2022 4 Under 40 Awards finalists - Education Professional

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News ,

Dustin Kerley, Athletic Director, Watauga County Schools

Dustin Kerley is in his 6th year as Assistant Principal and Athletics Director at Watauga High School. He was a four-year member of the baseball program at Mars Hill University and earned an undergraduate degree in Physical Education in 2008.

Kerley started his teaching career as a physical education teacher at Sugarloaf Elementary in Hendersonville North Carolina, and began coaching football and baseball at AC Reynolds High School in Asheville in 2008. Part of the Rockets coaching staff that won the 2009 football State Championship, Kerley moved to Boone to accept a job teaching physical education and coaching football and baseball at Watauga High School in 2010. He coached football and baseball for five years before taking over as the Head Strength Coach in 2015 while continuing to coach football.

In 2016, Kerley completed his masters degree in School Administration from Western Carolina University. That same year, he was promoted to Assistant Principal and Athletic Director at Watauga High School, while still continuing to coach football. This coming July, Kerley will assume the role as Watauga County Schools Athletic Director overseeing all middle and high school athletic programs.

During Kerley's tenture as Watauga High's Athletic Director, the school has earned the Northwestern 3A/4A Wachovia Cup three times, signifying the best overall athletic department in the conference. He also created the Watauga High School Athletic Hall of Fame, which recognizes past student-athletes, coaches, teams, and other constituents for their achievements and contributions to the school's athletics program.


Dr. Jamie Parson, Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Appalachian State University 

Dr. Jamie Parson is the Interim Chief Diversity Officer and an Associate Professor in the Department
of Finance, Banking, and Insurance at Appalachian State University. She teaches undergraduate
courses in business law and insurance. Dr. Parson previously led the Walker College of Business’
Inclusive Excellence Team, served as the Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Brantley Risk and Insurance Center and served on numerous boards and committees.

Prior to arriving at Appalachian, Parson served as a Title VII Investigator for the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission and a Special Investigative Unit Liaison and Fire Claims Representative at State Farm Insurance Company.

Dr. Parson holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Sociology-Anthropology from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her research interests primarily concentrate in the area of insurance regulation including extensive involvement with the passing of the North Carolina Foster Care Family Act.



Dr. Katie Talbert, Exec. Director of Institutional Advancement & Alumni Relations, Lees-McRae College

Dr. Katie Talbert is currently in her third year serving in the Office of Institutional Advancement at Lees-McRae College. In November 2021, she was promoted to the Executive Director of Institutional Advancement after being the Director of Alumni Relations.

During her time at Lees-McRae College, Talbert has been an integral part of the success of the Office of Institutional Advancement and the college. Her leadership in growing the college’s annual Giving Day recently broke school records and surpassed their goal, reaching over 550 donors and raising over $100k in 24 hours. In 2021, Talbert led the Student Recreation Center renovation, cultivating and stewarding donors’ wishes to transform student recreation on campus with a revitalized space for student wellness. She also plays a vital role in the endowment fund growth, bringing multiple opportunities to fruition and creating new gift agreements in the pursuit of endowment success, and is currently working to secure major gifts for the Legacy Campaign.

During the Fiscal Year 2020–21, her office doubled alumni giving, helped the alumni association grow the five regional chapters, and increased the number of first-time donors.

Talbert’s impacts include launching many new initiatives on campus, including a Bobcat Mentor Network (connecting current students with professional alumni in conjunction with Career and Life Planning), a community for Bobcat-Owned businesses, the student organization S.T.A.T. (Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow), the “Give Me Five Senior” philanthropy campaign that achieved 50% giving from the senior class, the “100 days Until Graduation” event, and an annual college Giving Day.

She in an integral part of executing engagement events, including Homecoming, Hall of Fame, Friends and Family Ski Weekend, and Alumni President Circle Events, and has increased corporate sponsorships during her three years.

In addition to her advancement duties, she is active in the community and across campus.  She led a Strategic Priority Initiative Group for Responsible Community and Wellness and regularly participates in Mountain Day of Service, the Next STEP celebration, and career fairs. She represents Lees-McRae College as a member of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Avery. She is also the Circle Advisor for Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) and was recently selected to serve on the Presidential Council of Institutional Excellence.

Before coming to Lees-McRae College, Talbert spent three years at Lynn University earning her Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Prior to her service at Lynn, she spent ten years at Queens University of Charlotte as the head women’s soccer coach. During her time at Queens, she was awarded Coach of the Year accolades, coached dozens of all-conference players, lead her team to the conference tournament for ten consecutive years, and earned her 100th NCAA win in the Fall of 2015.


Laura Turner, Gear-Up Coordinator, Watauga County Schools

Laura Turner currently serves as the GEAR UP Coordinator for Watauga County Schools. GEAR UP is a federally funded grant aimed at increasing the number of students who enroll and succeed in post-secondary education. In this role, Laura is involved in academic and career counseling, leadership development, and support for students, teachers, and families across five schools in grades 6-12. Over the past seven years, leveraging GEAR UP resources, and in collaboration with Watauga County Schools’ educators, Appalachian State, and many other local, state, and national partners, Laura has served over 1,660 students and families through educational field trips, post-secondary institution visits, parent/family workshops, summer camps, and leadership development activities.

Additionally, in partnership with educators across the district and the Watauga County community as a whole, Laura has worked to develop intentional transition events for students at key milestones in their educational career. One particular point of pride for Laura is the development of the WHS/WIA Pioneer Ambassadors Program. Pioneer Ambassadors is a student leadership group charged with the task of welcoming rising ninth graders and transfer students to WHS/WIA, much like university ambassador programs. Developing student leaders and challenging them to step out of their comfort zone in service to others is one of Laura’s greatest passions as an educator.

A native of the High Country, Laura grew up in Ashe County. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from North Carolina State University and a Master of Arts in Professional School Counseling from Appalachian State University. In 2019, Laura completed a Graduate Certificate in School Leadership from Appalachian State University. She has experience as a professional school counselor working with students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.