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Connecticut's 40 Under 40: Class of 2018

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The 40 Under 40 Class of 2019 will be published here on Jan. 23, 2019.


Allow us to introduce our latest crop of high-achievers under the age of 40, people who are standing out in the fields of sports, entertainment, politics, science, entrepreneurship, music, business, food and drink, social change and so much more. These 40 up-and-comers all were nominated by friends, family, co-workers, admirers and Connecticut Magazine staff.

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Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton, 34, Redding

MLB player

It took Charlie Morton six years to make the big leagues, and the first part of his career was plagued by injuries. But in the 2017 postseason, Morton introduced himself to a national audience in the biggest way possible, winning Game 7 of the World Series for the Houston Astros after pitching four innings and allowing just one run in relief. Previously, he was the winning Game 7 pitcher in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. These two wins make him the first pitcher in MLB history to win two Game 7s in the same postseason. As icing on the cake for Connecticut fans, Morton’s teammate, George Springer, who is from New Britain and was a 40 Under 40 recipient last year, won the World Series MVP.

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Kevin Scarpati

Kevin Scarpati, 28, Meriden

Mayor

A political wunderkind, Scarpati was elected to his first term as mayor of Meriden when he was just 26. By that point he was already a seasoned politician, having been elected to the Meriden Board of Education at 19, and winning a seat on the City Council by 22. He also serves as the co-chairman of Meriden’s School Readiness Council and is an active board member of the theater group Castle Craig Players. Though he first held office as a Republican, he won his first term as mayor running against the Republican incumbent and now identifies as an independent who was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee in the last two elections.

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Albert Cheng

Albert Cheng, 33, Farmington

Scientist, engineer, assistant professor

A genome engineer with a Ph.D. from MIT, Cheng became an assistant professor at the Jackson Laboratory and UConn Health at age 31. A rising star in the field, he is building a molecular “operating system” for the genome called “Casilio” that will advance the abilities of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool. He moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong a decade ago and has since contributed to more than 30 scientific publications and several patents, some of which have been licensed by biopharmaceutical startups. He has recently been awarded a multimillion-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop new genome-engineering technologies.

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Hannah Pucci

Hannah Pucci, 17, Danbury

Inventor

When Hannah Pucci was 11, a school assignment inspired her to come up with the idea for Egghead Ice Cream, an ice cream-packing method in which egg-shaped, pre-packaged scoops are offered in an egg carton-like package. This method avoids the hassle of scooping ice cream and provides portion control. In the years since, the invention has earned her a $10, 000 grant from the CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards and meetings with executives at Baskin-Robbins and Dippin’ Dots. Last summer, UConn Dairy Bar offered rough prototypes to test the marketing for the product, which was a success. Now Hannah is working on developing a prototype that can be shipped nationwide.

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Vasileios Politis

Vasileios Politis, 18, Killingly

Cancer survivor, high school football state champion

Politis was a junior receiver/defensive back on a Killingly High School football team which lost in the semifinals of the Class M state tournament in 2015. He knew he had one more shot at winning a state title in 2016. Politis was ready to battle, but the fight wouldn’t take place on the football field. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 3 cancer, at the age of 16. He underwent aggressive chemotherapy that took its toll, and VP was forced to miss his senior season. Without him, Killingly again came up short, losing in the state semis. Of drastically more importance, Politis fought his disease, beat it and was declared cancer-free. After being granted a waiver, VP was back on the field this fall. He not only returned to the team, but he never lost again. VP helped lead Killingly to the Class M title — catching a touchdown in the championship game — and the school’s first undefeated season since 1953. His coach, Chad Neal, himself a cancer survivor, sums it up simply: “VP is an inspiration for us all.”

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Francesca Andre

Francesca Andre, 33, Bridgeport

Filmmaker

A filmmaker, photographer and producer, Andre’s award-winning short film Charcoal examines “colorism” within the black community, focusing on women of different ages who want lighter skin to conform with the beauty standards of white America. Ithas been screened at the Silicon Valley African Film Festival, the Yonkers Film Festival and the prestigious Albert Maysles Film Center in Harlem. Joe Meyers of the Connecticut Post wrote, “The mix of a tough-minded approach to prejudice and visual beauty in nearly every shot will remind some viewers of Best Picture Oscar-winner Moonlight.” A former model, Andre is also a photographer whose work has appeared in the New York Post, Daily Mail and New York Daily News.

