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40 Under 40


Posted on December 13

Roy Wilcox

It takes a diverse mix of talented people to make a city or region run. Doctors. Artists. Researchers. Entrepreneurs. Philanthropists. Architects. And, these days, bloggers. In the following pages, we introduce you to 40 locals, all younger than 40, who are making their mark.


• Noah Schwartz, 34

Owner, Shoefly

The 411: Bringing big-city shoes to Sacramento
Noah Schwartz grew up in Sacramento, but his fashion sense has always been Big City. When I was a kid, my friends and I would go to San Francisco for clothes and shoes, says Schwartz. After getting an accounting degree, he realized that crunching numbers for a living wouldn't make him a happy camper (I wanted to be around people) and decided to put his love of sales and fashion together in the form of a business. There wasn't anyplace in Sacramento to buy contemporary, high-fashion shoes, so I felt it was time, says Schwartz, who opened Shoefly's midtown store in 2000 and a second location in Granite Bay last year. Although his fun, funky shoes are for the hip and trendy, Schwartz says hipness has nothing to do with age. My customers are anywhere from 16 to 65, he says. With clothes, you might have to be a certain age or a certain size, but everybody can express themselves with a fun pair of shoes.

• Amy Beazizo, 34

Clinical manager and breast health nurse, Sutter Cancer Center

The 411: Helping take the fear out of breast cancer
Empathy is something you're born with, says Amy Beazizo, R.N., and those who know her say she's empathy personified. In working with breast cancer patients at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, Beazizo hopes to provide a more personal experience instead of a cattle call, she says. We try and take the fear out of the process. She has a background in oncology nursing, so it seemed a natural next step for her to take the helm as manager of the Breast Health Center when it opened in 2001, Beazizo says. She leads her small team by example. I try to set the tone, she says. Our No. 1 priority is the patient, and we hand-pick staff members who are able to connect well with them. Although she recently was honored as a Local Hero by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Beazizo feels she gets more from her patients than she gives. I feel I lead a more enriched life by being surrounded by these remarkable women, she says.

• Rachel Marie, 21

Singer

The 411: Big pipes, big dreams
Fresh out of a Nashville recording studio, debut CD in hand, Rachel Marie is full of dreams. The next thing I need is to get signed to a record label, says the Roseville-based singer. A fixture on the local scene for years&emdash;she's been on stage since she was a tot and was performing with Capitol Opera by age 13&emdash;the Granite Bay High grad continued her vocal studies at Brigham Young, where she earned a bachelor's in music. Although she loves all kinds of music, counting opera great Eileen Farrell and jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald among her idols, Rachel Marie's new CD is pure pop. I hope it gets radio play, or that people will at least buy enough of my CDs (sold online) so I can raise enough money to make another recording, she says. Who knows what lies ahead? At 21, she's got plenty of time to make it happen.

• Tarik Assagai, 25

Owner, ACS Digital Media and Natomasliving.net

The 411: At the rate he's going, he'll retire at 35
At 14, Tarik Assagai could disassemble and reassemble any IBM computer; at 19, he was running a business. Six years later, his design firm, ACS Digital Media, is still going strong, providing clients such as California GEAR UP and Florin Road Partnership with web design, graphic design, Flash animation and other support. But despite his youth, Assagai understands that it takes more than technical savvy to keep clients happy. I think my greatest strength for business is how well I deal with people, he says. Every client matters. The recipient of a 2005 Stepping Up To Greatness award from the Observer Media Group, Assagai says he owes his fearless entrepreneurial spirit to his parents, who both had their own businesses. (His father is well-known Sacramento lobbyist Mel Assagai; his late mother owned a residential care facility.) Recently, Assagai added a second business to his already-full plate: Natomasliving.net, an online business directory for the Natomas area. I'm too busy, he admits. But maybe it's worth it: If things keep going this well, Assagai expects to retire at 35&emdash;or sooner.

• Trevor Shults, 27

Events and promotions manager, Paragary Restaurant Group

The 411: He knows how to get the party started
Imagine having a profession whose main requirement is knowing how to have a good time. Welcome to the world of Trevor Shults, who credits his Italian upbringing (it's all about big family get-togethers and having fun) for his party panache. With his company Trevor Presents, Shults during the past few years has been crowned Sacramento's premier party king, throwing a now-legendary Summer of Love music-eat-drinkfest and routinely putting on parties and corporate events at Harlow's, Momo Lounge and Gianni's through his work with the Torza family. (They own all three.) I was very fortunate to work with the Torzas, says Shults. They allowed me to take my parties to the next level. Shults' career also has moved to the next level: He recently was hired as the events and promotions manager of the Paragary Restaurant Group&emdash;just in time to plan two New Year's Eve bashes.

