CoA+A Announces 2021 Distinguished Alumni

The Distinguished Alumni Award medal
Sunday, February 7, 2021
The College of Arts + Architecture (CoA+A) will honor six Distinguished Alumni on Friday, March 19.

The College of Arts + Architecture (CoA+A) will honor six Distinguished Alumni on Friday, March 19, in the seventh annual celebration of alumni achievement. The event will be virtual and open to the public.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards were created by the College of Arts + Architecture in 2015 to recognize the accomplishments of alumni who demonstrate in their work the core themes of the College's vision: professionalism, global perspective, environmental engagement, connectivity with community, collaboration, and the emergence of new ideas, skills, and practices. Each department designates one Distinguished Alum annually, chosen by departmental faculty and administration.

The 2021 CoA+A Distinguished Alumni are

Architecture  Craig Kerins and Robby Johnston
Art & Art History  Antoine Williams
Dance  Keisha Hughes
Music  Kevin Brawley
Theatre  D. Shellie Hyser

Craig KerinsAs a student at UNC Charlotte, Craig Kerins (B.A. in Architecture, 2002; B.Arch., 2004) was heavily involved in the College's metal and wood shops and received the AIA Alpha Rho Chi Bronze Metal for his own work as well as efforts helping other students. His thesis project reimagined the parts of a humble metal building as a custom car shop and was awarded Best Architectural Representation. Following graduation, Kerins relocated to Austin, Texas and worked for the award-winning firm Tom Hurt Architect before transitioning to a design/build method working with Jay Hargrave Architecture.

In 2012, Kerins co-founded The Raleigh Architecture Co. (RACo) and The Raleigh Construction Co. (RCCo) in Raleigh, NC, with business partner and former UNC Charlotte classmate Robby Johnston. Working with a full capacity of architecture and construction services, these two separate companies practice persistent, interdisciplinary collaboration to generate critical architectural responses to site, client, and budget. Drawing on his skills as a craftsperson and his experience with design/build, Kerins has provided project leadership focused on buildability to ensure successful project completion and an elegance of craft in all RACo and RCCo projects.

Kerins is a licensed architect in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas and is a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). He is a licensed General Contractor in North Carolina. Together with Johnston, their work has been awarded multiple AIA Regional Design Honor and Merit Awards, AIA NC Design Honor and Merit Awards, and Triangle Design Honor, Merit, and Homes Tour Awards. In 2021, RACo was invited to exhibit their work in "South Forty" at the Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy, alongside the selected work of other southern practitioners.  Kerins is a visiting critic at UNC Charlotte and has lectured on his experiences as an architect at UNC Charlotte, NC State University (NCSU), and AIA Knoxville, TN.

Robby JohnstonA native and lifelong resident of North Carolina, Robby Johnston (B.A. in Architecture, 2002; B.Arch., 2003) received the 2003 Best Architectural Design Project and Best Architectural Representation awards for his Comprehensive Design and Thesis Project, "A Hiker's Refuge," an examination of the built environment’s relationship with location. Before co-founding The Raleigh Architecture Co. (RACo) and The Raleigh Construction Co. (RCCo) in 2012 with former UNC Charlotte classmate Craig Kerins, Johnston worked for award-winning firms Michael Ross Kersting Architecture, Tonic Design & Tonic Construction, and Clearscapes Art + Architecture.

With a passion for ensuring buildings are realized, Johnston serves as a team leader in architectural design of single-family, multi-family, office, and hospitality projects, as well as business development, client relations, construction management, and office culture at RACo and RCCo. His work spans the state and state lines and and together with Kerins has been recognized with multiple American Institute of Architects (AIA) Regional Design Honor and Merit Awards, AIA NC Design Honor and Merit Awards, and Triangle Design Honor, Merit, and Homes Tour Awards highlighted by COTE Awards and LEED-Certified work. RACo was invited to exhibit their work in "South Forty" at the 2021 Venice Biennale in Venice Italy, alongside the selected work of other southern practitioners.

Johnston is a licensed architect in North Carolina and a member of AIA. He has headed jury selection as a member of the AIA Triangle's Residential Homes Tour Planning Committee and served as a juror for various AIA Award programs. He has served on the City of Raleigh's Appearance Commission and held a Governor Appointed State Board position. He is a visiting critic at UNC Charlotte and NC State University (NCSU) and has lectured on his experiences in practice in Charlotte, Asheville, Raleigh, and Knoxville, TN.

Antione WilliamsAntoine Williams (B.F.A. in Illustration, 2003) is an associate professor of art at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. His interdisciplinary practice is an investigation of power and perception through the lens of critical race theory. Heavily influenced by science fiction and his rural, working-class upbringing in Red Springs, North Carolina, Williams has created his own mythology about the complexities of contemporary Black life. An artist-educator, he received his Master of Fine Arts from UNC Chapel Hill in 2014. He helped start the God City Art Collective in Charlotte, where he participated in a number of socially engaged, community-based art projects. Williams is a member of the North Carolina Black Artists for Liberation (NCBAFL), a group dedicated to making art institutions in North Carolina more equitable spaces for BIPOC communities. In 2020, he partnered with a number of museums to fundraise for Black Lives Matter and organizations protesting the criminal justice system. He also worked with the Biden/Harris campaign creating public art to spur Black voter turnout to counter voter suppression.

