Students studying outside the library

Power players

Meet seven Wofford women making their mark in Atlanta

Wilson 382
2018-07-17

Seven women in Atlanta have leveraged the liberal arts educational experience they gained at Wofford into fast-paced, productive, and, frankly, awesome careers. They’ve made Wofford proud with the lives they’ve built and the contributions they make to their families, professions and communities.

Serving children: Dr. Lynette Wilson-Phillips

Surrounded by children, answering staff questions, chatting with teachers and administrators, checking messages on her phone — Dr. Lynette Wilson-Phillips, Class of 1986, is in her element.

It’s career day at Salem Middle School in Lithonia, Ga., and Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels, Wilson-Phillips’ latest venture, is a star attraction. Next year the full-service mobile pediatric clinic will serve children in the school, providing a continuum of quality care that many have not had access to before.

“There is no other model, even nationally,” says Wilson-Phillips. The bus will make weekly rounds at the school as well as others in the district, and offers telemedicine capabilities as well.

“We took the walls off the private practice,” says Wilson-Phillips, who works the unit on Fridays. “I get such a charge from it.”
According to Wilson-Phillips, one of the best things about Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels is that children with chronic conditions, such as asthma, allergies, ADHD or elevated BMI, are learning to take responsibility for their own health outcomes. Kids’-Doc-On-Wheels is a nonprofit, and because of need, Wilson-Phillips is raising support for a second bus to serve another underserved school district in the metro-Atlanta area.

“This was truly a spiritual vision,” says Wilson-Phillips. It also has been a family affair — from support from her three daughters (Rochelle, Ryann and Rhamsei) to business planning from her husband, Jonathan, and her niece; to continued volunteer staffing from close family friends. “It’s as if God has been saying, ‘Just do it. The resources will come.’”

After Wofford, Wilson-Phillips graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and completed her residency at Emory University. Not long in private practice, she had the opportunity to buy Decatur Pediatrics Group PA. Her father, Decatur Wilson, advised her to invest in the real estate as well as the medical practice. She has followed that model, with one exception, and now owns and operates practices in Clarkston, Lithonia, Smyrna and Covington, all staffed by physicians who are African-American women, and she’s opening doors for others as well, including Wofford students Aliyah Keels ’17 and Lacey Robinson ’18, who she connected with through the Black Alumni Summit. She has met other Wofford students through the medical school mock interview program.

“Wofford instilled in me confidence,” she says. “I was a resident assistant in Greene, a teaching assistant for Dr. Dobbs and Dr. Hubbard, and I served on the Judicial Commission. ... My commitment to Wofford is to continue to be available to students.”

Driving research: Rebecca Meyer Brewster

Rebecca Meyer Brewster, Class of 1983, lives and works within 10 miles of the convergence of I-85 and I-285 in Atlanta, otherwise known as Spaghetti Junction, for the third consecutive year the worst traffic bottleneck in the country. As the president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), Brewster knows this as well as anyone.

ATRI has the largest bank of truck GPS data in the world, and it’s used by public and private stakeholders to inform policy and investment decisions. Ultimately, the work of ATRI is designed to make the trucking industry safer and more productive.
“Every single thing in your life comes on a truck,” says Brewster.

As an English major at Wofford, Brewster dreamed of becoming the editor of The New York Times. The recession, however, led her in a different direction. She worked as a debt counselor for the Chapter 13 bankruptcy court, then found a job as a fleet analyst for Moen Inc. Her next opportunity came with the Cary (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce as public and governmental affairs director. A few years later Brewster was in Atlanta and read an advertisement for a public policy analyst with ATRI.

Now she spends about a third of the year on the road speaking, meeting, consulting and sharing ATRI research. Her passion for highway safety has led her to become a national expert in traffic incident management.

“I’m a bear when it comes to editing our reports,” she says. “We deal with complex research, and we have to communicate so everyone from CEOs to fleet directors to drivers to members of Congress can understand.”

That’s where her Wofford education resurfaces.

“I think a campus like Wofford really builds your confidence, sets high expectations and gives you opportunities to shine,” she says. “The attention to detail I developed also has been critical to the research we do.”

The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Rolling Stone and most recently Southern Living all have published stories on ATRI research, and with more studies in the pipeline — on autonomous technology, traffic, driver wellness, safety, the lack of truck parking and the driver shortage, for example — Brewster expects more. And while she’s not editing The Times, the paper recently cited ATRI research in a lengthy piece about Breezewood, Pa., and the “intersection of politics and transportation policy.”

