The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is proud to announce the 2016 Macedonian Diaspora’s 40 Under 40 List.
UMD is recognizing forty Macedonian role models to reinforce our community’s heritage and cultural values. Built through a process of nominations, the final honorees are selected by a selection committee.
The UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 program was launched in 2014 and this year has a new structure. To improve engagement and provide a more intimate look at the people being recognized, UMD will be rolling out the honorees ten at a time. UMD hopes the list will recognize the winners for their accomplishments in their respective careers and encourage them to keep moving the community forward and making a positive impact on society-at-large.
The First Ten of Forty Honorees
- Ana David, roots from Shtip
- Vasil Dimovski, roots from Skopje
- Borko Handjiski, roots from Skopje
- Sanja Lazarova-Molnar, roots from Skopje
- Emily Madden, roots from Orman and Svinista in the Ohrid region
- Dr. Monica Markovski Commerford, roots from Vratnica and Tetovo
- Kat Nitsou, roots from Rula and Breznitsa in Aegean Macedonia
- Andy Peykoff, roots from Debretz in Aegean Macedonia
- Tony Radevski, roots from Kumanovo and Skopje
- Nicholas Tigulis, roots from Resen
Learn more about this group of Honorees
Ana David, 29
Ana David was born and raised in Shtip, Macedonia. In her junior year of high school, she embarked on an exchange program in Spring Lake, Michigan where she lived for the next two years before returning to Macedonia. She then attended college at New York College of Thessaloniki, Greece and graduated as Valedictorian of Class 2010. While in Thessaloniki, Ana was an active member of the international community, participating in various roundtables, conferences, and model UN sessions. These discussions gave her an opportunity to practice diplomacy by tactfully expressing the Macedonian perspective on the questions at hand.
During her senior year in college, she was awarded the Professor De Winter and University of Twente scholarship to attend graduate school focusing on European Studies in the Netherlands. Her Master thesis measured and compared the competitiveness levels of Macedonia and three other EU member states.
In 2011 she moved to the U.S. and completed the prominent United Macedonian Diaspora Fellowship where she assisted in the Macedonia in a NATO Campaign and helped increase the membership of the Congressional Caucus on Macedonia and Macedonian-Americans. Later, she worked at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) where she handled the university’s agreements and projects the abroad, designed student recruitment strategies, and led a software implementation project for the campus. She also completed her MBA degree from Missouri S&T in December 2015.
She is currently an Associate Director for International Admission at Marymount University, a private, Catholic University in Arlington, Virginia. Ana’s personal pursuit of better educational opportunities as well as being an international high school student in the U.S., a college student in Greece, and grad student in the Netherlands is what drives her to work in the international education field and help other motivated international students attain education in the U.S.
In her spare time, Ana enjoys traveling, spending time with family and friends, hiking, and reading. Ana is married to Osbert David, a GySgt in the United States Marine Corps.
My maternal grandfather had an adamant impact on who I am today. Seeing his professional commitment to the Macedonian Army combined with the countless hours of hiking, reading, and solving math problems with me is what instilled the discipline to work diligently to achieve my goals. This willingness to work hard and service-oriented mentality is what I recognize in many Macedonians I meet here in the U.S. and back home. Knowing that we give our best in our respective careers is what makes me proud to call myself a Macedonian.
I grew up listening to Macedonian pop music and going to Toshe Proeski’s concerts. This is why my favorite aspect of Macedonian culture is its music, both traditional and pop. There is no better therapy then a mix of Macedonian 90s music to change any day for the better.
My advice to young Macedonians is to build their careers on their strengths. Invest time in discovering your strengths and passions before deciding on a career. Then, combine your strengths with the professions in demand to make yourself relevant and build financial stability.
Vasil Dimovski, 36
Vasil was born in Skopje and grew up in Crown Point, Indiana. He graduated from Ball State University in 2004 and began working in Oil and Gas with British Petroleum (BP). He eventually moved to Los Angeles and began working on global Oil and Gas engineering projects. These projects afforded him the opportunity to live in Saudi Arabia for 20 months and also work on projects in Ecuador and north of the Arctic Circle in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
He eventually returned to Macedonia in 2013 when he served as the Chief of Staff for Jerry Naumoff, Minister for Foreign Investments, and helped bring several foreign investors to Macedonia.
In 2015 he co-founded Taskforce BPO in Bitola. The company currently has 35 employees and is adding an additional 20 employees by the end of 2016. Taskforce BPO’s goal is to turn Macedonia into one of the major medical coding destinations in the world.