• Katie Pollard, 35

Genome researcher and professor, UC Davis

The 411: Doing revolutionary research in human evolution
A top researcher at UC Davis' Genome Center, Katie Pollard, Ph.D., is primarily interested in the evolutionary changes in the human genome that distinguish us from our closest cousin, the chimp. Chimps share almost 99 percent of our DNA and many aspects of our biology and behavior, says Pollard, who received her doctorate from UC Berkeley and serves as an assistant professor at UCD. But somewhere in that 1 percent difference lies the record of the evolutionary events that led to our unique human biology, including our brains and language but also many other traits, such as the fact that we progress to AIDS when infected with HIV whereas chimps do not. One of Pollard's most exciting recent findings concerns hundreds of human accelerated regions that may hold the key to important information about human differences, such as why some of us are at higher risk for certain types of disease. It is amazing that in every cell of our bodies sits a record of our evolution written in a DNA alphabet, she says. My goal is to figure out how to read our story from the DNA.

• Laurie Vismara, 28

Researcher/therapist and autism expert, M.I.N.D. Institute

The 411: She works magic with kids
People who know Laurie Vismara, Ph.D., see her as a shining beacon of hope in the frustrating world of autism, where there are more questions than answers. Her work involves behavioral therapies for very young children (typically 12–24 months of age)&emdash;new territory in a field where treatment typically has started later. The earlier you start intervention, the better, says Vismara, in her third year at M.I.N.D. Having a younger brother with autism sparked Vismara's early interest in the disorder and fuels her compassion for those affected by it. I can only imagine their feelings of frustration and hopelessness, she says. But by coaching parents in the use of interventional strategies, Vismara hopes to help them be just as effective as the therapists. When you're working with a child and you see that light bulb go off, there's nothing like it.

• Elizabeth Jordan-Nelson, 23

Professional dog handler

The 411: A rising star in a dog-eat-dog world
In the competitive world of dog handling, there are some over-the-top people who will do things that are not so nice, says Elizabeth Jordan-Nelson. But the hardest part, she says, is the constant travel; she's on the road all but two weekends a year. It's a life she was born into: Her mother and stepdad are both in the biz, and Jordan-Nelson was only 8 when she joined the club. After the American Kennel Club named her the No. 1 junior handler in the United States in 2000, there was no stopping her. When you've put your hard work into dogs and they win, it's an awesome feeling, says Jordan-Nelson. And she wins a lot: She recently scored a Best in Show from the Sir Francis Drake Kennel Club in San Rafael. To her, though, that's small potatoes. Eventually, I would love to have the No. 1 dog in the country, she says. And although she shows all kinds of breeds, Jordan-Nelson remains partial to golden retrievers.

• Clint Myers, 28

President, Myers Homes, and owner, 131 Development

The 411:  Building a better community in more ways than one
It's a tough time to be in the housing industry, admits Clint Myers, who since 2005 has been president of Myers Homes, owned by his father, C.C. Myers, and one of the area's foremost custom-home building companies. Life is obviously very different right now because of the real estate slowdown, he says. But even though it's not a great time right now, there are projects coming up in the next 12 months that are going to make sense to buy, and there will be an opportunity to capitalize on it. Meanwhile, Myers has started his own real estate development company, 131 Development, and he's doing more than a smidge to help the community, too, including fundraising efforts for the Children's Miracle Network and the Discovery Museum. (He's on the museum's board of directors.) I'm very excited about that work&emdash;very motivated, he says. And lest you get the wrong idea, it took more than being C.C.'s son to win him the president's seat at Myers Homes: Myers holds a master's degree in real estate development from USC.


• Amy Williams, 33

Public information officer, city of Sacramento

The 411: In the line of fire 24/7, she never caves under pressure
Media deadlines are unpredictable, making Amy Williams' job equally unpredictable. In many ways, this job is seven days a week, 365 days a year, says Williams, who as the city's public information officer is in the hot seat when reporters on deadline need it now. So how does she manage to keep her wits under pressure? A good sense of humor and having a strong support system at home help put my work in perspective, she says. In her short tenure&emdash;she came onboard in May 2006&emdash;Williams has rapidly made the job her own, building the city's public information team while attending to her primary duty of providing media strategy and insight for the city managers, mayor and city council. It's not a job for those who don't like surprises. To be good at this job, you need to enjoy not knowing what your day will bring, says Williams.

