Outstanding Alum Award

An annual award celebrating alumni accomplishments

The Alumni Association of the South Carolina Governor's School for Science & Mathematics (GSSM) bestows an annual award honoring the achievements of one exceptional alum. Nominated and voted upon by GSSM alumni, the Outstanding Alum Award is presented to a person who, through their post-GSSM education, work, and personal endeavors, has exemplified the success one can achieve through the foundation of a GSSM education. Nominations for the 2024 Outstanding Alum will be accepted through July 18, 2024. This year's Award will be presented at Convocation on September 5, 2024.

2023: Joseph Pelfrey '95
Joseph Pelfrey, 2023 GSSM Outstanding AlumJoseph is the deputy director for NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. Just look at his professional bio on the NASA website! He has dedicated his career to furthering human space exploration, a dream that no doubt drives many young people to pursue science and math studies.
2022: Dr. Jamie Lathan '96
Dr. Jamie Lathan, 2022 GSSM Outstanding AlumJamie is a talented educator and a leader in distance education. In his role at NCSSM, he supports faculty, models pedagogy and technology integration, and ensures the academic success of NCSSM's distance education students. He is a 2019 Kenan Fellow for Teacher Leadership. He received the 2020 UNC Board of Governors' Award for Excellence in Teaching, one of the highest teaching honors in North Carolina. He has transformed the lives of countless students in his 20+ years of teaching, and his career reflects the lifelong joy in learning that GSSM prizes in its graduates.
2021: Dr. Brygg Ullmer '91
Dr. Brygg Ullmer, 2021 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Brygg Ullmer is Chair of the Human-Centered Computing (HCC) Division and Professor within the School of Computing at Clemson University. After GSSM, he earned a B.S. in computer engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from MIT.

From his nominator: "Over the past year of working under Dr. Ullmer as a research assistant, in addition to studying under him as a student, I believe that he really represents the possibilities available after attending GSSM. He is one of the pioneers and subject matter experts in the field of tangible user interfaces, which was the subject of his doctoral research at MIT. He is the recipient of multiple awards, among them the ACM UIST 2009 Lasting Impact Award, Business Report's 2008 40 Under 40 Awards, and a 2018 National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation grant for pilot development of a collaborative visualization system called “Enodia." He also leads the Tangible Visualization group in the School of Computing at Clemson University. One of the aspects of Dr. Ullmer that stands out to me as a fellow alum is his continued involvement with GSSM almost 30 years after his graduation. He has continued to engage with GSSM via his field of research, tangible visualization. Although the pandemic has dampened the ability of his research group to physically engage this summer, he has ambitious plans for collaboration in the future."

2020: Wilson White '99
Wilson White, 2020 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Wilson White, GSSM Class of 1999, is the Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at Google, where he manages Google's global strategy, campaigns, and advocacy initiatives on artificial intelligence and advises senior product and business leadership on the public policy implications of product decisions.

After GSSM, Wilson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University in 2003. He went on to pursue his law degree at the University of North Carolina, where he was inducted into the James E. and Carolyn B. Davis Society, Carolina Law's highest honor for leadership and service. In addition to his work at Google, Wilson is an angel investor, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, and a member of the Aspen Institute's Socrates Program.

"This award is special to me because throughout my career, I've been asked to navigate and solve some very difficult challenges, and I've been able to do that in large part because of the tools and experience I gained during my two years at GSSM," Wilson said when presented the award at GSSM's annual Convocation.

2019: Dr. Nathan Kwan '04
Dr. Nathan Kwan, 2019 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Dr. Nathan H. Kwan is a blueprint of how one can achieve unique success through the foundations of GSSM education. Graduating from the Governor's School in 2004, Nathan received his Bachelor of Science in physics and electrical engineering at Clemson University. He later earned his Masters in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University and his M.D. from Tulane University School of Medicine. Unlike many others in his position who would have chosen to go into a hospital, private practice, or academia, Nathan elected to serve the nation and joined the U.S. Army as part of the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a Flight Surgeon.

Nathan has had a stellar career as a doctor and a serviceman. He served as the Chief Resident of the U.S. Army Residency in Aerospace Medicine from 2018-2019. In 2019, he won the prestigious RAM Bowl, an international competition between aerospace medicine residents. He has also made a direct impact on U.S. Army practices as he has rewritten aeromedical policy for hypertension in U.S. Army aircrew members. Further, Nathan passes on the knowledge he has obtained through his studies and service as a regular contributor to the Army Aviation magazine for its "Ask the Flight Surgeon" article.

With a GSSM education, all paths are possible, and Dr. Nathan H. Kwan is the premier example. He is a standard that demonstrates how one can take the advanced curriculum in math and science offered by the Governor's School and manifest it into a career trajectory unlike any other. 

2018: Kevin Short '93
Kevin Short, 2018 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Kevin Short received his Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from Clemson University and a Master of Science in Environmental Studies from the Medical University of South Carolina. He is pursuing a Master of Education in Interdisciplinary STEM Education from The Citadel.

In 2008, Kevin became the first GSSM alumnus to serve as a summer research mentor for a current student. He was employed as a Research Associate at ArborGen, a biotechnology company in Summerville. A year later, he made a change and began his teaching career. Currently in his eighth year in education, Kevin is serving as a science teacher, department chair and science liaison at Charleston County School of the Arts. Kevin was recently recognized as his school's Teacher of the Year and a Top 5 finalist for Charleston County School District Teacher of the Year.

