Updated 7 yearss ago
Michael Corcelli, 38
Founder / Alexander Alternative Investments and Florida Alternative Investment Association
Three years ago, Thalius Hecksher, head of business development for Apex Fund Services, was on a threeday business trip in Miami, sandwiched between meetings in Brazil and Europe.
Apex provides back-office accounting and administrative support for private equity and hedge funds. Hecksher, based out of Dublin, had heard rumblings about growing hedge fund activity in Florida.
He called up Michael Corcelli, a casual acquaintance and hedge fund manager who headed a new group called the Florida Alternative Investment Association. During a dinner meeting on Brickell Avenue, Corcelli pitched Florida to Hecksher. "You should start thinking about relocating to Miami," Corcelli told him.
Miami wasn't on Hecksher's radar, but Corcelli was persuasive. A year later, Hecksher moved to Miami to establish an Apex office there, with an eye toward catering to clients in Latin America and what Corcelli portrayed as a growing hedge fund and private equity industry in Florida.
Apex's move set off a burst of publicity, including coverage in the New York Post under the headline "Wall Street flees New York for tax-free Florida. " It also stimulated an ongoing flurry of efforts to woo more hedge funds and other financial services companies to Florida, including initiatives by Gov. Rick Scott and the Palm Beach County Business Development Board.
For Corcelli, who wasn't mentioned in the New York Post article, those developments began to validate his efforts at establishing Florida as a center for "alternative investment" firms like hedge funds — and at burnishing the image of a sector that had taken a beating during the recession.
A Rhode Island native who moved to Florida at 18 to attend the University of Miami, Corcelli had planned to be a doctor until he became captivated by a Bloomberg financial terminal one day while walking through UM's business school. "I started fooling around with this thing and before you know it, that was it — it was occupying my whole life," Corcelli says.
Changing his major to finance, Corcelli dabbled successfully in the stock market while still a student. After graduating, he entered the private banking field, working first for John Hancock Investments and then for UBS, where over three years he built a portfolio of "well over $100 million," he says. Corcelli was fired from his job at UBS. He says it was because he sent out invitations to clients for an event that hadn't be preapproved by his managers.
In 2006, a client suggested he look into starting a hedge fund — an investment vehicle that pools money from a relatively small pool of high-wealth investors and adopts a targeted investment strategy. The client even offered to provide Corcelli, who confesses he didn't really know what a hedge fund was, with the startup funds. "I bought a book about hedge funds off Amazon and I started reading," Corcelli says.
He set up meetings in New York, where most hedge fund administrators and attorneys are located. When he told them he would be managing the fund from Miami "they looked at you like you have three heads," Corcelli says.
Corcelli raised $10 million from four people for his fund, Alexander Alternative Capital, then hit the jackpot with a strategy that anticipated the subprime mortgage bust, shorting the stock (betting the price would fall rather than increase) of several mortgage companies offering subprime loans, such as company called New Century Financial. Corcelli says the move earned triple-digit returns, although his returns can't be verified because hedge funds don't have to report the same kind of data as many other equity investments.
His friend, Terence Schoshinski, a real estate investor and attorney, says he remembers Corcelli talking about the impending housing crisis back in 2006. Nobody believed Corcelli's dire predictions, Schoshinski says.
About the same time, Corcelli began organizing meetings with other fund managers in Miami and other Florida cities that led to the formation of the Florida Alternative Investment Association. Corcelli says he wanted the state's economic developers to take the industry — badly burned by the Madoff and other scandals — more seriously, and to make Florida a center for hedge fund activity.
Corcelli's association, with dues costing from $5,000 to $50,000 a year, has become a lobbying force. The group's chief accomplishment has been a 2012 law that raised the cap on how much the state's pension system invests in alternative funds from 10% to 20% — potentially freeing hundreds of millions of dollars that could flow into hedge funds. There was no requirement that the state invest in funds managed in Florida.
Corcelli says his firm has not received any state investment as a result. "I did not benefit from the change in the law," he says. But he believes it's the right thing for both the hedge fund industry and the health of the pension system. Corcelli says some Florida firms received more money, but that the state's money managers aren't playing favorites based on geographic location.
