2023 Watauga Leadership Institute Cohorts Begin Coursework

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News,

The 2023 class of the Watauga Leadership Institute kicked off their coursework with an all-day retreat at Valle Crucis Conference Center January 25th. The event marks the beginning of a 12-week community development program that includes 44 total participants between two cohorts.

Watauga Leadership Institute (WLI) is a work program administered by the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce and encompasses all leadership development programming offered by the organization. Over 500 participants have engaged in Watauga Leadership Institute programming since 1998.

The program is made possible thanks to co-sponsors Beech Mountain Resort, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Peak Insurance. Additional program support comes from Carolina West Wireless, LifeStore Bank, Mast General Store, and the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University.

Watauga Leadership Challenge focuses on leadership development and community emersion and is often attended by those new to the High Country community. Watauga Leadership Development is focused on leadership skills development and is attended by professionals who have already achieved mid-upper-level leadership status within their business or organization. Cohorts run annually from January through April.

“With the opportunities and challenges we face daily in the High Country, the value of strong community leadership has never been more important,” said David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “Watauga Leadership Institute gives us a great vehicle to help participants build on their own strengths in leadership, while also understanding how those skills will benefit their personal and professional interests. Many of the participants in our programs become more engaged in local community activities, like serving on non-profit boards or coordinating volunteer support for agencies or organizations. We also find that many use the skills gained for professional advancement, and will use this program to further develop their thoughts on self-awareness, organizational culture, diversity, and conflict management among other topics.”

The Watauga Leadership Institute curriculum is coordinated by Dr. Jim Street, Owner of Ridgeline Leadership, and retired leadership educator at Appalachian State University. Following a 36-year career in higher education, Dr. Street offers leadership development training and personal coaching to businesses and organizations throughout the Carolinas. He is an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation and completed Gallup’s Strengths Coaching Program in 2020.

“We have a wonderful collection of participants in this year’s cohorts,” said Dr. Street. “Each group sets their own operational norms and goals, and I enjoy watching them work together as a group. Our participants tend to stay connected with one another, long after the graduate the program, which is powerful in its own special way. The relationships that are forged are deeply rooted in trust, respect, and thoughtfulness. There have been dozens of instances where ideas discussed in our sessions will turn into a business opportunity or an outlet for community outreach. It’s another way we are able to show that communities are strongest when people are actively working to support one another.”

2023 Watauga Leadership Challenge Roster
Name Business Title
Shirley Alexander  Booneshine Brewing Company General Manager
Ann Alexander Lovill House Inn Innkeeper/Manager
Lola Benfield High Country Area Agency on Aging Family Caregiver Support Specialist
Shelley Bentley LifeStore Bank AVP / Sr. Credit Analyst
Taylor Campbell The Hope Center Director of Operations
Erika Cheung  Appalachian State - Senior Associate AD Sr Assoc Athletic Director & SWA
Chelsea Cutler Discovery Dog Training, LLC Owner
Austin Delp Appalachian Regional Healthcare System Talent Acquisition Coordinator
Agnes Fox Safe Harbor NC High Country Administrator
Nathan Godwin Watauga County Habitat for Humanity Director of Development
Mariana Greene New River Light and Power Public Communication Specialist
Carrie Henderson  Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Events
Martin Hubner Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute Director, Business Administration
Nathaniel Johnson  Granite Insurance Agency Business Risk Consultant 
Kayla Lasure Hunger & Health Coalition Volunteer & Intern Coordinator
Nick London VPC Builders General Manager
BJ Maynard Nordic PC Operations Manager
Becca Nenow Resupply; Town of Boone Business Owner; Councilperson
Dr. Rachel Shepherd Watauga County Schools Assistant Principal
Billie Shilling Hampton Inn & Suites Operations Supervisor
Kristina Smith New Peoples Bank Commercial Banking Assistant 
Marissa Winkler Appalachian State - Conference & Event Services Business Office
Hannah Woodburn MountainTrue Watershed Outreach Coordinator
Dr. Jason Xiong Appalachian State - Walker College of Business Associate Professor
Matthew Zemba First Community Bank Business Development Officer 

2023 Watauga Leadership Development Roster
Name Business Title
Peter Barr ECRS Deployment and Service Manager
Matt Baudoin ECRS Scrum Master
Brittany Benton ECRS Customer Care Manager
David Byerly Samaritan’s Purse Business Systems Coordinator
Frank Byrd Chetola Resort Group Concierge Manager
Abby Carson The Horton Hotel Director of Hotel Operations
Caroline Catoe ECRS President
Erin Cram The Beacon Butcher Bar Front of House Manager
Morgan Cross ECRS Director of Human Resources
Sarah Crouch OASIS Director of Community Programs
John-Henry Ellis ECRS Director of Hardware Management
Zack Green High Country Council of Governments Director, Area Agency on Aging
Rebecca Hall High Country United Way Executive Director
Rob Lewis ECRS IT Director
Shannon MacLaughlin ECRS Support Desk Coordinator
Beth Meyer ECRS Inventory Manager
Megan Miller ECRS Director of Accounting
Pavan Mudiam ECRS Project Manager
Danielle Neibaur The Horton Hotel/The Inn at Crestwood General Manager / Owner