For the fourth year in a row, UMD is congratulating and recognizing forty Macedonian leaders that have excelled in their respective fields, endorsing them as role models for our community’s heritage and cultural values. The fourth annual 40 Under 40 List is built through a process of nominations, in which the final honorees are chosen by a selection committee.

The UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 list was launched in 2014 to celebrate the accomplishments of Macedonian role models. UMD will be releasing honorees in increments of 10 to allow for proper recognition of each honoree’s achievements. UMD plans to recognize the honorees at an event this year.

UMD hopes this program will recognize the achievements of the honorees, encourage them to continue positively impacting the world in their respective careers, promote the Macedonian culture and continue contributing to the global Macedonian community.

Congratulations to all honorees!

Read more about our first 10 and second 10 honorees and their achievements!


Allison Brager – Prilep and Skopje, Macedonia
Juliana Koloska-Bogatinoska – Belica, Kicevo and Bucin, Prilep, Macedonia
Dr. Dragan Gastevski – Bistrica, Macedonia
Dr. Sandra Gjorgova-Gjeorgjievski – Skopje, Macedonia
Dr. Mihajlo Gjeorgjievski – Skopje and Bitola, Macedonia
Dr. Saška Gocevska – Delčevo, Macedonia
Derek Ilich – Odri and Vratnica, Macedonia
Antoaneta Ivanova – Skopje, Macedonia
Milica Jovanova – Kavadarci, Macedonia
Elizabeta Pankovska-Saken – Bitola, Oreovo, and Gorno Srpci, Macedonia



Allison Brager, 33
Prilep and Skopje, Macedonia

Allison Brager is a Captain and neuroscientist for the United States Army. She applies her research discoveries in sleep towards helping Soldiers stay ready and safe on the battlefield.

Allison received her bachelors in Psychology from Brown University and continued her education at Kent State University, where she received her PhD in Biological Sciences and Physiology.

Unlike many in her profession, Allison cares less about curing neurological diseases, and more about how the brain can perform better. She cares about how the brain adapts and perseveres when confronted with stress. She care about how the brain can repair itself with injury, how the brain can completely re-wire itself in stimulating environments, and how the brain can re-set itself night after night with sleep.

Dr. Brager also authored Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain which was afforded her with the opportunity to work with the NCAA, NFL, and Olympic teams.

Outside of the lab, Dr. Brager enjoys competing and training in high-risk sports which she has done since a kid.

She has been competing in gymnastics and track and field since elementary school, and competed and lettered in Division 1 Track and Field at Brown University. She is also competitive in Crossfit®, a training regimen that has pushed her to my physiological and psychological limits. This lifestyle mixing brain science with athletic competition was my muse for my popular science book, Meathead: Unraveling the Athletic Brain.


My family has always worked hard and pushed the envelope with everything, for the better: work, family, and play. Work hard, play hard is not just a family motto though. It is in our Macedonian blood.

I also work hard and fight for my country to honor my ancestors in Macedonia who had to fight their voices and their freedom. I am lucky to be where I am in life thanks to my Macedonian ancestors.

What I embrace the most about my heritage is keeping true to the old country; taking the time to prioritize family and tradition. I will never ever miss an opportunity to go to a Macedonian dance, festival, or the midnight Easter service. These activities are what make Macedonians strong, disciplined, and genuinely charismatic people. This is what I hope the next generation will continue to embrace.


Juliana Koloska-Bogatinoska, 31
Belica, Kicevo and Bucin, Prilep, Macedonia

Juliana Koloska-Bogatinoska, MBA is Assistant Vice President and a Manager in the Financial Crime Investigation Unit (FCIU) at Sterling National Bank in New York. Juliana manages a team of FCIU analysts to ensure timely completion of alerts, cases, and Suspicious Activity Reports within the bank’s fraud detection and anti-money laundering (AML) software. Juliana has assisted in implementing an archiving platform solution for Sterling National Bank in order to securely retain and supervise communications in order to eliminate risks against the bank.

