Alumni Feature: The Wildcat Factor
A special kind of magic happens when Wildcats work together.
It might be the way ideas flow back and forth, growing and building and morphing along the way. Or maybe how values and intellect combine.
It might even be the memories of Shakespeare and spaghetti suppers that punctuate the conversation.
The alumni we’ve profiled in this issue are impressive in their own right—two CEOs, an athlete, a sports executive, a doctor, and a policy expert. When they combine their talents, they’re an undeniable force.
Call it magic. Call it synergy. We like to call it the Wildcat Factor.
Will Benson ’16 and Carter Hawkins ’03 Make Their Mark with the Cleveland Indians
MERE WEEKS AFTER WALKING ACROSS PRESSLY HALL IN HIS CAP AND GOWN, Will Benson ’16 was drafted to the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. After two and a half seasons with the Lake County Captains, a low-A team, Will moved up in the farm system to the high-A Lynchburg Hillcats this June.
While it’s exciting for the Wildcat Nation to cheer Will on through social media, one Wildcat has been following Will’s career much more closely. It’s his job, after all. Carter Hawkins ’03 is the Indians’ assistant general manager and oversees the player development pipeline, from the draft to the major leagues.
When Will was entering that pipeline as an 18-year-old, Carter worked exclusively in player development and was an integral part of the intense research that goes into selecting players, particularly in early rounds of the draft.
“A first-round draft pick is a huge decision for us organizationally, and we want to get as much information as we can on all the players who are going to be on our radar. We spent a lot of time trying to get to know Will,” Carter says. “Having a close relationship with the people he worked with, like Chad (Laney ’95, baseball coach) and other people at the School, helped us feel good about the selection.”
Carter even spent time back at Harry Lloyd Field to oversee Will’s workout with the Indians’ hitting coordinator—the same field where Carter himself played for the Wildcats before a collegiate career at Vanderbilt.
Developing players through the minor leagues—“getting All-Star players before they become All-Stars,” as Carter says—is one of the Indians’ strategies for long-term success. It’s a unique challenge for Carter and the rest of the front office, and a tremendous opportunity for young players like Will.
In an organization that invests a lot in helping younger, less experienced players grow, Will still manages to stand out for the way he sets goals and attacks adversity.
“Late one Saturday night during the offseason, I got a phone call from Will. Typically, if a player is calling me at an odd hour, there’s some sort of issue to work through, but Will just wanted to talk about ways to get better for the upcoming spring,” Carter remembers. “It was a welcome surprise, and shows Will’s exceptional desire to be his best self.“
When Carter reflects on his time at Westminster, he’s realized something he didn’t notice as a student: the number of people who were cheering for him all along. “Every teacher was available for Office Hours. You could pop into anyone’s office at any point. When you get into the real world and see how impactful that was, it’d be difficult not to want to be that resource for someone else.”
Ask Will, and it’s clear Carter is doing just that.
He says Carter is a giver of direct, honest advice for any player in the Indians organization, something Will appreciates as he focuses on improving his game.
After an uneven season in 2018, Will’s year has looked better in 2019, including a four-homer game with the Lake County Captains in April—the first four-homer game for any minor league player since 2014.
“I was fortunate enough to be in this position and see my hard work pay off up to this point, so now, it’s about, ‘How good can I get?’” Will says. “This journey has had plenty of spikes and some down- hill times, but that’s just life.”
Whether it plays out in the front office or in the outfield, the foundation Carter and Will received at Westminster still plays an important role in their professional lives. As Will puts it, “Westminster set me up to succeed in any situation.”
Cecily Aleem ’05 and Dr. Mark Weng ’02 Take Aim at Hepatitis A
TWO WILDCATS WHO’D PLANNED ON TRADITIONAL CAREERS in medicine and law instead found themselves using those skills to fight public health epidemics. Even more surprising? Out of about 15,000 employees at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they landed on the same 30-person team responding to an outbreak of hepatitis A.
