BritX Talks to Feature Alumni Award Winners

The Ludington Center in downtown Albion will host five alumni speakers today as a part of the BritX Talks Homecoming event. Since the Alumni Awards Ceremony is being held the same weekend as Homecoming this year, all BritX Talks speakers are either 2020 or 2021 Alumni Award recipients (Photo by Sam Semerau).

Today, five Albion College alumni will take the stage at the Ludington Center from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to present BritX Talks as a part of homecoming festivities. 

The event, organized by Institutional Advancement and the Career and Internship Center, has been an annual part of Albion’s homecoming activities since 2017. BritX Talks was preceded by Briton Career Connections, a student-alumni networking event that launched in 2013. As attendance numbers failed to meet expectations, the format was changed to include talks provided by alumni followed by time for networking. 

While last year’s BritX Talks featured only faculty speakers to reduce travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BritX Talk speakers are typically alumni with unique career paths that utilize their Albion education. 

This year, all five speakers are set to be recipients at the Alumni Awards Ceremony which is to be held on Saturday. The awards ceremony will feature both 2020 and 2021 winners, as the traditional April date for the ceremony had to be rescheduled due to COVID-19. 

Dr. Coletta Thomas, ’76

Coletta Thomas, ’76, is a recently retired clinical psychologist. Prior to this past summer, Thomas spent 14 years with Common Ground Sanctuary, a 24-hour crisis service agency in Royal Oak. 

Thomas also spent 25 years teaching at the Detroit Institute of Commerce, General Motors Pontiac Skills Center and the Michigan School for Professional Psychology, where she also earned her doctorate in psychology.

According to Thomas, her long history of leadership and teaching stems from her time at Albion. 

“The leadership role at Albion was more or less thrust onto me,” said Thomas, in a video posted by the college. “African Americans were a small group, and they would gravitate towards me for help, assistance, answers, issues that arose. To my surprise, that persisted the whole time I was there.” 

Thomas’s position of leadership at Albion did not stop with her graduation. She has also served on Albion’s Board of Trustees and headed the Albion Alumni Board, among other activities serving the Albion community and alumni. 

Thomas’s talk, “The Journey from Albion to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist,” will be from 2:03 p.m. to 2:23 p.m. in the Ludington Center. She is the recipient of the 2021 James L. Curtis Alumni Leadership Award, which is given to Black alumni that have significantly contributed to Albion College and its students. 

Caryn Ryan, ’79

Caryn Ryan, ’79, spent 20 years working for Amico and BP. At her peak positions within the companies, Ryan served as vice president of finance and CFO of global oil trading operations. While happy with her position, Ryan felt dissatisfied with the corporate world. 

As a result, Ryan left BP to pursue a company of her own that focuses more on giving back. In 2009, she started Missionwell LLC, a virtual business office service. Madewell works with nonprofits to provide business services such as human resources and financial advice in order to let nonprofits focus on providing their own services.

The creation and management of Missionwell has helped Ryan connect more with what is important to her. 

“Money isn’t so important,” said Ryan, in a video posted by the college. “Money is meant to be given away. Money is meant to do good with. It’s not meant to be kept because it will not make you happy.” 

Ryan’s talk, “Have the Half Time of Your Life,” will be from 2:23 p.m. to 2:43 p.m. in the Ludington Center. She is one of the winners of the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, which is given to alumni that demonstrate success in career achievements as well as contributions to their community. 

Shea Gardner, ’12

Shea Gardner, ’12, spent her time at Albion as a soccer player. Through the sport, she learned resilience and strength. With that strength and resilience, she and her husband co-founded Maroon Village

Maroon Village is a nonprofit organization that works with student-athletes in the Chicago area to utilize sports as a means of cultivating healthy environments, tapping into connectedness and building social mobility skills. These skills work to improve the lives of student-athletes both on and off the field. 

Gardner is also a yoga instructor that teaches at nonprofits in the Chicago area to support trauma survivors. 

Both her work as a yoga instructor and at Maroon Village showcase Gardner’s mission of using athletics as a tool in the healing process. 

“Athletics is an effective tool for healing,” said Gardner, in a video posted by the college. “Because not only does the connection of mind, body and spirit come into play, but you are involved in a team and we all are coming to understand how important it is to rely on other people.” 

Gardner’s talk, “Healing Through Helping Others,” will be from 2:43 p.m. to 3:03 p.m. in the Ludington Center. She is one of the winners of the 2021 Young Alumni Award, which honors alumni that have succeeded in the first 10 years after their graduation.

Craig Kirby, ’85 

Craig, Kirby, ’85, first played golf his sophomore year at Albion in a game with his Delta Sigma Phi fraternity brothers. Years later, he would establish Golf. My Future. My Game, a nonprofit organization that teaches young people, people of color and women to play golf as a means of career-development and networking skills. 

Prior to working with his nonprofit, Kirby was a political analyst. He worked with such figures as political activist Jesse Jackson, former President Bill Clinton and Senator Mark Warner, among others. Now, Kirby utilizes his political senses to help those with less opportunities. 

“Now, I’m in a different kind of politics,” said Kirby, in a video posted by the college. “I’m working with both the privileged and the marginalized. To work with both of those groups, it takes a lot of political astuteness.”   

Kirby’s nonprofit organization also works to help people enter a more level playing field on their career path.  

“The golf course is the green board room,” said Kirby, in a video posted by the college. “It’s where business relationships are created and decisions are made.” 

Kirby’s talk, “Purpose, Belonging and Action,” will be from 3:03 p.m. to 3:23 p.m. at the Ludington Center. He is a winner of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, which is given to alumni that demonstrate success in career achievements as well as contributions to their community. 

Dr. Bonciel Griffin-Burress, ’97

Dr. Bonciel Griffin-Burress, ’97, is an orthodontist and owner of Griffin Orthodontics and Ivory Dental Specialists in Chicago. She is the first African American female to own a multiple office orthodontic and dental practice in the Chicago area. 

“I never thought that this would happen,” said Griffin-Burress, in a video posted by the college. “It just happened by God’s grace and opportunity that was put before me and I just chose to jump on it.”

Griffin-Burress works both to give back to her local community and to her Albion Community. In 2017, she established the Gregory and Patricia Griffin Scholarship at Albion, which is named after and honoring her parents. The scholarship is given to Chicago-area African American Albion students looking to pursue a career in healthcare. 

Griffin-Burress continues to work on her own legacy by mentoring interns and assistant trainees at her practice, which also features a dental-assistant training program. 

Griffin-Burress’s talk, “Navigating Dental School and Beyond,” will be from 3:23 p.m. to 3:43 p.m. at the Ludington Center. She is a winner of the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award, which is given to alumni that demonstrate success in career achievements as well as contributions to their community. 

About Sam Semerau 45 Articles
Sam Semerau is an Albion alum from Oakland Twp., Mich. She double majored in English and History. She worked for the Pleiad from spring 2020 to spring 2022 and served as editor-in-chief for the 2021-2022 school year. She began Pace University's MS in Publishing program during fall 2022.

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