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2018 UNCW Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

Rachael Beatty '13, Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year; Brandon Beane '98, Distinguished Alumnus of the Year; and Amy and Ben Wright '98, Distinguished Citizens of the Year, stand with Eddie Stuart, vice chancellor for University Advancement; Brad Heath '96, '07M, Alumni Association Board of Directors chair; Provost Marilyn Sheerer; and Lindsay A. T. LeRoy, director of alumni relations and executive director of the UNCW Alumni Association during a reception at the Wise Alumni House Feb. 9, 2018.  PHOTO BY: JEFF JANOWSKI/UNCW

February 13, 2018

Rachael Beatty ’13; Brandon Beane ’98; and Amy and Ben Wright ’98 may have different backgrounds, but they share a passion to uplift others and make a difference in their communities.

The UNCW Alumni Association recognized the group for their personal commitment to community engagement while achieving outstanding professional success. They were presented Distinguished Alumni Awards during a reception on Feb. 9 as part of Homecoming festivities.

Beatty was named Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year; Beane, Distinguished Alumnus of the Year; and Amy and Ben Wright ’98, Distinguished Citizens of the Year.

Rachael Beatty’s desire to serve her community grew from her experiences as an undergraduate at UNCW. 

“As a Center for Leadership Education and Service Fellow, I learned to not only to plan large-scale volunteer events for the UNCW community, but also how to positively impact the world around me,” said Beatty, a clinical research associate at PPD. “Volunteering gives me the opportunity to have a direct and lasting impact on the people and community around me.”

Beatty is an active member in the Junior League of Wilmington, where she serves as chair of the Bargain Sale and One Day Service committees. The Bargain Sale raises money for charities that fit the mission of the local Junior League to empower women and enrich the community. As the One Day chair, she helps organize a local Saturday Service event each quarter.

She is also a member of PPD’s Charitable Affairs Committee, where she serves as a liaison for volunteer efforts between PPD and Lower Cape Fear Hospice; is a volunteer at Noble Middle School; and is a former volunteer for the New Hanover Regional Medical Center Pediatric Department. She gives back to her alma mater by serving on the UNCW Alumni Steering Committee and is an annual donor.

“As a first-generation college student, I am thrilled beyond words to be named the Distinguished Young Alumna of the Year,” said Beatty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in clinical research.

Beatty is currently pursuing her M.B.A. at NC State University, where she was previously a McLauchlan Leadership Fellow and NCSU Professional MBA board president.

When Brandon Beane isn’t building the Buffalo Bills’ roster, he’s visiting children at the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, NY. He also speaks regularly to civic organizations, schools and colleges about the professional sports industry.

Being named the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year was a humbling honor, said Beane, the general manager of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

“It’s an honor that was achieved with the help of so many, including my wife and kids, my parents, several fellow UNCW alums and professors,” he added.  

Prior to joining the Bills, Beane spent 19 years with the Carolina Panthers. He began as an intern in the Panthers’ media relations office after graduating from UNCW. Beane worked his way up to the director of football operations. He also served as interim general manager.

In 2015, he was named the organization’s assistant general manager. Beane was heavily involved in football operations, player contracts and scouting for the Panthers organization. His vast industry knowledge and experience and commendable work ethic landed him the position of general manager of the Buffalo Bills in May 2017. The team made its first playoff berth in 17 years under Beane.

He set his sights on becoming a general manager in the NFL during his internship with the Panthers, said Beane, who received a bachelor’s degree in communication studies. He is one of 32 general managers in the league.

“As I was trying to plot my career path, I was taught that there are so many opportunities in this world,” Beane said. “It was up to me to make it happen and I felt the freedom to take some necessary risks to get where I am today.”

He encouraged fellow Seahawks to chase their dreams every day. “Take it one step at a time and enjoy the journey,” he said. “The lessons along the way will be pertinent to your success once you reach your dream job.”

Amy and Ben Wright have created an inclusive environment where individuals with intellectual developmental disabilities are valued, accepted and given employment opportunities.

Amy’s vision for reducing the unemployment rate for people with intellectual developmental disabilities (IDD) led her to establish Bitty’s & Beau’s Coffee, named after the couple’s two youngest children, both with Down syndrome. The coffee shop opened in January 2016 and now employs 40 workers. Proceeds from the coffee shop fund Amy’s nonprofit, ABLE to Work USA, dedicated to helping individuals with IDD find meaningful employment.

“The unemployment epidemic for people with IDD exists because there is a socio-cultural problem in this country; perhaps the world,” said Amy Wright, who was named the 2017 CNN Hero of the Year in recognition of her advocacy for disabled workers. “People with IDD are not valued as human beings. They are seen as broken, less than, unimportant. Bitty & Beau’s Coffee gives people without IDD an opportunity to value people with IDD. It makes acceptance and inclusion natural.”

Ben Wright, who earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion from UNCW, is the owner of Dye Creek Capital, an independent investment practice in Wilmington, and employs adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities as “client hospitality associates.”

He has served as president of the board of Smart Start of New Hanover County and as chair of the investment committee and treasurer of the National Down Syndrome Society. In 2016, he was appointed to the board of trustees for the North Carolina ABLE Program.

Bitty and Beau’s Coffee has been featured on “The Today Show,” “The Rachel Ray Show,” “Good Morning America,” and in Southern Living magazine. The coffee shop was named the 2017 Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year, a joint award presented by UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.

The couple said they are humbled to be in the company of individuals who have done great work throughout the community.

“We hope that we honor their efforts and sacrifice by being good stewards of this year’s award,” said Ben Wright.

-- Venita Jenkins