FSU PC honors 2018, 2019 Notable 'Noles

Erica Martin

FSU Panama City recognized six outstanding alumni as Notable 'Noles during a reception Jan. 28 for their continued commitment to education as part of a 20-year campus Homecoming tradition.

The 2019 Notable 'Noles include Panhandle Educators Federal Credit Union Senior Vice President of Finance Karen Barss, Property Appraiser Dan Sowell and Centennial Bank VP/Commercial Lender Dustin Stokesbary. Software developer Kenneth Ayers III and marketers Brittany Cole and Karen Hurst were named the 2018 Notable ’Noles. The 2018 awards were delayed because of Hurricane Michael.

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 77 Notable ’Noles, accounting for less than 1 percent of the campus’s alumni.

2018 Notable 'Noles

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. 


2019 Notable 'Noles

Panhandle Educators Federal Credit Union Senior Vice President of Finance Karen Barss (2005) has been dedicated to staying current in her field for 34-plus years.

Since she began working in the credit union industry as an accounting clerk in 1985, she has continued to attend workshops and conferences across the nation to stay abreast of current and upcoming rules and regulations regarding accounting procedures, investments and asset liability management. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2005 then completed the Certified Credit Union Executive program.

As a primary leader on the management team that has led Panhandle Educators into multiple “top lists” for many years, Barss is “a Credit Union superstar,” Chris Ford wrote in her nomination. Since she joined Panhandle Educators in 1990, she has seen the organization grow from just over $20 million in assets and two locations to a network of six locations totaling $250 million in assets. Panhandle Educators FCU is now a leading Florida Credit Union with an A+ Top 200 rating by Lending Tree and has a 5 Star rating by Bauer Financial.

Barss is a past board member and treasurer of the Gulf Coast Area of Credit Unions and past board member of the FiServ User’s Board. She volunteers at her church, St. Andrew Assembly of God, and participates in a quilt ministry that makes and donates quilts, blankets and pillowcases to various organizations in town.

“Karen loves letting people know she’s an FSU PC grad,” Ford wrote. “With just one glance at her office, you’ll see she rocks garnet & gold.”


Bay County Property Appraiser Dan Sowell (1988) began his career in the property appraiser's office in 1987 while he was a social science student at FSU Panama City. A Panama City native, he obtained his real estate brokers license in 1994 and was certified with a Florida Appraiser designation in 2008. He was elected as the county’s property appraiser the same year.

Before discovering his passion for real estate, Sowell's career began as a career advisor for disabled individuals at the United Cerebral Palsy Center. He also worked in the banking industry at First Federal Savings and Loan and owned a carpet golf business.

He has a strong sense of service to our community and has served on numerous civic and volunteer boards, such as United Cerebral Palsy, where he was Chairman of the Board. In 1995 they had the most successful goal tournament Bay County had at that point raising over $40,000 for the charity with the Hubert Green Pro-Am Classic, all led by his leadership. Dan has also faithfully served on the Board for the Panama City Rescue Mission and is a member of the Panama City Commission's handicapped concerns advisory committee. He is also an active member of First Baptist Church.

“Dan’s outstanding service in office coupled with his dedication and support in our community, make him deserving to be honored as a Notable Nole,” Jody Waller wrote in his nomination.


Dustin Stokesbary (2006), the VP/Commercial Lender at Centennial Bank, has been an avid FSU Panama City supporter since earning his degree in business administration in 2006.

He has worked in the banking industry for almost 20 years and served as a branch manager of Innovations Federal Credit Union while earning his degree. To utilize his business skills, he transferred to commercial banking at Prosperity Bank, then Coastal Community Bank, which was purchased by Centennial in 2010.

“I had several years of banking behind me and somehow knew nothing about it until Centennial Bank took over,” Stokesbary said. “I’ve been there now for the last 9½ years and still grow every day.”

Since he began serving on FSU Panama City’s Development Board in 2014, Stokesbary has grown from a member to chairperson of a committee to vice president then president of the board in 2019. FSU Panama City’s golf tournament chairman, he has revamped the fundraiser to be more engaging with supporters and draw more sponsorships.

He is a past president of the Panama City Beach Rotary Club and a marathon/triathlon participant. He teaches Sunday school, helps grill at events during bike week, participates in the angel tree program and serves with the children's ministries at Woodlawn United Methodist Church. He also volunteers to work concessions with his wife, Barbara, at Miracle Strip Junior Women's Club event such as Gulf Coast Jam, Sand Jam, Softball World Series and Jeep Jam. Proceeds from the concessions of these events go to community causes like PCB Schools, Community Assistance, College Scholarships, Christmas Charities and Easter Blessings.

“He is genuinely a nice guy who is fun to be around,” Randal Hamilton wrote in his nomination. “He brings an unusual high level of energy and commitment to FSU PC.”