My Macedonian heritage has taught me hard work and not to take anything for granted. This has helped me greatly throughout my life and profession. There are many things that make me proud of my Macedonian culture. For one, I am proud that we have the best cuisine and wine in the world. Sorry Italy. More seriously though, Macedonians are survivors. You can put most Macedonian’s in the worst situations and they will somehow find a way to prosper. My advice to the next generation of young Macedonians would be to find something that you love to do and figure out a way to monetize it. There are a lot of opportunities out there for people that work hard and want to succeed. When you do eventually start a business, figure out what you are good at. Are you the sales guy? Are you the accountant? Figure out what your strengths are and surround yourself with people that have the other skill sets necessary to prosper. Don’t try to do it all on your own.
Borko Handjiski, 36
Borko Handjiski joined McKinsey & Company’s Middle East Office in Dubai in June 2015, where he is primarily serving public sector clients in the region. Before joining McKinsey, Borko Handjiski worked for the World Bank in Washington DC as Senior Economist providing policy advice to governments in Europe, Central Asia, and Africa. He worked also in the World Bank’s offices in Brussels and Skopje. Borko Handjiski began his career at the Macedonian central bank, and also worked for the European Commission in Macedonia where he advised the government on economic policies related to EU accession. Borko holds an MBA degree in finance from Purdue University and a BA in Economics from the University of Skopje.
Being raised and schooled in Macedonia in the 80s and 90s made me knowledgeable, and curious, about the world. Outside of Macedonia, my background is often perceived with curiosity and interest to learn more about the country. It is an important part of the culture for Macedonians to have strong family values and big hearts. I am proud of the endurance we have demonstrated over the centuries and of the potential that our nation holds. If I were to give advice to the next generation, I would say dream big and invest in good education so that you can pursue your dreams. We may come from a small piece of land, but the world of opportunities is limitless.
Dr. Sanja Lazarova-Molnar, 39
Dr. Sanja Lazarova-Molnar is an Associate Professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark. Her background is in Computer Science, and she has completed her first M.Sc. degree in Computer Science at the University Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. Her rich academic experience spans over three other countries besides Macedonia. She has obtained her second M.Sc. and Ph.D. at the University Otto-von-Guericke in Magdeburg, Germany, after what she returns briefly to Macedonia and works at the University of New York in Skopje, followed by a post as an Assistant Professor at the United Arab Emirates University in the UAE. After having spent 8 years there, she moves back to Europe, or more precisely to Denmark, where she is currently working in her third year. In addition to her research and teaching commitments, she is also serving as a Head of Programme for the Master in Software Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark.
Despite the fact that I left Macedonia almost 17 years ago, I still feel deeply connected. My Macedonian heritage and upbringing have installed in me a unique set of values, passed on from my parents and grandparents. They have supplied me with deep feelings of pride and confidence, as well as taught me to respect, be kind to, and help all people, regardless of their background. Here, I’d like to mention that my paternal grandmother was akin a folk healer in her village and she used to help people in need, speaking also some minorities’ languages for this purpose. My mother also comes from a city with another dominant minority, and I grew up witnessing the wonderful relationship my grandparents had with their neighbors of this minority. To me, this is Macedonia, it is a culturally very rich country where people respect each other and cherish their differences. This is the only chance we have for a successful and progressive future. I consider the spirit of our people to be our true cultural treasure. This has been shattered by the hardship that Macedonia has been going through in the past 10 years, from which I hope that we will come out much stronger.
Emily Madden, 39
The Ohrid region: Orman and Svinista, Macedonia
Emily Madden is a contemporary fiction author. Her love of books started at a young age and would often go shopping with her mother just so she could score yet another novel. Nothing has changed – she rarely leaves a bookstore without a book.
While she reads anything and everything, stories that touch the heart and uplift the soul are what she loves the most.
Emily wrote her first story at eight and was horrified when she was made to read it out aloud at her school assembly. She dabbled with poetry before returning to writing novels, albeit many years later.
Emily lives in Sydney, with her two girls and husband. She loves coffee and is forever frequenting her local coffee haunts. She has an unnatural obsession with needing to be close to the ocean, but is terrified of deep water.
I believe my heritage has enriched my outlook on life. I grew up in a multicultural Sydney, a melting pot of cultures. I never once wished it any other way. In my work as a writer, I find that my heritage helps me form deeper and more meaningful characters.