Williams has exhibited in a number of places, including at the Mint Museum of Art, Michigan State University, Columbia Museum of Art, Smack Mellon Brooklyn, 21c Museum, Elsewhere Museum, the McColl Center of Art + Innovation, the California Museum of Photography, as well as many other venues. He has taken part in a virtual residency at The Center For Afrofuturist Studies and is in the 2021 Drawing Center viewing program. In 2022 he is slated to attend the Joan Mitchel Residency in New Orleans. Williams received  the 2017 Joan Mitchell Award for Painters and Sculptors and the 2018 Harpo Foundation Grant Award. His work is in the collections of the Mint Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art. He has given talks at Auburn University and UNC Chapel Hill.

Keisha HughesKeisha “Sparkle” Hughes (B.A. in Dance, 2011) is a professional dancer from Queens, New York. Dancing since the age of three, Keisha is known for blending her authentic style from her hometown with the raw energy of her years in the South. Hughes attended Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts in Long Island City, New York, as a dance major, before coming to UNC Charlotte in the Fall of 2007 to continue her dance studies.

Her background includes, but is not limited to, performing and working with guest artists such as the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and many more. She has also received multiple scholarships to study at the Martha Graham Contemporary School of Dance and was a former student at Abrons Art Center in New York City’s Lower East Side. In her collegiate years she served as choreographer and president of Tantrum Hip Hop Dance Troupe. It is UNC Charlotte and the community that helped nurture her love of teaching. While pursuing her degree she taught at the local YMCAs, Carolina Dance Explosion, StudioRush, and in the public schools as a guest artist.

In 2011, on BET’s Born to Dance with Laurieann Gibson, Hughes received her first big break as a top ten finalist. Shortly after, she graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Dance. She has performed with Cardi B, Lil Kim, Yo Gotti, Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Tostitos, and more. She is an alumna of Monsters of Hip Hop and has also trained closely with two of the industry’s top choreographers: Rhapsody James and Luam Keflezgy.

In her spare time, Hughes enjoys traveling, teaching children, music, and movies and takes pride in her West Indian heritage. She owns an online clothing boutique for women (Keep Evolving Your Style Boutique) and co-owns an event space in Long Island City (Penthouse Suites). She strives to make her mark on the industry and create a long-lasting career doing what she loves.

Kevin BrawleyKevin Brawley (B.MusEd, 2013) is an educator, children’s choir director, performer, and composer/arranger. He has been a public-school teacher for eight years in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) at Torrence Creek Elementary, and a private guitar teacher for nine years prior to that. As a teacher, he believes in every child’s ability to make music regardless of circumstance or background. He prides himself on having an inclusive and positive learning environment for all of his students – especially those with disabilities.

In 2013, Brawley started an after-school, elective, non-auditioned fourth and fifth grade choir called The Quarter Notes. Open to any student who wants to join regardless of ability, The Quarter Notes have grown in number and stature every year. Their current roster features 120 students. In 2017 and again in 2019, they were recognized by Charlotte Concerts as one of the 13 best ensembles in CMS across all grade levels and invited to perform at the “Musical Showcase” at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. They were also invited by Carolina Voices to perform for the 63rd annual Singing Christmas Tree in 2017.

Brawley has been performing solo acoustic shows in the greater Charlotte area for the past 13 years. Two years ago, he cofounded the group "Water From Fire,” which released their self-titled EP in April 2020. He is also a worship leader at his church. This wealth of stage experience lends legitimacy to his teaching and makes his classroom a literal workshop for students on how to apply musical concepts and skills.

In 2015, Brawley began planning and fundraising to outfit his school with a professional level recording studio. After being named one of only 30 National Music Teachers of Excellence by Nashville’s CMA Foundation in 2019, and with grants awarded locally by the CMS Foundation and other private donors, his dream became a reality in the spring of 2020.

Brawley has presented at local and national educational conferences. He recently presented at the UNC Charlotte “Teacher 2 Teacher” Conference and the North Carolina and Virginia state music educators conferences on how to use music to reach students with autism. He was selected by CMS as one of five teachers to present at the 2017 “Teacher Talks” and was also chosen by the CMS superintendent to give the opening address to all 15,000 CMS teachers before the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

Brawley lives in Charlotte with his wife, their three children, and two dogs. Aside from all of his teaching and musical endeavors, he enjoys running, spending time on the lake, and travelling with his family.

Shellie HyserD. Shellie Hyser (B.A. in Theatre Education, 2011) attended UNC Charlotte as a non-traditional student. While in college she crewed, stage managed, designed, wrote, acted in, and directed countless productions. She enjoyed coursework in costume and scenic design, play analysis, theatre history, performance, directing, education, and creative writing—all of which prepared her to pursue her dream career in teaching teenagers to make choices and tell their stories.

After graduating summa cum laude, Hyser found her home at Central Cabarrus High School, where she continues to teach with all her heart, direct productions, produce the daily announcements broadcast, and coach a small but mighty Speech and Debate team. She has earned her first diamond from the National Speech and Debate Association and coached numerous state champions and national finalists—including her daughter, a 2015 International Extemporaneous Speaking national tournament semifinalist. She has served as Fine Arts Department Chair, School Improvement Team Representative, Cabarrus County Curriculum Writer, Professional Development Facilitator, Student Teacher Supervisor, and Mentor. Several of her students have gone on to pursue careers in theatre and education.

Outside of school, Hyser enjoys music, creative writing, water-coloring, and—above all else—spending time with her husband, Evan Hyser (who also received a B.A. in Theatre at UNC Charlotte); their five-year-old son, Orin; and her two adult children: Elizabeth Kingaby, a UNC Charlotte alum and Levine Scholar who earned her undergraduate degrees in political science and theatre and a Master of Public Administration, and Perrin Kingaby, a junior at UNC Charlotte majoring in elementary education with a minor in theatre.

Pictured above: The CoA+A Distinguished Alumni Award medal, designed by Associate Professor of Art Jamie Franki.