Game Changers

Last month, the Davidson College community celebrated the launch of Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World, a $425 million comprehensive campaign that will support the college’s highest aspirations. Investments in this campaign will strengthen our commitment to educational excellence and access, enhance the resources and environment within which our students and faculty produce original work, expand our success in athletics and help our students move from campus to meaningful leadership and service in the world.

Across generations, Davidsonians have achieved uncommon impact, sharing the common bond of a Davidson education. They contribute wherever and however they take action. They are advocates and artists, entrepreneurs and researchers, scholars and public servants. They surpass traditional boundaries as they seek to improve our world. They are game changers who inspire.

“Our world urgently needs Davidson graduates—creative, disciplined, humane leaders—with courage, integrity and intellectual curiosity to tackle complex questions and lead in the service of something larger than themselves, in their communities and around the globe,” said Davidson College President Carol Quillen.

Davidson’s comprehensive campaign, Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World, kicked off the weekend of Nov. 14-15. Highlights included a keynote address by The Honorable Anthony Foxx ’93, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Pictured here, Davidson students cap off the festivities in typically enthusiastic style. For stories and news about Game Changers, visit #davidsongamechangers

Davidson’s comprehensive campaign, Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World, kicked off the weekend of Nov. 14-15. Highlights included a keynote address by The Honorable Anthony Foxx ’93, U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Pictured here, Davidson students cap off the festivities in typically enthusiastic style. For stories and news about Game Changers, visit or join the conversation on Twitter at #davidsongamechangers.

The Campaign

Because the quality of Davidson’s student community drives every college aspiration, 50 percent of support raised throughout the campaign will benefit a robust scholarship program that enables the best and brightest to choose Davidson. Another 40 percent will enrich the academic, athletic and artistic experience at Davidson. Five percent will fund initiatives that support students in their transition to careers and lives of impact. Five percent will be unrestricted through The Fund for Davidson and will support current college priorities and operations.

The following stories are just a few examples of the many Davidsonians who are making a difference in their communities and around the world. Visit to learn more about the priorities of the campaign, to read about and nominate Davidson game changers and to learn how your gifts make a difference for Davidson. Join the conversation, and share your story using #DavidsonGameChangers.

Elizabeth Kiss ’83


In 2006, Elizabeth Kiss ’83 was named President of Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. Since then, the college has welcomed its largest first-year class in its history and made significant progress on strategic planning, financial sustainability, new academic and athletic programs, student success and international scholarship programs.

Prior to moving into this role, Kiss served as the Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, an institute she co-founded, and as an associate professor of the practice of political science and philosophy at Duke University. There, she helped to build a university-wide initiative to support the study and teaching of ethics and to promote moral reflection and commitment in personal, professional, community and civic life.

Not a day goes by that Kiss doesn’t think about Davidson, the place she says profoundly shaped her entire career.

“What Davidson did was expose me to a whole community of people who embodied a culture of honor, service and excellence,” she said. “That culture was the fundamental inspiration for me to make a difference because I was surrounded by people who were committed to making this world a better place.”

Making the world a better place is a daily consideration for Kiss as a college president, and her Davidson experiences prepared her for what she hoped to accomplish at Agnes Scott.

“In previous jobs at Princeton and Duke, I was always trying to create a community that was more like a liberal arts college,” she said. “I believe in the holistic emphasis on preparing students not only to excel academically but to aspire to a meaningful and impactful life and think about what they stand for and how they are shaping their character. Coming to Agnes Scott has allowed me to continue this journey, and Davidson is where I first learned about the magic of liberal arts colleges.”

One magical realization for Kiss as a student was the value Davidson places on people. As a freshman, she experienced the loss of her sister, and as a senior, she lost her father. Kiss’ “adopted grandmother” on campus, Louise Martin, widow of Davidson President D. Grier Martin and head of the student scholars program, got her through those difficult times and helped her graduate on time.

“Ironically, Louise had been a college president’s wife, so without realizing it, I was being exposed to what it meant to love a college so deeply,” said Kiss.
“I learned about the strength of community and how the support and nurturing that builds your foundation gives you the confidence to lead and spread your wings.”

Lew Zirkle ’62


A surgeon was in Northern Tanzania at a small hospital, helping with surgeries to replace three broken femurs. All three patients were in their 70s, and because the resources for fracture care were limited, had been consigned to crawl as a means of getting around. Following the procedures, the surgeon walked into the recovery room and witnessed three happy smiles, filled with gratitude. That was a day he could be pretty sure the work was worth it.

