Alumni Spotlight

Within six months of graduation, 93 percent of Samford students are employed or in graduate school. This statistic reflects the determination, creativity and passion of our more than 49,000 alumni living throughout the world. From starting their own companies to being a leader in their industries and fields, Samford alumni are continuing to positively represent Samford University.

Along with the alumni spotlighted below, you can view a list of notable alumni here. 

Notable Alumni

Justin Rudd, Class of 1991

Executive Director of Community Action Team


B.A., Business Administration, 1991


Long Beach, California


Justin recently was named one of the 25 most influential people in Southern California.

How did your Samford degree/experience prepare you for your current role?

At Samford, I studied business marketing and finance. Today, as executive director of a very successful nonprofit 501c3 that I founded called Community Action Team, I'm able to use marketing skills to organize and promote 60-70 annual projects, events and contests in the Long Beach (California) area. The focus of the nonprofit is on three welfare areas: the environment, dogs and youth. The "dogs" part is ironic since the acronym of the nonprofit is CAT.

What Samford faculty member had the most influence on you and why?

Dr. [Gene] Black was the one that had great influence for me. I was honored to sing in the A Cappella Choir for four years and did a few trips to Germany with the choir. And, I did a missions trip to Zambia with a small group from the choir. I went on to sing for Disney Special Events and enjoyed opportunities to sing for movie premieres and at [venues such as Disneyland]. As for the missions work, I'm looking forward to my third trip to rural Kenya this October to help AIDS orphans.

What would you say is the key to success in today's world? It's important to be well-rounded and diversified.

I've learned that being sharp physically, mentally, socially and spiritually will sure help you to succeed. I've also found that it's important to be good and knowledgeable at a few different things, in case a career or job does not work out. So, in addition to my fulltime work running my nonprofit, I also do beach photography of people and their dogs, coach pageant interview skills to teen and older pageant contestants, teach group fitness classes and sell ads for some of the many e-newsletters I send out.

What is a favorite Samford memory?

At Samford, some of the highlights for me were: being chosen by my peers as Homecoming King, being senior class president and speaking at graduation, being a [resident assistant] for a few years at Pittman Hall, being a Lambda Chi and being honored as brother of the year, emceeing Step Sing for two years, co-directing Step Sing one year, being active with the college group at Dawson Baptist Church, Jan-Term at the London Centre, a missions trip to Zambia, and being in the A Cappella Choir for four years. Can I choose all those as my favorites?

Why is giving back to the community so important to you?

As Christians, we are called to serve. I've been gifted with skills it takes to organize and influence, and I want to bless others in big ways. I see people hurting physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. I make time to help and get involved. I don't have a cell phone and don't watch TV or movies, so that leaves me with some extra time that I can improve myself and the world around me. Serving is what brings me joy and comfort. I want to continue to live to give.

Joel Brooks, Class of 1999

Lead pastor and co-founder of Redeemer Community Church


Master of Divinity, 1999


Birmingham, Alabama


Joel is lead pastor for Redeemer Community Church, which he helped to found in 2008. He previously led University Christian Fellowship for nine years.

What Samford faculty or staff member had the most influence on you and why?

Dr. Robert Smith (professor of preaching) is not just a great preacher, he is a great teacher of preaching. He knows when to encourage and when to challenge. He continually reminded me that the key to preaching was not in the presentation, but in the preparation. I need to go to God's word and study the preaching text--pour over it, pray over it, weep over it, let it shape me and lead me to worship. This was hard work, but once this happened, preaching was easy. Preaching simply became the overflow of this personal experience with God through His word. And, I will never forget Dr. Smith leaving me a message one night around midnight asking to meet with me. Who does that? What could he possibly want to talk about that was so urgent? All these different scenarios were bouncing around my head, and most of them ended with a fervent rebuke. Well, we met early the next morning in his office and all I can say is, that with joyful and sincere tears in his eyes, he blessed me. He prayed over me and spoke deep words of affirmation concerning God's calling on my life. I've never felt so humbled and encouraged.

What would you say is the key to success in today's world?

I'd say that the first key to success is to redefine success. Success is not looking sideways at others and seeing how you stack up and compare. Success is looking up to God and fixing your heart and mind on Him. It's obeying God in all of the small things, which few others, if any, will notice. Obeying God in these unobserved tasks becomes your secret act of worship. And ultimately, all success comes from trusting in what God has done and not in what I am doing.

