The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is proud to announce its 5th Annual Macedonian Diaspora’s 40 under 40 Award Winners! With these Awards, UMD recognizes the talent, the accomplishments, the potential and the pride in their Macedonian heritage of these 40 honorees and all under the age of 40.
“Macedonians are hard working people and have and continue to make a mark in the societies we live in – it is only appropriate that UMD recognize our own as role models in their respective communities as well as for future generations of Macedonians,” said Argie Bellio, UMD Indiana Chair and 40 Under 40 Coordinator. “Including this year, UMD has recognized 200 talented and extraordinary individuals of Macedonian heritage making an impact worldwide, all dedicated to their Macedonian roots.”
The winners will be announced 10 at a time, over the course of the next 4 weeks.
For the first time ever, 40 under 40 Award Winners will be recognized during UMD’s 15th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C., which is slated to take place Fall 2019 or Spring 2020. All current and past winners will be invited to receive a special 40 under 40 recognition. In the future, UMD has plans to host an annual 40 under 40 awards ceremony.
Nominations for next year’s list can be submitted HERE.
Congratulations to the first 10 of UMD’s Macedonian Diaspora’s 40 under 40 Award Winners!!!!
THE FIRST TEN OF FORTY HONOREES
Dr. Aleksandra Fortier
Divna Pesic Grozdanov
Dr. Aleksandar Velkoski
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS GROUP OF HONOREES:
Zvonko Blazevski, 38
Roots from Tearce and Vratnica in the Tetovo region, Macedonia
Zvonko Blazevski’s father, Angjelko, is from Tearce and his mother, Evica, is from Vratnica, both in the Tetovo region. Both came to North America in the mid-1970s, living in Detroit, MI and Windsor, Ontario, Canada respectfully before meeting at a wedding in Detroit.
Blazevski grew up in Sterling Heights and graduating from Utica High School in 1998, Zvonko received his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Journalism from Oakland University in Rochester, MI in December 2003. While at Oakland University, he was elected twice to the Student Congress and was a co-founder of the Macedonian-American Student Association. In December 2010, he earned a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science (concentration in World Politics) from Wayne State University in Detroit. He presented his Master’s Thesis, titled “Determinants of a Durable Peace in Post-Civil War Societies: An Empirical Test of Large and Small-Scale Internal Conflicts, 1946-2004” at the ISA Midwest Conference in February 2011.
Blazevski has worked for more than fourteen years in the Michigan Legislature, both in the Michigan House and Senate in various legislative offices, where he has gained a solid understanding of how Michigan’s state government and political process works and how to navigate the legislative process. He has served as a legislative aide for State Senator Michael Switalski (D-Roseville), State Representative Harold Haugh (D-Roseville), and State Representative John Chirkun (D-Roseville). In addition, he has worked on the nuts and bolts of many campaigns, including serving as a campaign manager and strategist for several successful candidates.
He is a firm believer in giving back to the community he calls home. He is actively engaged in many activities in Roseville and Macomb County including serving as a member of Roseville Planning Commission and as a member of the Warren-Sterling Heights Elks Club and Roseville Optimist Club. In addition, to working in the Michigan Legislature, he is politically involved as a member of the Warren Area Democratic Club, member of the South Central Area Democratic Club and a member of the Michigan Democratic Party.
Being of Macedonian heritage has motivated me to use my profession to help raise an awareness of issues that impact the Macedonian-American community where I can. While state government does not address the mostly federal and international matters that Macedonia faces, it does serve as an avenue to reach out to others and invite them to events where they meet community members and hear from them.
The thing that makes me most proud of being a Macedonian-American is our can-do, never say die spirit. This tenacity and spirit has gotten me to where I am today, overcoming many obstacles in my path and gives me the motivation to keep doing what I can to make a difference in my community.
It is important for the community to become more actively engaged in the political process. Volunteer. Go to fundraisers. Run for office yourself. Support candidates that support your issues. Many local candidates run for higher office so it is important to get to know elected officials early on to develop strong and lasting relationships as they move up. The more that we get involved, the more elected officials will be responsive to issues that impact the Macedonian-American community.