The surgeon was Lew Zirkle ‘62, and the experience in Tanzania was thanks to the SIGN network, which builds orthopedic capacity in developing countries by collaborating with local surgeons to develop training and implants to better serve the poor.

SIGN’s founder? Zirkle, himself.

“My passion for correcting at least some of the inequality among people began during my service in the Vietnam War, when it was clear that military patients received much better care than civilian patients,” said Zirkle. “Even more, when my work with SIGN first began, I spent one month in Indonesia each year for 10 years. There was one surgeon when we began, and we trained 56 more. But, what they did not have was the infrastructure to support the education being received. So, we had to do more.”

Zirkle, who humbly considers himself “just one of 5,000 SIGN surgeons in the world,” has given hope to those with little left. Fracture care has been transformed. Care for those suffering from fractures has also been transformed.

“Through SIGN, we donate implants and instruments, and in return, the surgeons send reports to our database, which validates the implants and the surgery, serving as a conduit for education,” he explained. “When the number of reports reaches 20 for that surgeon, we send replacement materials automatically.”

An incredible 140,000 surgeries have been performed since 1999.

Zirkle credits his strong sense of service—a lesson fostered every day at Davidson College—with driving him to enact change, though he admits heredity has a lot to do with it, too.

“It’s not just about feeling empathy,” said the college football player who appreciated that Davidson allowed athletes to be scholars first. “It’s the drive to change the circumstances that you observe. In addition to that, you must have an innovative, creative sense.”

SIGN is growing every day, and Zirkle is always looking for ways to improve.

“We have very innovative implants and very innovative instruments, but now we’re looking at the way care is dispensed in developing countries because it is not efficient,” said Zirkle. “Our systems of care must get fracture patients to a place where they can be treated promptly. It’s a big and expensive step, but it’s what’s next. We are never done.”

Visit to learn more about the amazing work being done by SIGN surgeons around the world.

Kristie Foley


At Davidson College, Director and Professor of Medical Humanities Kristie Foley is able to bridge her love of research and her love of teaching without sacrificing either one. That research, focused on scientific capacity building around the world, mirrors what she does in the classroom, as well.

“My scholarship is about building capacity, and that’s what I’m doing as a teacher,” she said. “Capacity building is the foundation of knowledge, but moves people through a series of critical steps of knowledge acquisition, critical thinking, engaging stakeholders…ultimately so that they can make changes.”

Foley is all about turning that knowledge into action, whether that action is through service or teaching, or as a practitioner or policy maker.

“Davidson gives me tremendous opportunity to teach content and inspire students to lead the life they choose to lead,” she said. “I help them imagine their place in the world and how that place can matter. It’s about how they can make a difference, not just talking about the difference.”

Students have a model of this behavior in Foley. Through her work in Hungary and now in Romania, where she has served as Principal Investigator of two consecutive NIH grants, her goal is to serve as a leader and mentor of a team that uses science to make significant improvements related to tobacco prevention, tobacco cessation and reduction of second-hand smoke exposure. She does so intentionally by the inclusion of vulnerable populations, intervention-oriented research and using the results of the research to institute policy change.

“Years ago, my paternal grandmother encouraged me to read the book Blue Highways, which is all about taking the detours and side roads through life,” she said. “I think about that book often, because it reminds me to take different paths, and it also helps me to encourage students to think about new ways of doing things. You get one shot at college, and you should take advantage of that experience and branch out.”

Foley, who focuses most on the development of her students as people and nurturing their whole being, believes in lifelong learning and remaining open to new perspectives, which is something she says faculty need to work hard to do.

“As teachers, we have to be willing to listen across disciplines, something that complements the work we’re doing,” she said. “Davidson provides me with an incredible amount of freedom to design courses to reflect my values in teaching, but in addition to that, I have a responsibility to myself and to my students to live a meaningful, well-rounded life.”

Vincent Benjamin ’04


Throughout his life, Vincent Benjamin ’04 has met the compassionate and he has met the competitive. At Davidson he was taken by the community of students both competitive AND compassionate —a powerful combination for positive impact.

“Davidson attracts—and accepts—those with a positive moral inclination regarding how they desire to live and interact within the Davidson community,” he said. “With an athletic spirit pervading the campus—from our intramural leagues to our Division I athletic teams, competitive zeal complements intellectual excellence.”