Simplifying tax: Mary Vickers

As vice president of tax for Cox Enterprises Inc., Mary Vickers, Class of 1989, and her team of 60 are responsible for managing the taxes for the privately held communications, media and automotive services company and all of its subsidiaries. That means financial statement reporting, income tax, sales tax, regulatory tax, property tax, and more for more than 200 companies. Vickers is on the books as an officer for most.

“Now with tax reform, I’ve become more popular,” she says. “My job never gets boring because we always have some new challenge. Businesses change, laws change, technologies change. I could do the same thing for 10 years, and it would not be the same.”

The ability to adapt has definitely been a key to her success, as has the ability to communicate. Vickers is in meetings at least four to six hours a day. In her current position, she does lots of presentations; she shares bottom lines with CFOs and business partners; she recommends ideas to minimize tax liability. She tells PowerPoint stories using numbers and charts.

“I’m paid to take complicated facts and make them easy to understand,” she explains. “I give people the information they need without overwhelming them.”

Vickers, who played basketball and was on Wofford’s first women’s tennis team and first cross country team, went to work in the accounting department for Turner Broadcasting right out of college. She worked with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte as well before joining Cox. In 1996, she earned a Master of Tax degree from Georgia State University.

“I never considered myself ambitious,” she says, “but I like the work. I like figuring things out. I was always more focused on the work than the title.”

While she sometimes misses the creation and analysis of spreadsheets, Vickers loves traveling the globe on business, and she appreciates the opportunities for advancement she’s been given at Cox.

“I’ve reported to my boss for 15 years. She’s always pushed me out of my comfort zone. I think she saw something in me that I’m not sure I saw in myself,” says Vickers. “That’s why I’m where I am today.”

Righting wrongs: Katina Holloman Lett

Katina Holloman Lett, Class of 1994, decided to become an attorney when she was 5 years old watching “Perry Mason.”
“I loved the part where the defendant would say ‘OK, OK, I confess. I did it,’” she says. “I wanted to right wrongs. I still do.”
That’s why she loves her work with the American Cancer Society. Now in her third year as senior counsel in the organization’s global headquarters, Lett finds great satisfaction in her work — whether negotiating laptop leases for IT or considering legal implications with research and development.

“Most of the millions of dollars raised for research comes from people giving $25, so we are very considerate of where money is going,” she says. “Everyone has been touched in some way by cancer, which makes the people who work here passionate about furthering the mission of the organization.”

Lett grew up in Spartanburg. She’s convinced that sometimes her father would drive past Wofford’s front gates just so he could say: “You see that fountain. That’s where you’re going to college.” Wofford’s reputation for preparing future attorneys for law school was also a plus.

Lett joined ROTC at Wofford to become an Army officer and obtained a three-year scholarship. Through ROTC she gained leadership skills and overcame her share of obstacles, not the least of which was carrying a log around campus as part of ranger training.

“My Wofford memories are so heavy on ROTC … ‘Here’s the log. You’re going to carry the log. You’re going to live with the log.’ … Do they still have to carry a log around campus?” Lett smiles at the trip down memory lane. “Without challenges, though, you don’t become a stronger person.”

Lett met her husband, J., also an attorney, at the University of Georgia School of Law. They have two sons, Jason (17) and Justin (13).

“People always say do what you love, but you have to do what you love that you also can excel,” says Lett. “I’ve been really blessed with a job I love, with the experiences I’ve had and with the people I’ve met.”

Making connections: Laura Thomson McCarty

Laura Thomson McCarty, Class of 1988, came to Wofford planning to follow a pre-med track. Instead, she discovered an aptitude for making connections across disciplines — between art and politics, history and religion, literature and cultures.
“It was spring, the dogwoods were blooming and George Martin’s 17th century poetry class spoke to me more than botany,” says McCarty, who went to the University of Georgia after graduation to pursue a Ph.D. in comparative literature.

Now she makes connections for a living — a skill she says came out of her experiences at Wofford — as president of Georgia Humanities. Georgia Humanities is a nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities that works to preserve and promote the cultural stories, treasures and values of the state.

“I always knew that I wanted something that would let me keep learning,” she says. “Working in the humanities lets me do that.”

According to McCarty, there is always something new to read or think about or do. Over the past few months she has mentored National History Day students at middle and high schools across the state, attended exhibition openings, visited university campuses to help scholars with their project ideas, considered team-building strategies and met with board members to discuss new partnerships and funding opportunities.