Andrew Damcevski, 25
Roots from Bitola, Macedonia
Andrew Damcevski was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. However, his family is from Bitola, Macedonia. He attended the University of Cincinnati, graduating in 2015 with degrees in both Finance and Marketing.
He is a co-founder and financial planner at RhineVest, a fee-only financial planning firm based in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. Damcevski is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and earned that designation at the age of twenty-three, making him one the youngest ever to accomplish that. Now, at twenty-five, his role is to help his clients with their financial planning and investment management, in addition to bringing in new business to the firm.
Given his experience and fast start, he has been quoted in many major publications including, US News & World Report, USA Today, The Washington Post, NerdWallet, etc. In 2018, Damcevski had an article written about his story published in MarketWatch.
My Macedonian heritage has a profound impact on my life and profession. What I’ve seen, being around Macedonians, is that we’re passionate about working hard and creating our own opportunities. There was no one that made that more clear to me than my dad. My dad is in trucking and real estate; and the life he was able to provide for me and my family is a direct result of his hard work and desire to succeed. That same entrepreneurial spirit has been with me since a young age and is what led to me to where I’m at today.
I’m most proud to be Macedonian because of the importance we place on family and community. I am very close with my family and my cousins are my best friends! It’s something that most people who aren’t Macedonian don’t understand. It’s amazing to me that I can meet other Macedonians and immediately have a connection with them where we likely share a common background and interests. Our values make that possible.
My advice for the next generation of young Macedonians is to embrace it! Embrace the fact that you’re a part of this community. Go to Macedonian events, learn the language, visit Macedonia, hang out with other Macedonians. You will not regret it!
Dr. Aleksandra Fortier, 36
Roots from Skopje and Veles, Macedonia
Dr. Aleksandra Fortier was born and raised in Skopje, Macedonia. She arrived to the United States as a freshman in college to pursue her studies. Her father is from Skopje and her mother is from Veles, then decided to move to Skopje to attend university. Dr. Fortier obtained B.S. in 2005, a M.S. in 2006 and a Ph.D. in 2009 in mechanical engineering. She also obtained a second M.S. in 2009 in engineering management from Southern Methodist University Dallas, Texas.
She is an Intellectual Property Scientific Advisor within the Law Offices of Haynes and Boone LLP in Richardson, Texas. Prior to Haynes and Boone LLP, Dr. Fortier has held positions as Research Scientist and Summer Faculty Fellow with Wright Patterson Air Force Research Laboratory Dayton, Ohio from 2016 to 2018, Assistant Professor of Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering at University of North Texas Denton, Texas from 2010 to 2017, Summer Faculty Fellow at University of Maryland CALCE Center in 2011, and Application and Manufacturing Engineer for several electronic companies from 2003 to 2009.
Dr. Fortier technical background spans the area of reliability and life-cycle performance of electronics, with focus on device health management, and processing, and design of novel engineering materials. Her research work has been published in over forty peer-reviewed journals, conference proceedings, and technical presentations and she holds three U.S. patents applications.
Dr. Fortier is very passionate about Macedonian Foreign Policy as well as Macedonia’s right to its own language, independence, autonomy, and growth. She wants to further contribute towards the UMD’s efforts to make the rest of the world aware of Macedonian strong culture, traditions and values. In her spare time, she serves as UMD’s Dallas, Texas representative.
Just being raised in an environment with spirit for woman equality, strong emphasis on value and respect towards women, and being surrounded by so many role models to learn from has shaped my life personally and professionally.
I am most proud of the fact that we were raised and taught to be progressive, modern, open minded and willing to learn and explore more about the world instead of just learning about our region.
The highlight of the Macedonian culture is ability to sustain and fight through challenges as we have seen this through history and through our diaspora around the world. No matter where we are we run for success and we still stay “Macedonia Strong”.
My advice for the future generations is to keep following their dreams and not to be disappointed by the many challenges and obstacles that they will encounter along the way.
Alexander Karapancev, 28
Roots from Skopje and Prilep, Macedonia with roots from Aegean Macedonia
Alexander Karapancev was a proud recipient of the 2011 UMD Bitove Scholarship when he was a student at the University of Western Ontario during his undergraduate studies. Currently, Karapancev is a Director of the Nova Generation Charity.