What is a favorite Samford memory?

Once, our Greek professor, who sensed a lack of attention from all of the class, stopped parsing participles on the board, turned around and calmly said, "Did you know that this morning just a few miles away there are girls lined up at an abortion clinic trying to decide if they should keep or abort the life that is in them?" He then went back to writing on the board for a bit as if he hadn't said a word. After a while, he stopped again and turned back around and continued, "…and yet, here you all are sitting in this classroom, parsing Greek words. So, I'm assuming that if you are in here studying New Testament Greek instead of out there helping preserve life, then you must be absolutely convinced of the importance of what we are doing here and that God has called you to do this. If so, should you not give this class your full attention?" I will NEVER forget that class or those words. 

What was your motivation for starting Redeemer and how has it evolved through the years?

Sixteen years ago, my wife and I chose to live in a relatively poor and un-churched neighborhood on the east side of the city of Birmingham. We began reaching out to our community in small ways at first--inviting neighbors over for dinner or for porch gatherings. This led to larger outreaches and then eventually, we began praying about the possibility of starting a church. While there are many good churches in Birmingham, there was a large vacuum of Gospel-centered churches in this part of the city. Finally, we took a step of faith and started Redeemer Community Church in 2008 with 15-20 people meeting in our living room.

Why is giving back to the community so important to you?

A Bible verse that has had tremendous impact on me and my family is Jeremiah 29:7, which says, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." This is why we've been a part of not only starting a church, but also starting soccer leagues, basketball outreaches, an elementary school, community gardens, etc. as well as helping out with the existing structures that are struggling. I believe that the Gospel not only changes us individually, but can transform entire communities for the glory of Jesus.

Shannon Flynt, Class of 1991

Assistant Professor of Classics at Samford University


B.S., History and Mathematics, 1991

Why do you teach?

I think I teach because I love to learn, always have. I haven't ever found any subject dull; I love to read; and I love to know more. I think my enthusiasm to share all this fascinating information about the world is my strongest motivator.

What is one thing you want your students to know when they graduate from Samford?

This is really something they should keep in mind before they ever graduate, but a student really should try to figure out what she wants to do, individually and even uniquely, and then work her hardest to make that idea a reality. It seems that students make choices sometimes based on what their parents want, or what may work with the career and life goals of a current or future partner, or what society says matters at the moment. But, I wish they would envision their own lives, just themselves, and stay true to that vision.

How did your background prepare you for your current role at Samford?

I teach in three different divisions at Samford and three (or more) different disciplines. My liberal arts education that not only exposed me to, but really immersed me in all of the liberal arts makes this possible. I continued that course of broad studies in graduate school, and so I feel comfortable and competent--and I enjoy--teaching about everything from Homer to Contemporary Art. I can't help but make connections among all of these interests and experiences. They all work together to create a more dynamic and varied, but interconnected view of the world. I see in all of it this wonderful, long history of human activity and development, and a kinship through the ages.

You were a Fulbright scholar and now you oversee the Fulbright process for Samford. Why is this program important for a university like Samford?

I don't know if the reason I value Fulbright so much is specific to Samford. For me, Fulbright was life-changing and life-affirming. I never could have done what I did in my academic career without that Fulbright grant and Fulbright year, not just the financial support but the connections and opportunities it provided were essential. It was also affirming to know that my own interests and studies were deemed worthy and valuable enough to support, by a prestigious and international organization like Fulbright. And, I think the Samford students who win grants then get the same experience that I did.

What is your most poignant moment as a Samford faculty member?

The first thing that comes to mind is not completely a happy collection of memories. The most poignant moments or events have been the loss of faculty colleagues like Ron Jenkins and David Foreman. When we have gathered to remember them and heard from so many people - especially their students - about what mentors and educators they were, I have always felt uplifted and inspired to do a better job and to try to live up to the examples they set.

Vince Johnson, Class of 2006

Award-winning publisher of the Forsyth County News in suburban Atlanta.


B.A, Journalism and Mass Communication, 2006


Cumming, Georgia


Award-winning publisher of the Forsyth County News in suburban Atlanta.

How did your Samford degree/experience prepare you for your current role?

