encouraging everyone that they can do what they dream.”
Jacqui von Hardy, 34
In 2015, corporate executive Jacqui von Hardy left a successful human resources career to start elevateYOU, an exclusive club for successful singles ages 21-59. “We’re trying to offer something that’s organic and fun for nice guys and wonderful women to meet and hopefully build a relationship.” After a vetting process, the singles are eligible to attend events that have recently included a sushi party and a night of bourbon and bubbles at a local boutique. Von Hardy’s motivation comes from the heart. After being happily married for almost 10 years, she and her husband have built a life of abundance. “We live in our dream home. We have two beautiful, wonderful children and have an amazing network of friends... I genuinely want this for other people.”
Stephanie Nguyen, 37
Founder and owner, Modern Milk
As a labor and delivery nurse in Scottsdale, Stephanie Nguyen helped school legions of new mothers in the art of breastfeeding. After having her own children, Nguyen recognized a void in breastfeeding education and support for women in the Valley, so she became a certified lactation consultant. Realizing the need was more widespread, Nguyen opened Modern Milk, “a community wellness center to educate, encourage and empower today’s modern mom.” Since 2015, Nguyen has offered classes on pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding along with fitness and yoga at her Scottsdale boutique. “A surprising byproduct of Modern Milk is the community of moms that we’ve formed and their friendships,” Nguyen says. When the savvy entrepreneur discovered that moms were driving from the East Valley, she opened a Gilbert location and has plans for expansion into the West Valley.
The City Promoter
Thomas Barr, 31
Executive Director, Local First Arizona
Thomas Barr knows that millennials are killing chain businesses like Pizza Hut. And as the right hand of Local First Arizona founder Kimber Lanning, he knows why. “There’s a dramatic shift in how people want to spend their money,” Barr says, naturally while grabbing a bite at locally owned Spinato’s Pizzeria. “People are much more conscientious about the type of businesses they are seeking, whether it’s a cup of coffee, to get their tires changed or to buy a gift for someone.” Consumers are looking for unique businesses, and with Local First Arizona, the largest coalition of locally owned businesses in the country, Barr helps them find the kind of stores and businesses that fit the bill. The native Arizonan and ASU communications major also pushes adaptive re-use projects and initiatives that connect the City of Phoenix to source goods and services locally.
The PR Queen & The Wealth Builder
Veronique James, 37
Founder and ceo, The James Agency
Looking back on her career, Veronique James says it’s been “a whirlwind of an experience.” After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2002, James landed a job in a small Phoenix advertising agency and then transitioned to a larger corporate setting. “I’m a little bit more of a funky personality, and wearing a suit or slacks every day and working in a cube and beige walls was not for me.” After college, she married and then divorced, causing her to hit rock bottom financially. To stay afloat, James did freelance gigs on top of her day job, eventually enabling her to open The James Agency, a full-service shop specializing in local consumer brands like Spinato’s Pizzeria. Today TJA has 35 employees who enjoy the agency’s vibrant culture. “In 2010 we hit our first $1 million milestone.”
Angelica Prescod, 35
Financial adviser, Edward Jones Investments
The daughter of the first woman of color to captain a boat through the Panama Canal, Angelica Prescod grew up in a home where “yes, we can” was the norm, says the Panamanian native, who moved to Arizona in 2011. “I truly believed I could achieve anything I dreamed of, with hard work, determination, endurance, wisdom and hope.” That upbringing steers her approach to financial advising for Edward Jones, the storied financial serviced firm, where she was one of the highest-earning women of color in the U.S. in 2017. She enjoys “enabling greatness in others, creating a space for ‘Oprah’ type discussions... that create movement toward a positive goal, knowing that I played a role in their ‘aha!’ moment, and now the positive ripple effect will be felt for generations to come.” Prescod also volunteers at the Refugee Women’s Health Clinic and leads worship at Love International Ministries and Grand Canyon University.The Policy Wonk & The Visionary
The Policy Wonk & The Visionary
Christina Corieri, 36
Senior Policy Adviser to Governor Doug Ducey
Christina Corieri fell in love with politics as a first-grader after watching the Peter Stone musical 1776. She devoured books about America’s founding fathers; studied political science, history and law at ASU; and rocketed up the ranks of policy advising at the Arizona Capitol. Her guiding principles hew closely to Barry Goldwater’s manifesto The Conscience of a Conservative. “I believe in maximizing liberty and freedom,” she says. “I think Ronald Reagan said it best when he said ‘Man is not free unless government is limited.’” Her favorite part of the job is shepherding beneficial policy that, for example, expands funding for medical education or newborn health screening. “You can really make a difference,” she says. “You can see that the things you do matter.”