Karapancev attended law school at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom where he graduated with Honours. Exeter is a member of the Russell Group, the UK’s equivalent to the Ivy League. Upon returning to Canada, Karapancev completed his Master of Laws Degree in Canadian Common Law at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Karapancev prides himself on his forceful and creative style of advocacy. His litigation philosophy is best summed up by Alan Dershowitz in his book, The Best Defense: “I have only one agenda: I want to win. I will try, by every fair and legal means, to get my client off–without regard to the consequences.”
Karapancev is a Canadian Macedonian lawyer practicing in the area of criminal defence litigation. Karapancev currently practices law at Dallas Criminal Defence in Toronto. Karapancev has appeared at all levels of court in Ontario, including the Court of Appeal. He frequently represents clients in trials before the Ontario Court of Justice and the Superior Court of Justice. He enjoys advocacy before both Judges and Juries.
I am very proud of my Macedonian heritage. I have been involved with the Macedonian cause my whole life, and I believe it inspired me to practice law. Growing up I learned about the intergenerational suffering our people endured in both communist Yugoslavia and during the Greek civil war. My appreciation for liberty and a desire to fight abuses of state power stem from my knowledge of the suffering that my ancestors endured.
I am most proud of the legacy that our community has in Canada and the United States. We are known for our hard-working spirit, generosity, and positive reputation. Our rich history is a highlight of our culture.
Follow the example of the titans in our community: work hard, believe in yourself, and strive for success. Never forget that Alexander the Great’s blood runs through our veins.
Christina Laskovski, 35
Roots from Bitola and Gavato/Lavci, Macedonia
Christina Laskovski was born in a southwest suburb of Chicago, Illinois. She is the daughter of Tome and Helene Stojcevski. Father – Bitola, Macedonia; Mother- Gavato/Lavci, Macedonia (born in Gary, Indiana).
Laskovski knew from a very young age that she wanted to become an attorney. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and Economics from the University of Iowa and a Juris Doctor Degree from Michigan State University College of Law. She was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 2010 and is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association, Stark County Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
In law school, her passion was to become an estate planning attorney. However, upon graduation, the Akron, Ohio job market for an estate planning attorney directly out of law school was scarce. Instead, Christina started her career in health care as a Senior Compliance Auditor for Summa Health System. Within one year, she was internally promoted to the position of Regional Director of Medical Staff Services. She oversaw the physician credentialing process, administered the medical staff bylaws, and ensured that the medical staff met the requirements of The Joint Commission for two hospitals in Northeast Ohio. Within three years, she became the System Director of Medical Staff Services.
After the Health System suffered severe financial losses from consistently low inpatient and outpatient numbers, Laskovski decided to reevaluate her career path. She decided to pursue her original passion of estate planning and joined Huntington National Bank. Laskovski now serves as Vice President, Senior Client Advisor and is responsible for advising high net worth clients on building, preserving, and managing their wealth. She assists clients with estate planning and trust administration.
She currently lives in Akron, Ohio with her husband, Jovan, and their three children (Christopher, Elena, and Alexander).
My Macedonian heritage impacts every aspect of my life. I was very fortunate to grow up in a home with my Tato, Mama, Baba, and my brother (Alexander). My father came to America as a teenager; his father passed away when he was a young man. He constantly stressed the importance of a good education, hard work, and lifelong learning. Our lives revolved around the Macedonian Orthodox Church, church holidays, and family. Respect, pride, and good hospitality were very important ideals that were learned by example every day in my household. My dear husband, Jovan, is also Macedonian and shares the same values that we stress to our three children: Christopher, Elena, and Alexander.
I am most proud of how family oriented our Macedonian culture is. Growing up, my parents kept close family ties with extended relatives and taught us the importance of family. I grew up surrounded by family at every event. To this day, I am proud to have family that travels across multiple state lines to be a part of all of my children’s significant life events.
