Three University alumni are set to appear on two national noteworthy lists in 2016, including Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” and The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 Under 40.” Jordyn Lexton ’08 and Guy Marcus ’13 were selected by Forbes, and David Lubell ’98 by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
This year, the theme of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” was “Today’s Brightest Young Stars and Future Leaders of Everything.” The list itself consists of 20 different categories, with Lexton and Marcus named in the Social Entrepreneur category and the Scientist category respectively.
An English major during her time at the University, Lexton is the founder of Drive Change, which works with the food truck industry to run a year-long, paid fellowship for young people coming home from jail. Every year, 20 fellows participate in the program.
Lexton was first exposed to the criminal justice system during her senior year when she took a theater class called “Theater of the Oppressed,” in which the students visited a juvenile training school in Middletown. After graduation, she taught at Rikers Island for many years and would eventually go on to start the non-profit organization Drive Change.
“I was a teacher at Rikers Island for a number of years,” Lexton said. “In the process of witnessing young people, in particular 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds, [and seeing] the criminal justice system having ridiculous effects on their ability to go on and get jobs, go back to school, even live in public housing, [I was] starting to think about what businesses would be good translations into employment that also provided continued education.”
In order to get Drive Change off the ground, Lexton worked on a food truck and with a number of other re-entry organizations to build networks and relationships.
“These other organizations, they are looking to work with 15 to 25 year olds,” Lexton said. “But a lot of the other organizations in the city who work with the same age population don’t have employment options for the people who are connected to them.”
The fellows work on Snowday, a food truck that Drive Change owns and operates. Snowday won the 2014 Vendy Award for Rookie of the Year in New York City.
“It is a farm-to-truck menu, so everything comes from upstate and local urban New York farms,” Lexton explained. “The menu is seasonal and rustic, and it shifts based off of what ingredients become available and [are] in season. It’s all the freshest and most decadent and delicious products you could find on the streets or otherwise in New York.”
Lexton reflected on being named by “30 Under 30” with feelings of gratitude and went on to emphasize her plans for the organization to continue evolving.
“I felt really good about it; it’s a true honor considering [that] Drive Change is a fairly young organization,” Lexton said. “While I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, we have a lot—and I have a lot—to develop, to be as impactful as we want to be, so to be recognized in this way is a really big honor.”
Noting that she considers the list fairly political, Lexton also mentioned the fact that there are other people who are deserving of this acknowledgement in addition to those who were actually named.
Marcus, the other recipient of the Forbes “30 Under 30” honor, is a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University. His research focuses on quantum magnetism.
“This field of physics has demonstrated ability to develop new materials with a variety of potential applications from high-temperature superconductors for transmitting power more efficiently to chemically-tuned magnetic materials that could enable new kinds of computing,” the Forbes website reads.
Finally, Lubell appeared on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “40 Under 40,” which called those named the “new trailblazers crafting innovative approaches to entrenched problems.”
Lubell is the founder and executive director of Welcoming America, which helps communities across the country reach their full potential by welcoming immigrants and refugees.
He first encountered the issues that immigrants faced while attending the University.
“I was a community organizer at Wesleyan, but I didn’t speak Spanish and found that [was] a challenge, as a lot of people I was trying to organize with in Connecticut spoke their first language,” Lubell said. “So [after graduation], I decided to live in Ecuador doing a program teaching English. I was really welcomed by a family there and by the community I lived in. When I got back…I wanted to do what I could to make the U.S. more welcoming to immigrants.”
During his time at the University, with the help of his mentor, the now Director of the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life and John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Rob Rosenthal, Lubell focused on low-income housing and learned about how to switch the focus of his work to be more impactful.
“Wesleyan turned me from someone focusing a lot on community service to focusing on systematic change,” Lubell said. “I feel like I was already headed down this path of non-profit, do-gooder work, but Wesleyan…[changed] the trajectory of my career path in a really positive way.”
Before starting Welcoming America, he had originally started another non-profit called the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC). After working there for several years, he started Welcoming America to replicate the work that the TIRRC was doing in Tennessee.
When describing what his organization does, he used Middletown as an example.
“If we were to help Middletown to be an actively welcoming community, we would help bring the municipal government in Middletown, students, non-profit leaders, [and] other leaders together to create a plan that would reduce the barriers that immigrants faced from being fully included,” Lubell said. “So we help communities plan to become welcoming, [through] both their policies and their culture. We don’t work formally with Middletown although we’d like to, and we’re happy to support the efforts that Middletown is undertaking to take in some refugees.”
He also recently attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he spoke on issues related to immigrants because of its pertinence to the current situation in Europe.
When referring to his making the “40 Under 40” list, he noted that he was excited for the increased exposure that it could bring to Welcoming America, as it is an important time for the work he is doing. He also joked about his age.
“I was excited for a lot of different reasons, but for one, I’m 39 and 11 months, so that was the last possible time that I could be awarded something like that,” Lubell said. “I’m excited to make it under the wire….So for everyone who likes to do things last minute, you can still get it done.”
Director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship Makaela Kingsley said that she was inspired by these alumni and appreciates the work they are doing.
“Professionally, I hope that undergraduates are inspired too, as they think about what they want to do after Wesleyan, [since] alumni like these can be mentors and role models,” Kingsley wrote in an email to The Argus.
Lubell encouraged those interested in social justice work to get out there and try it.
“Try lots of different types of non-profits because you don’t know which one is going to be the right fit for your personality,” Lubell said. “So don’t be afraid to try several things, and we’re always eager to help in anyway [we] can. Also, just talking to people in the field is really important to network and to feel better about where you might fit in.”
Lexton also spoke about the powerful work that social entrepreneurs engage in.
“I didn’t know what social entrepreneurship was before I was a social entrepreneur,” Lexton said. “The ability to have your purpose manifest itself in work is a remarkably powerful and special thing. The core and culture of Wesleyan helps to foster that kind of energy in people, and being able to know that there’s synergy out there between what you stand for and what you do with your life.”