Meanwhile, Corcelli has organized hedge fund industry conferences in Miami and continues to work on bringing more funds to Florida. Rainford Knight, a Florida Atlantic University finance professor and financial services consultant who serves on the hedge fund association's board, says Corcelli has made a name both for himself and Florida. "He tried to brand Florida as the place for hedge funds that nobody thought about. "
Betty Kim, 39
Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery / Mayo Clinic
An academic star in the burgeoning feld of bionanotechnology, Betty Kim specializes in using nanotechnology in targeted cancer treatments. Instead of killing cancer cells with traditional methods like chemotherapy, Kim is studying how to use microscopic materials to target the environment around cancer cells that help them grow.
"This is a newer way of thinking," Kim says. "So far, all the traditional chemotherapy has relied on targeting cancer cells that overdivide to get them to stop proliferating. This is a different approach where we look at cells that are normal and try to target one cell at a time. "
The beneft to using nanomaterials, which are so small they can only be viewed and assembled at the molecular level, is that it allows for a custom-designed cocktail of different, targeted drugs with fewer side effects.
Kim was born in South Korea but immigrated with her family to Canada when she was 6. She earned both her medical degree and Ph. D. so she could focus on medical research and surgery. Kim splits her time at Jacksonville's Mayo Clinic between performing brain surgeries and conducting medical research. "I'm in a unique situation," she says. "One week I see patients in the clinic and operate on patients with brain tumors. The next week I am running a lab. "
Hugh Howey, 38
Before Hugh Howey was a New York Times best-selling author, he sampled different careers, working as a yacht captain, roofer, audiovisual technician and bookstore clerk. It took a part-time gig writing book reviews online for a nowdefunct website to convince him to try writing a novel in 2009.
Called "Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue," the young adult novel told the story of a girl who borrows her father's old spaceship to go planet-hopping. A small Indiana publisher — Norlights Press — offered him "less than $1,000" for the book. Howey was thrilled. "I couldn't believe someone was paying me," he says.
After that book had modest success, Hugh Howey, 38 Author Jupiter Howey published the rest of the novels in the Molly Fyde series himself. By publishing on e-readers like Amazon's Kindle, Howey keeps 70% of the profts instead of 12. 5% — for paperbacks, he keeps 50% instead of 12%.
The success of his nine-book "Wool" series set in a post-apocalyptic Earth allowed Howey to quit his job at a bookstore in 2011 and become a full-time writer. (He was in North Carolina at the time but moved back to Florida in 2012. )
Howey became the poster child for e-publishing success when "Wool" sold over half a million copies on Kindle. "That was the book that made me a New York Times best seller," Howey says.
Howey later agreed to sell print distribution rights for "Wool" to Simon & Schuster for "mid-six fgures. " He turned down seven-fgure offers from other publishers who also wanted the e-book rights. Howey kept the digital rights, telling the Wall Street Journal, "I made seven fgures on my own, so it was easy to walk away. " He also sold the movie rights to "Wool" to 20th Century Fox in a sevenfgure deal.
To date, the "Wool" series has sold more than 2 million books worldwide. "It blows my mind," Howey says. "My dream was to sell 5,000 books in my lifetime. " Howey publishes two to three books a year. Though "Wool" is science fction, Howey says he wants to try all genres — including romance, cookbooks and murder mysteries. "If people like your voice, they will read anything," he says.
Darrick D. McGhee, 36
Legislative Affairs Director for Gov. Rick Scott
Darrick McGhee's job is to promote Gov. Rick Scott's legislative agenda and serve as a liaison between the governor and 160 legislators. In increasingly partisan Tallahassee, he earns praise from both Democrats and Republicans. "I don't believe in leaving any stone unturned," McGhee says. "Even if we can't agree on the same things, that is OK. "
When he was younger, McGhee never intended to move to Tallahassee or to enter politics — he thought he might become a lawyer or preacher. He planned to attend Morehouse, the same college that Martin Luther King Jr. Attended, but didn't get in. After graduating from Florida A&M University, he joined Gov. Jeb Bush's administration as an assistant to the chief of staff and director of the governor's internship program.
After Bush left office, McGhee worked in legislative affairs for several state agencies, including the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Department of Education, before moving on to the newly created Department of Economic Opportunity in 2011. At DEO, he became chief of staff and served a two-month stint as the interim executive director.
McGhee works long hours during the legislative session, typically arriving for before-session meetings at 7:30 a. m. and not leaving until 10 p. m. "I have an awesome wife," says the father of two young girls.