I have always been in awe that even in times of enormous struggle and heartbreak, the Macedonian culture prevails. I’m proud that while Macedonians are now spread far and wide across the globe, the culture and identity is honored, remembered, kept alive so that new generations are aware of who they are and where they come from. Our culture, history and traditions are both beautiful and unique. When someone of a different culture comments “that’s exactly what we do,” I tell them it’s not the same, we are different and I’m proud of this. I’m proud that whether it’s through language, dance or other means, new generations are ensuring the Macedonian name is remembered.
My advice for the future generations of young Macedonians would be, your heritage is your footprint, a touch point that reminds you of where you come from. Keep the Macedonian heritage alive by involving yourself with associations that uphold these values.
Dr. Monica Markovski Commerford, 32
Tetovo and Vratnica, Macedonia
Dr. Markovski Commerford was born in Garden City, Michigan, and is the daughter of Gjorgji Markovski of Tetovo (and originating from Aegean Macedonia) and Mirjana Markovska of Vratnica in the Republic of Macedonia. From a young age, her great passion for science and technology drove her to promote public health and sustainability. This is evident in every aspect of her life including her academic studies, her current career, and her community leadership, service, and volunteer work. As a motivated scientist, Dr. Markovski Commerford truly cares for the advancement of science, engineering, and technology policies.
Realizing that advanced training in science and research would put Dr. Markovski Commerford in a better position to effectively impact science policy and public health, she pursued a Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Michigan State University and a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard University. Her academic studies were followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Her scientific work has been published in many high-impact and influential scientific journals, such as Cell and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Markovski Commerford now works at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a microbiology reviewer for biological applications. This work has been her most rewarding as it directly impacts healthcare patients and promotes public health and welfare across the United States.
Throughout her distinguished career, Dr. Markovski Commerford has won numerous awards, fellowships, and honors for her scientific and leadership work. She has also mentored young scientists because getting students involved in the scientific discovery process is a critical for scientific innovation. She has volunteered in the Q?rius exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and has developed exhibits and poster presentations for the US National Science and Engineering Festival, Harvard University Microbial Sciences Initiative, and the Science Club for Girls-Boston “Show Me the Science” event. She has also led student journal clubs that have analyzed impactful scientific articles and helped to organize the Boston Bacterial Meeting held annually in Boston, Massachusetts.
Dr. Markovski Commerford currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area with her husband, Mr. Christopher Commerford. They enjoy exploring the museums and all the historical sites that the D.C. area has to offer. They love to travel and hope to visit her family in Macedonia soon to immerse her husband to the country’s rich culture and history.
My Macedonian heritage has instilled within me a strong work ethic, determination, and sense of self-worth. Using these, I can accomplish any goal that I set my mind to. However, these skills are meaningless without my supportive family. They have always helped to encourage and guide me in my life and career. If I doubted my path, my mother and Baba said to me “мечка се плаши, Моника не се плаши”.
Knowing that I come from such a rich, vibrant, and millennia-old culture makes me immensely proud to call myself a Macedonian. From our folk parables and music to our Macedonian dancing, each inspiring sentence, lyric or step illustrates how we can overcome our obstacles and persevere during hardship. I am proud to be Macedonian because I am proud of what being a Macedonian represents — determination, strength, family, support, and guidance. To young Macedonians, my best advice is to be proud of who you are and where you have come from. Use your past and cultural history to motivate you in your endeavors and to help you strive to make a difference. One man was able to reshape the world thousands of years ago, and so can you now.
Kat Nitsou, 34
Aegean Macedonia: Rula and Breznitsa
I was born in Toronto, Canada to Macedonian parents. My childhood was really loving and filled with family functions and great food.
As I grew older, I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work at a multitude of vocations and travel abroad. These experiences nurtured my creativity and opened my mind to different cultures and the world around me. I studied business in University, both in Toronto and in Los Angeles, where I currently live with my husband Oliver and daughter Kalina.
When I graduated from University in 2008, it was a challenging time for many people with the economic downturn. I was fresh out of school and to pursue a career in business in Los Angeles was very difficult when many were losing their jobs. I then decided to embark on a new path for one of my great passions, which is food. I enrolled into culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu and followed with an internship at the Los Angeles Times in their test kitchen. I had the opportunity to learn about recipe writing, food styling, food photography, and I really fell in love the process overall. When I graduated, I started my own private chef and catering company. It was at that time that I also started writing a Macedonian cookbook. I wanted to start with the food I know best and the food I loved most. MACEDONIA Recipes from the Balkans features the most traditional and celebrated recipes of the country. The philosophy of the book combines traditional ingredients and cooking techniques while modernizing these classic recipes. I felt it was time for our culture to have an elegant and sophisticated representation of our cuisine so I set out to create it. Six years ago, I began writing this book and Oliver did the photography. He is a cinematographer who runs Schema Media, a full-service production company in Los Angeles, and with both of our skills, we were able to collaborate and create something we’re really proud of. This book was a passion project for both of us and certainly a labor of love. Currently, the book is only available for purchase online at www.macedoniacookbook.com.