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David Salinas

David Salinas, 37, New Haven

Marketing CEO

What do Lady Gaga, Guess Watches and the United States Tennis Association have in common? They’ve all worked with Digital Surgeons, the New Haven-based marketing and design firm co-founded by Salinas. His business philosophy ­— “If you don’t evolve, you’ll die” ­— is one he follows personally as well: back in 1998, the sales-savvy Queens native managed to talk his way past a spotty academic record and into the University of Bridgeport. Eight years later and armed with a business degree he co-founded Digital Surgeons, which today works with businesses from start-ups to Fortune 50s. His next evolution: District New Haven, a technology and innovation campus in the Silicon Valley mold, is scheduled to open in early 2018.

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Paul Guarino

Paul Guarino, 25, West Haven

Owner/founder of sportswear company

When he was 19 years old and attending Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Guarino founded PG Sports, a sports media and apparel brand. Today the brand is in use by more than 150 professional athletes ranging from NFL players to local sports heroes including up-and-coming boxer and fellow 40 Under 40 selectee Jimmy Williams. Though still in its early stages, the company has already sold more than 2, 000 items and generated robust social media followings. In addition, Guarino has used PG Sports as a fundraising platform to raise money for charities dedicated to the military and breast cancer awareness.

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Nick Bonino 

Nick Bonino, 29, Farmington

NHL player

We didn’t need Charlie Sheen or Donald Trump to point out that everyone loves winning. And while those gentlemen’s definitions of winning are debatable, one man who we know for certain is a winner is Nick Bonino. As a junior at Farmington High in 2005, Bonino’s double-overtime goal against Trumbull gave the school its first state title. It was his 68th goal of the year. (They played 25 games.) He transferred to Avon Old Farms and won a New England prep school championship in 2007. Bonino then attended Boston University, so of course the Terriers won the 2009 national championship. After five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and a year with the Vancouver Canucks, Bonino joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015. Guess who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. A free agent last summer, Bonino signed a $16.4 million contract with the Nashville Predators. Winning!

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Camille Kostek

Camille Kostek, 25, Killingworth

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model

Kostek knew from an early age she wanted to make a splash. While attending Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, she landed a pretty splashy gig, as a cheerleader for the New England Patriots. Kostek started making even more waves when she was linked to the Patriots’ star tight end, Rob Gronkowski. But she wanted more. Since she was 15 she wanted to be in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Kostek began modeling in 2015, her last year with the Patriots. When she saw on Instagram that SI was searching for models for its 2018 swimsuit issue, Kostek jumped at the chance, posting a video to make her case to be in the magazine. From a pool of thousands, Kostek learned this past fall that she would be one of the six women to appear in the coveted issue, out this month. Also an on-camera host for New England Sports Network’s Dirty Water Media discussing travel, sports and entertainment, Kostek still gets to as many Patriots games as she can.

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Tory and Roscoe Brown

Tory, 27, and Roscoe Brown, 22, Westport

Connecticut-themed clothing line founders

Want to show some Connecticut pride? Then this enterprising brother-sister duo might have what you’re looking for. Tory and Roscoe Brown are the brains behind The Two Oh Three, a lifestyle brand dedicated to all things Nutmeg State, especially that beloved area code of southwestern Connecticut. From pastel-colored baseball caps to soft T-shirts and sweats, from tire covers to doormats, The Two Oh Three sells plenty of Connecticut-themed gear. You can find their products on their website, and at pop-up shops, local specialty stores and farmers markets in the southwest part of the state. Look for a new spring line of gear coming soon to their website and social media (@TheTwoOhThree).