Telpriore G. Tucker, 36
ASU Electrochemical Researcher
The unusual first name of Telpriore Tucker – or Dr. T, as he’s known at Arizona State University, where he’s an electrochemist and research associate in the School of Molecular Sciences – comes from the Italian phrase del priore, roughly translating to “of the past.” It’s a family name, but one that fits him rather poorly, since Tucker’s impact in the Valley comes from his forward thinking. He is a renaissance man of renewable energy, once running an electronic bike company, serving on the board of the Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce and spreading the gospel of electrochemistry and its career applications – especially through eco-friendly tech like electric fuel cells – to young people, particularly those in underprivileged communities. “I want to demonstrate that chemistry is not only cool, it can be a career,” he says.
James Goodnow, 37
President and managing partner, Fennemore Craig
What happens when a hot shot, tech-savvy millennial attorney meets a law firm decades older than Arizona itself? He becomes the youngest president in Fennemore Craig’s history – and harnesses the best characteristics of Gen Y to unite lawyers of all generations. “Millennials are motivated to make change and drive industry, but in a way that is more collaborative, more entrepreneurial, and more accepting of differences than ever before,” says James Goodnow, who is also co-author of the leadership book Motivating Millennials. As president, the son of a “caring, ethical and understanding lawyer” wants to follow his father’s example, in part by encouraging Fennemore Craig’s tradition of “consistent commitment to supporting countless charities and service organizations throughout the state.”
The Marketing Guru
Joey Hall, 36
Head of Marketing, Tuft & Needle
You probably know Joey Hall’s work. As the marketing savant at internet mattress seller Tuft & Needle, he’s responsible for those big, black billboards with simple messaging like “Mattress stores are greedy” that have rocked traditional retailers. In 2017, Mattress Firm filed a fruitless lawsuit against the Valley-based company. As the “brand evangelist” for Tuft & Needle, Hall says his primary goal is to establish trust with customers, enough to get them to pull the trigger on buying one of the company’s uniquely designed mattresses in a box – purchased online without testing and delivered to doorsteps. The bold billboards, radio ads and TV spots reflect the Kentucky-born, Arizona-raised Hall’s taste for boldness. “A lot of our spots, they bring truth,” Hall says, “letting people know there has been a problem [with the mattress industry] for years.”
The Land Guys
Cavin Costello, 32
Architect and Founder, The Ranch Mine
The pioneer spirit suffuses everything about Cavin Costello’s architecture firm, The Ranch Mine. The name is a nod to the ranchers and miners who built Arizona, and the design is guided by the philosophy “honor the past, challenge the norm and inspire the future,” Costello says. Costello and his wife, Claire – who co-owns the firm – were entrepreneurial pioneers, embarking on their business in 2009, during the bleak recession. But like belt-tightening trailblazers, the couple constructed the firm to thrive with minimal infrastructure. Now they’re strengthening Phoenix’s community through homes that evoke exploration and a sense of place. Costello’s pioneer-like vision is “to create inspiring places for others to have the opportunity to imagine what’s beyond what we can see right now so we can strive for new experiences.”
Harrison Rogers, 30
Real estate broker/investor
After dropping out of high school in Mesa, Harrison Rogers was hailed as an entrepreneurial wunderkind. He launched Lexington Life Academy schools for children with autism, LCI Realty, and Hybryd – a home and office security and automation service. For eight years, the self-made millionaire’s companies doubled in revenue annually, he says. But they grew too fast. At the end of 2016, he went through “a horrific year.” Struggling to turn his companies around, he learned valuable lessons about controlled growth that he plans to implement in his next venture: buying and selling distressed businesses. “I want to be able to help business owners through that horrific time of their lives… and be known as the turnaround businessman,” he says.