As members of the same outbreak response team for a little over a year, Cecily Aleem Campbell ’05 and Dr. Mark Weng ’02 were part of a group responding to widespread outbreaks of hepatitis A across the United States.
Multiple states across the country have reported outbreaks of hepatitis A virus infections transmitted person-to-person. Vulnerable populations, including people who use drugs and people who are experiencing homelessness, are among those at highest risk for infection. With these compounding factors, the CDC’s response is anything but simple. That explains how both Mark and Cecily got involved.
Mark, a pediatrician with a Peace Corps stint under his belt, focuses on vaccine strategy: how can the CDC effectively supply vaccines to vulnerable populations? Cecily used her background in health law to keep Congressional staffers from affected states informed about the outbreak and worked with partners and stakeholders to develop strategies to increase vaccine uptake among those vulnerable populations.
“I’m here to understand the medical perspective, but that’s one small piece. We have to know where our partners are having issues and be able to pull in the right expertise,” Mark says.
If Cecily were preparing CDC leaders to engage with policymakers or partners, she’d rely on Mark for scientific advice and accuracy. He relies on her to communicate about the outbreak in a way that allows people outside the CDC to understand the urgency of the situation.
Problem-solving at this degree requires soft skills combined with a large amount of specific knowledge. Mark, a graduate of the Emory School of Medicine, and Cecily, who earned her juris doctorate at the University of Alabama, have both completed additional masters’ degrees— which they say seems to be a rule, rather than the exception, at the CDC.
“You train and train and train, and study hard in school, and you never know what experiences are going to come in handy.”
“This is an environment of lifelong learners who want to contribute to society,” Cecily says.
That idea of working for the greater good was a driving force for both Wildcats to join the CDC— and an idea they’d each been able to explore at Westminster through opportunities like being part of Service Council or listening to Desmond Tutu speak when he visited campus.
“It wasn’t even just about the education,” Cecily says. “Those values of service and fellowship and giving back, those were part of what we learned.”
Even the friendships that began at Westminster helped shape the direction of their lives. One of Mark’s first exposures to medicine was the time his classmate Travis Langley, now a radiologist in Atlanta, invited him to volunteer at the Shepherd Center. The two met up once again when Mark did a clinical rotation in a hospital radiology department where Travis was a resident physician.
As an officer in the US Public Health Service, Mark is a reservist, of sorts, for public health emergencies. In this role, for example, he was deployed to the United States-Mexico border to give health screenings to migrant children. Of all the lessons he’s learned over years of education and experience, a surprising one stood out: the New Testament course he took at Westminster, taught entirely in Spanish by Dr. Tom Curtis and Rose Harper.
“I was using those Spanish skills, but also thinking a lot about what Jesus Christ would do in terms of helping people in vulnerable positions,” he reflects. “You train and train and train, and study hard in school, and you never know what experiences are going to come in handy.”
The lessons Cecily and Mark learned at Westminster about motivation and commitment, problem solving to meet life’s challenges, and the importance of giving back have stayed with them. And these two Wildcats get to see the results of that education, and much more, in one another.
“I remembered Cecily as Alexander Aleem’s kid sister, but within a month of coming to the CDC, I saw how well respected she is,” Mark says. In jest, he adds some advice for current Wildcats: “Be nice to everybody in high school, even kid sisters.”
Mark and Cecily contributed to this article in their personal capacity. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the United States government.
Larry Gellerstedt ’74 and Doug Hertz ’70 Create Change Through the Power of Shared Values
DOUG HERTZ ’70 AND LARRY GELLERSTEDT ’74 BOTH SAY THEY SAW EXAMPLES OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT STARTING IN CHILDHOOD, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when each of them became invested in creating a better Atlanta. It’s a little easier to pin down when they joined forces.
Around 1990, Doug saw the need for a summer camp for kids with disabilities. He approached Larry, the CEO of a construction company, hoping to have him on board when it was time to build.