Prior to joining Sterling National Bank, Juliana was the Fraud Prevention Supervisor at Investors Bank in Iselin, New Jersey. She supervised a team of Loss Prevention/Fraud Specialists the monitored alerts through the Automated Surveillance System. Juliana was a Lead Core Conversion Team Member for implementing the bank’s fraud detection and AML software in 2015.

Juliana received her Bachelor’s Degree in International Business from Berkeley College in Manhattan in 2008. During her studies at Berkeley College, she took on an internship program in the Anti-Money Laundering/Compliance Department at Spencer Savings Bank in Elmwood Park, NJ.

During her internship, Juliana grew a deep interest in the field and knew that she wanted a career in combating against financial crime. With a passion for combatting financial crime, she entered Utica College, where she completed her MBA in Economic Crime and Fraud Management in 2014. In addition, Juliana is a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist and Certified Fraud Examiner.


My parents came to the USA with little money, but wanted to pursue the American Dream. They wanted to have the opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. My parents were dedicated to my brother and I and taught us the meaning of family.

Unfortunately, my father passed away when I was an early teen. Experiencing the loss of my father has made me stronger. My heritage and life sacrifices have taught me to be empathetic and humble in my personal relationships and profession.

I’m proud of having a Macedonian husband who has always been supportive of my decisions and motivates me on a daily basis. I’m a proud mother to my daughter who has inspired me since the day she was born.

The colorful costumes, beautiful churches, and memorable music are the highlights of the Macedonian culture. Hearing the sound of Macedonian music brings fulfillment to my heart because it reminds me of my childhood when my father would play his clarinet along to Macedonian music in our home.

My advice to the next generation of young Macedonians is to truly value your heritage and know your worth. Cherish the conversations that you have with your parents, grandparents, aunts, and/or uncles because you can learn the history, values, and traditions of Macedonia through them. Heritage is your history.


Dr. Dragan Gastevski, 37
Bistrica, Macedonia

Dragan feels greatly honored to have grown up together with his grandparents. His grandfather, a war hero, and his grandmother, a domestic hero, helped back up his parents’ teachings about his Macedonian heritage with stories, facts, and feelings of the past generations.

He first went to, then Yugoslavia, at the age of 2, and spent nearly half a year in the southern countryside. Since then, he has felt the pull of his roots, and has visited through the high and low points of our little country.

He’s always taken back lessons and has helped educate others on the success, slavery, and future of our people. Dragon feels so indebted to those that helped shape him, that he decided to enter the field of Medicine, to give back to his community.

Dragan attended Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, where he received the Presidential Scholarship, the highest academic scholarship offered at the institution. He received his bachelors degree in Biology with a minor in Psychology and Neuroscience. Dragan then proceeded to attend the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he received in MD in 2006.

Having grown up in Chicago, he set up his practice in the city as an Interventional Pain Physician. His patients come from very diverse countries and backgrounds.

He has also performed quite a bit of teaching for advanced interventional pain and surgical techniques through the globe. For a while, he worked on the ethics committee at the American Medical Association, and published several articles referencing his family’s origins in Macedonia.

He recently returned from South Korea, having been the first ever individual to their physicians about non-surgical interventional techniques to resolve pain.

His greatest passion, however, is his loving wife and children, for whom he tries to emulate that which he received from his parents and grandparents. Dragan an only hope that they will likewise grow up with the same pull to their Macedonian roots.


Most Americans cannot identify deeply with a specific culture. Having spent months in Yugoslavia, and then Macedonia, almost every year of my life, I can honestly say that the language, culture, and experiences have allowed me to see what life is like outside the United states. This makes me appreciate where I am today, and feel honored, and indebted that many have worked for ages to shape where I, and other Macedonians are today.

For ages we’ve been the oppressed, tortured, forlorn, and downtrodden of the Balkans. Despite this, we have not forgotten our heritage, history, language, and traditions. This persistence in character is what makes me proud to be Macedonian.