Jeremy Meek, 31
Builder, Desert Star Construction
Jeremy Meek’s career began with child labor – in a good way. He started working for his parents’ company, Desert Star Construction, at age 9, for $1 an hour. “Choosing my career path was a no-brainer,” says Meek, who holds a master’s in engineering from the University of Cambridge. “My dad is my best friend, and I was fortunate to grow up working with the best of the best in the industry. They are the most passionate, creative and fun building and design professionals in the country. Many of the team members I work with are more than colleagues – they are friends.” Now, Meek is giving the next generation of builders a solid foundation: He established the Team DSC Excellence in Craftsmanship Scholarship Endowment, which funds ASU students studying construction management.
Erin Walker, 35
ASU computing professor
Cue The Jetsons’ theme song: Robot teachers could be coming to a classroom near you, if Erin Walker has any say. The assistant professor at ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering is helping develop a teachable humanoid robot to enhance middle school math classes. “Often learning is treated as a one-size-fits-all endeavor,” the native Canadian says. “There is a huge opportunity to use technology to personalize instruction to different students’ needs.” Students explain to the robot how to solve ratio problems (explaining is a great way to learn), and the robot speaks back, asking questions and encouraging the students. Walker is working on designing the robot’s dialogue to facilitate learning and boost kids’ confidence in their math skills. She’s also helping create the EMBRACE app, an intelligent tutoring system for reading comprehension.
Megan Amdahl, 38
Senior VP of Operations, Insight Enterprises
Young Gen Xers and millennials get a bad rap, but as Megan Amdahl says, “One of the things that stands out with our generation is a real focus on leadership and what it takes to build followership… Leadership used to be a given based on your title. Our generation thinks it’s much more of an earned aspect.” She’s definitely earned it; with more than a decade of experience in finance, the Tucson native is well-positioned to run the North American supply chain, logistics and profitability initiatives for Fortune 500 tech company Insight. The Tempe business-to-business firm (2016 billings: $5.5 billion) is constantly evolving, which “makes for a fun, dynamic environment if you’re a person that likes change,” says the mom of two, who even makes time to volunteer with UMOM homeless shelters.
Thomas Kaufmann, 32
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, OTOjOY
The most magical moments in Thomas Kaufmann’s career happen when someone with severe hearing loss tries OTOjOY’s hearing loop and listens to their favorite music. “Most of the time, we get to see tears within just a few seconds,” he says. “It’s powerful.” He also enjoys handing headphones to concertgoers with normal hearing: “Their jaws drop, their eyes light up and they start dancing.” The German music industry veteran knew he could protect his hearing and enjoy crystal clear concert sounds at lower volume through tech that was practically unheard of stateside. So the UC Santa Barbara chemistry Ph.D. candidate left school, moved to Arizona and founded OTOjOY to take it mainstream. “I think we’ll be completely transforming the way we access sound at live events,” he says.
J.D. Mesnard, 37
Republican Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives
Piano-playing music major J.D. Mesnard originally intended to compose scores for film and TV, but an undergrad internship at the Arizona Legislature struck a new chord. “I fell in love with it,” the lifelong Republican says. “I love the people, the process and being part of something bigger than myself that could make the state a better place.” Now one of the youngest speakers of the House of Representatives in the country, Mesnard says his age “makes me much more cognizant of the longer-term future of the state, because it’s a future I’m going to see personally... I also hope that my participation [in government] inspires younger people to get involved.”
Sean Bowie, 34
Democratic Arizona State Senator
In 2016, Democrat Sean Bowie flipped the traditionally red District 18, which encompasses Ahwatukee and parts of Tempe, Chandler and Mesa. Perhaps he won because he’s willing to reach across the aisle; last year, he was named most bipartisan member of the Arizona Senate. Or perhaps it’s because he fervently champions a cause everybody can get behind: education. “I’m really passionate about making our schools stronger,” says Bowie, who previously worked in ASU’s provost’s office. “Having an educated workforce and world-class universities here is absolutely critical for the region to grow and thrive.” Though he’s younger than most politicians, he thinks “having millennials at the Legislature... gives us a fresher perspective on a lot of the issues that are impacting our state.”