• Timothy Marbach, 29

Professor and creator of the Center for Clean Energy, Sacramento State

The 411: Leading the way to make Greater Sacramento the green region of the country
Timothy Marbach, Ph.D., is a take-action kind of guy. Seeing the current energy crisis as one of the biggest and most important challenges of our generation, he took it upon himself to start the Center for Clean Energy at Sac State, where he's an assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering. It's not a physical center, but more of an intellectual center for getting interdisciplinary groups involved in clean-energy research and education, he explains. As an engineer, Marbach wants to design systems and products that make sense. There's so much waste everywhere and so many simple, elegant solutions, which to me is very powerful. But even more important than his own work, he says, is what he does inside the classroom. In teaching, I feel I can have the biggest impact, says Marbach, in his third year at Sac State. A lot of engineering education is focused on crunching numbers, but my teaching philosophy is very holistic. I want my students to be able to succeed in their jobs and in life.

• Ed Mojica, 37

Architect and owner, Mas|Mojica Architecture Studio

The 411: Putting his passion for design toward the greater good
Ed Mojica still remembers the wonderment he felt as a child when his father took him to the architecturally distinctive Best Products store (now Best Buy) on Arden Way. I thought it was so cool to enter the store in [what looked like] a broken corner of a building, he says. Today, as the owner of Mas|Mojica Architecture, Mojica aims to continue to raise the bar by creating inspired, imaginative and sustainable designs. (He's particularly excited about the Hot Italian restaurant-and-boutique project at 16th and Q.) But passing the torch and giving back to the community are what really matter, says Mojica, and he walks the walk: In addition to teaching at Cosumnes River College, he's working to create an emerging professionals committee, bringing together young architects, landscape architects, planners and designers to discuss the relevance of design in our region. The idea is to create enough critical mass to take on pro bono projects in our communities as a way to raise awareness on issues of design and sustainability, says Mojica. Someday, he'd also like to find a way to do that one special project that will fill a kid with wonder for the rest of his life.

• Tamu Nolfo, 36

Substance abuse prevention specialist and research activist

The 411: Providing a better way to fight substance abuse: prevention
Say substance abuse and many people think Betty Ford Center. That's why they don't get what Tamu Nolfo is all about. When I tell people I'm a prevention specialist, they ask, ‘What do you do, counseling?' says Nolfo, whose mission is to prevent substance abuse problems before they start. Through her business, Nolfo Consulting, she works to put research in the hands of nonprofits and government agencies to empower them to make good decisions when it's policymaking time. I help communities and organizations understand the kinds of substance prevention programs that are most effective, says Nolfo, who has long been committed to the cause: In high school, she joined Students Reaching Out, giving classroom presentations to encourage other kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol and make healthful life choices. It's extremely rewarding when I go into the community to see young people who are thriving and know they've been touched by the programs or policies I've put in place, says Nolfo, who was handpicked as an adviser for the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs and has won awards for her work. After she gets her Ph.D. in human development from UC Davis, her next goal is to establish an institute in Sacramento to support multiracial kids and their families.

• Heidi Watanabe, 34

Farmer, Watanabe Farms

The 411: She's the goddess of the heirloom tomato
Heidi Watanabe laughs when asked how she feels about her nickname, the goddess of the heirloom tomato.  How I came to get that particular label, I'm not really sure, she says. But I'll take it. With Watanabe Farms' tomatoes popping up in such top local restaurants as The Kitchen and Mason's, it's no wonder her farming skills have earned such notoriety. (They're also a favorite at local farmers markets.) Life on the farm was not her original plan: In college, Watanabe was a physical education major, thinking hazily about some kind of coaching. But then she got married and found herself adopting the 7-acre West Sacramento farm with her husband, whose family has owned it for nearly 60 years. It's a lot of hard labor, admits Watanabe, but that comes naturally to her&emdash;she was a phys ed major, remember? People say they can't imagine doing what I do, says Watanabe. But I tell people who work in an office I can't imagine doing what they do. When someone walks up to you and says, ‘That's the best tomato I've ever eaten,' there's no feeling like it in the world.

