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Childhood dreams turned into solid careers

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

While many children have an idea—often an unrealistic one—about what they want to do, those plans don’t often make for a successful career. However, three past Forty Under 40 honorees say their childhood experiences and talents now serve them well as adults.

While attending North Street Elementary School in Geneva, Krista Gleason began writing poems for her teacher, Cindy Lynch, and her husband.

“I remember being encouraged by them,” Gleason says. “Every time I presented something that I wrote to them, they loved it. That positive feedback made me want to do it more. As I think back on that time and the encouragement I received, it had a profound influence on me.”

As a young student at that same school, Gleason won a Flag Day essay contest. Although the details of her entry have become hazy with time, she vividly recalls standing on stage in front of her peers and sharing her words.

“I don’t remember being nervous,” she says. “I just felt so empowered by the feedback I got.”

Her future as a writer was further nurtured by a high school English teacher, Kathy Henderson.

“She was another teacher who really took an interest in my abilities,” says Gleason, who is a member of the Forty Under 40 class of 2012. “She gave me constructive feedback to do better. She really gave me the confidence to keep going and develop that skill.”

Gleason’s career path took her to Albany, where she served as the communications chief for state Sen. Mike Nozzolio. Then, she returned closer to home, where she was deputy director of communications for Monroe County and manager of corporate communications and public affairs for Eastman Kodak Co.

Now a stay-at-home mother of two young children, she still puts her writing skills to good use. Gleason, 40, provides her services on a freelance basis under the name Gleason Writes.

“I have been able to do the mom thing, which is a great job, and at the same time been able to grow my freelance business,” she says. “It’s been great for me. All of these experiences have made me want to continue to write and to be a better writer.”

The creative streak that Corina Folts flashed so often as a child is on display each day in the work she does for Rochester-based SWBR Architects and its clients.

As a certified interior designer, Folts is one of six designers responsible for the finish and furniture material selections for the company’s clients. She is intimately involved in each phase of design, conducting product research, creating estimates and presenting her expert recommendations for interior design.

“I was very creative as a child, as I am today,” says Folts, a 2013 Forty Under 40 alum. “I believed then, and still do, that I could do anything I put my mind and time to.”

Folts realized early on that she operates best when she is able to research, investigate and process ideas to make an informed decision. That kind of methodical thinking is evident as she recalls thinking through a number of career choices.

At one time, Folts wanted to be a prosecutor, even doing a report about the potential career for a school project. After some consideration, she concluded the profession would not offer the kinds of problem-solving challenges she wanted. Later, Folts considered being a technology education teacher, even going to college with that pursuit in mind. Although she enjoyed teaching, she realized that she missed solving problems.

Still full of energy and ideas, Folts wasn’t done considering new options. At one point, “I wanted to be a ballerina, and I danced and was a cheerleader until I was 30 years old,” she says. “I could not make this into a full-time career, even though I tried.”

Now 35, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate found her place in the working world. For the past 12 years, her work as an interior designer has allowed her to be a problem-solver, putting her childhood creativity to good use for her clients.

“I am a design detective,” she explains, “getting to the truth about what a client needs, asking lots of questions and understanding how they work to design the best possible solution for them.”

As a 14-year-old growing up in one of Rochester’s inner-city neighborhoods, Lomax  Campbell stumbled across a lifetime of inspiration while watching late-night TV with his mother.

“It was late, like one or two in the morning,” he says. “I was watching a show and the characters were driving Mercedes and BMWs. They were described as ‘newly minted MBAs.’ I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew what kind of cars they were driving. I said, ‘Mom, I want to grow up and get my MBA.’ She said, ‘That’s good, son, that would be nice.’”

The conversation stuck with Campbell for a long time. He is an assistant to the vice president in the division of Economic Development and Innovative Workforce Services at Monroe Community College. In addition to receiving a master’s degree in business administration from Rochester Institute of Technology, Campbell is pursuing a doctor of management degree at University of Maryland University College. He hopes to fulfill those requirements by May 2019.

That late-night TV session nearly two decades ago has paid off for Campbell, 33, who continues to feed his entrepreneurial spirit. For example, he once owned and operated a commercial photography company that counted local elected officials and clothing stores among its diverse clientele.

He has since closed that operation, but only to focus on other endeavors, such as the Rochester-based dance studio, Ballet Afrikana: Dance Prep Academy, which he runs with his wife, Ashley. While she teaches several forms of dance, Campbell, a 2013 Forty Under 40 honoree, offers courses featuring meditation, kemetic yoga, and a form of martial arts called capoeira.

Eager to help entrepreneurs succeed, Campbell, along with two others, has started an organization known as Black-Owned Business Rochester. Its website, at www.bobrochester.com, provides an online database that highlights businesses, nonprofits, groups and resources provided by African-Americans.

Looking back at the people who have made an impression on his life, Campbell recalls the advice of a college professor who encouraged him to keep an open mind about the way that doors open.

“We never know what opportunities will present themselves,” he says. “We just need to be prepared for them when they do.”

Travis Anderson is a Rochester-based freelance writer.

11/11/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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