Meanwhile, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a preacher. McGhee is a pastor at a Tallahassee church called Bible Based Church and issues daily "meditations" by email. A recent post reminded his followers to avoid worshipping their jobs. "A mental rest day is necessary from time to time," he wrote. " The job can survive one day without you. "
Augi Lye, 35
Founder, CEO / Trendy Entertainment; serial entrepreneur
An accomplished violinist who first started taking lessons when he was 5, Augi Lye knew that the older an instrument was, the better it sounded. "That's why 200-year-old violins are selling for millions of dollars," he says. About eight years ago, he invented a device about the size of a bar of soap that ages instruments quickly by vibrating the strings.
"It's silent and convenient," Lye says. "You put it on your instrument overnight while sleeping. "
Tone Rite was Lye's first startup. Four years ago, he started another firm, Trendy Entertainment, with Jeremy Stieglitz. The two founded the company with an eye toward developing games that could be distributed on smart phones or online.
Their timing was good. Their first big hit, "Dungeon Defenders," has become the company's core focus. He declined to reveal revenue, saying only say the company has grown "exponentially" every year. "We grew the company from zero employees to now over 120 people at Trendy," Lye says. "We have offices in Gainesville, New York and San Francisco. "
Meanwhile, Lye founded Hacker House, an incubator program housed in an old Victorian home near downtown Gainesville. The effort supports a selected group of entrepreneurialminded students who live in the home and receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs.
Stephanie Darden, 35
Founder, President / Prismatic
At 23, Stephanie Darden started her own company. The University of Central Florida graduate had worked for a mere year and a half as an art director at U. S. Color, which marketed and designed textbooks. She also did marketing and branding mostly for real estate com- Stephanie Darden, 35 Founder, President / Prismatic Orlando panies before teaming up with a coworker to start an independent creative agency. Her uncle had offered to give her the startup money she needed "so I didn't need to worry about having a roof over my head," she says.
Darden says she benefited from her youth and not having family responsibilities, but the early years were tough. "Most meetings I was the only woman in a room and to add to that being 23, 24 or 25 years old. It was extremely challenging to earn respect," she says. Several times during meetings she was asked to fetch coffee. But Darden says knowing that people would underestimate her inspired her to work hard and prove them wrong.
Twelve years later, Prismatic, which used to be called FDG Creative, has $1. 1 million in revenue and nine employees. She's opened a second office in New Orleans and plans to hire three people this year. Darden has bought out a former co-worker and her uncle's shares and is now the sole owner.
Prismatic has developed a specialty in marketing and branding master-planned communities, often working with developers early on in the process, weighing in on decisions like what amenities to offer and placement of homes. Nearly two-thirds of the agency's work comes from real estate developers, she says. Prismatic gives free creative work based on a percentage of her billings to non-profit clients like the United Way and Urban League as part of her Greater Good Initiative. Last year, she "donated" $74,000 worth of creative work.
Greg Netro, 36
President, north Florida division / Toll Bros.
Greg Netro is a company man in an age of job-hoppers. He joined luxury home builder Toll Bros. In 2001, a year after graduating from James Madison University. His frst job for the builder was "assistant construction manager," where he learned what it took not just to build a home, but an entire community. "You learn everything you can think of, from how to build roads to the sticks and bricks of housing," he says.
In 2005, Toll Bros. Moved him to Jacksonville, where he rose to division president.
The recession forced Toll Bros. To pull back on new developments, Netro says, and focus on building in communities where it had already committed. That meant building homes primarily in Nocatee, one of the top-selling master-planned communities in the country.
With the recession fading away, Toll Bros. Has ramped up construction again, purchasing 90 home sites in the new Atlantic Beach Country Club community and another 450 sites in St. Johns County. Toll Bros. ' homes in Jacksonville vary from $300,000 to $1 million. Last fscal year, the company's north Florida division had a 173% increase in sales over the same period the previous year.
Netro has put his home building skills to good use, starting with two others a non-proft in Jacksonville called Tiny Hope Children's Home, which is raising $2 million to build a children's home in Jamaica that will provide food, shelter and education to abused and orphan children. "It's not a place where the kids come to get baby-sat," he says. The non-proft will be based in Jacksonville and target area residents as donors.
Katie Haas, 33
Senior Director of Florida Business Operations / Boston Red Sox
When the Boston Red Sox needed someone to oversee the construction of its $78-million spring training facility in Fort Myers, the male-dominated front office drafted Katie Haas, then 28.