• Allen Lue, 37

Chief of head andneck surgery, Kaiser Permanente

The 411: Former reporter finds greater rewards in medicine
After two summers interning as a reporter at The Sacramento Bee, Allen Lue, M.D., was at a fork in the road. Would it be journalism or medicine? Lue turned to his father. He said, ‘If you become a writer now, you'll be very happy, I'm sure, but it would be very hard to go back and do medicine later,' Lue recalls. Lue spent the next 10 years finishing medical school and doing his residency at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, his hometown. As a head and neck surgeon at Kaiser South Sacramento, Lue finds special rewards in overseeing the cochlear implant program, changing the lives of deaf and severely hard-of-hearing patients. They come to you, they can't hear or can't talk on the phone, and after surgery most of them are back to normal, he says. It's the most gratifying work I do. The high-technology aspect of cochlear implant surgery also is a turn-on for Lue, a self-described gadget guy who also gets his ya-yas out as Kaiser's assistant-in-chief for technology.

• Carrie Bendick, 32

Winemaker, Holly's Hill Vineyards

The 411: Bringing a taste of France to El Dorado County
From grape to bottle, Carrie Bendick loves the whole cycle of winemaking, from beginning to end. It's a family affair: Bendick's parents own the small Placerville winery (it's named after her mom); her husband shares in winemaking duties. Being a small family winery, I get to touch every aspect of the process, says Bendick. There's always a family member in the tasting room, and usually it's me. The winery's focus on Rhone varietals holds added allure for Bendick, who has traveled to France to learn more about the history of Rhone Valley wines. It's the style of wine our family loves to drink and loves to make, she says. There's such great diversity of flavors and aromas within the Rhone category. But she's no wine snob. Some say women have a more sensitive palate than men, says Bendick. But I don't know about that. If you like the way it tastes, that's all that matters.

• Oleg Kaganovich, 34

Venture capitalist and principal, DFJ Frontier

The 411: An entrepreneurial hurricane blows into town
Bay Area transplant Oleg Kaganovich once spent time on Wall Street, where he was an investment banker with Black Emerald Capital. But his greatest strength lies in his entrepreneurial muscle: While still in college, he founded and grew a technology company, then went to grad school (Columbia), where he earned an MBA. Later, he served as CEO of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance. Today, as a principal of the venture capital firm DFJ Frontier, Kaganovich is using his entrepreneurial know-how to help other entrepreneurs&emdash;and it's more than just showing them the money. Cutting checks is just a small part of what we provide, he says. In the end, venture capital is a relationship management business. People skills aside, Kaganovich's analytical approach (I grew up around engineers) comes in handy when solving complex business problems. Most everything can be overcome with a creative solution, he says. That's how I tend to address life as well as business.

• Laura Holm, 39

Lampwork bead artist and owner, Jewels by L Designs

The 411: Creating one-of-a-kind wearable art
You might say Laura Holm creates jewelry in the heat of passion: Her handcrafted glass lampwork beads are made with a torch. It seems like true artisan work is making a bit of a comeback&emdash;I hope, says Holm, who finds joy in creating one-of-a-kind pieces versus something mass-produced in China. Hooked on lampworking since she learned the art some four years ago, Holm&emdash;whose works are sold online&emdash;uses Moretti glass to create beads and pendants, often in the form of hearts, butterflies and organic free forms. While her style may be fluid, she is fixed on one goal: to create unique, high-quality jewelry that will be treasured for years. I want each piece to find a special home and to be worn for many generations, says Holm, who brags about her husband's work more than her own: He's a lampwork artist, too.

• Dylan Wiseman, 38

Attorney-at-law and shareholder, Littler Mendelson, P.C.

The 411: A sharp legal eagle whose job resembles reality TV
Sometimes, Dylan Wiseman says, his job is like CSI, Dateline, 20/20 and Court TV rolled into one. People have said it would make an interesting reality TV show, says Wiseman, whose job often involves hunting down individuals who have illegally taken information from one company to another. (That's the CSI part.) Every company has valuable information they don't want their competitors to have, says Wiseman. It's rewarding to be in a position to try and get it back. It's also an unusual spot to be in: Wiseman is one of the only lawyers in town practicing in his specialty. The whole area of unfair competition and trade secrets is not really something you learn in law school, he says, so you learn it in the trenches. To that end, Wiseman is passing the torch by giving lectures on his area of expertise, which recently earned him a certificate of appreciation from the California Continuing Education of the Bar.

