Young Alumni Working to Revitalize Downtown Macon

Young Alumni Working to Revitalize Downtown Macon

December 10, 2014

Several CLA alumni are working to revitalize downtown Macon. Josh Rogers, Erin Keller, and Alex Morrison have returned to Macon and are passionate about the preservation, sustainment and development of the downtown area.

Erin Keller, Vice President for Development, NewTown Macon

From left, Josh Rogers, Erin Keller and Alex Morrison.Keller graduated from Mercer in 2008, where she was a member of the women's basketball team. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications, Keller earned her master's degree in higher education leadership from Valdosta State University. She returned to Mercer in 2010 and worked as an admissions counselor and later coordinator of alumni programs in Mercer's Office of Alumni Services.

Earlier this year, Keller accepted a position as vice president for development at NewTown Macon, a non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the community's vision of a comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous plan for revitalizing downtown. There, Keller is responsible for capital campaigns and annual fundraising, grant writing and management, donor relations, and special program management. She said that, as a Mercer alumna, she feels strongly about downtown revitalization because she loves the University and understands that its success is largely dependent on the accomplishments of its city.

"I love Mercer, and being an employee [at Mercer] for the last four years afforded me the opportunity and pleasure to give back to a place that given me so much," she said. "At the same time, I understand that Mercer can only go as far as Macon and downtown goes. For Mercer to continue to attract high caliber students, increasing their visibility with hopes of being a household name, a thriving and robust downtown is a necessity."

Keller, whose fondest memory at Mercer includes signing her name in the administration building, said it wasn't until she returned to Macon that she began to appreciate a revitalized downtown.

"It's been my time as a professional in Macon that has piqued my interest and passion in Macon and its revitalization process," she said. "Working here has offered me an appreciation for the 'city life' on a smaller scale and a sense of community where city patrons truly care about the city they live in and want to see it prosper. Macon is unique and vibrant, a great arm's reach to other fun locations, and has a charm and character about it that can't be bought."

Alex Morrison, Executive Director, Urban Development Authority

Alex Morrison graduated from Mercer in 2007, where he majored in journalism and philosophy and was one of the students who initiated the creation of the College Hill Corridor – a two-square mile area between Mercer and Macon. Morrison and other students in his Senior Capstone class developed the initial stages of College Hill Corridor master plan, where public input was compiled to utilize the Corridor as a destination that improves the connection between Mercer University and Downtown Macon.

As executive director of the Urban Development Authority, Morrison is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of helping to promote redevelopment in downtown using public means. 

"College Hill inspired me, and the beauty of downtown Macon really drew me in," he said of his return to Macon. "I became fascinated by the power of downtowns and the growth patterns of cities. Downtowns are the true centers of place, and seeing ours grow while telling our story is a big part of the passion of my work."

Morrison said that alumni who loved their Mercer experience would also love living in downtown Macon. 

"What I loved about Mercer is that the population and faculty allowed you to grow and make a positive impact in the community. It was a place where you could be somebody, not just a face in a crowd," he said. "Macon has that same potential to allow for professional growth and is sized so that any person with a good idea can find an audience and make something happen. Furthermore, Macon is a great place to live. It has many of the amenities and entertainment options of larger urban areas while still having the pace and cost of living of smaller towns. It is a great place to be somebody, not just a face in a crowd."

Josh Rogers, President and CEO, Newtown Macon

Rogers is a 2005 graduate of Mercer, where he studied history and Southern studies. He is currently the president and CEO of NewTown Macon.

After graduating from Mercer, Rogers was the director of preservation and special projects at NewTown and then the economic regeneration manager for the City of Macon. He earned his master's degree in historic preservation from the University of York in England and returned to Macon to serve as the founding director of the College Hill Corridor Commission. He then was the executive director of Historic Macon Foundation for five years before re-joining NewTown as president and CEO.

Rogers said that Mercer and NewTown have a symbiotic partnership. 

"I think downtown revitalization is just so core … for Mercer to continue to grow and be competitive in student and athlete and staff recruitment … We support each other's missions and improve each others' business by our close associations," he said.

Rogers is an active alumnus and encourages his fellow alumni to get involved as well.

"Mercer is a really special place, and getting to see what an impact it can make on people's lives – not just in its students, but in the people who have been effected by its students around the world – I think it's incumbent upon all of us who have had that experience to give back as best we can."

Former Alumni Board Members Appointed to Board of Trustees

Heather Darden and James ThomasTwo former College of Liberal Arts alumni board members were appointed to the University's Board of Trustees. Heather Darden, CLA '98, and James Thomas, CLA '93, joined the board in November 2013.

Darden, a corporate real estate attorney at SunTrust Bank, served on the alumni board for several years and was eventually appointed its president. She said Mercer has played a crucial role in her personal and professional development.

"I truly feel that Mercer played a large part in shaping me into the person and professional that I am today," Darden said. "While I technically earned my law degree from another university, my experience as an undergraduate, the academic and personal challenges during my four years at Mercer, and the friends and connections I have made and kept over the years have all led me to where I am today."

Darden said she hopes she can use her experience to benefit the board. 

"As a new trustee, I'm still learning the ropes," she said. "But my hope is that I can bring my personal experiences and perspective as well as my professional skill set to the table and contribute in a meaningful way to the University's growth and development."

Darden encourages her fellow alumni to connect to the University. 

"If you haven't been back to the University in several years, there's never been a better time to come for a visit," she said. "There's a whole new level of excitement and engagement on campus, some of which is obviously due to athletics, but also due in part to new academic and global outreach programs, new buildings and facilities and the continued beautification of campus."

Thomas, CLA '93, is an attorney and partner at Arnold Porter LLP in Washington, D.C. After expressing an interest in networking with Mercer alumni in the greater D.C. area, Thomas worked with the Office of University Advancement to organize and host alumni events. In 2011, he was asked to join the CLA alumni board where he remained involved until he was appointed to the Board of Trustees last fall.

Thomas said he hopes to use his time on the Board to assist President Underwood and his administration with the goals they have outlined for the University. 

"Mercer has a strong positive momentum right now with football coming back to campus andthe success of the basketball team in the NCAA tournament earlier this year," he said. "There has been a lot of recognition of athletics, but the academic programs across the University are also increasingly well regarded and are producing graduates who are going to make, and are making, a significant impact in their fields. My goal is to help continue that positive momentum."

He would also like to see Mercer's reputation continue to grow beyond the Southeast. 

"One of my goals is to help foster a more nationally recognized presence for the University," he said.

Thomas lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife, Meghan, and their children, William, 9; Sophie, 8; and Corbett, 6.