FSU Panama City recognized three outstanding alumni for their continued commitment to education as part of a 20-year campus Homecoming tradition.
Software developer Kenneth Ayers III and marketers Brittany Cole and Karen Hurst were named the 2018 Notable ’Noles.
The award is given to FSU Panama City alumni who demonstrated excellence as students and have made outstanding contributions to the community and within their careers. Since the award’s inception in 1996, FSU Panama City has recognized 74 Notable ’Noles, accounting for less than 1 percent of the campus’s alumni.
Kenneth Ayers III (’07, ’08) has used the skills fostered at FSU Panama City to entertain gamers throughout the world. As senior software engineering for Blizzard Entertainment, he has contributed to several games, such as “World of Warcraft,” “Heroes of the Storm” and “Diablo Ill.”
Ayers started his career as a website developer at 18 through his own business then began working for Applied Research Associates. He maintained a 4.0 GPA while working full time, earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in software engineering from FSU Panama City.
After being awarded Florida's Outstanding Graduate in Software Engineering in 2008, he went on to become ARA’s youngest program manager. He then became a project manager and senior computer scientist for the Navy, leading a team through internet protocol upgrades and developing reporting and tracking web applications.
After a nationwide engineering talent search in 2009, he joined Blizzard Entertainment, the world's largest online gaming company.
Ayers has served as a missionary in Honduras and aided underprivileged children and AIDS research worldwide through cycling charity events. He also helped fund the Alisa Kinsaul Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund at FSU Panama City.
“Kenny's outstanding achievements in the workforce and community reflect great honor upon the Florida State University Panama City family,” his father, Ken Ayers Jr., said in the nomination.
Brittany Cole (’11) proves you can succeed when faced with obstacles.
After her father died unexpectedly when she was 18, she was determined to become a success. She started her career as a morning producer at WMBB News 13 while working toward her bachelor’s degree in professional communication. Working midnight to 9 a.m., she maintained a high GPA and received the highest ratings in the station’s history, according to Nielsen.
Since then, her career has spanned from vice president of communication at the Bay County Chamber of Commerce, the director of marketing and public relations at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, the marketing and physician liaison at Hope Radiation Cancer Center, the director of communications for the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and her current position, director of marketing and public relations for Life Management Center of Northwest Florida.
Throughout her professional endeavors, she puts others first. While at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, she often interacted with patients, crying with them when there was tragedy and celebrating successes, said her former assistant, Rhonda Lavite.
“She is an exceptional person,” Lavite said in the nomination. “If there is ever a person that needs something, Brittany is there to help them.”
After Hurricane Michael, Brittany became a champion for the region, doing radio and television interviews with national news networks and coordinating donation efforts.
She has served as a March of Dimes NWFL board member, Take Stock in Children mentor, a member of the First Responders Appreciation Task Force and a Junior Leadership Bay Steering Committee member.
Throughout her career, she has won numerous awards from the Associated Press, the Florida Association of Chamber Professionals and the America Advertising Federation.
Karen Hurst (’87) embodies Innovation Federal Credit Union’s motto of people helping people.
As the senior vice president/chief marketing officer at Innovations, she helped design and implement Mad City Money, a financial simulation that teaches Bay County students the importance of budgeting and financial responsibility. She also helped establish the Innovations Federal Credit Union endowed scholarship for Florida State University Panama City.
For the past 12 years, she has been part of the executive management team that oversees the entire credit union, and she directly manages human resources, marketing, facilities design and strategic functions of the credit union.
“She has such an enthusiasm and passion for whatever she takes on, and it is contagious to those who are lucky enough to work with her,” Nancy Luther wrote in her nomination. “Karen truly embodies the credit union philosophy of giving back to the community and is a shining example to the many team members who work at Innovations.”
Karen was in the inaugural graduating class at FSU Panama City, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing while working full time and raising a family. She began her career as a marketing assistant at Tyndall FCU and eventually moved up to vice president of marketing. She then moved on to Panhandle Educator's FCU, launching their first formal marketing department, before beginning her current role at Innovations.
Karen also is a longtime supporter of the United Way of Northwest Florida, serving two terms on the Board of Directors and three years as Communications Committee chair. Through Innovations, she has aided the American Heart Association Heart Walk, the Rescue Mission Klothes for Kids, Coats for Kids and many others.