My advice for the future generation of young Macedonians is to never give up. For generations and many civilizations, we have been tortured, brainwashed, renamed, and recreated. We’ve lost people to wars, border recreations, and occupations. To turn a blind eye and move on is to forget what our families and ancestors did to allow us to proudly wave our flag and call ourselves MACEDONIANS! Be smart, be resourceful, and most of all BE MACEDONIAN!


Dr. Sandra Gjorgova-Gjeorgjievski, 29
Skopje, Macedonia

Born and raised in Skopje, Macedonia, Sandra completed high school at Josip Broz-Tito and continued to complete medical school at the University Ss. Cyril and Methodius.

While in medical school, Sandra received the Trajce Mukaetov Foundation Award, which is awarded to the student with the highest GPA in the class. She was also recognized by the Macedonian Medical Society due to her high grades and achievements.

Sandra has published numerous publications in her field of medicine as well as conducted research in the histopathological features of scar formation and esophageal sebaceous glands.

In addition to her own work, Sandra is a Pathology Teaching resident coordinator and teaches a diagnostic medicine course for fourth year medical students at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine.

She currently works at the Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, completing her pathology residency. In the near future, Dr. Sandra plans to begin her surgical pathology fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.


My heritage has a huge impact on who I am as a person. I am proud to call myself a Macedonian, especially when people ask me the question where are you from. I have noticed that compared with many other nationalities who have immigrated in the US from other countries (who answer to that question: I am from New Jersey or something similar), I always say I am from Skopje, Macedonia.

Because many of the people asking me the question do not know what Macedonia is, or where it is, I use this opportunity to educate them about the beautiful small country in the Balkans.

I am very proud because we are special people, we are very hard working and the sky is our only limit. On top of everything, we are very energetic, good and positive people. And we stick out of the crowd! People notice us and want to be us.

My advice for the next generation is be proud of who you are, be proud of your loud relatives and be as loud as you can be because everyone secretly wants to be like you, but not everyone can be Macedonian.


Dr. Mihajlo Gjeorgjievski, 30
Skopje and Bitola, Macedonia

Mihajlo is an Internal Medicine Doctor at the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Beaumont Hospital in Michigan. As a prosperous young doctor, Mihajlo has written and published over 10+ publications while majorly impacting Internal Medicine research and practice.

Mihajlo graduated with his MD from the University Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Faculty of Medicine in Macedonia. While studying at the medical school in Macedonia, Mihajlo was the President of Student Government and received the Trajce Mukaetov Foundation Award, that is awarded to the class valedictorian.

Following the completion of medical school, Mihajlo arrived in Michigan, where he completed both his residency and fellowship at William Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Mihajlo has received numerous awards and recognition for his revolutionary work in his profession. In 2017, he became the Gold Humanism Honor Society Executive Board Member at Oakland University. In addition, Dr. Mihajlo is a member of of various medical committees, such as the American College of Gastroenterology, the American Gastroenterological Association, and the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.


Coming from Macedonia has taught me to the value and importance of hard work and respect, that has provided me the basis for all my successes.

Living in a historically multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious society and able to cooperate as one makes me most proud to be Macedonian.

My advice for the next generation is to continue to work hard and you will succeed. We need all of you and we are always proud of you.


Dr. Saška Gocevska, 35
Delčevo, Macedonia

Saška was born and raised in Delčevo, a small city in Eastern Macedonia. She left Macedonia at the age of eighteen to attend university at the Medical University of Pleven, Bulgaria. Following this program, she continued her medical study at the Free University of Brussels and eventually received a Doctorate in Gynecology and a Master’s Degree in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

She is very involved in patient care, always trying to offer her patients the best possible medical approach. She was trained by and continues to work with the world’s leading laparoscopic surgeons, such as Professor Harry Reach, the man who delivered the first Laparoscopic Hysterectomy in 1988, and Professor Arnaud Wattiez, the Course Director of Gynecological Surgery at IRCAD in Strasbourg and one of the best surgeons of endometriosis and laparoscopic surgery in the world.