I stopped cooking professionally for clients’ full time, and for the last 4 years I have been working as a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty. I’ve gone back to “business” and love working in real estate, particularly in Los Angeles because it’s such a diverse and vibrant city with infinite growth and such incredible architecture. I feel extraordinarily lucky that I can be immersed in industries that I love and believe that a rich life comes from a variety of passions, whatever they may be.
Growing up, there was a lot of pride in my Macedonian heritage. My parents and extended family were immersed in the Macedonian community in Toronto. My core values and work ethic – although not unique to Macedonians – are attributes that are revered and celebrated among Macedonians. Education was at the center of my upbringing and this gave me the confidence to refine my skills and start creative projects and businesses.
Macedonians feel a fierce pride towards their family and their food. Among Macedonians, there is commonly a deep devotion to strive for better lives and to work hard, but to also enjoy life and share that joy with the close people around them. As a new mother myself, I hope that my daughter has a similar connection to our family history, our traditions, and the sharing of good food which I truly believe is at the core of our culture. I think all nationalities are proud of their heritage, but personally I’m proud to be Macedonian because although I wasn’t born in Macedonia, I grew up in a community that really celebrated its heritage and embraced passing it on to future generations. I also had parents who encouraged both myself and my sister to be proud of our Macedonian roots and taught us to be educated, elegant and graceful women. My advice to young Macedonians is to first and foremost surround yourself with positive people and influences. I’m a firm believer that you can achieve anything if you have a solid foundation to step up from, and to be inspired by and proud of the close people around you.
Andy Peykoff II, 40
Aegean Macedonia: Debretz
CEO of Niagara Bottling since 2002, Andy took the helm at just 26 years of age and grew the small regional bottler to the largest family owned bottled water company in the U.S. with 23 manufacturing facilities. Niagara supplies a diversified beverage portfolio including bottled water, tea, sports drinks, vitamin waters and carbonated beverages to the grocery, dollar, convenience and club channel with both private and Niagara label products.
Andy’s focus on innovation has led to numerous awards including the Eco-Air® bottle, the world’s lightest bottle, and the distinction of Beverage Forum’s 2015 Beverage Company of the Year Award. Andy’s entrepreneurial and competitive spirit perpetuates the organization and it’s clear the employees feel the same as Niagara was named one of the top 10 companies to work for by Plastics News magazine. Individually recognized in 2015 when he won the Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year award.
Andy graduated from SMU’s Cox School of Business, with a major in Organizational Behavior and Marketing and currently lives in Southern California with his wife Jaime and their six children; Hailey, Reese, Lila, Sawyer, Charlotte and Chloe. He is a member of both the California Coast and Aspen Chapters of YPO.
My family taught me the value of a dollar and that hard work can take you anywhere in life. And while you’re at it, not to forget about breaking bread with family and friends. Those are the keys to a successful life – and are deep rooted in our Macedonian culture. As far as where we’re from, let’s just say our fine city is currently occupied by Greece but we remain 100% Macedonian and proud of it!
Tony Radevski, 35
Kumanovo and Skopje, Macedonia
Tony Radevski is an independent Australian director, writer and producer of film and television. In 2005, he co-produced the 35mm Screen NSW-funded short drama In the Middle. In 2006, he completed a documentary for SBS entitled The Prodigal Son, which won Best Short Documentary at the 2006 IF Awards and Most Popular Film at the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival.
In 2008, he finished work on the Screen Australia-funded short animation Ephemeral, which he wrote and directed/produced with animator Jongsu Oh. It screened at the 2008 Dendy Awards and won Most Innovative film. It was a finalist in the Best Animation category at the 2008 ATOM Awards and St Kilda Film Festival and won Best Sound Post Production. It sold to SBS Television.