Haas is a Florida native whose father, Kerry Kirschner, and brother, Kelly Kirschner, both had been mayor of Sarasota. Her parents owned a shop where they sold oranges and grapefruit — "a great, traditional Florida childhood," she says.
Haas had been paying her dues in the sports industry since she was a teenager. Her first job with the Boston Red Sox was in high school when she worked for the Red Sox's minor league team in Sarasota. "I did everything from payroll to tarp duty," she says. While at Northeastern University in Boston, she continued working for the Red Sox at Fenway Park. After graduating, she worked for two years for the newly created Charlotte Bobcats NBA team before being lured back to the Red Sox as senior manager of business affairs in Boston.
In late 2009, she moved back to Florida to oversee construction of the 11,000-seat JetBlue Park in south Fort Myers and manage the day-to-day operations and a year-round staff of three. The Red Sox have sold out all their spring training games since 2003. Spring training games only occupy about two months a year, so the rest of her time is focused on renting out the facility for charity events or concerts. Her husband, Danny Haas, works as a scout for the Baltimore Orioles. With two children at home now, "I think the last game I watched in entirety was St. Louis for the World Series," she says. That's because she was flown out to the game, a World Series-only perk given to all Red Sox front office employees.
Mya Breitbart, 36
Associate Professor of Biological Oceanography / University of South Florida College of Marine Science
"There are viruses everywhere," says University of South Florida professor Mya Breitbart — on plants, in sea water, inside people. The tiny snippets of genetic code that replicate only inside the cells of living organisms "are the most abundant things on the planet. "
Scientists like Breitbart catalog viruses through DNA analysis called metagenomics and determine whether they have harmful effects. Breitbart was part of a team that developed a method of identifying mystery viruses and is the frst scientist to apply metagenomics to insects.
Instead of waiting for a dangerous viral outbreak and then trying to develop a diagnostic test and vaccine, Breitbart says her work helps identify viruses early, which can help prevent an outbreak in the frst place. "It lets us be more proactive about preventing disease," she says.
Breitbart is considered one of the top scientists in the country at viral metagenomics — the DNA and RNA sequencing and identifcation of viruses. She's a sought-after viral detective. The Kansas City Zoo reached out to her a few years ago after three of its sea lions mysteriously died. "We found a new virus that had never been seen before in the lungs of those sea lions that had died," Breitbart says. She is still studying whether that virus contributed to their death.
Breitbart grew up in New Jersey, where her father was a food scientist for Lipton and her mother had a job setting up science laboratories at her high school. "I got a lot of exposure to science as a kid," she says. From an early age, she wanted to be a scientist and imagined a career working as a marine biologist. She went to college at the Florida Institute of Technology, where she took a microbiology class that changed the course of her career. "I was just captivated at day one," Breitbart says. "That opened my eyes to the invisible world. "
Breitbart balances her days of looking at what's invisible with her hobby of photographing the world around her. She enjoys nature photography, particularly underwater photography. She has hosted two shows of her photographs in St. Petersburg.
Yamal Yidios Char, 32
CEO Ytech International
Yamal Yidios Char's father ran Constructora Yidios, a residential condominium and multifamily real estate development company in Colombia, and Yamal accompanied his father to construction sites for as long as he can remember. "I went to work every afternoon since I was 12," Yidios Char says. He knew from a young age he wanted to build his own real estate development firm — in America.
After graduating from the University of Florida with a civil engineering degree, he moved to Miami and worked for several engineering firms to gain experience in finance and project management. In 2007, he decided the time was right: Calling his venture Ytech International — the Y is for Yamal and the tech just "sounded good" — Yidios Char bought a four-unit apartment complex in Miami Beach for $400,000. He renovated the units and then sold each for $400,000.
Seven years later, Ytech owns 3,100 multifamily units in two states with a portfolio worth $300 million. Ytech focuses on buying distressed properties primarily in Florida, though it recently made a big investment in Houston, buying five apartment complexes with a total of 1,300 units.
Ytech, which employs 120, earned rent revenue last year of $40 million. This year brings a new development strategy: New construction. "We recently hired a president of development," he says.