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Jessica Bailey

Jessica Bailey, 38, Darien

Greenworks Lending CEO/co-founder

For much of Bailey’s career she’s been focused on climate change. At the Connecticut Green Bank, the state’s public-private partnership, Bailey’s Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program financed $75 million for businesses to perform energy upgrades to their buildings. For her efforts in promoting clean energy and solar deployment, the White House named her a “Champion of Change” in 2014. A year later she co-founded Darien-based Greenworks Lending, which builds on her work at the Green Bank by making financing available to commercial properties for renewable and energy-efficiency projects. According to the firm, Greenworks’ lending has lowered its clients’ expenses by $100 million through energy savings. Expansion for Greenworks is in the works, with PACE deals likely in the offing for California and Florida.

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Ethan Walmark

Ethan Walmark, 12, Westport

Musical prodigy

Ethan began playing the piano by ear when he was 15 months old. Today, he can play nine instruments and perform thousands of songs in pretty much any genre you can imagine, learning songs only after a listen or two. The big break for Ethan, who is on the autism spectrum, came in 2012 when, at 6 years old, his performance of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” went viral, even earning praise from the Piano Man himself. Since then, he’s wowed audiences across Connecticut, at a New York Red Bulls soccer game, where he sang the national anthem, and on NBC’s Today Show and CBS’ Early Show. In November, he played four songs at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington at the first Autism Awareness gala fundraiser. Ethan’s ability to weave in and out of songs is remarkable, as is the unbridled joy with which he plays. Maybe one day we’ll see Ethan perform a duet of “Piano Man” with Joel at Madison Square Garden.

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Adam Young

Adam Young, 33, Mystic

Bakery owner/head chef

With its masterfully crafted croissants, danish, tartines, muffins, scones, sandwiches, cookies and more, Sift Bake Shop has earned nothing but raves since opening in downtown Mystic less than two years ago. At the heart of this edible enterprise is owner and head pastry chef Adam Young, whose culinary career has taken him to Vermont, New Orleans and the Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where he was executive pastry chef. It didn’t hurt business when Young competed earlier this year on the Food Network’s Spring Baking Championships, finishing as the runner-up in the seven-episode series. Earning a reputation for expertly training budding pastry chefs, Young told us in 2016 that he has ambitions beyond his French-focused bakery, perhaps to open a restaurant downtown and start a culinary school.

Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey

Tyshawn Sorey, 37, New Haven

Musician/composer

Wesleyan music professor Tyshawn Sorey was one of the recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship this past fall. The ultra-prestigious fellowships include a $625, 000 grant and are known as the “genius” awards. The drummer, percussionist, trombonist and composer’s experimental music blends genres, sounds and tones, incorporating elements of jazz and classical. When we contacted him in late December, he was putting the finishing touches on his latest accomplishment, an opera song cycle commissioned by Carnegie Hall called “Cycles of My Being.” Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, it will debut Feb. 20 at Opera Philadelphia, with its New York premiere April 24 at Carnegie Hall.

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Paul Severino

Paul Severino, 34, Bristol

Play-by-play announcer for the Miami Marlins

Severino got his start at a place that is nothing more than a pipe dream for many professionals in sports media, just across town at ESPN. “I was able to live in my mom’s basement and get my big break at 22 years old.” Severino moved on to the MLB Network in 2011 and hosted every studio show in the lineup. Last spring he called play-by-play at the World Baseball Classic — which included a trip to Seoul and the championship game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Severino was also in the booth at Wrigley Field this past season when the Chicago Cubs received their World Series rings. Severino would sometimes switch from cleats to skates and handle studio and play-by-play duties for the NHL Network. He’s still thawing out from calling the IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo last month. On Jan. 31 it was announced that Severino had been hired as the new play-by-play announcer for the Miami Marlins.

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Jesus Morales Sanchez

Jesus Morales Sanchez, 23, New Haven

Immigrant rights organizer

As an organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción, one of the premier immigrant-rights advocacy groups in the state, Sanchez has been at the forefront of a number of struggles against the deportation of people in Connecticut. The most prominent such struggle was that of Marco Reyes Alvarez, who spent four months in a New Haven church seeking sanctuary from a deportation order. Before Reyes Alvarez was issued a stay in November, Sanchez was a near-daily presence at the church, and in street actions all across Greater New Haven. Expect to see more of him in 2018.