Saška is also dedicated to education. As a part of ENTOG, ESGE, and the WINNERS PROJECT (educational program developed by a gynecology team led by Professor Wattiez in collaboration with the European Academy of Gynaecological Surgery), she was given many opportunities to become a better surgeon, as well as a more experienced trainer for young doctors.

She currently works as an Obstetrician and Gynecologist at CHIREC Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, as well as Erasmus Hospital in Brussels as a medical consultant.


As human beings, we all have our own values, beliefs, and attitudes that we have developed throughout the course of our lives. Our family, friends, community, workplace, and the experiences we have had all contribute to our sense of who we are and how we view the world.

The history of my country and the way that it has evolved has always fascinated me and made me proud of who I am and of the country which I come from. Moreover, all the challenges that we have faced as a country have made me stronger and led me to strive for success, despite many difficulties.

Most of all, the Christian heritage and family values of my country make me proud to be Macedonian. In addition, I view the traditional music, dances, and delicious food as some of the highlights of our culture. Likewise, kindness and readiness to help each other are central values of the Macedonian people. The human support system that has existed throughout the history of Macedonia has truly stayed to this day.

I would advise the next generation of young Macedonians to always strive to be the best no matter what profession or vocation they have chosen. Never forget where you come from, and always remember that outside of Macedonia one is an ambassador of his or her country.


Derek Ilich, 39
Odri and Vratnica, Macedonia

Derek’s parents both immigrated to the United States in the late sixties, both at the age of 16. They arrived in the city of Detroit just as the notorious Detroit riots had seized.

When they arrived, they both faced harsh racism, abuse, and segregation being one of the few white students in the neighborhood. On top of being new, neither one of them spoke English, so they were a perfect target for ridicule and bullying.

However, through all of this difficulty, both of his parents were able to eventually move out of the city and into the local suburbs to become successful business owners.

His father, after a short stint working at General Motors, decided to become an entrepreneur and purchased the Livonia Danish Bakery in the late 70s. There, his parents developed a reputation for their wedding cakes, pastries, and personal service within the community. About a decade later, they sold the bakery and went into the restaurant business for the next 15 years, running a very successful diner in Farmington Hills, MI.

This is where I developed my dedicated work habit which contributes to my successes over the years.

Derek completed high school in Michigan and pursued his bachelors in Telecommunications at the Michigan State University. He currently is the owner and general manager of Express Employment Professionals in Ann Arbor, MI.

As a staffing specialist, Derek offers extensive full cycle and customized recruiting talents focused on temporary, temp to hire, and direct hire placement in the office, clerical, administrative, manufacturing, logistics, and general labor industries.


My Macedonian heritage has impacted my personal life by giving me a sense of pride and accomplishment for those in our community. Moving to a completely different country where the language is unfamiliar and the landscape is filled with aggression and unknowns is the definition of the American Dream. This has proven, time and time again, that anything is possible as long as you work hard and are dedicated to the cause. I translate this into my professional life on a daily basis. As the owner of Express Employment Professionals, we provide the means for those who want to better their lives with, not only jobs, but also with hope. Our business is ‘service focused’ and I wake up each day with the mindset of “who can we help today?”

The thing that makes me most proud of our Macedonian heritage is the fact that our people have faced thousands of years of oppression, adversity, and war and, in spite of all of that, there are thousands of successful stories of Macedonians who have not only succeeded, but excelled in life – whether in the United States or elsewhere. Both my wife and I are products of hard working Macedonian immigrants and the success is due to the hard working mentality instilled in us, as well as the unconditional support of my wife. Without her, none of this would be possible.

My advice to the next generation is to WORK HARD! If it’s something worth having it’s, worth the effort. My father’s most famous line to me growing up was, “if it was easy, then everyone would do it.” That has stuck with me throughout the years. Never forget the previous generation’s sacrifice that allows you to have the opportunity for an even better quality of life. Don’t ever take that for granted.