• Liv Moe, 31

Artist, blogger and editor of Midtown Monthly

The 411: Tapping into Sacramento's pulse as well as her own
As editor of Midtown Monthly magazine, Liv Moe taps into the heart of Sacramento with coverage of local music, arts, culture and politics. On her blog (livmoe.blogspot.com) and in her art, Moe taps into her own soul for the world to see. I've been making art my whole life, so even from the time I was little I didn't question it&emdash;I knew this is what I should be doing, says Moe. Apparently so: For two years in a row, her work garnered awards from the California Fine Art Exhibition at the California State Fair. Now a graduate student at Sac State, her view of art was blown wide open while she was an undergrad at UC Davis. At Davis, I realized it wasn't just about painting and drawing figures; there are all these different ways of expressing yourself. For Moe, that frequently takes the form of using objects as art: books, vacuum cleaners, stuffed toys, false teeth. Her much-touted blog is yet another forum for self-expression, adding a cutting-edge technological dimension to her multifaceted, ever-evolving reach across artistic boundaries.

• Stephanie Gularte, 36

Actress and founding/producing artistic director, Capital Stage

The 411: Giving a shot in the arm to local theater
We have a bit of a frisky strut right now, says Stephanie Gularte, and she couldn't have said it better: Capital Stage, the professional theater group she launched in 2005, is taking off like a rocket, giving more established local theater companies a run for their money. How does she do it? By bringing to Sacramento an edgier brand of theater that gets people talking. I had the opportunity to do bold, innovative theater when I was acting in the Bay Area, says Gularte. But Sacramento is my home, and my real desire was to do that kind of work here. Now that Sacramento is getting more sophisticated, Gularte reasons, the time is right to step out. Plays that may have been deemed too provocative for Sacramento 10 years ago are being enthusiastically embraced by our audiences, she says. It's a great time to live and work in Sactown!

• Suzi Sherman, 32

COO, Arch Technologies, and eWomenNetwork leader

The 411: Leading her own company and a women's network, too
There was a time when Suzi Sherman was the tech in Arch Technologies. But her company became so successful that she had to start focusing on running the business: operations, sales, marketing, proposal writing&emdash;everything that's not billable tech work. I am now officially overhead, occasionally underfoot, quips Sherman, whose team is now six strong (herself included). Arch's target customer is the small business that has escalating support needs, but isn't sure whether to hire a full-time person, says Sherman. For less than the cost of a full-time technician, they can have a responsive team with a diverse array of skills. A refugee of the corporate world&emdash;her IT career began with The Money Store&emdash;Sherman advocates for women in business (like herself) through her work as leader of the Sacramento chapter of the eWomenNetwork.
 

• jose medina, 36

Boxing coach and gym operator

The 411: Providing a positive alternative to life in the streets
For 11 years, the John Maes Boxing Club was Jose Medina's gift to the kids in the 'hood&emdash;a place where they could learn a discipline and stay safe. I read the paper every day, and every day there's something bad: gangs, drugs, crime, he says. But the gym near Franklin Boulevard recently closed its doors when Medina could no longer afford the $800 monthly rent. Medina marches on, scouting for a new gym while he continues to train his young boxers at a temporary location, escorting them to amateur tournaments on weekends. Kids call me and ask, ‘When are you gonna open the gym?' says Medina. These kids want to stay busy, they want to stay in shape, they don't want to start being with the wrong kids. Having lived in South Sacramento for 25 years and being a father himself, Medina feels strongly about the cause. And besides, he's honoring a promise: It was the late John Maes, his former coach, who asked Medina to take over where he left off.

• David Jacques, 28

Gold medal-winning skater, Team USA

The 411: Skating his way to stardom
A competitive roller skater for 24 of his 28 years, David Jacques is making noises about retiring. But no one knows whether to believe him: Just last year he took home the gold as World Class Men's singles champion; the year before, he scored a bronze in open free dance. I am supposed to be officially retired now, says Jacques, who just skated the World Championships in Australia in November. But this is my second ‘retirement,' so we will just have to see if it takes this time. Jacques grew up in the roller-skating world: His parents, who still serve as his coaches, own Roller King in Roseville. His best individual event is singles&emdash;the jumps and spins like you see on ice. It's a thrill he still enjoys, which is why he's having trouble with the r word. One thing I really like about skating is that I can be a star of sorts, but out of the sport I am basically anonymous, he says. If and when he ever really does retire&emdash;for real&emdash;you'll find him at Roller King, running the family business.