Samford is so much more than a conglomerate of classrooms. The experiences that I had leading, helping and growing around others helped prepare me not only for my professional role, but for life. From leadership roles in Samford's orientation program, I learned to teach, the importance of a positive attitude and the value of diverse teamwork to achieve a collective vision. Through Sigma Chi [fraternity], I learned about creative problem solving, leading highly-capable groups and the value of building things greater than yourself. There's no doubt, I wouldn't be in my current position without these experiences from Samford.

What Samford faculty or staff member had the most influence on you and why?

Jon Clemmensen and Dennis Jones, or "Dr. C" and "Dr. J", always pushed my desire to learn. I was always amazed by their commitment to teach the fundamentals of journalism while simultaneously moving forward in today's media world. Plus, they made journalism fun, and that's important to me. From ethics to creativity to harsh critiques, I'm just one of many who has learned about life and media from those two.

What is the most beneficial advice you received while a Samford student?

While I was at Samford, my dad (who also went to Samford, as did my mother, brother and sister-in-law) told me to avoid making enemies and to pick my battles. He's had to remind me of that a few times over the years, but it has altered my life immensely. So, don't fight every battle, but also, don't lose the ones you fight.

What is a favorite Samford memory?

Other than the Sigma Chi foam party I threw at Club Chaos in downtown Birmingham, with the proceeds going to Student Ministries? I had a great time throughout my time at Samford and have stories for a lifetime. Perhaps the story I tell most often is that of our fraternity's intramural softball team that finally made our undefeated run during my senior year. It had been a long, arduous road, but we finally were champions. I'll also never forget my journey with Jacob Simmons and John Roberts to try out for ESPN Dream Job. There were lots of adventures.

How have you been able to use your business and entrepreneurial experience, combined with your JMC and social media background, to help the community newspaper industry?

I think by just bringing life to it. It's an industry that has been beaten down with a sledge hammer in recent years, and I come in with a new plan to help turn old, established newspapers into new-age, community-engaged media companies. Everyone wants to be successful and relevant. I just try to open up the pathway to help talented people get there. We have such an advantage in that we have established brands and customer bases within communities, so our "name" means something. We just have to make it relevant moving forward. So my favorite thing is watching members of my staff or our community say, "You can do that at a newspaper?" It's fun to build momentum. It's fun to see people's faces light up. It's fun to help change an industry.

Michael O'Neal, Class of 1993

State Farm Insurance Agent in Vestavia and Founder of Reel Life International


B.S. Business Administration, 1993


Hoover, Alabama


State Farm Insurance Agent, Vestavia Hills, Alabama and Founder, Reel Life International

A bonus fact: Michael was an Academic All-America football player at Samford and still holds several scoring records. Interestingly, Samford’s current placekicker also is named Michael O’Neal and is from Vestavia Hills. But, the two are not related.

How did your Samford degree/experience prepare you for your current role?

The education I received from Samford has helped me tremendously in all areas of life. From classroom academics to lessons learned through athletics, I gained confidence as I learned to problem solve, relate to others, and give back to my community. I also gained lifelong friendships for which I am so thankful.

What is the most beneficial advice you received while a Samford student?

[Business professor] Edward Felton once told our class that the main difference between Harvard students and Samford students were their expectations. [Head Football] Coach Terry Bowden also emphasized personal expectations. We were taught to never settle for anything less than our very best. These words have stayed with me, and I have come to believe that what we expect and demand of ourselves strongly affects our degree of achievement. What oftentimes separates achievers from non-achievers are their expectations from the outset. 

What was your motivation for starting Reel Life and how has it evolved through the years?

My motivation for starting Reel Life International came out of a conviction on the way I have lived the majority of my own life as a Christian. The Bible is very clear that faith without works is dead, and it’s full of commands to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow. We are also commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. As believers, we are to be a light in this world and to do good works in order to glorify our Heavenly Father. Somehow, I have spent the majority of my life believing that these commands didn't really apply to me. I was quick to claim the promises of God's word while passing off the responsibilities of following Christ to others. Instead, I relentlessly pursued my own comfort and enjoyment. I was faithful in giving financially and felt that alone was sufficient. Only in recent years did the Lord open my eyes to my disobedient and selfish lifestyle. I had been a believer nearly all of my life, but had rarely had the courage to speak about my faith. Just before founding the ministry, it occurred to me that if I am to love my neighbor as myself, then I should be as concerned about their salvation as I am my own. This realization not only caused me to start stretching my own comfort zone, but to encourage others to do so as well. Reel Life trips provide participants the opportunity to serve those in extreme need and take an active role in furthering the kingdom of God.