The Counterculture Activist & The Animal Advocate
Dagoberto Bailón, 31
Founder, Trans QueeR Pueblo
Dagoberto Bailón is a realist. Looking at the political climate of 2018, he knows his activist organization Trans Queer Pueblo, dedicated to serving LGBTQ communities of color, faces a tough road, with both queer identity and migrant rights being politicized now more than ever. But the Mexico-born organizer is an optimist, too. “If we can keep our communities together through these hard times, I think we’re going to make it,” says Bailón, the recipient of the 2108 Arizona Humanities Rising Star Award. Bailón – who first started organizing in 2006, and formerly worked in data management – formed TQP in 2016 and dedicated it to education, community-building and leadership development for trans and queer migrants of color in Phoenix – a group often underserved by activist orgs, he says. “We realized it was important to have a space where people could exist being their whole self.”
Destiny Taylor, 31
General Manager at Arizona Small Dog Rescue
Phoenix-born and -raised “dog whisperer” Destiny Taylor is familiar with the down and dirty details of pet rescue. In 2015, she took over as general manager of Arizona Small Dog Rescue, a nonprofit, no-kill rescue shelter that was mired in dysfunction and mismanagement, and rebuilt it into one of the Valley’s most productive and humane shelters. She got her start in the Sunnyslope-area shelter as a dog bather, picking ticks and cleaning coats. The single mother has always gathered strays. “I first started – well, my mom will tell you – basically as a child, bringing home animals,” Taylor says. She’s got four dogs and two cats of her own, all rescues, and spends her time working with the community to educate and get small pups adopted, enjoying a rush of matchmaking altruism every time: “The need for animals is so extraordinary.”
The Nonprofit Executive
Daniel Openden, 39
CEO, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center
People are often surprised that Daniel Openden – who has helmed one of the country’s most respected autism centers since age 35 – has no family members on the spectrum. Instead, his career began in college when he accidentally signed up to collect data for an autism center. The experience was inspiring, he says. “These kids, who everybody thought were hopeless, were actually able to achieve really remarkable things, and I was watching them change right before my eyes.” He taught nonverbal children to speak, earned his Ph.D. in special education, and became SARRC’s clinical services director at 28. Now, he’s passionate about teaching therapists and “building an inclusive, supportive community for people with autism” in the Valley.
The Student Advocate
Kaylie Medansky, 28
Executive director, Swift Youth Foundation
During high school, Kaylie Medansky volunteered with Swift Youth Foundation, a Valley nonprofit founded in 1980 that fosters positive mentor relationships between economically disadvantaged youth ages 8-18 and college-bound teens. Now, she serves as the organization’s executive director and oversees afterschool and Saturday enrichment programs at Title I schools in the Paradise Valley School District and overnight summer camp in Prescott. Medansky is proud that many of the children served by Swift Youth Foundation return to staff programs, become mentors and graduate from college. Providing positive experiences for underserved youth is the most rewarding part of Medansky’s job. “Helping kids makes me feel like I’m doing my part to give youth the opportunities they deserve,” she says. “We’re developing future leaders for the Valley.”
The Health Czars
Michael Jodscheidt, 35
Founder, Simply Cardio
As a young boy in Illinois, Michael Jodscheidt became interested in lifting weights because he was a “little guy,” in his words. “I knew I couldn’t get taller, but I could build muscles, get bigger and make myself strong.” Weightlifting morphed into bodybuilding and then a five-year stint of competitive body building. In September 2016, Jodscheidt unveiled Simply Cardio in Old Town Scottsdale, a gym “for busy people” that offers a 30-minute, full-body workout on state-of-the-art equipment led by a certified personal trainer. Owning Simply Cardio combines Jodscheidt’s broad knowledge of fitness and his desire to help people change their lives through exercise. “I always knew I wanted a purpose-driven career.” The plan is to open several outlets locally and then franchise nationally.
Zaman Mirzadeh, 39
Neurosurgeon, Barrow Neurological Institute
When it came time to specialize, Zaman Mirzadeh – then a University of California, San Francisco, med school student – chose neurosurgery because of a fascination with the nervous system. “The human experience is largely due to our highly developed brain... We have so much to learn about how our brain and nervous system processes the world,” he says. At Barrow Neurological Institute, Mirzadeh’s clinical specialty is pain. He treats patients with targeted drug delivery pumps and electrical neuromodulation, during which he can target specific parts of the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and the brain. In the lab, he studies metabolic disorders. Mirzadeh hopes that through his work and research at Barrow, the Valley will be seen as a place for revolutionary pain and metabolic disorder treatments. But the most important focus in Mirzadeh’s life is family. “I really cherish the time with my kids and my wife.”