• Erika Bjork, 32

Director of community development, Chris Webber Foundation

The 411: Finding her bliss by giving back
Of all the things she does for the Chris Webber Foundation, nothing tugs at Erika Bjork's heartstrings more than holiday events and Make-A-Wish kids. To see that child get his first bike or first telescope just gives you a big, warm, fuzzy feeling, says Bjork, who has been working for the former Kings star since 2003. Shopping for 200 kids every holiday season is just part of what Bjork does as director of community development for the foundation, where she's in charge of overseeing fundraisers and assisting with marketing and outreach for his restaurant, Center Court with C-Webb. It takes a lot of Starbucks, quips Bjork. But I can't imagine doing anything else. The job allows her to combine her love of basketball with her love of giving back. And for Bjork, that's bliss. I've always believed in the positive influence sports has on society, she says. There is no greater feeling than knowing you have helped someone.

• Levi Benkert, 26

Owner, LJ Urban

The 411: Creating eco-urban communities&emdash;and more
People have a hard time believing Levi Benkert is old enough to have created a company like LJ Urban. (The L stands for Levi, the J for Jessie, his wife.) Greener, more sustainable housing is the company's key mission, with a bevy of projects on the table and 300 homes planned for the Sacramento area this year. We truly believe Sacramento has a chance to be at the forefront of a global shift toward building more sustainable cities, says Benkert, a Bay Area transplant with an international perspective. (He's lived and/or traveled in more than 20 countries.) We have the perfect mix of urban core grid, plus the people and willpower to make it a reality. But LJ Urban's vision is larger than that, he says&emdash;it's more about being catalysts for social change. By inviting people into the journey via blogging and a constant stream of new videos on the company's website, Benkert hopes to empower people to know there are real, everyday people doing things to make a difference&emdash;and our hope is that they will see they can do the same.

• Sunny Staton Mitchell, 31

Education and outreach director, The Sacramento Ballet

The 411: Passing the pli to the next generation
Sunny Staton Mitchell has performed plenty of plis as a soloist for The Sacramento Ballet, making her a natural for her current job as the company's education and outreach director. It's our job to introduce dance to a younger generation&emdash;to create a generation that's interested in seeing it and performing it, she says. To that end, Staton Mitchell is the behind-the-curtain magician who organizes school visits (whether that means the students come to the ballet or the ballet goes to the students), arranges backstage tours for school groups and makes sure the ballet's 35 or so weekly dance classes for young artists go off without a hitch. (She also teaches some of the classes.) And that's just part of what she does, so don't even ask if her duties are going to expand when the ballet moves into a larger facility, which is supposed to happen in 2009. But it's all good. We're helping to bring dance into the 21st century and make sure it's not a dying art form, which is a wonderful thing, says Staton Mitchell, who continues to explore her first love&emdash;choreography&emdash;through E:Motion, her own dance company.

• Mike Testa, 38

Vice president, communications and public affairs, Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

The 411: Spreading the good word about Sacramento
People told Mike Testa that nonprofit work wouldn't be fulfilling. But they were wrong. I followed my gut and my heart and have never once regretted it, says Testa, who started out in corporate communications. As vice president of communications and public affairs at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau, Testa spends a lot of time pitching stories about Sacramento to media mongrels and doing what he calls product development&emdash;the product being, of course, Sacramento. From the board on down, we are all passionate about making Sacramento even more attractive to our customers, says Testa. Ironically, it wasn't until he moved to the Bay Area and back that Testa himself grew to appreciate our fair city, he says. It took living somewhere else for me to appreciate how special Sacramento is, and that has made me a great advocate for fostering community pride and in helping to attract visitors.

• Michael Sampino, 28

Produce distributor and owner, Sampino's Towne Foods

The 411: Little fish makes big splash
Straight out of high school, Michael Sampino made a name for himself as one of the hardest-working men in the food business. I used to sell produce from the trunk of my car, remembers Sampino. His scrappy dedication paid off: Soon he snagged business away from bigger fish, delivering produce to such culinary heavyweights as Darrell Corti, Biba Caggiano and Bruce Mace. No longer a slave to the trunk, Sampino now has a whole produce posse and several vans; he's also opened a full-scale deli, Sampino's Towne Foods, in the front of the building at 1607 F St. that houses his wholesale business (in the back). With his father, Bill&emdash;a longtime local butcher&emdash;assisting in the new venture, it's no surprise that the shop has a Corti Brothers/David Berkley bent: His dad is a veteran of both. Although the deli opened just over a year ago, Sampino, in typical form, already is thinking ahead. I'd like to have a little Sampino's section in some of the local grocery stores, he says. Why not?