Benjamin, a James B. Duke Scholarship recipient, has remained involved as an alumnus. His engagement with Davidson over the last 10 years has led to significant enrichment for students. In particular, two initiatives he co-founded—the 100 Internship Challenge and the Emerging Professionals Group—help students depart from Davidson with professional momentum and intrinsic purpose. This transition from Davidson to life after college is especially important to Benjamin.

“These programs carry on Davidson’s rich tradition of being there for those who follow and improving the lives of others,” he said. “When I was a senior reaching out for advice, I was taken aback by the insight and love I found throughout the Davidson alumni community. My career has affirmed that the liberal arts education is invaluable in the dynamic professional world, and I am excited to help ensure that Davidson students have numerous, meaningful opportunities for impact.”

As an intern with The Duke Endowment in Durham, N.C., Benjamin received a lesson in how one experience can change a life. His role was to lead a mentor program for at-risk youth at the Durham Lyon Park Community Center. After the city of Durham cut funding and the opening of the community center was postponed indefinitely, Benjamin spent his summer raising money and support so the community center could have the funding to open.

“My Duke Endowment internship taught me that non-profit does not mean non-competition,” he said. “Rather the opposite with a multitude of organizations competing for a finite amount of resources. I explicitly saw that money matters—even for organizations not actively pursuing it. This led me to unapologetically pursue a career where I could make enough money to have an impact for positive causes. Giving to Davidson is one of the ways I express this view.”

Benjamin’s career began in investment banking at Wachovia Securities and leveraged many skills that were cultivated at Davidson. Critical thinking, communication skills, empathy, a firm moral compass—all qualities he credits the Davidson environment for nurturing.

“There are a lot of smart people in the world; however I believe the bright students at Davidson grow in a way that develops the entire person,” he said. “We have something special happening at Davidson that is both invaluable and inspiring.”

Zi Yang ’16


Political Science major Zi Yang ’16 moved from Wenzhou, east coast of China to Charlotte when he was 15 years old. He immediately became involved at Charlotte Country Day School, eventually becoming the school’s first international student body president. He holds that title at Davidson now, too, and for as much as he’s given to Davidson, he says Davidson has given him so much more.

“I came to Davidson certain that I wanted to pursue a career in healthcare,” he said. “But as I learned more about government relations and the many ways I could advocate for those who need it most, I decided political science and law were the better fit for me. I want to develop a career in which I can empathize with those who are in need and make a difference with my skills and resources.”

Part of the motivation for this change of heart came from a class project Yang co-led with a classmate under the direction of Medical Humanities Professor Kristie Foley. The team studied the ways low-income families fall through the cracks in terms of medical aid and access to resources. They interviewed more than 60 patients about their experiences, and they saw the application of information they were learning about in the classroom out in the community. It was a project that shifted how Yang thought about his future.

“Hearing real-life stories motivated me to learn more about policy so I can speak in an educated manner about the ways people are affected by the decisions of others,” he said. “Most importantly, it showed me the importance of not only doing something myself, but also influencing others to make a difference.”

As the president of the Student Government Association, Yang strives to lead through example, a leadership style that he has seen work very well on campus.

“I can only motivate students to do their best when they see me working alongside them,” he said. “Using power to advance is one thing, but using power to better other people’s lives and to make them more effective leaders is what really matters. My goal every day is to identify talent and passion among my classmates, place responsibility in their hands, keep communication open and provide support and trust to get things done.”

Looking ahead, Yang is excited by a new experience through Leadership Davidson, a prestigious program run by the Chidsey Center for Leadership Development. In addition to offering a series of seminars, student leaders are paired with Davidson alumni in a mentoring fashion, and Yang has been paired with the CEO of OrthoCarolina, Dan Murrey ’87.

“This level of commitment from alumni is one of the reasons students become so successful at Davidson and beyond,” said Yang. “I don’t hear of this type of involvement at other schools, and I’m very grateful and proud to be a part of a college that values this type of commitment.”


About Author

Danielle Strickland concentrates on development-related stories, and she enjoys making connections with Davidson’s most engaged alumni and friends. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from James Madison University and a master’s in higher education leadership from the University of Arkansas. Thankfully, after seven years working as a Razorback, her red-heavy wardrobe allowed for a smooth transition to life as a Wildcat.

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