Three young leaders speak about future

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- Lisa DeJesus has a simple philosophy of life: "Blossom where you are planted."

DeJesus, the dean of admissions at Albany Technical College; Caitlyn Cooper, chief development officer and forensic investigator for the Lily Pad Inc., and Nikki Rhodes, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, were selected last month to Georgia Trend Magazine's "40 Under 40" Class of 2010.

Tuesday at Doublegate Country Club, the trio talked about their selections, their jobs and their hopes for the future.

"I was never informed or prepared for post-secondary education, college or university or the availability of financial aid," DeJesus, 38, said. "I want others to have the opportunities for education that were so difficult for me.

"I've been very busy since moving here from Tampa. I've been involved in Girls Inc. and the 2010 Census. I feel you blossom where you are planted and I want to make an impact on Southwest Georgia."

Cooper, at 25, the youngest of the 40 selected, stepped to the dais after DeJesus.

"It was a big surprise. I was definitely excited," Cooper, said. "I knew I was nominated, but at my age, I wasn't expecting to get the call. I am so honored to be on this stage with such worthy women.

"I've worked with Nikki quite a bit on some cases at the Lily Pad (on child molestation cases) and am proud to say we have a 100 percent conviction rate."

Cooper then turned her attention to another of her passions -- Emerge Albany, a group of young professionals whose goal is to keep Albany's youngest and brightest in the city.

"We started with five people and now have more than 70," Cooper said. "We have a very diverse crowd of young professionals in Albany. We'd like to keep them here."

Rhodes said when she got the call from Georgia Trend, she was skeptical at first and was about to hang up the phone when the person on the other end began asking for too much personal information.

"I'd never heard of 40-under-40. Didn't know what it was," Rhodes said. "I was ready to hang up when the editor begged me to go on the web and look at their website. I looked and then it was like, 'Oh. My bad.' I had to do some serious backtracking then.

"It's definitely a big honor for me."

As a GBI special agent, Rhodes described her career conducting narcotics, molestation, rape, abuse and death investigations.

"I love investigating indoor marijuana grows," she said.

As for the future, Rhodes is eyeing the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"I'm growing and developing all I can with the GBI," said Rhodes, 31. "I dream of being a special agent with the FBI. Law enforcement is in my blood. But I have to make a decision before I turn 36."