• Rachel Clarke, 38

New-media artist and professor, Sacramento State

The 411: Doing her part to promote digital art
The new world of digital art is full of endless wonder for Rachel Clarke, who somehow finds time to teach at Sac State (she's an associate prof) and edit an online media arts journal while prolifically exhibiting her own work. There is so much creative potential in human/computer interaction, says Clarke, a Brit who gravitated to the States to get her MFA. I'd like to continue to explore this territory and share it with others. One of the others she's especially passionate about sharing with is children: Clarke has created two commissioned new-media installation works for the Crocker Art Ark, the museum's mobile outreach program. As much as she finds new media a revelation, though, Clarke says she doesn't use technology for the wow factor. I like the work to be contemplative, and I want it to contain both a quiet beauty and also be disturbing, even arresting, at times.

• Jp Howell, 24

Left-handed pitcher, Tampa Bay Rays

The 411: Living his dream in the big leagues
A product of local Little League and Jesuit High, JP Howell got picked up by the majors in 2005, which he says happened so fast it was crazy. I got a call one day saying ‘You're going to be pitching for the Kansas City Royals in three days.' Four hours later, I was on a flight to meet the team. He has since been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, serving as a starting pitcher whose trademark heavy curveball has been known to scare a few hitters. But not the Yankees' Derek Jeter. He's really tough, says Howell. It seems like every pitch I throw, he can get to it. Currently house hunting in East Sac&emdash;he still spends his off-seasons here, with family&emdash;Howell says the best part of being a major-league player is not the money (he just got a $1 million bonus) or fame, but the team aspect of hanging out with a bunch of guys. We're together eight months out of the year, so they become like family. Is playing in the big leagues everything he imagined? It's more.

• B. Joseph Valenzuela, 30

Artist

The 411: Creating his own genre: word art
Language and art intersect on the provocative large-scale canvases of B. Joseph Valenzuela, whose unique approach has been given the moniker word art. His process involves stitching canvas scraps together, applying numerous coats of paint and then carving out images in pen and ink&emdash;detailed images built entirely out of handwritten words. These layers of language shape and shade and create, explains Valenzuela, whose work has caught fire on the local scene, including recent exhibitions at the CoolCat Gallery and Momo Lounge. A 2003 Sac State grad with a bachelor's degree in art studio, Valenzuela's work earned an award of merit last year at the State Fair's California Fine Art Exhibition, though he modestly plays it down. (It was minor.) His proudest moments, he says, happen every time someone makes a comment or stares at my art for longer than three seconds. I want the work to act as a bridge.

• Kevin Linden, 26

CEO, EmailDirect

The 411: Making life easier for e-marketers
Kevin Linden was a student at San Diego State when he and a buddy came up with a hot idea for a new business. So he quit school, launched the business with his pal and moved back to Sac (cheaper rent). By the end of the first month, a company that was started with less than $1,500 was turning a profit, and six years later, EmailDirect shows no sign of slowing down. We're adding clients at the rate of 20 to 30 a month, says Linden. We're definitely in a growth mode. EmailDirect offers web-based software for e-mail campaigns, e-mail list management and permission-based e-mail messages, which is really a long way of saying that the company provides the technological support needed for marketers to deliver their messages. A big piece of the pie, says Linden, is e-newsletters, which are notoriously hard to get into in-boxes. We realized people were having trouble sending newsletters, so we became experts at it, says Linden, who gets a good feeling knowing he's helped. Of course, you want a company that's profitable, he says. But when you talk to clients who tell you how well it's working for them, it feels good.

• Rob Zinn, 36

Co-owner and designer, blankblank

The 411: Design doesn't get much cooler than this
Those who know Rob Zinn's work think of him mainly as the lighting guy: He's the one whose ultra-cool heliocentric lighting series became blankblank's first launch, garnering major media and industry attention. But Zinn does more than cutting-edge lighting; he's since expanded into designing furniture and other site-specific works for the design firm's interior projects. A Pratt Institute grad and multiple award winner, Zinn says blankblank is a local firm with national reach, as it works with designers around the country, helping to develop, brand and market their products. Down the road, we'd like to be known nationally as a company that's doing very innovative, unique, high-quality design, he says. Meanwhile, he's happy to report that after four years, blankblank is hitting its stride in Sacramento. My work is starting to be more accepted here, which is a good thing, he says. We're in a good place right now.

