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Local Business Showcase: Kairos Digital

Stephen Freeman (’13) was recently selected as a Jacksonville Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree. He is the founder and leader of Kairos Digital, this month’s #LocalBusinessShowcase.

The Jacksonville Journey

Freeman joined us in Jacksonville after starting his coursework at Valencia College. His girlfriend (now wife) got a job in Duval, so with a few classes short of his associate degree, he registered as a transient student at Florida State College at Jacksonville, then transferred to the University of North Florida. He majored in English at the College of Arts and Sciences and minored in philosophy.

He got into marketing through writing and used the UNF connection at to get his foot in the door as a copywriter. Less than six months later, he’d been promoted to an operations supervisor role, overseeing a team of over 20 writers.

His next stop was as an account director for Connect Agency, a company he’d previously freelanced with. They were early in their life stage trying to bring “chaos to order,” an area where Freeman excels. In his four years with the company, they landed some big-name clients, tripled their revenue and expanded their workforce to 12 employees. Once the company found order and started to pivot to optimization, Freeman decided he was ready for his next challenge.

And The Award Goes To...

Freeman partnered with his brother to found Kairos Digital. This agency does everything from digital marketing, copywriting, e-mail campaigns, social media management, video production, graphic design, logo creation, website development, search engine optimization and more.

Five years into their lifespan, they’ve already earned countless awards and honors for their marketing campaigns. Freeman credits his success to his tactical approach. Early on, he was certified as a StoryBrand guide, and they incubated inside a local coworking space, which allowed them to build relationships with a handful of solid organizations like Rethreaded and WJCT. They also put emphasis on SEO. Freeman said, “We take the time to sharpen the axe first with the messaging” before they start working on the ever-adapting tactics.

He enjoys working with his smaller team, as their close-knit office is built on culture and allows for amazing collaboration. Their campaign for WJCT’s Jacksonville Today newsletter integrated daily stories with the highest engagement into the confirmation page of Facebook Lead forms, which required users to complete the form for access. This helped grow the total subscribers from under 3,000 to an astounding 20,000 in under a year – growth which earned them the Netty Award for the best digital campaign of 2023.

Outside of work, he spends time with his wife and five children. He also serves as a deacon for his church, and continues working on his writing, focusing primarily on poetry and short fiction.

(Written by Alex Achorn, Published 6/17/24)

Invest in the Nest: Leigh Palmer

Our latest edition of #InvestInTheNest highlights the incredible work of one of our newest team members, Leigh Palmer (’05, ’09), who rejoined the UDAE staff in March as the director of planned giving.

Palmer works with donors who are focused on leaving a legacy to the University, and that comes through gifts left in their will.

“These are folks who really believe in the mission of the organization,” Palmer said. “They really believe that their gifts can make a difference in the long term and in perpetuity.”

There are lot of good reasons to be a planned giver including potential tax benefits, but she prioritizes helping donors understand their why in giving and who and what do they want to represent with their legacy gifts. She partners with tax professionals and attorneys as part of an overall plan in creating a donor’s legacy at the University.

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about Palmer’s line of work is that many people believe you have to be a millionaire to be a planned giver. That’s not the case.

“There are ways that you can make a gift that costs you nothing in your lifetime and then there are ways that you can give a gift that provides income for life,” Palmer said.

Palmer has enjoyed seeing the growth on campus and connecting with different generations of Osprey alumni and reliving their shared experiences. She said that under President Limayem’s leadership, the university is sure to be successful in growing UNF into a more prominent presence in the State University System.

“It’s really nice to see people feel as though our compass is still pointing in the right direction,” Palmer said. “It’s nice to see that people still believe we are on the right track.”

Early Osprey Days

Palmer lived and grew up in Jacksonville, moving from the Westside to campus as she started her journey at UNF as an undergrad. She said it felt like a whole new town and really didn’t want to live on campus, but “kids who live on campus have better grades,” is what her mom told her. As she was gently pushed out of the nest at home, Palmer soon found herself studying political science and history, carving out a path to success in undergrad. She had the opportunity to work alongside a professor during her studies for research on a book, and was noted as a contributor to the final product early on in her career.