The Sports Stars
David Johnson, 26
Running back, Arizona Cardinals
Before fracturing his wrist in a Week 1 contest against Detroit Lions last season – a freak occurance he admits ranks “not so high” on the average NFL running back’s list of expected and/or feared injuries – Johnson was about to solidify his status as the NFL’s pre-eminent playmaker. After all, his 2016 season was one for the ages – a 20-touchdown campaign that propelled him both to the Pro Bowl and the top of fantasy fan drafts nationwide. Expectations this season are a bit more muted, which is fine by the low-key, family-oriented University of Northern Iowa product, who’d much rather shine the spotlight on his Mission 31 Foundation, a support effort for seriously ill children and their families. “My own son D.J. was born prematurely... and I remember what a difficult experience that was for our family – so this is our way of helping.” As for the on-field stuff, we have a feeling he’ll be topping fanstay drafts again in no time.
Mason Kern, 18
NBC Sports Radio show host
Growing up in Southern California playing soccer and basketball, Mason Kern aspired to become a professional athlete. “That dream died at some point, but I knew I wanted to be around sports,” he says. People often told Kern that he was loud and talked a lot, and that he was kind of a “character.” Those colorful attributes led him to a sports broadcasting career. He got his first taste of live TV during high school on San Diego Living doing product reviews, which led to sports broadcasting in his senior year. Kern is currently the host of The Sports Watchdog Radio Show on NBC Sports Radio AM 1060. “My dream is to broadcast basketball as a sideline reporter for a specific NBA team, or possibly in studio.” He just
finished his freshman year at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
John Chayka, 28
President of Operations, Arizona Coyotes
John Chayka is a walking superlative. The native Ontarian is the president of hockey operations – essentially, the general manager – of the Arizona Coyotes at age 28, making him the youngest general manager in the history of U.S. professional sports. Tapped to run the team at 26, he makes big-picture decisions about the future of a $300 million sports team despite being younger than some of his players, epitomizing the youth-oriented approach of the franchise, which was the third-youngest team in the NHL last season. Chayka brings an entrepreneurial, Moneyball-esque approach to the Coyotes, using data and statistics to build a hockey culture in the desert. And though the ’Yotes are in a rough patch, the team is all in with Chayka, insiders say. “This market deserves a winning team, and I’m excited to work together with the entire staff of the Coyotes to achieve that goal,”
says Chayka, who is expecting the arrival of his first child this summer.
Gabriela Muñoz, 38
Muralist and Printmaker
Gabriela Muñoz has always worked with her community in mind. The printmaker and muralist is producing a project with Douglas, Arizona-based artist M. Jenea Sanchez to render the images of two women – a Douglas resident with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status and a family member of Muñoz’s who moved back to Mexico, from where Muñoz immigrated to the U.S. as a teen – on a portion of the border wall in Agua Prieta, Mexico. Her work illuminates the challenges, triumphs and impact of immigrants, especially women, in their communities, which also translates to her work as artist programs manager at the Arizona Commission on the Arts. In that capacity she supports local artists through grant-making and financing of residencies, conference trips and more.
Liliana Gomez-Dieckman, 35
Liliana Gomez-Dieckman wants to bring dance to the people. “My thing is: How do I make dance more accessible?” says the 35-year-old “dance maker,” a term she prefers to “choreographer.” Working in a variety of traditional and unorthodox spaces, from Phoenix Art Museum to vacant lots on Roosevelt Row, Gomez-Dieckman aims to instill an appreciation for dance in casual art fans. As the producer of the BlakTina Dance Festival, former associate director of the Dulce Dance Company, and now an independent producer, the Guadalajara, Mexico-born, Phoenix-raised artist earned a 2018 Governors Award nomination, but remains focused on the non-institutional. “I think there’s a broader conversation that’s happening,” Gomez-Dieckman says, “and I think that conversation started with people doing nontraditional work.”