As a young woman, I wanted to be “normal” and fit in amongst my peers. As I got older, I realized how amazing it is that I am not like everyone else: I am Macedonian. My advice to the next generation of young Macedonians is to embrace and take pride in our rich and beautiful culture. Share our culture and traditions with everyone you know because it is what makes us unique. Pass on all of our Macedonian culture, values, and language to the next generation.
Ozzie Mitson, 37
Roots from Macedonia
Ozzie Mitson is a third-generation Macedonian-American, Mitson’s paternal grandparents, Oscar and Helen (Litchin) Mitson, had a profound impact on his life and instilling the importance of his Macedonian Heritage. A life-long member of the Orthodox Church, he served as an altar server until he was eighteen.
At only thirty-seven, Ozzie has already had a decades long career in local, state and national politics. He began his political career as an intern in the George W. Bush administration, where he spent two summers. He then worked in the field on the Bush 2004 re-election campaign. Following his time on the Bush campaign, Mitson worked in a Congressional office, as Manager of Government Affairs of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, as well as Public Information and Government affairs roles in local Mayoral offices.
For nearly a decade, Ozzie has been in the Healthcare Industry, and he is currently the Director of Government and Community Relations for Indiana University Health Fort Wayne.
Ozzie and his wife, Christina (also Macedonian), met as kids in Sunday school at Saint Nicholas Eastern Orthodox Church and have been married for twelve years. The have two children; Elena Marianthi, (age 6), and Christopher George, (age 3).
My Baba and Dedo have had a tremendous impact on my life, and they always taught me to keep God and family at the center of my life. I met my wife in Sunday School, and many of the Macedonian traditions and customs that we grew up with continue to be a part of our children’s lives. My parents have always pushed me to be successful, while maintaining my core values.
Professionally, I try to maintain that same work ethic that Macedonians are known for. My office is right across the street from Coney Island, which my great-grandfather helped me start, and seeing it each day is a good reminder of how hard my ancestors worked to provide for their family. I’m currently in the healthcare industry, and I interact with people in a variety of capacities. Because my career is largely relationship-based, the Macedonian notion that no one is really a stranger, there are just friends you haven’t made yet, has served me well in a professional capacity.
I’m proud to be Macedonian because of our tremendous work ethic and our ability to persevere. We have had our share of hardships, but we never give up. We put everything we have into everything we do. We also have a strong sense of community, and we always try to help one another.
I love so many aspects of our culture, especially the food. I love to cook and my children often help me in the kitchen. While I’m not a big dancer, it puts a smile on my face when I see my wife and kids dancing Macedonian Oro’s in our living room. I’m happy that those traditions are being passed down to my children.
My hope for future generations of young Macedonians is that they embrace our unique heritage. Take pride in our traditions, cherish your family and work hard.
Divna Pesic Grozdanov, 39
Roots from Strumica and Kavadarci, Macedonia
Divna Pesic Grozdanov was born in Kavadarci, Macedonia. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology in Skopje, Department of Macedonian and South-Slavonic Languages with American Studies. Later, she finished her Master of Economy Science in Management and Banking.
Grozdanov has been a professional sportsman for more than twenty years. She has been the best shooter of all times in the Republic of Macedonia in the discipline of small calibre rifle and air-rifle, holding thirty-seven state records in both female and male competitions. So far, she has twice become a champion of the Balkans and twice took part at the Olympic Games (Sydney, Australia, 2000, and Athens, Greece, 2004). She has been ranked among the top competitors in many European and World Competitions.
She started her career as a painter when she was only thirteen (oil on canvas) and so far has had twenty major exhibitions at home and abroad; Skopje, New York, Miami, Paris, Washington, Dusseldorf, Ljubljana, Istanbul. (www.divnapesic.com). Grozdanov has won several awards at the American Art Awards in the following years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
She was chosen first place at American Art Awards 2017 juried by 25 best museums and galleries across USA and was named the best abstract expressionist in the world!
She was elected as second place from “33 EMERGING CREATIVE MINDS YOU NEED TO KNOW FOR 2011” by Sofi Art magazine, USA (www.SOFImag.com).
One of her paintings, Protecting my Pride, is owned by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and hangs at Buckingham Palace.
