Belk College presents prestigious awards to alumni, honorary alumna

Four people's photos: Chris Peek,
Monday, November 20, 2023
Recipients honored for leadership, inspirational service

As Chris Peek ‘93 stepped forward to accept the Belk College Distinguished Alumni Award for 2023 during a college ceremony, he took a moment to do something that epitomizes the four honorees. He led the audience in enthusiastic applause for the four UNC Charlotte students who were chosen to present the awards to the honorees.

“We are standing with excellence,” Peek said, pointing to the students. In their acceptance remarks, Peek and the other honorees focused the spotlight on how others have supported them and described how that support has influenced their dedication to helping others.

“We are proud to honor these four distinguished honorees, all of whom support our College as volunteers, as advocates and donors, and who represent the Belk College in the business community,” said Belk College Interim Dean Dolly King at the Nov. 16 event at the UNC Charlotte Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. “They are the embodiment of leadership and inspiration not only for the Belk College and for the University, but for the Charlotte region and beyond.”

Honorees are:

  • Chris Peek '93, Business Administration, President and CEO of CaroMont Health, Distinguished Alumni Award
  • Jessica Medlin '05, Finance, Senior Vice President for ECM Solutions, an IMA company, Outstanding Young Alumni Award
  • Elliott Bryant '85, Business Administration, Executive Vice President for Altera Digital Health, Distinguished Alumni Service Award
  • Deon G. Ritchie, Facilities and Operations Specialist in the Belk College of Business, Honorary Alumni Award

Distinguished Alumni Award: Chris Peek

Peek received the college’s highest alumni honor, presented to alumni whose extraordinary leadership and accomplishments have had a transforming influence for the college or the community over a lifetime. A nominator described Peek as someone who has lived an incredible lifetime of service.

“This is truly an extraordinary honor,” Peek said. “I am humbled by being recognized by a school that has meant so much to me.” Peek described sitting in classrooms 30 years ago and envisioning the futures of his classmates, marveling at the potential they had to impact the world and other people’s lives, prepared with the transferable skills that the Belk College provided.

“To be able to stand here today and be recognized as one of those that have done something special is more meaningful than you can imagine,” he said. “You see, I have had an incredible career over the last 30 years that the Belk College prepared me for. I’ve had four employers in 30 years. I’ve worked in education. I’ve been able to work in one of the largest human services organizations in the world. I’ve worked in one of the largest local governments in the country. And now I get the opportunity to work for one of the largest independent health care systems in the Southeast.”

A 30-year resident of Gaston County, Peek has been recognized for innovative leadership with selection for the Business North Carolina Power List and the Charlotte Business Journal Power 100 List and national recognition by Becker’s Healthcare as one of the “Top 100 Community Hospital CEOs To Know.”

Peek shared two lessons he has taken to heart. “Number one, passion is contagious,” he said. “Whatever you do, find something that you love, and that love will show, and people will want more of it, which will open unlimited opportunities in your life. Number two, never forget those people that gave you the opportunity.”

Ta-Halia Fairman ‘23, who is pursuing a master’s of science in management in the Belk College after completing a bachelor’s degree in health systems management, presented the award.

Outstanding Young Alumni Award: Jessica Medlin

Medlin received the young alumni award, which honors a graduate who is age 40 or younger who has demonstrated achievement and shows a promising future in business. Medlin is Senior Vice President for ECM Solutions, an independent insurance agency in Charlotte that is part of the IMA company.

“This school is absolutely amazing,” Medlin said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the Belk College and my mentors Tom Marshall and Dr. Faith Neale. I hope I continue to give (back) as much as I can, but no matter how much I give, I continue to receive even more.”