Sean Oliver, 29
Sean Oliver knows Phoenix isn’t a showbiz mecca. But for the Arizona-raised filmmaker, that’s a feature, not a bug. “We’re not a city that is the industry, like Hollywood... where if you set up a camera you’re going to instantly have people asking about permits,” Oliver says, praising the Valley’s lack of jaded, grasping palms. Show up and ask someone if it’s OK to film in Phoenix? No problemo. “Phoenix is very wide-eyed and just enjoying the magic of film,” Oliver, who first started shooting films in fourth grade, says. Which doesn’t mean people aren’t taking notice of Oliver’s work out in La La Land: In 2017, his short film Natural Promotion won the Danny Elfman Challenge and was screened by The Nightmare Before Christmas composer at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
It might take a few spins through the buzzy Pixies-meets-Weezer rock of Fairy Bones’ new album 0% Fun before the heavy themes land, but they’re in there. “The record is really about me coming to terms with the fact that I’m bipolar, and that doesn’t mean I’m insane,” front woman/guitarist Chelsey Louise, 27, says. Plenty of pop songs deal with mental health, but rarely with as much humor and punch. Formed in 2013 by Louise, guitarist Robert Cuica (27) and the rhythm section of brothers Ben (27) and Matthew Foos (32), the band has shared stages with indie big shots like Marcy Playground, Fuel and Kongos. But it’s listeners sharing how they’ve personally connected to the lyrics that surprise Louise the most: “I’m really happy to say that has happened a lot,” Louise laughs. “I’m surprised by it, because every day I’m like, ‘Nobody listens to things I write!’”
The Story Tellers
Matt Bell, 37
Author Matt Bell likes reading as much as he likes writing. For real: Check his official website, and you’ll find detailed reading logs. And those logs tell side stories about the inspirations behind the five published anthologies and novels to his credit, including his most recent novel, the dystopian thriller/character study Scrapper (SoHo Press, 2015), which earned a favorable review in The New York Times. It’s that attention to the words of others that makes Phoenix feel like home for him. Since moving here from Michigan in 2014 to teach creative writing at ASU, Bell has been moved by Phoenix’s fertile writing scene. Like his Midwest home, he found the city full of people “starting magazines, starting reading series, starting presses, and doing things outside of the New York publishing world... I think that’s necessary, to have a vital local literary community.”
Megan Finnerty, 38
Founder and Director, the Storytellers Project
Megan Finnerty likes stories. But she’s particularly fond of great stories, and with her live storytelling series The Storytellers Project, she’s helping people craft them. Finnerty grew up in Indiana, near Lake Michigan, but moved to Phoenix in 2002 to work at the Arizona Republic as a culture reporter. For the writer and speaker, journalism and storytelling dovetail neatly. Sponsored by the Republic’s parent company, Gannett, Finnerty has taken The Storytelling Project national; it “is designed to do the exact same thing the newsroom is, which is to serve and reflect the community while developing empathy among those community members,” Finnerty says. Inspired by her mentor, O.G. Arizona storyteller Liz Warren of South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, Finnerty has coached more than 1,700 storytellers, and whether the stories are funny, heartbreaking or somewhere in between, they all hit on her essential goal: truth.
Stephen Polando (33), Mike Spangenberg (33) and Nicholas Polando (29)
Founders and owners, State Forty Eight
Mike Spangenberg, Nicholas Polando and Stephen Polando wear their love for Arizona on their sleeves – literally. In 2013, the Chandler-raised trio launched State Forty Eight, an apparel line that celebrates the Grand Canyon State. “Arizona was missing a ‘by the people, for the people’ kind of company for clothes, so we seized the day on that idea,” Stephen says. Rooming with his childhood t-ball teammate at the time – the fashion-loving Spangenberg – Stephen recuited his design-savvy kid brother Nick to the team and the rest is history: S48 quickly found its way onto the backs of Valley bros and babes from Scottsdale to Waddell. The team hopes their ages and philosophy of giving back can be an inspiration. “I believe our success encourages others to start something of their own early in life that they are passionate about,” Mike says. Nick adds, “We are more than just a fashion line. The amount of work we do with charities and companies that give back allows us to be more impactful than we could’ve imagined.”