After finishing her political science degree, she took a break and wasn’t fully sure what her next step was going to be. But two faculty members she connected with during her bachelor’s program encouraged her to pursue graduate school through the Madison-Mullis-Deming Fellowship, providing a gateway for her to continue her education. Having previously received the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, Palmer knew firsthand the impact that financial support can have on ensuring students have the resources to succeed and acquire an education. This ultimately led her to a master’s degree in public administration focused on nonprofit management.

While completing her master’s degree and working as the assistant director of development for the Episcopal School of Jacksonville (formerly Beaches Episcopal School), Palmer knew she wanted to do something bigger and more impactful. She’d previously volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and she was working major events for fundraising, knowing how this line of work could change the lives of others. When the opportunity to apply for the assistant director of development position within UNF’s College of Arts and Sciences opened up, she quickly applied and came back to UNF prepared for further excellence.

Returning Home to the Nest

When working with major donors, many of them are in their retirement years and lean into their personal passions. She has always enjoyed working through defining those passions with donors and to “take that experience and put it into action for them and really pursue that passion for them.”

While raising money for COAS, Palmer said she met and solicited a gift from longtime UNF donor James Van Vleck, one of her first major gift donors. She developed a strong connection with Van Vleck during her tenure and embraced his circle of joy mentality in regard to giving. That mindset helped inform her ability to better serve future donors throughout the giving process.

“It brough him joy to identify a need, to support and give and to see his gift in action, ultimately wanting to repeat the ask with other needs,” Palmer said.

After working as a frontline fundraiser for UNF for over six years, Palmer left the Nest to pursue other endeavors in 2016. She worked for Amelia Island as the director of strategic initiatives before going into business with her husband to create Coastal Current Electric, LLC. Palmer used her experience and education to create a thriving business before rejoining the UDAE team in March 2024.

When she’s not helping build legacies through giving at UNF, Leigh loves to listen to audiobooks during her long commutes to and from work. She also enjoys baking sourdough bread, cycling, fishing with her husband, and playing board games with her two kids. This summer, the Palmers are looking forward to a house swap trip to Spain.

(Written by Tyler White, Published 6/30/24)

Osprey Shoutout: Sean Thurman ('13)

We’ve seen a lot of Floridians with their Stanley cups this summer, but Sean Thurman (’13) has the most coveted one of all as an NHL Champion!

Ice Ice Baby

Originally from Tampa, she spent her freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast before becoming an Osprey. Thurman said, “Over the summer I took a tour of UNF and fell in love.” Between the size of the school and the concentration in public relations, she found a perfect fit. Due to the smaller class sizes, she felt like her professors provided a hands-on experience, and all the projects she was working on right before graduation helped prepare her for the industry. She landed an internship with a media group during her senior year and was able to turn that into a full-time role after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in communication.

Shortly after, she spent a few months in a communications role for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority before landing a role closer to home as the director of marketing for MSL CPAs & Advisors based out of Orlando. After a few years with the accounting firm, she entered the nonprofit world with United Arts of Central Florida, working her way up to marketing and communications director. As the sole person in the external realm, she had to juggle everything such as media relations, ad buying, printed collateral, e-mail campaigns and social media/website management. While there was a lot on her plate, she loved being able to serve the community and had a lot more opportunity to be creative in her role.

In 2023, Thurman had a baby girl, then returned to her role in a part-time remote capacity after maternity leave. Her husband landed a job in South Florida, so she was looking for opportunities in the area when the Florida Panthers posted an opening. In March, she was officially hired as the marketing manager focusing on the Panthers IceDen and the Baptist Health IcePlex, the official practice facility for the Panthers. These rinks provide programming, including adult leagues, hockey clinics, youth camps, and public skating.