As a Belk College student, Medlin served as president of Gamma Iota Sigma, participated in the first Risk Management and Insurance program study abroad trip to London and helped organize the first career fair for Risk Management and Insurance students. Medlin has served as an advisor to RMI students competing in the Selective Insurance Sales competition, with the team winning the national championship in 2023 under her mentorship

“Jessica has consistently placed priority on giving back to the Belk College by serving as mentor and advisor to RMI students including speaking at Gamma Iota Sigma meetings, sharing her expertise as a panelist for the Dean's Leadership Series, and serving on the RMI Golf Tournament Committee,” a nominator said.

In 2012, American Agent and Broker magazine recognized Medlin as one of the Best Young Agents in America, and in 2013 her peers chose her as Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina “Young Agent of the Year” and Chairperson of the IIANC Young Agents.  In 2021 she joined the IIANC Education Foundation’s  Board of Directors.

Torrie Preston, a Belk College junior double majoring in finance and management, presented the award.

Distinguished Alumni Service Award: Elliott Bryant

Bryant received the distinguished service award, given to alumni who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the university and the business community by giving generously of their time, energy and leadership.

“(My) story is really just a small case study in what makes UNC Charlotte so special,” Bryant said. “It is that combination of a world-class education along with a nurturing environment. There’s a reason that UNC Charlotte is so special. It is indeed an environment that has been created over the years through the vision of Ms. Bonnie Cone that allows students to come and find their voice, to be nurtured and become productive citizens. I’m so grateful to be a part of that.”

With Sunrise Business Unit at Altera Digital Health, Bryant provides leadership for a $200 million dollar business with over 1,200 team members across the globe. He has held similar leadership roles at Allscripts and McKesson and forged a distinguished career at AT&T, including receipt of two patents as a co-inventor.

Bryant is a past chair and vice-chair of the Belk College of Business Board of Advisors and serves on the Board of Directors for the Lawrenceville-Duluth Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. In 2022, Bryant was the inaugural keynote speaker for the Belk College’s first “CONNECT” event where he shared his journey as a first-generation college student from Supply, N.C. who became UNC Charlotte’s student body president.

“Elliott Bryant is a great friend of the college and the community, and a tremendous alumni leader of which the Belk College can be proud,” a nominator noted. “His devotion to UNC Charlotte and the Belk College is deeply ingrained and evidenced through board leadership, student mentorship and philanthropic support.”

Kennedy Grayden, a Belk College senior majoring in management information systems, presented the award.

Honorary Alumni Award: Deon Gray Ritchie

Ritchie received an award that was created to recognize outstanding individuals who, while not graduates of the Belk College of Business, have made significant contributions to its leadership, vision and educational mission.

Ritchie was described as a beloved member of the Belk College of Business staff who is infamously known for supporting the well-being of the students, faculty and staff with unmatched energy and dedication. Following 20 years with the Employment Security Commission, she joined the UNC Charlotte Career Center in 1996 before starting a 27-year tenure with the college.

“What an honor,” Ritchie said. “All I do is get up, come to work, and keep the faculty and staff of the Belk College happy, comfortable and safe. In 1996, I was hired at UNC Charlotte. However, in 1998, I found my home in the Belk College of Business but could never have dreamed of an award such as this filled with love and kindness from my colleagues.”

In 2022, Ritchie was chosen as UNC Charlotte's first recipient of the Richard R. Caswell Award, which recognizes state employees with 45 or more years of noteworthy, dedicated service to North Carolina. Fundraising is ongoing for a Deon and Clyde Ritchie Belk College Staff Award, to honor Ritchie and her late husband and their service to others and to the college.

“Deon has excelled in every role that she has filled over her time at the Belk College and leads by example through her daily performance and interaction with everyone she encounters,” a nominator said.” No one is more committed to our mission. I cannot imagine a more worthy recipient.”

Zach Slocum ‘17, ‘19 M.S., who is pursuing a Ph.D. in geography after earning a master’s in geography and bachelor’s degree in computer science and who has worked as a student technician and information technology intern with the Belk College, presented the award.

Photos from the 2023 Belk College Alumni Awards