Skip to Main Content

Share / Save   

Saluting South Florida’s Best: The 2018 Emerging Leader Award Finalists

From technologists and thought leaders, to civic managers, a banker, and advocates for at-risk youth, finalists for this year’s Emerging Leader Award presented by the Center for Leadership at Florida International University (FIU) and in partnership with the Alvah H. and Wyline P. Chapman Foundation represent the best among South Florida’s rising stars.

The Emerging Leader Award honors South Florida’s successful, next-generation leaders under the age of 40. Nominated by the area’s more seasoned and often honored executives, the nine finalists this year champion positive change, serve their communities, and motivate others to action.

“Each of these honorees brings exceptional skills and undeniable passion to their chosen pursuits, which often take them deep into our communities,” said Dr. Mayra Beers, director, for the Center for Leadership. “As the committee reviewed each of their applications, we were once again impressed with the caliber and depth of their accomplishments and encouraged for the future they are striving to create.”

This year’s exemplary finalists

Michelle Abbs, director of Babson College WIN Lab Miami. A decade of leadership in the education sector has proven Abbs a keen strategist, fundraiser, and mentor to youth and peers alike. “Through education, entrepreneurship and social justice efforts, I've seen tremendous growth in our community. I am honored to be among those recognized for their work in ensuring the most promising future for the place we call home.”

Risa Berrin, founder and executive director at Health Information Project (HIP), Inc. The 501(c)3 she created empowers student health ambassadors to tackle the health crises of their generation. “I am so proud that Miami, my hometown, is the place where we have created one of the most innovative high school health education programs in the country.”

Matthew Hernandez, director of IT&S and facility information security officer at Westside Regional Medical Center at HCA East Florida Division. A West Point graduate, Hernandez is a decorated combat veteran who successfully transitioned to corporate America. “I serve our nation’s Gold Star Families, our future leaders, and our community because selfless service embodies who I am and it’s engrained in my DNA. I am thankful, humbled and honored to be considered for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award.”

Carlos Huerta, vice president, global banking, Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Along with managing a portfolio for large cap financial institutions, Huerta provides strategic advice and support for the LatAm region's sales leaders. He also is a board member at the WOW Center in Miami. “This nomination is a fantastic recognition to the work that I spearhead but that ultimately happens thanks to numerous individuals in these organizations.”

Brandon Okpalobi, CEO of DIBIA Athletic and founder of Dibia DREAM. From his native New Orleans, Okpalobi was a walk-on with the University of Miami basketball team who earned a full scholarship and graduated four years later as team captain. DIBIA (“Master of knowledge/wisdom” from a West African dialect) helps at-risk African-American urban youth realize their potential and achieve their dreams through the power of sports. “Advocating for our youth by championing efforts to secure their future through education and recreation is my passion. I am extremely honored to be recognized among other great young leaders who are impacting this community."

Katherine Quinn, owner, founder, spokesmodel, The Kat Agency. An avid entrepreneur, model, social activist, mentor, and a well-known Miami icon, Quinn’s national event staff and management agency transformed promotional models into male and female “Brand Ambassadors” who excel at customer service and brand representation. ”I have dedicated my life to helping talented professionals excel and follow their dreams. This nomination and recognition means the world to me. It drives me to continue my goal of creating opportunities, and genuinely impacting other people’s lives.”

Juliana Ruiz, founder, president, Bryte Box Consulting. The marketing, communications and business development consulting firm taps Ruiz’s experience as a seasoned serial entrepreneur to advise companies of all sizes on corporate branding and rebranding, while earning media coverage on national news and trade outlets. “As an emerging leader, success is empowering those around me, both individuals and organizations, to tell their stories, purposefully, authentically and unapologetically.”

Michael Sarasti, City of Miami CIO, director of innovation and technology. A career city employee and proven leader in information technology, Sarasti’s eye for web development and data transparency are modernizing city government, bringing its technology into the digital age, and improving resident’s web experience. “As a Miami native, an FIU graduate, and the son of an FIU graduate, it’s a tremendous honor to receive this award. I want to serve my community by advocating for innovative practices and technology that make government more creative, responsive, and user-driven.”

Rashad Thomas, Miami-Dade County assistant to the Deputy Mayor. A proven leader and strategic planner, Thomas’ knowledge of growth management and economic development lends oversight to key government departments. He also is a liaison to the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust, Homeless Trust, and CareerSource South Florida, and is a member of Miami Fellows Class X. “Being a finalist for the 2018 Emerging Leader Award is an honor as I strive to be a positive role model for my three sons and all of the community's in which I serve.”

To learn more about this year’s finalists, please view their features on The Center’s LinkedIn page.

The award’s three previous recipients include Matthew Anderson, a Miami native and community activist; Vance Aloupis, CEO of The Children’s Movement of Florida; and Dr. Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive.

The winner will be announced later this month and will be honored at an event to be held this fall. The Award is presented with the generous support of the Alvah H. and Wyline P. Chapman Foundation and includes a $1,000 gift to the awardee.