Grozdanov’s artworks were shown on the biggest billboard in Manhattan, NYC, as a selected artist from around the world by See.Me Take Times Square 2014.
She lives and works in New Jersey with her husband Blaze Grozdanov and their two sons, Stefan (age 4), and Viktor (age 2).
I’m proud to be Macedonian because of my family. My father Blagoj is born in Strumica and my mother Anka in Kavadarci. They raised my sister, Katerina, and I (forty years, professor of German language in Dusseldorf) with love and harmony, giving us the best example of attitude for being a good person. At the same time, they taught us the real values in life: family, love, friends, respect, honesty, bravery, dignity, persistence, moral, investing in learning, hard working, creativity, sport. And these are the values of a real Macedonian! A good Macedonian!
I’m delighted by the Macedonian food. I’m enjoying food, its texture, aroma, flavor… and the Macedonian kitchens have so much to offer for this pleasure! Wine and rakija too 🙂
I also admire the beauty of our country, the landscapes, the nature, the lakes, national parks, mountains, canyons, the historical locations one of a kind in the world! All of this in a so small territory. Yes, Macedonia is so small, but it has a big heart. And that heart is beating in every Macedonian in the world! I often say that Macedonians are not too many in the world, but we are enough, for good and for bad! All my life, I try to give the best that I can to represent Macedonian sport and art at the highest point in the world. My mission in art is to inspire people to become better humans because the descent of good and evil is not beyond the world so each person counts!
My advice to the young generations of Macedonians will be to learn the real values of a good Macedonian so they can be counted on the good side in this world!
Nicole Servinis, 28
Roots from Sveta Petka, Macedonia
Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Nicole Servinis grew up as a lover of arts and entertainment, including figure skating and dance, and has won national dance championship titles across North America. Servinis’s love for TV started in high school after completing a co-op program at Rogers TV in 2007, and she hasn’t looked back since. Servinis received a full dance scholarship to Hawaii Pacific University where she studied journalism (and received the Rookie of the Year Award!). Servinis came home to finish her studies at Ryerson University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism, and had the opportunity to intern at Citytv and Entertainment Tonight Canada.
She is the Community Correspondent for Breakfast Television. Before joining Breakfast Television, Servinis was an Entertainment Producer where she interviewed many A-list celebrities, including Meghan Markle, Natalie Portman and Melissa McCarthy.
My Macedonian heritage has impacted my life and profession in more ways than I can count. From my great grandfather, Louis Servinis, coming to Canada as an immigrant with next to nothing; to my grandfather, Thomas Servinis, working several jobs and long hours to support his family, and my own dad, Nick Servinis, who represented the Canadian Macedonian Hockey Team in Europe. My heritage has taught me to always be involved in my community and work hard to achieve whatever my mind and heart is set on.
I am so proud to be Macedonian because of our strong history as a nation and everything we have done and continue to do to preserve it. As a proud Macedonian, I plan to continue to educate people and future children about where we came from. A Macedonian cultural highlight for me is our ability to maintain a strong bond with our community, alongside our traditions that I hold near and dear to my heart.
If I had to choose one piece of advice to pass on to the next generation of Macedonians is to always remember where you came from and to be proud of it, never forget to give back to your community, and always help others.
Daniel Stojanovski, 29
Roots from Demir Hisar and Bitola, Macedonia
Daniel Stojanovski was born in Sydney, Australia. His father was born in Demir Hisar, Macedonia, and his mother was born in Bitola, Macedonia. Stojanovski holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in Economics and Business Law, from The University of Wollongong and a Master of Finance degree from the University of Technology, Sydney.
Stojanovski is a Portfolio Manager for a large investment institution in Australia. His duties include the formulation of investment strategies, portfolio and model construction, and identifying quality investments.
In addition to his work, Daniel is an active member in the Macedonian community. His passions for travelling, history and politics has led him to see several amazing places while at the same time meeting new people. Daniel loves spending his time with friends and cooking up great Macedonian feasts with family.
Being of Macedonian heritage has meant constantly fighting for one’s culture, history and people. As a by-product my heritage has taught me endurance. This characteristic as a first-generation Australian-Macedonian has impacted me greatly teaching me to never give up and consistently strive for the better, no matter how hard things get.