Alvin Davis, 38
Band Director / Miramar High School
A finalist for National Teacher of the Year in 2012 after earning the statewide honor, Alvin Davis has won praise for his efforts at fusing band practice with academics. Davis, a Florida A&M University graduate, is director of the Miramar High School band. He requires all of his students to receive one-on-one counseling with a member of the band staff and he reviews every band member's report card. Each after-school rehearsal includes a one-hour study hall. He requires students to prove they have registered for the SAT and ACT before allowing them to perform with the band. By January, they must have applied to a college. Nearly every band student is accepted into college.
Eual Tyler Cathey, 34
Chief Deputy Attorney General
Jacksonville native Eual Tyler Cathey gave up a lucrative career as a business attorney for St. Petersburg law firm Englander Fischer to work in state government. Cathey, chief deputy attorney general for Attorney General Pam Bondi, describes his job as one of the top administrators of a 1,300-person agency as a kind of legal air-traffic controller, keeping tabs on the status of each department within the AG's office and communicating their progress directly with Bondi.
Cathey worked in state government before, first as a gubernatorial fellow and later as Bondi's special counsel during her 2010 campaign. The University of Florida law school graduate is also an accomplished rugby player and was captain of his Tampa team when it won the national rugby championship in 2010.
Nona Jones, 31
Community and Government Relations Director / Gainesville Regional Utilities
When Nona Jones was growing up in Jacksonville, her mother would hand her the newspaper and ask Nona to read articles to her. ÒShe would say, ÔCan you read this? I donÕt have good vision,Õ Ó Jones says. She realized in middle school that her mother, who worked as a home health aide, couldnÕt read well. ÒShe had a third-grade education,Ó Jones says.
Jones says her mother moved the two of them into a better school district after JonesÕ father died and later encouraged her to apply for college. ÒShe pushed me,Ó Jones says. (Her mother eventually learned to read beyond an elementary school level in her 40s. )
Jones became the first in her family to go to college, graduating with a bachelorÕs degree in telecommunications and a masterÕs in business administration from the University of Florida. After a stint as a news director for a Gainesville radio station, she got a job as NationwideÕs community relations manager for Florida. ÒIt wasnÕt the easiest job,Ó Jones says. ÒAt the time, we were experiencing a lot of storms and peopleÕs policies were being canceled. Ó
JonesÕ work at Nationwide, which included philanthropic efforts and community partnerships, caught the attention of Gainesville Regional Utilities, where she is now in charge of both community relations and governmental affairs work. Jones helps lobby against federal regulations that would impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions by utilities Ñ a mandate that would drive up consumersÕ utility bills, she argues. At the state level, she keeps an eye on water policies that could impact how much water GRU is allowed to pump from the Floridan Aquifer.
Jones sits on the board of several nonprofits, including as board chairwoman of the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council Ñ she is a former Girl Scout Ñ and as vice chairwoman of the PACE Center for Girls, a statewide network of schools that help at-risk teenage girls. She also serves on Leadeship FloridaÕs leadership team. Meanwhile, at GRU, Jones helps lead a scholarship program for students who are the first in their families to go to college.
Gregg Pollack, 36
Founder / Envy Labs; Code School
Gregg Pollack owns two businesses — Envy Labs, which does web and application development, and Code School, which offers online programming classes. Together the businesses brought in $6 million last year, up 40% from the year before.
As his businesses have grown, Pollack has been quick to pass along the lessons he has learned to others. Last year, he created the Starter Studio, a "technology Gregg Pollack, 36 Founder / Envy Labs; Code School Orlando accelerator" that provides free education, mentorship and office space at the Envy Labs/Code School office to eight startup companies. He has also helped create the Orlando "BarCamp" an informal, free conference that aims to bring people from different backgrounds together for cooperative learning. And he founded Orlando's "Tech Events," which publishes a list of all the tech and startup-related events happening around the city.
"I've always been a big community advocate," Pollack says. "I like doing what I can to help startup groups. " He sees it not as creating more competitors, but as making Orlando a more exciting place to live. "There's lots of room in our industry, and our customers are global," he says. "
Jorge A. Plasencia, 39
CEO, Chairman / República
Jorge A. Plasencia was only 32 years old when he decided to start his own advertising agency. He knew the advertising agency business only from the clients' point of view, having worked in marketing for the Florida Marlins, Estefan Enterprises and Univision Radio. At Univision, Plasencia rose to corporate vice president and operating manager.
