Georgia College Front Page

Alumni take leading roles at the state level

Several Georgia College alumni just took their leadership skills and knowledge to the next level serving on the Gov. Brian Kemp’s senior staff and transition team. 

  • Tyler Adams, ’13, inauguration facilities coordinator, appointments and business licensing
  • Lisa Weaver Durden, ’88, ’91, director of appointments and licensing
  • Evan Karanovich, ’12, inauguration protocol officer
  • Lorri Hinton Smith, ’01, chief operating officer—the first female COO in the state of Georgia
  • Skylar Whitaker, ’17, deputy special events coordinator for the transition and inauguration, as well as administrative assistant to the chief of staff
  • Stuart Wilkinson, ’11, deputy director of transition and external affairs

Adams served on Gov. Kemp’s inaugural team, where he managed ticketing and coordinated with congressional and senate offices, security, transportation and program protocol.

Prior to that, Adams worked for former Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and the Hudson Group, LLC. He also serves on the Georgia College Young Alumni Council. 

“The workload on an inaugural team is just as much as a campaign,” he said. “There were several weeks where we stayed in the office well past midnight, even on weekends. But, luckily, I was surrounded with a group of co-workers that made it feel like a big family."


Gov. Kemp’s senior staff and transition team members (left to right): Evan Karanovich,
Stuart Wilkinson, Lorri Hinton Smith, Lisa Weaver Durden and Skylar Whitaker.
(Not pictured: Tyler Adams)

Georgia College provided Adams with the tools he needed to thrive in his job.

“My political science background helped me to understand not only the legislative process, but the roles that the different constitutional officers that were getting sworn in play,” he said. “You also have to understand the landscape and history of Georgia politics to really grasp how important this inauguration is for the future of Georgia.”

Durden works with state agencies and boards to help track board posts and find qualified candidates for the governor's consideration to fill vacancies as they arise. She recently worked at the Secretary of State’s office, where she was accustomed to working with professional licensing boards. 

“I am familiar with the professional licensing boards that are housed with that agency,” said Durden. “However, I am having to quickly learn about the other state boards and commissions, what they do and also meet the people working with those groups.”

Like her fellow alumni, Durden uses many skills learned at Georgia College. She knows to explore opportunities, and she applies lessons learned in the classroom to workplace settings. 

On top of his role as inauguration protocol officer, Karanovich is a member of Georgia College’s Young Alumni Council. He serves as a lead advisor to the Chick-fil-A’s chairman and CEO.

Karanovich was tasked with establishing and advising the inauguration team on areas of key importance and related events surrounding the inauguration. 

“I was honored to ensure that both legal requirements and traditional elements were integrated to provide not only a significant moment for the incoming Governor and constitutional officers, as well as their families, but also for the citizens of Georgia,” Karanovich said. 

“There are many moving parts within an inauguration and a limited timeline to complete them,” he said, “but with a focus and commitment to our state and the significance of the moment, we all found ways to advance and support in a way that honored the incoming governor and constitutional officers as well as the entire state.”

Smith began working for the Secretary of State’s office in 2013. Now, she serves as Georgia’s first female chief operating officer (COO) in the Governor’s office in charge of 34 agencies.

“It will be a challenge to learn the intricacies of each agency, but I welcome the opportunity to serve Governor Kemp in this capacity and work with these agencies to achieve his policy goals,” she said. “Because of my previous work for him when he served as Secretary of State, I am equipped with a solid understanding of state government, and I am confident in my ability to build on this experience.”

Prior to her appointment as COO, Smith was a member of Kemp’s Georgians First Committee and part of the budget team to prepare for his transition to the Governor’s office. There, she reviewed the annual financial responsibilities of government, allocated sufficient funding for operations and balanced the state’s budget for legislative consideration.  

To a large degree, Smith traces her achievements back to what she learned at Georgia College.  

“Its accounting program equipped me with the right tools for success by offering comprehensive financial preparation, interpersonal and technical expertise in my field of study and opportunities to develop critical thinking skills for future success,” she said. “I will always be a proud Bobcat.”

Prior to serving as deputy special events coordinator for the transition and inauguration and administrative assistant to the chief of staff, Whitaker served as the community outreach coordinator for Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office. While there, she managed a high school voter outreach program, attended various events to promote the office and was responsible for promotional video material for departments in the Secretary of State’s office.

As deputy director of transition and external affairs, Wilkinson’s responsibilities vary and at times were intense. 

“We had a relatively short time frame to plan the inauguration, the Inaugural Gala and transition into office, so our team put in a lot of long hours,” said Wilkinson. “It was exciting and high-energy.”   

He is also responsible for advancing Governor Kemp’s agenda and overseeing the administration’s legislative affairs, policy and field team operations. 

Wilkinson got his start at Georgia College—learning skills he used to manage the inauguration ceremony logistics and work with the team to prepare the governor’s legislative agenda to overseeing the legislative affairs, policy and the field operations teams.  

“Georgia College offered a diverse course load.  This allowed me to familiarize myself with many different topics at the same time,” said Wilkinson. “Similarly, in my current role, our team pushes the Governor's legislative agenda, which includes varying policy areas. My course load taught me the best way to tackle varying subject matter, which now allows me to effectively advocate the Governor's diverse legislative agenda.”

Kemp was inaugurated Jan. 14 as Georgia’s 83rd governor, succeeding Gov. Nathan Deal after eight years in office. Deal’s wife Sandra, ’63, ’66, is also a Georgia College alumna and a Georgia College & State University Foundation Board Trustee. 

 

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