By Amber Kennedy

Virginia Business magazine named three of Old Dominion University's leaders to its list of "100 People to Meet" for 2022: Jessica Whitehead, Narketta Sparkman-Key and Jerry Cronin.

The list highlights the state's "innovative, impactful businesspeople and trendsetters" in several categories, including angels, builders, educators, go-getters, hosts, impact makers, innovators, new folks, public faces and rainmakers.

Whitehead is highlighted as an "impact maker" for her leadership as executive director of ODU's Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience, a job she started in February. She told the magazine her fascination with weather events began with a tornado warning as a child; now, she is focused on the "humanitarian and policy aspects of climate change, including adapting to it and building resiliency against it."

Earlier this year, Whitehead was selected to serve as chapter lead for the Fifth National Climate Assessment, a congressional report produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. She will coordinate development of the Northeast chapter of the report.

In the "educators" category, Sparkman-Key is recognized for both her day job as director for faculty diversity and retention, and her passion project, a handbag design business called Belinda Bea. The vegan handbags in her "Boss Bags" line are intended to empower carriers to take ownership of their lives and careers. The magazine notes that, in her capacity at ODU, she's "spent a significant amount of energy promoting inclusion and diversity, including developing a website that spells out ODU's values for prospective faculty members."

Cronin is included as an "innovator." The executive director of the OpenSeas Technology Innovation Hub leads efforts seeking solutions for the maritime and coastal arenas, focusing on commercializing and operationalizing innovation. He told Virginia Business his career has always required learning "a new subject matter or new nuance or new field on a pretty regular basis."

In September, Virginia Business highlighted OpenSeas' work to find commercial opportunities for resilience innovations, such as collaborating with Ferguson Enterprises to develop sensors that detect groundwater inflow into wastewater treatment plants.

The 100 People to Meet list also includes ODU alumni Rus Hayslett Jr., vice president of operations for Virginia Natural Gas; Sylvia Bugg, chief programming executive and general manager for general audience programming for PBS; and Drew Ungvarsky, founder and CEO of Grow.

Read the full list of Virginia Business magazine's 100 People to Meet here.

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