Thurman, Thurmyth, Thurlegend

A month after starting this new role, the Panthers began their playoff push as the top seed in the Atlantic Division. After beating the Lightning, Bruins and Rangers, she watched as her squad faced off against the Edmonton Oilers for the championship. Her goal was always to work in the sports and entertainment industry, and here she was four games away from the highest achievement in hockey. “It’s a little surreal,” Thurman said. “Hard to wrap your head around the best possible outcome happening.” After taking a three-game lead, the Oilers stormed back to tie the series, but Florida was able to pull ahead in Game 7 to clinch the cup! For Thurman, it was incredible to experience the euphoria live at the Amerant Bank Arena. She said, “I still get chills watching replays of those last 10 seconds.”

It's hard to repeat the experience of her first few months with the team, but she’s excited for the future as she lives out her marketing dream. When she’s not at the rinks, she spends as much time as she can with her daughter and husband.

(Written by Alex Achorn, Published 7/5/24)

Donor Spotlight: Almeta Monroe-Turner

Our incredible UNF Foundation Board member Almeta Monroe-Turner has pledged an extraordinary gift to establish the Almeta Monroe-Turner Commencement Regalia Endowment, which will support the efforts of our No Grad Left Behind initiative!

No Grad Left Behind seeks to support graduating seniors who are most in need of assistance and who are unable to attend their commencement ceremony due to financial constraints by alleviating the costs associated with graduation.

The Almeta Monroe-Turner Commencement Regalia Endowment will help students culminate their years of hard work by uniting with their peers at the University of North Florida commencement ceremonies and join the ranks of over 100,000 UNF Osprey alumni as our newest members.

This isn’t the first time Monroe-Turner has supported our University. In 2011, she started the Almeta Monroe-Turner First Generation Scholarship to honor both her mother and her husband who were both first-generation students.

Almeta Monroe is based in Fleming Island. An entrepreneur focused on mobile technology, she is also a member of Insurance and Financial Advisors and the Executive Women’s Golf Association. She is a former member of the executive boards of Operation New Hope, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida and Ready For Work.

Scholarship Spotlight: Mindy Herrick:

A shining example of a scholarships recipient thriving in the Nest is North Florida Ospreys Women’s Golf alumna and UNF Osprey Club Scholarship recipient Mindy Herrick (’21, ’23) who’s here to tee off our scholarship spotlights.

Originally from northeast Ohio, the Herricks converted from snowbirds to residents as they moved down to Gainesville. Mindy, following in her father’s and grandmother’s footsteps who were both golfers, picked up the clubs at age 11 when her coach noticed her natural talent. After continued lessons and competitions, she decided to pursue a collegiate scholarship, when Coach Berglund swooped her over to UNF.

By the time Herrick wrapped up her collegiate career, she finished with a bachelor’s degree from the UNF School of Communication focusing in journalism, a master’s degree from The Graduate School in educational leadership focused on athletic administration, program records for rounds under par, Top 5, Top 10 and Top 25 finishes, and an ASUN Conference Championship ring. While the individual accolades are nice, Herrick said walking off the final green with her teammates showering her with water bottles to celebrate the conference title was “the cherry on top.”

Herrick continues to fill the trophy case as both the operations manager for the Taylor Leadership Institute and the head women’s golf coach for St. Johns Country Day School. The TLI team recently received the Greatness Award for Student Success by Franklin Covey and Herrick was just named St. Johns Athletics Coach of the Month. She may be one of the youngest head coaches, but after being coached by both Coach Joanne Berglund and Dr. Matthew Ohlson, she loves using her experience to influence the next generation of golfers to achieve their goals.

Right now, she’s happy with her current regimen where she can do meaningful work with the Leadership Institute and still have time to coach her high schoolers. While you might think balancing these two roles is overwhelming, Herrick said she actually has more free time than her student-athlete days. She’s still able to spend time with her friends and has started reading more since graduation, often finding herself relaxing beachside with a book.