Stina Sieg, 35
KJZZ senior field correspondent Stina Sieg has a résumé that includes jobs at what seems like every small newspaper in the U.S., including: the Arcata Eye (described as a “mildly objectionable weekly”), the Silver City Daily Press, the Moab Times-Independent and The Mountaineer, of Waynesville, North Carolina. “When you go to the grocery store, you see someone affected by your reporting,” Sieg says of working at community papers. It’s this experience in the trenches that has helped her become one of the Valley’s most prominent storytellers, both as a KJZZ correspondent with an emphasis on arts and human interest – she recently won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her story on a deceased friend – and as a performer at events like Bar Flies and Vinyl Voices, and at experimental drama venues like Space 55.
Rachel Leingang, 29
Arizona Republic Reporter
Rachel Leingang caught the journalism bug at age 15. “I’ve always been really curious, and I think it was the only outlet where I could ask people a ton of questions without getting in trouble and being told I’m annoying,” she says. The North Dakota native moved to Arizona in 2012 to attend graduate school at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She landed at the Arizona Capitol Times reporting on local politics and helped break the Representative Don Shooter (R-Yuma) sexual harassment allegation story that resulted in Shooter’s expulsion from the state Legislature. In March, Leingang joined the Arizona Republic covering higher education. She hopes to continue telling people’s stories in the Valley and informing the community about what’s happening right outside their doors. “I love being a reporter.”
The Food Pros
Lauren Bailey, 38
Co-founder and CEO, Upward Projects
Lauren Bailey’s “love affair with Phoenix” started the minute her mom dropped her off at Arizona State University’s Manzanita Hall in 1998 at the beginning of her freshman year. Within 11 years, Bailey went from college coed to restaurant co-founder, partnering with Craig DeMarco to open Postino on Central. In 2009, the duo founded Upward Projects, a mini-empire of hip, casual restaurants that now includes Postino WineCafé, Windsor/Churn, Federal Pizza and Joyride Taco House. The energetic Bailey – she currently sits on five Valley boards – credits her success to approaching challenges with a positive attitude and a willingness to take risks. She enjoys seeing people connect and celebrate special moments at her restaurants. “They decide to get married or buy a house or take a job or have a baby (while) at our tables. It’s such an honor and a privilege to provide that space.”
Preston Thoeny, 32
Head brewer, Wren House Brewing Co.
For Preston Thoeny, brewing beer is like a complicated puzzle. “There’s biology and chemistry, and then there’s lots of elbow grease and horse sense to make a product that’s great, that needs to be reproducible and something that people want to come back for,” the native Coloradan says. “It’s kind of like a moving target.” It’s that kind of conceptual sensitivity that has helped Thoeny win acclaim and respect within the Valley’s tight-knit brewing community, catapulting Wren House onto Yelp’s recent 10 Best Breweries in the U.S. list. As craft brewing explodes in Arizona, Thoeny likes the trend he sees toward smaller neighborhood breweries like Wren House – located on 24th Street near the McDowell Miracle Mile – because it creates a relationship with locals. “We like to do traditional beer styles, but we [also] like to experiment and think outside the box sometimes.” His favorite brew? The humble lager.
Tamara Stanger, 37
Executive chef, Helio Basin Brewing Co.
Helio Basin Brewing Co. executive chef Tamara Stanger has garnered a lot of media attention since winning Devour’s People’s Choice Competition in 2017. “All I know is I work really hard, so it’s obviously paying off,” the Utah-born, Latin-reading, Italian-heavy-metal-listening chef says. Self-taught in the style of Native American cuisine that dominates her menus, Stanger has been knocking around Valley kitchens for more than 17 years, finally finding acclaim at the genre-bending brewery. “I’ve been a craft beer nerd for over a decade. There are so many ways you can pair beer with food.” Stanger is adamant about using native ingredients in her recipes and wants to put Arizona cuisine on the map. “Arizona food really doesn’t have an identity. I would like to completely change what people think about food here.”
Dream TV News Team
We couldn’t pick just one from the Valley’s abundant roster of young TV journalists, so we assembled an entire broadcast.
Jared Dillingham, 3TV Anchor/Reporter
Anchor/Reporter Age: 37
First TV job: Great Falls, Montana. “It paid minimum wage, but I got to spend a lot of time in Glacier National Park, went down into an ICBM silo, and rode a steer on live TV.”
Journalism hero: Dan Rather. “When I was growing up, whenever my family was in Manhattan, I would drag them to the CBS Broadcast Center, hoping for a Dan Rather encounter.”