Antoaneta Ivanova, 39
Skopje, Macedonia

Antoaneta was born in Skopje, Macedonia. She has an extensive thirteen years of experience in civil society, where she has implemented more than 100 projects focused on employability of young people and social entrepreneurship.

She graduated from university in Macedonia and then continued her postgraduate education at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, as an US Department of State Fellow.

She also obtained Master’s Degree in Human Rights at Bologna and Sarajevo Universities. During her career, she was part of the Macedonian Mission to the United Nations in New York, as well as part of the Honorary Consulate of Macedonia in Brussels and the European Parliament.

Antoaneta is also one of the founders of the European youth platform, Mladiinfo International, which has offices in six countries throughout Europe and the Balkans. The main aim of the network is to strengthen the capacities of young people in Macedonia and Europe and, through formal and non-formal education, to help them in building their own career paths.

She currently lives in Tirana, Albania and is part of the Western Balkans Fund (first inter-governmental Western Balkans Institution founded by 6WB Governments). Antoaneta is responsible for identifying and selecting impactful projects for the Balkan region in the fields of culture, education and sustainable development.


When I think of Macedonia, the first thing that comes to my mind is color. Macedonia is a colorful country – a country of different ethnicities, cultures, traditions, beliefs – a unique mosaic where all the elements create a beautiful whole. Coming from such a diverse country, I learned to appreciate multiculturality. This inspired me to impact the lives of young people, to empower them to challenge themselves, and to embrace intercultural understanding, mobility and dialogue.

Our highlights are our diversity and our strength: strength to integrate different pieces in one mosaic, strength to sustain that mosaic, strength to be yourself, and strength to keep your identity no matter who has occupied the territory you live in. As the author, Petar M. Andreevski, writes, “our peoples are like couch grass, no matter how much you try to destroy them, they will keep on growing.” I am proud of our persistence and of being able to nurture our identity even in challenging times. Last but not least, we, Macedonians, are wholehearted people. Therefore, the nationality is always something secondary to us; rather, we, first and foremost, value people as humans, and even though we are all different, we are always equal.

I would tell the next generation of Macedonians to challenge themselves, travel abroad, visit a place they always dream of, boost their potentials to the fullest, and don’t be afraid to learn. Come back to your homeland, empowered and satisfied. Make an impact in your communities and never quit dreaming. Macedonia needs young visionaries; grasp every opportunity, and don’t hesitate to become one of them.


Milica Jovanova, 33
Marena, Kavadarci, Macedonia

Milica was born and raised in the small village of Marena, located outside Kavadarci, Macedonia. She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering and German from a joint program between the University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy (UCTM), in Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Technical University Hamburg-Harburg, in Hamburg, Germany. One year later, she received a Master of Science from the same program.

Afterwards, Milica began a career in engineering and environmental technology, holding positions ranging from that of a research worker at Otto-von-Guericke University, in Magdeburg, Germany, to that of a project leader at various German GmbH companies. Currently, she works as the Inside Sales Manager for Asia and Pacific Area at Saacke GmbH, in Bremen, Germany, focusing mainly on combustion systems for power plants.

After finishing her practical master work at Max Planck Institute in Germany in the field of Enantiomer crystallization, she decided to stay in Germany. There, she tried to gain some more experience in the field of engineering by applying her knowledge to an environmental project for the German Federal Environmental Organization where she was one of two Macedonians who won a 10 month scholarship to support her project!

During her 6 years working in Germany, she has been working for about four and a half years for one of the leaders on the market in the Burner Production SAACKE Company where she started as project leader and got promoted after one year to the position of Inside Sales Manager with countries responsibility as Asia, mainly China and the Pacific.

She is also the first woman in the department and one of the first coming from abroad. During her studies in Bulgaria, she had the chance to learn German, Bulgarian, Russian, English and is currently on her way to learning her 7th language, Chinese.