Why is giving back to the community so important to you?

Giving back is important to me because of the clear commands we have in scripture. As believers, we are to be a light in this world and to do good works in order to glorify our Heavenly Father. I recently began to learn that 40 percent of the world's population lives on less than $2 per day, and that 26,000 children die each day due to starvation and preventable disease. The Lord has blessed each of us in America in tremendous ways, and with much blessing comes much responsibility.

How have you been able to use your business and entrepreneurial experience with your ministry involvement?

I have always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I decided the spring of my senior year that I wanted to own my own business by becoming an insurance agent with State Farm. After working as a field adjuster for seven years, I received an opportunity to come back to Birmingham and begin my agency in January of 2000. Having the ability to develop an excellent team within my agency has enabled me to carve out time to be heavily involved in ministry. In 2009, the Lord called me to begin Reel Life International, a ministry focused on assisting the church in cultivating a passion for the gospel through assisting orphans and impoverished families on short-term trips. During the trip, leaders also guide participants through an introspective study of biblical life principles which helps to promote life changing spiritual growth. Reel Life has grown to serve alongside our field partners in a variety of countries, including Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala, Belize and Peru.

Kimberly Beiersdoerfer, Class of 2002

Founder/owner of The Heavenly Donut Co. in Birmingham


B.S., Business Administration, 2002


Birmingham, Alabama


Founder/Owner of The Heavenly Donut Co. in the Cahaba Heights area of Birmingham

How did your Samford degree/experience prepare you for your current role?

In my various business classes at Samford, I created business plans, learned real world business skills in a business simulation class and even got to consult a local business as part of a marketing class. I think that my marketing classes at Samford helped to foster a love for marketing that has been extremely important in the success of The Heavenly Donut Company.

What Samford faculty or staff member had the most influence on you and why?

The late Dr. Mary Ann Hocutt helped to foster my love for marketing. In one of the classes that I took from Dr. Hocutt, we were required to work on a marketing and business plan for a local small business. This was the first time, for me, that the coursework really "came alive." I knew that at some point in my life I would want to have my own business.

What would you say is the key to success in today’s world?

Relationships are the key to success. From the relationship we've formed with our mentors and business partners to the relationships we've enjoyed with our customers, I think building new relationships and strengthening the ones we have is the key to success. We began our business as a way to be a part of our community and to minister to the local area. We always want to put our customers first. We have become a part of our customers' lives.

What is a favorite Samford memory?

I have so many wonderful memories from Samford. The first would be receiving my bid on bid day and running from the West Campus parking deck to the Phi Mu house. Also, one of my favorite memories is attending Hanging of the Green and Lighting of the Way.

What was your motivation for starting The Heavenly Donut Co. and how has it evolved?

My husband and I wanted to be a part of our community and be able to minister to those who live in or drive through our neighborhood. Our goal each day is to be a bright spot for those who visit our store, even if we do nothing more than smile and sincerely ask about their day. Over the past 18 months, we have enjoyed becoming a part of our customers' daily routines, Saturday traditions, and special celebrations. My marketing and event planning background has helped tremendously with our business. Our business allows us to sell a product that is very inviting and invites people into our store, and our faith gives us the opportunity to love our customers and encourage them throughout their day.

Heather Williams, Class of 2011

Founder and President of Tallulah's Designs


Birmingham, AL

Area of Study:

Masters of Business Administration, 2011

Favorite Faculty Member:

Dr. Franz Lohrke. He was my capstone teacher and really encouraged me to put Tallulah on paper.

The Founding of Tallulah:

For years, Heather has dreamed of designing one-of-a-kind clothing that not only covers our bodies but expresses our spirits. Heather founded Tallulah's Designs to serve the dual purpose of offering lovely yet accessible apparel to women in the South while dedicating resources to local and international communities in need. While attending Samford, Heather submitted Tallulah's Designs' business concept to the Region's New Venture Challenge, an entrepreneurial competition hosted by the Brock School of Business, and won first place in its Open Division. This was the catalyst for taking her idea of Tallulah's Designs and making it a reality.

"Beforehand, it was something I had always wanted and dreamed of doing, but wasn’t quite ready. The new venture challenge was a great opportunity for me to make my dreams a reality, " says Heather. "The opportunity to be creative every single day is so rewarding. I love that I get paid to do what makes me happy!"