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Meg Taylor

Meg Taylor, 27, Hartford

Capitol Squash executive director

Taylor learned the indoor racquet sport of squash on the courts of Trinity College in Hartford before going on to captain her college team at Vassar College. Today, the Glastonbury native uses those same courts to provide underprivileged Hartford youth a path to make their own way to college. The nonprofit Capitol Squash brings elementary school students to Trinity to learn squash from some of the best players and coaches in the country (the Bantams’ men’s team has dominated the sport over the past two decades). More importantly, the college’s robust academic resources are used to give the kids the support they need to get into and prepare for prestigious high schools and colleges. Taylor’s role has evolved since starting in 2014. Back then she pitched in by driving a van to pick up the kids and led academic sessions. These days Taylor is focused on strategic planning, fundraising, marketing and community outreach. Capitol Squash is one of 20 Squash and Education Alliance-accredited programs across the country (along with Squash Haven in New Haven).

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DeAri Allick

DeAri Allick, 29, New Haven

Anti-violence and youth organizer

New Haven recorded seven homicides in 2017, one of the lowest numbers in the last 50 years. It was a different story in 2011, when 34 people lost their lives to murder. One of them was Donell Allick, brother of DeAri Allick. While Allick had been organizing the annual Stop the Violence Start the Love summer basketball tournaments since before his brother’s murder, Allick dedicated subsequent tournaments to Donell, and he is now working on the eighth installment. Allick also organized this past summer’s Fearless Youth Academy, along with Dominique Burrell, growing from 15 kids in 2016 to 35 in 2017. The program focuses on entrepreneurship and hobby development, Allick says.

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Mike Casey

Mike Casey, 24, Hartford

Jazz musician

The young sax player, band leader and product of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music had probably the best year of his young career in 2017. His Mike Casey Trio released its debut album, Live at the Side Door, recorded at the renowned Old Lyme jazz club. The album would go on to get nearly 300, 000 worldwide streams, and plenty of press across the jazz world. His music was curated on the Peet’s Coffee Pandora station, a playlist of creative Beatles covers on the Tidal streaming service, and Spotify’s official State of Jazz playlist. Not bad for a Hartford horn player. Excellent for one who’s so young. He has a show scheduled for April 13 at Black Eyed Sally's in Hartford, and April 28 at Tavern off the Green in Litchfield.  

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Emma Kozlowski

Emma Kozlowski, 27, Bethel

Accessories company owner

Henry Ford would not approve. But that’s just fine by Kozlowski, whose eponymous e-commerce company, Emma Lyn Designs, produces custom-made accessories by hand. A teacher by day, Kozlowski started her company a few years back after making small accessories for herself, friends and family. Kozlowski decided to give customers the power the personalize their products on her website with different colors, designs and monograms. Kozlowski and her seamstress make each clutch, wristlet, lanyard and key fob themselves, and ship their accessories all over the country. Last year Kozlowski was one of two Connecticut winners of the 2017 American Small Business Championship, which provides financial and mentoring support to new small businesses. The new mother also donates a portion of the proceeds from the sale of a select pattern each season to the Scotty Fund, a Danbury-area charity that helps children with life-threatening illnesses. Her family started the fund 20 years ago when Kozlowski’s younger brother died from cancer.

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Shadi Ghaheri

Shadi Ghaheri, 29, New Haven

Theater director

A third-year candidate in Yale School of Drama’s highly prestigious MFA program, Ghaheri wants to change how women’s stories are presented on the stage, and in doing so transform how women see themselves. Born in Tehran, Iran, she was immersed in the arts from a young age, training as a ballerina and playing piano professionally. She founded the first theater club at her university in Tehran, and soon moved to California to study acting and directing. Her work has drawn praise for her fresh, female-centric interpretations of classic work as diverse as Chekhov and Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and Bahram Beyzai, whose Death of Yazdgerd she directed at Yale’s Iseman Theater in December.