Since joining 3TV a decade ago, New York state native Jared Dillingham has evolved into the station’s workhorse reporter, covering everything from forest fires to freeway shooters, and serving as a weekend anchor. But his proudest segment may have been the time his father demonstrated one of his “eccentric hobbies” – making maple syrup – for the home audience. “The ratings were huge!” the Syracuse University graduate remembers. “He has beehives in his backyard, so maybe a honey segment is in his future?”
Kristy Siefkin, FOX 10 Weather
First TV job: Weather anchor and reporter for KRON 4 News in San Francisco
Journalism hero: Joan Lunden. “Growing up watching Lunden on Good Morning America, I was drawn to her intelligence, warmth and adventurous spirit.”
As a TV reporter in Oakland during the Occupy Wall Street tumult of 2011, Kristy Siefkin recalls taking refuge from violent protesters inside her news van only to have her windshield smashed by rocks, and donning a gas mask for an expected police raid. Given that history, is she ever bored covering weather in famously weather-deprived Phoenix? “Reporting on Arizona weather is never boring!” the California native demurs. “There is always something to talk about, whether it’s wildfires in spring, dust storms and flash floods in summer, record heat in fall, or strong snowstorms in winter.” Siefkin’s enthusiastic nature – along with her reporter chops – made her an instant hit upon joining FOX10 in 2012. “I want viewers to know they’re seeing the ‘real Kristy’ and that my passion for educating Arizonans is genuine,” she says, describing the secret to good weathercasting. “Also, don’t wear green!”
Caribe Devine, 12 News Anchor
First TV job: Receptionist at KFOX TV in El Paso
Journalism hero: Barbara Walters. “As the first female co-anchor of a network evening news, she was a trailblazer for women in this profession and has a one-of-a-kind style.”
Having labored for years in the salt mines of TV weather before graduating to the anchor desk, 12 News main lady Caribe Devine is a bona fide newsroom success story. Perhaps more impressively, Devine – who joined the NBC affiliate in 2005 – performed the feat without having to jump markets. “Not only was it important for me to stay in Phoenix, because I love this city, but it was just as important for me to stay at 12 News,” the Texas native and mother of two says. “In many ways, I feel like I’ve grown up at 12 News both personally and professionally. It’s a great place to work with great people, who work hard every day to put out the very best TV news product we can deliver.”
Kylee Cruz, CBS 5 Morning Reporter
First TV job: Reporter/anchor for KXLY (ABC) in Spokane
Journalism hero: Katie Couric. “I admired her ability to cover a wide range of stories while always finding the right tone and approach.”
Yuma native and ASU grad Kylee Cruz joined the country’s 12th-largest media market (i.e. Phoenix) at the ripe age of 24, and remains one of the Valley’s youngest full-time reporters. That Cruz would find her way back to Arizona seems a fait accompli – she was ASU homecoming queen her senior year, following in the footsteps of Valley broadcasting legend (and former Fiesta Bowl queen) Jineane Ford. Quick and good-natured, Cruz is a good fit as CBS 5/3TV morning reporter, gamely handling the a.m. hootenanny that morning viewers favor – including participating in a mock Dating Game with Aussie male strip-tease entertainers Thunder from Down Under. “I awkwardly asked each of them questions while blindfolded,” she says. “When I took the blindfold off to meet the winner, I was bright red and totally embarrassed.” How’s that for a cup of joe?
Jason Snavely, ABC 15 Sports
First TV job: Grand Junction, Colorado. “My starting salary was $17,000. [I] struggled to put food on the table, but I wouldn’t trade the experiences or the friendships made for the world.”
Career high point: “I was able to cross off a bucket list item in 2015 when I had the opportunity to cover the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.”
When silky-smooth ABC 15 sports reporter Jason Snavely says he can’t remember any amusing on-air gaffes, he’s not being coy. All things being equal, he’d prefer to have the anecdote. “I really don’t have any notable flubs, unfortunately,” the California-bred ASU journalism school graduate says. “I know, it’s hard to believe myself.” Since joining ABC 15 in 2015, Snavely has distinguished himself as a relaxed and keen-witted understudy to longtime 15 sports anchor Craig Fouhy, taking particular delight in covering the Phoenix Open: “It’s a sporting event unlike any other in the world.”
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