“When Doug came to see me, he had such passion and enthusiasm for the idea, and he’d thought it through so well. It was the type of thing where you say, ‘That’s something I want to be a part of,’” Larry explains. “I was running Beers Construction at the time, and we put together a coalition with our competitors and agreed to build that initial camp on a no-fee basis with most materials donated.”
That idea became Camp Twin Lakes, a place where children with serious illnesses, disabilities, and other life challenges attend summer camp with the medical support they need in place.
In its almost 30 years, Camp Twin Lakes has helped tens of thousands of children experience camp—a monumental achievement on its own. But it turns out, things were just getting started for Doug and Larry.
“The fact Larry was willing to help me with my first big idea, I think that’s what started things for us,” Doug says. “Then, when one of us needed help, we seemed to be asking each other or asking the other one to connect us with somebody.”
Doug recalls seeing integrity and directness in Larry from that initial collaboration, setting the stage for a partnership that has shaped Atlanta in several ways. “The combination of those two traits creates trust,” Doug explains.
In the late 1990s, the two came together again to make major change for children in metro Atlanta. Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center and Egleston Children’s Hospital were enmeshed in competition, each fighting for donors from the same pool and spending money advertising against one another.
Larry and Doug were part of a group of five who led a merger of the two hospitals and created Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a task Larry looks back on as “Herculean.”
So, how were they able to do it? Larry says he, Doug, and the other members of the small group that negotiated the merger had to stay focused on the hospitals’ shared priority of caring for sick children—and sway others to do the same.
“If you’ve got shared values and you’ve got similar passions and hopes, there’s a whole lot you can accomplish,” he says. “It isn’t about me or Doug. It’s about children who can get great healthcare in our community. That’s what makes you feel good.” At separate times, both later chaired the board of Children's.
“When Larry tells you he’s going to do something or get something done, you generally don’t have to worry about it happening, and it’s generally done the right way. If he tells you something, you can take it to the bank.”
The duo is now together as chair (Doug) and immediate past chair (Larry) of the Atlanta Committee for Progress (ACP), a group of CEOs who work with Atlanta’s mayor and offer business expertise in areas where it might help city government—like their current focuses on cleaning up procurement processes and ensuring the future of affordable housing.
On a board where every member is a CEO, there’s plenty of room for diverse opinions. “As a CEO, you’re used to living in a world where you get involved in a decision or make a decision, you make it happen and you live with it,” Doug explains. Not so on ACP—the decisions ultimately lie with city, state, or federal government—and, in some cases, voters.
They’ve also served together as successive chairs of the Woodruff Arts Center and are both trustees of the Georgia Research Alliance, an economic development agency that seeks to expand scientific research in Georgia, both at universities and in the startup world.
From children’s health to the arts to how city government operates, Larry and Doug say it’s their duty, and also a privilege, to be active in Atlanta’s civic scene. Having led together in these types of roles so often, they rely on their complementary leadership styles to get things done—Larry is a confident, decisive leader, while Doug invests more time in getting early buy-in.
“When I’m looking at something complicated and hard to accomplish, I come up with a better solution when I bounce it off Doug and get his perspective,” Larry says.
“There are no games with Doug. If he says he’s going to do something, you can count on it getting done. And when he says he’s doing something for the good of the community, then you know that’s his total motivation.”
Looking at their history of leadership, you could say Larry and Doug specialize in “complicated and hard to accomplish.” But time and again, they’re up for the challenge.
“All these opportunities we’ve been given are about solving challenges, and either there are lots of other qualified people who haven’t stepped forward, or there aren’t people who have the time and are qualified,” Doug says. “The challenge of getting to the right result benefiting a lot of people is extraordinarily satisfying.”
It doesn’t take many conversations around town to find someone who’s a beneficiary of the changes Doug Hertz and Larry Gellerstedt have pushed forward in Atlanta. These Wildcats, with outsized leadership skills and a deeply held belief that everyone benefits from a strong social fabric, have undoubtedly shaped our city in major ways. The impact of their 30 years of shared leadership continues to multiply.