By 2006, he was itching to start his own advertising and communications agency, one that would help connect global brands with a multicultural audience. Plasencia's Cubanborn parents had immigrated to Miami in the 1960s, where he was raised in a bilingual household. "I read, I watch and listen to media in both languages," he says. "I wanted to create an advertising agency that would target the new reality of these consumers that live in both worlds. "
In his agency's first years, he had to compete against bigger, better-known firms for business. But by 2010, República had $6 million in revenue. The firm nearly doubled its revenue to $11. 9 million last year. The 75-employee firm works with clients like Univision, Nielsen, Baptist Health South Florida and Toyota.
Plasencia is chairman of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group. He's the first Cuban-American to chair that group and is its youngest chairman. "I'm very proud of that," Plasencia says. In his office, he keeps letters from five former presidents congratulating him on the La Raza chairmanship.
Shawn Seipler, 38
Executive Director, Co-founder / Clean the World
When Shawn Seipler was vice president of sales and marketing for Orlando-based Channel Intelligence, an e-commerce technology company, he did a lot of traveling. On a trip to Minneapolis, he wondered what happened to the leftover bars of soap in his hotel bathroom. A call to the front desk revealed they were thrown away. Seipler was astounded that so much soap would go to waste and channeled his passion into founding a non-profit.
Clean the World, which he started in 2009, contracts with hotels to recycle their leftover soap, sending disinfected and recycled bars mostly to countries where access to soap and improved hygiene can prevent life-threatening diseases. "This was an opportunity to save lives," Seipler says.
Clean the World now has agreements with 2,200 hotels, including Hyatt, Marriott, Starwood and Walt Disney Word resorts. Most of its revenue — 92% — comes from contracts with hotel companies. Seipler says Clean the World is paid 50 cents to 80 cents per room per month by the hotels to recycle soap.
Seipler says the non-profit earned $9 million in revenue last year, has 50 employees and now has offices in Las Vegas and Hong Kong.
Nick Iarossi, 37
Founder Partner/ Capital City Consulting
By his mid-30s, Nick Iarossi had reached the highest rungs of the uber-competitive Tallahassee lobbying corps. A partner at lobbying frm Capital City Consulting, Iarossi is best known as the chief lobbyist for Las Vegas Sands, a casino company that has spent the last four years trying to gain legislative approval for expanded gambling in Florida.
Iarossi, an FSU graduate and student body president who once dreamed of running for offce, got his law degree from FSU and started his career at a law frm that later merged with Akerman Senterftt.
He declined two invitations by the frm to try lobbying but changed his mind after three days behind a desk doing legal research for partners. "I went to the Capitol and never looked back," Iarossi says.
In 2003, he started Capital City Consulting with three other lobbyists. Eleven years later, the frm has nearly $5 million in annual revenue, putting it among the top lobbying frms in Tallahassee.
Las Vegas Sands, the frm's largest paying client, has paid the frm nearly $1 million over four years as part of its efforts to expand gambling in Florida. Iarossi says he "gets a lot of attention on gaming because it's such a hot-button issue" but adds that Sands is a small percentage of the frm's overall revenue. Iarossi says on a personal level, he has no issues with gambling. "If done responsibly, it's great entertainment," he says. Though he says he rarely gambles because he hates to lose.
Recently the frm has made a push into taking more executivebranch lobbying work on state contracts, with clients like Offce Depot and consulting frm North Highland. "Politics is about relationships, and it always will be," Iarossi says.
Chris Gibson, 39
Assistant Professor / Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law, University of Florida
In a national study that ranked 125 assistant criminology and criminal justice professors on how frequently they were published, Chris Gibson was the fifth-most productive in the nation. Another study named Gibson — with more than 90 scholarly works — the most prolific published author in criminology journals in the past decade.
A tenured assistant professor who has worked at UF since 2005, Gibson focuses on whether nature or nurture contributes to a life of crime. In one paper, Gibson examined why some children who were raised in poor, violence-prone Chicago neighborhoods were able to avoid becoming victims of violence. He found that street smarts or "the confidence to avoid and navigate potentially dangerous situations" made the difference — though it's unclear how much nature or nurture plays a role in the development of "street smarts. "
Gibson's career path was influenced by seeing several friends who grew up with him in Johnson City, Tenn. , make bad choices. While he went to nearby Milligan College on a baseball scholarship, he says, "several of them went to juvenile detention centers and prisons. "
Gibson wants to use his findings to reduce crime. He's planning a symposium next year with UF professors, local government officials and the police department to communicate how academic research can help the community.