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Wildaliz Bermudez

Wildaliz Bermudez, 35, Hartford

City councilwoman

Last year saw the havoc of Hurricane Maria for the island of Puerto Rico, but also the reinvigorating of connections between Connecticut and the island. Few were more involved in advocating for the needs of Puerto Ricans coming to Connecticut than Bermudez, who as a Working Families Party city councilwoman is the minority leader on the Hartford City Council. Bermudez was one of the original plaintiffs in the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill ruling that indicted the segregated nature of Connecticut public schools. Bermudez was also instrumental in bringing attention to the occasionally dysfunctional Civilian Police Review Board.

Pedro Bermudez

Pedro Bermudez

Pedro Bermudez, 32, Hartford

Filmmaker

Wildaliz’s brother, Pedro, has turned his lifelong love for cinema into his life’s work, and a way to celebrate the culture of his family’s native Puerto Rico. A graduate of the University of Hartford (where he has also taught film) and the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, he is also a co-owner and the resident director at Revisionist, a filmmaking company based in Hartford that specializes in commercials, music videos and short-form documentaries. In 2016 his semi-fictional Spanish-language short film Hasta Mañana sold out three consecutive shows at Hartford’s Real Art Ways and drew praise for its insightful and unusually authentic portrayal of the Puerto Rican community.

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Jimmy Williams

Jimmy Williams, 31, West Haven

Boxer

Williams won the WBC USNBC Welterweight belt, fought at Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun and Twin River Casino in Rhode Island, and wasn’t beaten by anyone he fought. And that was all in 2017. The West Haven Schools truancy officer’s wife, Christina, also gave birth to twin boys, Austin and Logan. Williams’ boxing record stands at 14-0-1 with five knockouts. As a former defensive end for the Southern Connecticut State University football team, Williams is deeply embedded in his community, often dedicating his fights to friends and their loved ones. No one seems to have a bad word to say about him, except for maybe the people he’s fought in the ring.

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Precious Price

Precious Price, 29, Middletown

Community organizer

When new restaurants and bars and student populations pour into neighborhoods with affordable rent, residents who have lived there for generations can often end up getting pushed out. Gentrification has been a problem for cities across the country, but in Middletown, through concerted effort, residents of the North End have banded together to protect themselves from the market forces that in other cases have changed neighborhoods irreversibly. Much of the credit goes to the North End Action Team and its director Precious Price. For years, NEAT has helped residents understand their own power to shape the future of their neighborhood. After a successful run with NEAT, Price is now the director of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition, as well as a board member of the Annie C. Courtney Foundation, focused on providing services to children in foster care.

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Dave LaMattina, left, and Chad Walker

Dave LaMattina, 37, and Chad Walker, 38, Norwalk

Documentary filmmakers

Film is among our most powerful art forms, due to its accessibility to such a wide swath of society. LaMattina and Walker use this power to tell human stories that can make a difference. LaMattina, a Ledyard native, and Walker, who went to college here and now lives in Trumbull, met while working at Blue Sky Studios, the Greenwich-based animation company behind the Ice Age franchise. They left Blue Sky to form, along with fellow Ledyard native Clay Frost, an independent production company called Copper Pot Pictures (named after the Goonies character Chester Copperpot). Their first documentary, Brownstones to Red Dirt, about a pen pal program between children in a Brooklyn housing project and war orphans in Sierra Leone, raised enough money to build a school for the kids in the West African nation. Their 2015 release of I Am Big Bird, about Woodstock resident Caroll Spinney, the only person to ever play the iconic Sesame Street character, earned critical praise. The Norwalk studio is wrapping up its latest project, La Gran Madre, about an immigration activist who is the legal guardian to more than 850 U.S.-born children whose undocumented parents are in jeopardy of being deported. Look for the film on the festival circuit this spring. 

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa Thompson, 34, Stamford

Cancer patient advocate

In June 2017, Thompson got a law — named for her — passed in the state legislature that is a first in the nation. Melissa’s Law for Fertility Preservation allows those diagnosed with cancer who are of reproductive age to have the costs of fertility preservation covered by their insurance. The law paved the way for Rhode Island to pass similar legislation later in the year. In 2018, Thompson plans on introducing the legislation in 13 more states. In Connecticut, the heart of the insurance industry, the legislation represents quite a victory.

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Reginald Dwayne Betts

Reginald Dwayne Betts, 37, New Haven

Poet, teacher, attorney

Betts made national headlines last year when a mistake from his youth — at age 16 he took part in a carjacking, which led to his serving more than eight years in prison — nearly derailed his application to the state bar association. Since his release he has graduated from the University of Maryland and Yale Law School (where he continues to work toward his doctorate of law) and become the acclaimed author of two volumes of poetry and a memoir. His unique perspective of the legal system drives his advocacy for juvenile-justice reform. “Of course, it feels amazing to say I’ve come this huge distance, ” he says, “but the distance I’ve traveled is only worth it if I’m able to pull other people up.”

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn

Kris Dunn, 23, New London

NBA player

The first two-time New Haven Register boys basketball state player of the year, Dunn was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior at New London High in 2012, one year after leading the Whalers to a 27-0 record and a Class L state championship as a junior. Dunn attended Providence and was named Big East Conference Player of the Year in back-to-back years. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Dunn with the fifth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft (he’s the only top-5 NBA pick to graduate college since 2007). He struggled a bit through his rookie season and was traded last summer to the Chicago Bulls. This season he has improved significantly in almost every statistical category, really hitting his stride in December when he helped lead a severely struggling 3-20 Bulls squad to 10 wins in 12 games. 

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Kerry Ellington

Kerry Ellington, 31, New Haven

Activist, community organizer, educator

Ellington, a native of New York, originally came to Connecticut to study journalism at Quinnipiac University. She spent almost five years as a teaching assistant at Common Ground High School in New Haven, where she ran after-school programs and did social justice learning with the students. Her watershed moment came in 2010 when friend and fellow organizer Jewu Richardson, who was unarmed, was shot by New Haven Police following a car chase. Ellington joined People Against Police Brutality and since then has advocated for victims while helping to raise money for sufficient legal defense and bail funds. She is currently leading the fight for an all-civilian review board in the city of New Haven that will provide independent oversight of policing, a fight she says began 20 years ago with Emma Jones after her son, Malik, was shot and killed by East Haven police in New Haven. Ellington calls police brutality the elephant in the room in Connecticut, but says she has hopes people in this state will start to wake up to issues they currently don’t want to talk about.

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Ibrahim ‘Abe’ Baggili

Ibrahim ‘Abe’ Baggili, 36, Guilford

College professor, cyber security expert

Baggili was born in Jordan and moved from the United Arab Emirates to Connecticut in 2013 to become the founding member of the University of New Haven’s Cyber Forensics Laboratory. Former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, Baggili trains students to protect our national security and prevent breaches and hacking. As the Elder Family Endowed Chair, Baggili, with his students, helps solve real crimes in Connecticut, and discovered vulnerabilities in several popular apps that affect more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. In addition to being a college professor, he also works extensively with students in middle school and high school, where he was the principal investigator on the first GenCyber cyber security camp for high school students in Connecticut funded by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation. Ronald Harichandran, dean of UNH’s Tagliatela College of Engineering, says Baggili’s “leadership in organizing international conferences and workshops in cyber forensics has significantly enhanced the visibility of the University of New Haven and enabled it to become a leader in this field.”

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Joey Batts

Joey Batts, 35, Hartford

Musician, teacher

When the sprawling Hartford hip-hop supergroup UZOO forms like the robot collective Voltron, Joey Batts happens to be the head. After having put in a lot of time in the Hartford rap scene over the last several years, Batts (real name Battaglia) was the driving force behind UZOO, which released its debut album The Youngest this past September. In 2017, Batts started his 10th year as a teacher in Hartford public schools, and hosted the fourth annual Hip Hop for the Homeless Festival, which put on six shows in six cities. Batts also premiered his first film, ROY G. BV, an experience of the “visual spectrum, ” at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and has helped to facilitate an arts club for students that has been painting murals across the city of Hartford.

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Stephania Halverson

Stephania Halverson, 33,  Seymour

Bakery co-owner

While working at Whole Foods in Darien, Halverson and Jessica Oen (who missed our age cutoff by a hair) discovered a shared love of baking. So they set out together to found their own bakery, The Drunk Alpaca, in 2016. But this wouldn’t be just any run-of-the-mill bake shop. They would soon begin infusing many of their baked goods — from brownies and blondies to glazed potato chips and beer nuts — with brews from the state’s ever-growing craft beer scene. After appearing at farmers markets and fairs, and with their products for sale at breweries and gift shops, the pair last year opened a retail bakery in Shelton, where you can find their beer-tinged creations, as well as traditional pies, cakes and cookies. After receiving multiple awards in this magazine’s Best Restaurants issue, Halverson and Oen hope to expand their products to 20 breweries this year and, down the road, get a food truck to reach even more customers.

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Catie Talkarski

Catie Talarski, 36, Hartford

WNPR executive producer

If you’re a fan of the local programming on WNPR, thank Talarski. The station’s executive producer since 2014, she’s the driving force behind many of the station’s popular shows, including Where We Live, the call-in talk show covering all things Connecticut, and The Wheelhouse, a weekly roundtable with some of the state’s best political journalists. If you like your community radio experience even more immediate, Talarski is also the founder of two recurring live radio-style shows based out of Hartford: a “stripped down listening session” called *the ear cave* and the variety show-style Radio Adventure Theater. Sounds pretty good to us.

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Angelica Ibrovo

Angelica Idrovo, 21, Danbury

Immigration activist

Though she was a high-honors student and active in school clubs and her community, when it came time for college, Idrovo faced a serious obstacle: her status as an undocumented immigrant (her family came to the U.S. from Ecuador in 2009) made her ineligible to receive financial aid. Undeterred, not only did she take on two jobs to pay for school (she’s currently attending UConn’s Stamford campus), but as a regional organizer for Connecticut Students for a Dream and with the group’s national organization, United We Dream, she has become an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights. In the last year that fight has only gotten harder, but Idrovo shows no intentions of backing down.

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Abigail Miranda

Abigail Miranda, 30,  Litchfield

Attorney

Miranda, an attorney at Cramer & Anderson, focuses on divorce and family law, personal injury law, and civil litigation, often working with clients who are the victims of spousal abuse and dealing with divorce and custody concerns. Miranda is a board member for the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury, and co-chairs the nonprofit’s annual gala which serves as its largest fundraiser. She’s also on the board of the Greater New Milford Chamber of Commerce and is on the Connecticut Legal Services list of attorneys dedicated to helping those in need. A graduate of Western Connecticut State University and the Quinnipiac University School of Law, Miranda is “that rare attorney whose professional accomplishments and community service feel like one in the same, ” says Cramer & Anderson partner D. Randall DiBella, who also describes her as “tough but compassionate, a beacon for the law firm in community-volunteer roles, and dedicated to empowering women in need.”

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Drew Drechsel

Drew Drechsel, 29, Hamden

American Ninja Warrior competitor, gym owner

Drechsel, nicknamed “Real Life Ninja," is the type of person who believes anything is possible. When asked how he thinks he’ll handle life when he’s no longer physically able to do the things he does now, he deflects, almost as if it’s not a legitimate question. He’s not rude about it, he just really believes he can do it forever. But what he’s done already is incredibly impressive. Drechsel is a star and fan favorite on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, was the No. 1-ranked ninja in 2016 in both the U.S. and Japan, opened the first Ninja Warrior-only gym in Hamden, and has his own line of gym equipment that he personally designed. After establishing the first Real Life Ninja Academy a year ago in Windsor, and with plans for a new facility in Arizona, one may wonder if the moniker “Real Estate Ninja” is in Drechsel’s future. As he keeps proving, anything is possible.


This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. 

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The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.

Greg Moody is a graphic designer and occasional editorial contributor for Connecticut Magazine.