More and more McCarty finds herself fascinated by history. In 2006, she was asked to write the article on Coretta Scott King for the New Georgia Encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org) and has since written a reference biography on King for public libraries and schools.

“It was intimidating to summarize the accomplishments of this amazing woman, but the experience built my confidence and has led to continued research, writing and engagement in public history,” says McCarty, who has served as president of the Georgia Council for Social Studies and president of the Georgia Association of Historians.

For McCarty, Wofford is a part of her history, as well as her present and future. Her father, the late Henry Mann Thomson Jr., was Class of 1950, and her sisters, Rebecca Thomson Blake ’90 and Mary Jane Thomson ’94, also carried on the family tradition. She occasionally returns to campus for Homecoming but is an avid fan of the Terriers via the internet. More recently, she has been participating in the Wofford online alumni book club.

“I love seeing a Wofford sticker in Georgia,” she says. “I’m really proud to be a Wofford alum here in Atlanta.”

Promoting public health: Catherine Hastings Zilber

Catherine Hastings Zilber, Class of 1998, still thanks Dr. Jack Seitz, professor of government, for opening her eyes to global issues. She discovered a particular interest in public health and went to Washington, D.C., right after graduation to work in the field.

After finishing graduate school at the London School of Economics and Political Science, she got the offer that she had been waiting for: an opportunity to work overseas with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“I still can’t believe I said no at first,” she says. “I went to bed that evening realizing that I had made maybe the biggest mistake of my life. It makes me laugh now to think about how scared I was. When I emailed them back the next morning to say I had changed my mind, I thought they’d think I was crazy; instead they said, ‘Well good.’”

Zilber spent two years in Kigali, Rwanda, working with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. There she also met her husband, who followed her and her work to Ethiopia and Jamaica. They had two children — Noa (9) and Ben (6) — while abroad.

Five years ago, Zilber and her family moved to Atlanta, where she is a team lead for programs with the CDC Foundation, a nonprofit that mobilizes private sector resources to support the work of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Zilber helps manage a department of over 100 staff who are implementing public health programs in the United States and in 130 countries.

“I work with an amazing group of epidemiologists, researchers and program managers,” says Zilber. “I’m on the implementation side of the house, responding to a wide range of public health issues, including malaria, meningitis, Ebola, Zika … and the emergency response after last year’s hurricanes.”

In addition to majoring in government at Wofford, Zilber also graduated with a major in French, something that definitely has come in handy on her projects in West Africa and Haiti.

“It makes a difference when you can communicate with colleagues in the ministries of health as well as local partners,” she says. “I’m constantly learning, and knowing that we are making an impact and creating new partnerships to make the world healthier and safer is definitely inspiring.”

Improving health care: Taiwanna Billups

When it comes to conversations on health care, Taiwanna Billups, Class of 1997, is definitely one of the smartest people in the room.

After graduating from Wofford, she enrolled in the dual MBA/MHA program at Georgia State University, securing an internship and then an administrative residency as a financial consultant with Aetna. That experience led to work with KPMG Consulting/BearingPoint in McLean, Va., Constella Group/SRA International in Atlanta and now Anthem’s Diversified Business Group Insights team, based in Atlanta. She has worked in management consulting, public health and health informatics on the way to her current position as a staff vice president within Anthem Inc. A few years ago, Billups enrolled in Thomas Jefferson University’s doctoral program in population health sciences, applied health economics and outcomes research track.

She’s fascinated by public health and finds herself talking about medical costs, risk, systems integration and affordability, even when hanging out with friends.

“People are starting to realize how broken our health care system is. In the U.S., health care is a commodity, a privilege,” she says. Billups believes that preventive health care should be a right. “The U.S. has the highest medical costs per capita in the world, but not the best health outcomes.”

Wofford volleyball teammate Courtney Howe ’97 encouraged Billups to consider a career in health care administration. Billups, who was a mathematics major on the pre-med track, hasn’t regretted the decision. She’s had opportunities to work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, Veteran’s Affairs, major insurers and Fortune 500 corporations. After Sept. 11, 2001, public health preparedness was pushed to the forefront of science, law and national security. She was a part of the consulting team that helped structure the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s initial Office of Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response.

Now with Anthem she is playing her role in shaping consumer-centric, affordable, value-based health care, which means paying for value, not volume, something she calls “a real shift in the health care market.”

Behind the long hours of work and travel, Wofford remains a constant.

“Wofford has always given me a sense of community,” she says. “It has afforded me so many opportunities that I leveraged to get where I am today. That’s why I give, but that’s also why I’m an ambassador for Wofford, no matter where I am.”