• Wendy Matlock, 34

English professor, Sacramento State

The 411: Taking a modern approach to teaching old literature
Lit students have been reading Beowulf forever. But probably not the way Wendy Matlock, Ph.D., teaches it. A disciple of both old literature and new technology, the Sac State assistant professor brings the two worlds together in the classroom, winning high marks from her students and her superiors. The technology makes the visuals much easier to share, and the visuals help students get a richer understanding of the original work, says Matlock. While students are reading Beowulf, for example, she uses PowerPoint to display images of the original manuscript, which was handwritten on animal skin. Matlock also uses an online blackboard for student discussions, current recordings of medieval music and other cool tools to keep her students engaged. Studying this really old literature makes me feel very connected to the past, and I hope to create that same connection for my students, she says.

• Floyd Diebel, 38

Co-owner and creative director, EMRL Media Group

The 411: Finding the cool in commercial
There was a time Floyd Diebel got sick of being creative and went to work in a bicycle shop. It was there that he had an epiphany that informed his next career move. I realized I liked to build stuff, but it had to have a practical purpose&emdash;like a bike or a chair, he says. I like making pretty things, but I like it to have a reason. Commercial art provides that outlet for Diebel at EMRL, the award-winning media company he started some seven years ago, where he takes the creative lead for clients ranging from the League of Women Voters to Fleet Feet Sports. Advertising campaigns make up the bulk of the business, says Diebel, from print to website design to TV commercials. It's a small shop (only four employees, including Diebel) and very hands-on: Diebel even runs the camera for the TV spots. Trying to express yourself in commercial art is pretty tricky, admits Diebel, whose work has a cool, clean edge. But when you pull it off, it's great.

• Stacey Smith, 33

Deputy state director for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer

The 411: Keeping an eye on California
With a lifelong interest in politics and public service, Stacey Smith feels very lucky to be Sen. Boxer's deputy state director. I love being in a job that allows me to help people, says Smith. It also involves a fair amount of travel: When the senator is in Washington, Smith acts as Boxer's eyes and ears, keeping her abreast of issues of concern across 18 counties in Northern California, including Sacramento. When she's not on the road getting the scoop, Smith runs the Sacramento field office, supervises field staff operations in the Los Angeles office and assists with statewide projects. I am truly fortunate not only to be working in public service, but to be working for one of my political heroes, says Smith.

• Johan Six, 35

Agroecology lab director and plant studies professor, UC Davis

The 411: Seeking solutions in a time of global change
At UC Davis' agroecology lab, Johan Six, Ph.D., leads an international team of researchers to look at the way global climate change affects agricultural systems and vice versa. The group represents nine different countries from five continents, so we are bringing a unique way of thinking, approaches and customs to the understanding of agroecosystem functioning in a changing global environment, says Six. I'm proud of that. Also an assistant professor in the plant studies department, Six is particularly excited about his research on sustainable agriculture in Africa. The work focuses on how we can improve agricultural production and soil quality while reducing environmental impact through the combination of organic amendments and chemical fertilizer, he says. It is the combination of organic and chemical that has the most promise, Six says&emdash;a middle ground that serves as a metaphor for what he hopes to achieve with his work. One of my biggest goals is to mediate the understanding that nothing is black versus white, says Six. The golden middle pathway is the key to finding solutions to current issues facing us.                                                                                                                 

• Wendy Carter, 32

Co-founder, Alchemist Community Development Corporation

The 411: Empowering residents to create better neighborhoods
After coming here from Boston to pursue her master's in community development at UC Davis, Wendy Carter moved to Alkali Flat and saw a neighborhood that could benefit from some of the urban planning strategies she was learning in school. One day, as part of a class project, we took a walk down 12th Street and were drawn in by all of the problems and potential mashed together, Carter says. That led to the forming of Alchemist Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit group with a goal of transforming neighborhoods by helping residents to have a voice. Even in the public forums available, residents don't always receive enough information or have a vehicle for carrying out projects, says Carter. Alchemist has already made huge strides: This past summer, when residents cried out for access to fresh local produce, Carter and her group made it happen with an urban farm stand. Still, much needs to be done and Alchemist intends to keep the engine going, partly through a partnership with Sacramento Mutual Housing Association, where Carter works as a project manager.