Kevin has been an integral part of GSSM's summer camps in the Lowcountry for many years. Kevin has been an iTEAMS teacher since the second year of its existence and has also taught at CREATEng since the camp was launched. He engages the students and brings the curriculum to life. As a science teacher and summer camp instructor, Kevin has impacted the lives of hundreds of South Carolina students and instilled in them an appreciation of science and technology.

2017: Dr. Jason Hong '93
Dr. Jason Hong, 2017 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Jason Hong is a professor in the Human Computer Interaction Institute, part of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He works in the areas of usability, mobility, privacy, and security, and his research has been featured in the New York Times, MIT Tech Review, CBS, CNN, Slate, the World Economic Forum, and more.

Jason is on the editorial board for ACM Transactions on Human Computer Interaction and the Communications of the ACM, and previously IEEE Pervasive Computing. He is an author of the book The Design of Sites, a popular book on web design using web design patterns. Jason is also a co-founder of Wombat Security Technologies, which was acquired by Proofpoint in March 2018.

Jason received his PhD from Berkeley and his undergraduate degrees from Georgia Institute of Technology. Jason has participated on DARPA's Computer Science Study Panel (CS2P), is an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, a Kavli Fellow, a PopTech Science fellow, a New America National Cybersecurity Fellow, and previously held the HCII Career Development fellowship.

2016: Mary Ellen Player '00
Mary Ellen Player, 2016 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Mary Ellen, a Lake City native, always excelled but credits GSSM for her trajectory to Harvard for undergraduate studies. She graduated magna cum laude and went on to earn her MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

According to the alumni who nominated her, Mary Ellen's professional success has been an inspiration to GSSM and to young women considering careers in STEM fields and business development. She is always willing to give her time and talents to the school, whether it’s speaking at Career Days, making financial contributions to ensure the school's success ongoing, or taking time to broadcast the school's greatness and impact. 

2015: Dr. Errol Fields '94
Dr. Errol Fields, 2015 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Errol began dedicated training in social behavioral research and public health while completing a Master's in Public Health in sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, New York. He now serves as assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Johns Hopkins, with a joint appointment to both the medical school and the school of public health.

From his nominator: "Errol is a great example of the diversity of students GSSM produces. He speaks out for minorities in multiple areas and has defied the odds to become an outstanding alumnus. Through his many accomplishments, he has remained in touch with our class and has kept his head out of the clouds, although his Facebook pictures suggest he visits them often."

2014: Shontavia Jackson Johnson '99
Shontavia Jackson Johnson, 2014 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Originally from Aiken, Shontavia teaches intellectual property law at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa, and runs two businesses: Jackson Johnson LLC, a law firm serving entrepreneurs and startups in the areas of intellectual property, business and contracts, and Johnson International Group, a consulting firm designed to help new and aspiring entrepreneurs create businesses that help them lead wealthy and fulfilling lives.

In the words of her nominator: "If the mark of an outstanding alumna is her commitment to give back to the state of South Carolina, Shontavia is the perfect choice. Despite her education taking her all over the country and the world, she has always ended up back in South Carolina, endeavoring to leave it a better place than she found it."

2013: Eddie Nance '00
Eddie Nance, 2013 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Eddie received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of South Carolina and served in the United States Navy from 2006 to 2012. During his time in the Navy, Eddie was the only African American officer on his submarine. He once drafted a letter to the U.S. Secretary of State regarding a top secret mission that resulted in an award for his unit and contributed to our national security.

Eddie left the submarine, but not the Navy, to earn a master's degree in inorganic and analytical chemistry from the University of Idaho. While there, he also served as an assistant professor of naval science. He is now pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor.

2012: Aziz Ansari '00
Aziz Ansari, 2012 GSSM Outstanding Alum

While Aziz has not pursued a traditional math/science career, he has brought significant awareness to GSSM and South Carolina. His comedy is rooted in his life experiences, including his time at GSSM.

Aziz was involved in a variety of endeavors at GSSM, including the tennis team. Prior to being accepted to GSSM, he attended Marlboro Academy in Bennettsville. Following graduation, he attended New York University, where he earned his marketing degree in 2004. He then shifted his career to become a comedian and actor, landing the role of Tom Haverford on NBC's “Parks and Recreation.” He was named “The Funniest Man Under 30” by Rolling Stone in 2011. 

2011: The Honorable Shiva Hodges '91
Shiva Hodges, 2011 GSSM Outstanding Alum

Shiva is a United States Magistrate Judge in South Carolina and one of the youngest federal judges in the country. She is a frequent lecturer to attorneys, legal professionals, and law students and is a member of several professional bar associations including the Federal Bar Association and South Carolina Women in Law Society.  She is a former member of the GSSM Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Shiva graduated from the University of South Carolina Honors College in 1996.  Thereafter, she obtained a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law and a Master of International Business Studies from USC's Darla Moore School of Business. After law school, Shiva worked as a commercial litigator for Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein, LLP.  In 2004, Shiva left private practice to enter public service, serving as the career law clerk to the Honorable Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. She was appointed to the federal bench in April 2010.

Criteria for the award include post-GSSM education, work, and personal endeavors; commitment to GSSM and/or the State of South Carolina; and commitment to “spreading the word” and increasing the reach of GSSM on the state or national stage.