Larry Kloess, Class of 2007

Founder and CEO of Cause a Scene


Nashville, TN

Area of Study:

Bachelors of Arts in Psychology, 2007

What's your favorite Samford memory?

I have a lot of great Samford memories, from the Sigma Chi Viking Step Sing show to my experience leading Derby Days and raising a lot of money for Children's Miracle Network. My best memory, however, was my time spent each August with Connections, getting to meet great student leaders on campus and helping freshmen with their transition into life at Samford. It was really inspiring during my 3 years as a Connections Leader seeing dozens of upperclassmen passionate about making the new class feel so at home on Samford's campus.


When was Cause A Scene founded?

Cause A Scene was informally founded (without a name at the time) in the fall of 2011 when 70 people gathered in my house for a house show with Seryn. In January 2012, Cause A Scene formally launched as a music blog to highlight up-and-coming artists from around the world, then in February as a house concert series. Since that time, Cause A Scene has hosted or presented over 65 shows in Nashville, primarily in houses, but also partnering with local music venues such as the Basement, 12th & Porter, High Watt and more.

Where did the idea come from?

I launched Cause A Scene out of an unending passion for discovering creative talent, particularly with bands, and for live music. It started with a simple question to one band touring through Nashville: "If you're ever back in town, would you like to play a show in my living room?" I never could have anticipated what the next 2 years or so would look like. I've been blessed to be able to make my dream a reality.

Was there a Samford experience that sparked your interest in the music business?

I think my time with Engage Magazine served as a catalyst for what was to come with Cause A Scene. I've always had a love affair with music and discovering burgeoning talent early on in their careers, but through Engage I had the opportunity to curate my first show with Needtobreathe, Paper Route, Matthew Mayfield, The Triceratops and Motel Matches in the Wright Center. It was my first real experience in the music world, and I think that period of my life really planted seeds for my desire to work with creatives full-time. 

What’s your favorite part of the job?

Without a doubt, it's the community that I'm surrounded by because of Cause A Scene. I think the house show setting fosters a sense of camaraderie that a show in a true music venue isn't able to do. The people that have come into my life through hosting shows are some of the most inspiring, creative, interesting people I've had the opportunity to meet. For me, it's all about bringing people together and having them experience something that is bigger than themselves.

Nick Barnes, Class of 2006 & Jonathan Snyder, Class of 2007

Co-Founders of Brier and Moss


Jonathan, Atlanta, Georgia 
Nick, Nashville, Tennessee

Areas of Study:

Nick graduated from Samford in 2006 with a BA in music. Jonathan graduated from Samford in 2007 with a BA in Psychology, and recently finished his pursuit of a MBA from the University of Georgia.

What's your best piece of advice to Samford students?

Never underestimate how far you can push yourself to achieve your goals. Becoming successful as entrepreneur mandates long hours, tough choices, and sacrifice. But sticking with it through those tough times will be worth it. While it doesn't guarantee success, it will teach you what it takes once you do hit on the right idea.

How was Brier and Moss founded?

The business was founded in 2011 after we discovered that companies were not making the collegiate-colored repp stripe bow ties we wanted. We both saw a need in the marketplace and decided to move forward by starting a company, Brier & Moss. We worked for about 6 months securing suppliers, ordering design samples, and setting marketing plans.

After a trip to Savannah with some of our Samford Sigma Chi fraternity brothers, we decided on the name “Moss” first after observing the Spanish moss in the trees. Briar quickly followed and we settled on the Anglican spelling “Brier” with an “e.” We launched in January of 2012 and quickly gained momentum in the marketplace. From making the official tie for the Atlanta Steeplechase to being featured in Southern Living’s “50 Reasons We’re Thankful To Be Southern,” we've been blessed to find success.

Was there a Samford experience that had an influence on the company?

Our involvement in fraternity at Samford helped shape our ideas of the southern man’s wardrobe and laid the foundation for how we market to our target audience. We also began our friendship in the fraternity as big brother/little brother.

What's your favorite part of the job?

Our favorite part of the job is being able to bring in our family and close friends to share in our achievements and participate in the brand. We recently had a photo shoot for new products, and as we do every time, held a celebration after with cast, crew, family, and friends. This journey is one we have never traveled alone, so we try to include all of the people that have taken it with us.