I come from a wonderful land with magical landscapes, where the stars shine as bright as the sun. This is something that you never really recognize when you are young or while you still live there. But once I moved away, I understood how happy and privileged I was to be born there. We may not have much, but we give all we have, we are joyful in our hearts, and this you can see in our innocent eyes. This is what I am proud of the most.

I have had the chance to compare my childhood with that of Western European children, my conclusion being that we know how to experiment and create great ideas from very few resources, such as reconstructing Tetris in the 90’s! It is part of our nature to be leaders and to strive for revolutionary ideas. I come from the region of Tikvesh, where I spent much of my childhood working on vineyards, driving tractors, and repairing machinery with my father. This aspect of my childhood influenced me to become an engineer.

I advise the younger generation of Macedonians to never stop educating themselves, to stay motivated, to fight for their rights, and to never lose faith in their dreams. One day those dreams will come true.


Elizabeta Pankovska-Saken, 39

Bitola, Oreovo, and Gorno Srpci, Macedonia

Elizabeta Panovska Saken was born in Bitola, Macedonia. She is the oldest of three daughters born to Blagoj and Dragica Panovski, who are from the villages of Oreovo and Gorno Srpci in Macedonia. The family immigrated to America when Elizabeta was eleven years old and settled in Columbus, Ohio.

Elizabeta graduated first in her class from Columbus Alternative High School in 1996, and received her undergraduate degree in Communication Studies with departmental honors in 2000 from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She then returned to Columbus to attend the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University, earning her Juris Doctor degree in 2003.

Since 2005, Elizabeta has worked as Staff Attorney for Judge Guy L. Reece, II, at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. She is a trusted leader and legal advisor to judges, staff, administration and other Court partners. She manages the civil docket, which consists of 400-500 cases of varying backgrounds and complexities, researches and drafts legal decisions, and resolves discovery-related conflicts and case management issues. Elizabeta has served as a supervisor to 40+ externs and a mentor to several new attorneys to develop talent, skills and knowledge base for the next generation of legal professionals.

One of Elizabeta’s favorite accomplishments has been her role in providing strategic guidance in the planning, process, rule-making, implementation and evolution of the transformative e-Filing system at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, General Division. In that role, she collaborated with key players to identify areas of concern, brainstorm solutions, create alignment and solidify the project partnership related to e-Filing. She also drafted the Administrative Orders that govern the e-Filing policies and procedures integrated into the Court’s daily operations.

Outside of work, Elizabeta has been actively involved with the Ohio Bar as a mentor through the Ohio Supreme Court’s Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program, as an executive board member of the Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer Inn of Court, and a member of the Columbus Bar Association and the Women Lawyers of Franklin County. She has presented at numerous Continuing Legal Education sessions.

Elizabeta has also provided support and leadership to her undergraduate alma matter, having served as Co-President of the Northwestern University Club of Columbus (2001-2014) and as Area Director for the Central Ohio Region of the Northwestern University Alumni Admissions Council (2014-present).

Elizabeta resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband Phil and their three sons, Aleksander, Kristofer and Lukas.


My parents are my biggest role models and embody Macedonian traditions and work ethic. They left behind their careers and friends in Macedonia to pave a path to a better future for their three daughters. They sacrificed all they had to help us live the American Dream. They always stress the importance of education and hard work to accomplish your dreams. I have taken that work ethic and focus on education and perseverance with me everywhere I’ve gone. From the classroom to the courtroom, I have done my best, worked as hard as I can, to be the best that I can be.

I am proud to stand on the shoulders of Macedonians who came before me. I love how close-knit our extended families and communities are. We have such a rich history of traditions and customs, and I love how they strengthen those bonds and that sense of closeness. At the end of the day, it’s the gathering of family that helps us focus on what really matters: the people we love and live with.

Never forget where you came from. Appreciate how your roots and those who came before you have shaped your world views and passion for success. Then go out there and be the best you that you can be and do not settle for anything but the best!

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