I have always seen our Macedonian culture under four unique pillars, these pillars are what ultimately make me proud to be Macedonian. The first pillar would have to be our faith. I feel it shapes the way we act with one another but also how we apply ourselves to the broader community. The second would have to be Family, it ingrains our culture, values and traditions. Family is our rock that makes us determined, confident and strong minded. Finally, the third and fourth pillars would have to be our History and Language. These last two pillars tie everything together, they help us create some of the best highlights of what it means to be Macedonian through food, song and dance.
The advice I have to the next generation of young Macedonian’s is to never give up. If you fail, pick yourself up and try again. Ambition is an unlimited resource, use it. “Even one drop can raise the sea.”
Dr. Aleksandar Velkoski, 33
Roots from Ržanovo and Bitola, Macedonia
Dr. Aleksandar Velkoski was born in Dearborn, Michigan. He is the youngest of three children born to Marko S. Velkoski and Anica Kotevska, who are from Ržanovo and Bitola (respectively) in Macedonia. Marko and Anica immigrated to the United States of America before Aleksandar was born, and settled in Lincoln Park, Michigan.
Dr. Velkoski graduated from the Advanced Technology Academy in 2003, and received a Bachelor of Science with honors in 2006 from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Aleksandar’s passion for learning drove him to continue studying at Lawrence Technological University, where he earned a Master of Business Administration in 2008 and, at the age of 27, after submitting a dissertation titled “An empirical investigation of restaurant consumption as an indicator of aggregate macroeconomic activity in the U.S.”, a Doctor of Business Administration in 2012. Aleksandar also completed Wharton Marketing Metrics, an Executive Education program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Since 2014, Aleksandar has worked for the National Association of REALTORS®, where he currently serves as the organization’s Director of Data Science. Aleksandar also serves as Staff Executive for the National Association of REALTORS® Data Strategies Committee, and Mentor for the National Association of REALTORS® Second Century Ventures’ REach® Accelerator. Since 2016, Dr. Velkoski has served as Adjunct Professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University, where he currently teaches graduate courses in data science and machine learning, and as Faculty Advisor at DePaul University’s Innovation Development (iD) Lab.
Prior to joining the National Association of REALTORS®, Aleksandar worked in numerous analytical roles, most recently founding and leading the Marketing Analytics and Research group at Rewards Network. Prior to joining DePaul University, Dr. Velkoski worked as an Adjunct Professor in the College of Engineering at Lawrence Technological University, and the Center for Advanced Technologies at FocusHope.
Outside of his core responsibility, Dr. Velkoski is deeply involved with the developer community, serving as Co-Founder and Lead Organizer of Chicago ML, the largest community of machine learning researchers and practitioners in the Midwest. He is a frequent speaker on artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, having presented at over 50 conferences and events, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Annual Risk Conference, DePaul University’s Optimizing Digital Innovation Conference, and the National Association of REALTORS® Data Strategies, Research, and Federal Technology Policy committees, among others.
Aleksandar resides in Chicago, Illinois with his wife Aimee and their two children, Beckham and Alana.
As a first-generation American of Macedonian descent, I’m extremely blessed to have been raised in a household that provided me with an opportunity to experience a culturally-rich, hard-working, and values-driven childhood. My parents left Macedonia, and everything that they had, knew and loved, to take a risk on providing a better life for me and my siblings in the United States. In some ways, a better life is what we received; in others, we may have taken a step back. However, I’m confident that I would not be the man that I am today if it wasn’t for the influence of Macedonian culture and tradition, everything from ways of thought to expression via music and dance, on my personal development.
In fact, what I appreciate most about Macedonian culture and tradition is that it is fundamentally diverse and complex; reflecting influences from a variety of neighboring regions, as well as, frankly, influences from various regions throughout the globe. This diversity-driven cultural richness is not only in and of itself influential, but also a cornerstone of Macedonian identity and its evolution through time.
To the next generation, I ask you to consider a simple question: In your opinion, what is a meaningful life? When you figure it out, I challenge you to go live it.