More recently, he was commissioned to co-produce and direct the documentary
Part One: Love. He also produced and co-illustrated the short animation
Chip in 2014, which screened at TEDxSydney and won an AACTA/AFI “Social
Shorts” Award for Best Independent Film. In 2015, his short animation Hole won Best Film and Best Screenplay at the 2015 Mardi Gras Film Festival. It was also shortlisted as Australia’s representative in the Iris Prize. He has just completed the English/Macedonian-language short comedy Dedo for Australia’s ABC TV, which will have its premiere at Flickerfest International Short Film Festival. He is currently finishing work on his upcoming film Pilè.
He is director of the production company rntm:Runtime Pictures, and also works on commercial and communications projects. He is a professional member of the Australian Director’s Guild, the Australian Writer’s Guild, The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA), and teaches film at tertiary institutions.
I have drawn from my cultural experiences growing up as an Australian-Macedonian in my filmmaking. My last two fiction films, Dedo, and Pilè, are in Macedonian-English language and are based on real experiences / characters in my life. The long, ancient history that we as Macedonians are connected to makes me proud. I have a strong cultural identity that intersects all parts of my life – personally and professionally. Also who doesn’t love the burek. My advice for future generations is to be inquisitive about your culture and history. Ask questions, talk to your baba and dedo, uncle or auntie about their lives and their experiences.
Nicholas Tigulis, 39
Born in 1977 to Nicos and Donna Tigulis, I grew up in the southwest area of Fort Wayne, Indiana with two brother, Andrew and Jason. During my schooling, I encountered many great teachers who invested in me and helped mold me into the person I am today. I attended Homestead High School, where I was actively involved with sports, with football being my passion. In 1997, I graduated from Homestead and earned the right to attend Ball State University. Exercise Science was my original major, but after a semester, I changed to Physical Education. Ball State gave me several field experiences to grow as a professional and I eventually received my first football coaching position in 1999 at Wes Del High School. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education in 2001.
I have been a coach since 1999 and an educator since 2001. I started my career in Southwest Allen Community Schools (SACS), in a temporary elementary position in physical education. From there, I was fortunate to find a permanent position in Northwest Allen Community Schools (NACS) in 2003. There I climbed the ladder to eventually run the strength and conditioning program for Carroll High School and become the varsity defensive coordinator for the high school football team. As an educator, I continued to learn to be the best teacher I could be for my students. I earned a Masters of Education through Indiana Wesleyan in 2007 and became Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in 2015 and a Certified Speed & Agility Coach (CSAC) in 2016.
In 2003, during my tenure at NACS, I met a beautiful, caring teacher named Abbygayle Jo Hendricks who became my wife in 2004. My wife and I have many of the same passions like God, serving others, sports, and family. We have been married for 12 years. We have three children: Eli (2006), Zeb (2009), and Mila (2011). Organized chaos is what we call this stage of life. Our children are actively involved in several different interests. You can find us doing: football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics, piano, and church activities. Though we are a busy crew, we enjoy our family time. Family movie night is one of our favorite past times together.
I’ve always aspired to be a head high school football coach someday. I wasn’t sure when this would happen, but relied on God to lead me where He wanted me to be. In the spring of 2016, I accepted the head football coaching positon at Heritage Jr-Sr High School in East Allen County Schools (EACS). My wife is currently the 7th and 8th Social Studies teacher at Heritage Jr High, as well. Together, as a family, we are pursuing this new chapter in our life. I plan to use football to teach young men how to be men of character, work hard, and invest in each other. My belief is to build good people, good people will make a good football program, and a good football program will be successful in win/loss category.
As I look back at my journey through life, I see that everything has happened for a reason. I try to control what I can control, do my best, do the right thing, and care about the people around me and allow God to work His will. God has blessed me throughout this journey, and I’m excited to see what else He has planned for me and my family. Thank you to the United Macedonian Diaspora for their 40 under 40 recognition, it is a great honor.
My Macedonian heritage has impacted my life and profession by instilling in me a hard work ethic. My parents have demonstrated this characteristic of “hard work” ever since immigrating to the United States of America and it rubbed off on me. I was able to conquer many obstacles in my life because of my willingness to work hard and never give up. The part of my Macedonian culture that makes me most proud is the tight-knit family community of the Macedonian people. I love the fact that when there is a Macedonian event in our area, it is large and our community comes together. Everyone knows each other. I am proud to be a Macedonian because of the rich history of Macedonia. There are significant historical and Biblical events that have taken place in Macedonia. I love learning of and hearing references of Macedonia and the impact it has made in our world today. My advice to the next generation of young Macedonians is to invest physically, mentally, and spiritually in your future. Also, work hard, and appreciate those in your life that have made it all possible through their hard work and sacrifice.