General John W. “Mick” Nicholson, Jr. was named president of the PenFed Foundation in April 2019. General Nicholson is a retired United States Army Four-Star General who was the longest-serving commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
General Nicholson has dedicated his 36-year career to serving the United States. He earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in history from Georgetown University, a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the United States Military Academy, a Master’s degree in Military Art and Science from the School for Advanced Military Studies and a Master’s degree in National Security Studies from National Defense University.
General Nicholson has spent much of his career in the interagency arena, working with international organizations, the State Department, law enforcement and national security staff. His previous roles included Deputy Director of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Defeat Organization, Director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell and Deputy Director for Operations on the Joint Staff.
General Nicholson’s awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal for Valor, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge (2nd award), Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge and the Ranger Tab.
D’Shawn Russell is a true southern belle. Growing up in a small town in North Carolina, she spent summers picking homegrown fresh fruit, swimming in the ocean during the day, and catching lightning bugs at night. As an adult, she held on tight to her sacred memories of attending church all day with her grandmother and then settling in to eat a satisfying meal made with love.
She began making candles that would honor the joys of southern living and provide a creative outlet for her sense of nostalgia. When she started giving them away as gifts, the response was so well received that she decided to take this newfound passion of hers and share it with more people. Thus, Southern Elegance Candle Company was born.
D’Shawn won the 2019 Bunker RDU pitch competition, participates in the monthly CEO Circle, is in 300+ retail locations, and recently completed the Goldman Sachs 10ksb program.
Thom is President and CEO of NC IDEA. He is an entrepreneur, investor, mentor and works with entrepreneurs, governments, universities and NGOs around the world to embrace the entrepreneurial mindset needed to grow vibrant economies.
During his seven-year tenure at the Kauffman Foundation, he directed the Foundation’s programs addressing entrepreneurial education, mentoring, access to capital and fostering entrepreneurial ecosystems. Thom also led Kauffman Labs for Enterprise Creation, a school dedicated to advancing community deployed experiential-based entrepreneurial education.
Thom has served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Entrepreneurship, addressed the United Nations Assembly on Entrepreneurship, lectured at conferences around the world and serves on multiple boards including Innovation Fund America and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina.