Success Stories


Studying at Tennessee State University

Creating at The Art Institutes

Interning at NASA as an Electrical Engineer

Leading their university as Student Body President

Working as a Video Producer in Atlanta

Earning Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice, Public Administration & Molecular Biology

Serving as Officers in the U.S. Army

Volunteering their time at Inspiring Minds

Working as an Engineer for the U.S. Government

Starting their own companies around the country

Giving back to their communities

Becoming strong, successful members of society

Leo Lanier

“The feeling of walking across the stage, knowing you’re going on to do bigger and better things in life is the best.”

Leo joined Inspiring Minds as an 8th grader, struggling with his grades and always wanting to be the class clown. Towards the end of his junior year, he realized that if he didn't change his mindset, he would have no hope of graduating on time with his class. Leo overcame many challenges to graduate, and Inspiring Minds was with him all the way. He had to retake two additional math courses and one additional English course during his senior year, as well as pass his Ohio Graduation Test. He was also required to take a full physical science class online and pass it with an A, in just two weeks, to walk across the stage with his class. HE DID!


The IMpact: “Inspiring Minds has helped me out a ton. From getting my grades up, to helping me figure out what I want to do in life. They showed me there’s more than Warren, Ohio, and more that I can do with my life. And it’s a guarantee that IM will help me with my future.”

Favorite IM Activity: “Fitness! Over the past five years I got to play all the different sports at IM, from tennis and boxing to basketball and football.”

Unforgettable IM Lesson: “Inspiring Minds taught me to always keep an open mind, to never just stay on one thing, and to keep looking for more for myself.”

The Next Chapter: “I plan to go into the Air Force Reserves and study business at Youngstown State University. I hope to one day open a business to help homeless people get back on their feet – help them get jobs, find houses and cars, get back in touch with their families, and just help them live a better life.”

"Leo is a perfect example of a student who started out with some challenges, never gave up, and worked hard to accomplish his goals. His success is an inspiration to his siblings and the rest of our IM students. He's a true testament that anything's possible." – Deryck Toles, IM Founder & Executive Director

Sergio Smith

Inspiring Minds alumni Sergio Smith has kept himself busy since graduating from Howland High School in 2008.

Born and raised in Warren, Ohio, Sergio earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Cincinnati and works as a Behavior Specialist for Norwood City Schools. In his position, Sergio works with emotionally disturbed and challenged students, grades K-12.

“I build a rapport with my students, where they can trust me and feel comfortable talking to me,” Sergio said. “There's nothing better than seeing them have a positive breakthrough and start heading in the right direction.”

Sergio today 2

Sergio is also a co-owner of Originalitees, a clothing company founded in 2009. Sergio is responsible for the company’s marketing, social media, designs and store placement. Originalitees clothing is currently sold in 36 stores from Michigan to Kentucky and online at (Make sure you check them out!)

“I’ve always been passionate about fashion. It’s an expressive outlet for me, where I can be completely unique and authentic.”

What’s next? Sergio plans to continue pursuing his youth psychology career, expanding and growing Originalitees, and enjoying both his jobs every day.

Sergio was one of Inspiring Minds' first students, and he will never forget the positive impact Deryck Toles, IM Founder & CEO, made on him growing up. He is excited to see the organization growing and thriving, and knows his hometown is lucky to have it.

Shawná King

A student of the first Inspiring Minds Class in 2006, Shawná King started the program as a quiet, reserved homebody. Through eye-opening experiences and opportunities with Inspiring Minds, she grew into a dreamer, a traveler, a leader and an impressive success story.

As a true veteran of Inspiring Minds, Shawná remembers the days of meeting at McDonald’s and selling candy bars to raise money for the group’s first exposure trip 10 years ago. She says one of the most important things she learned through Inspiring Minds was to be open-minded and try new things, even if they’re outside of your comfort zone.


“While some of us stay close to home and others branch out across the nation, 10-plus years later Inspiring Minds is still there to support and believe in us every step of the way,” Shawná said.

Following graduation from Warren G. Harding High School in 2010, Shawná decided it was time to take control of her future and follow her dreams by studying electrical engineering at Alabama A&M University. She interned with NASA throughout her college career and became passionately involved in the university’s extra-curricular community. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2014.

Upon graduation, Shawná accepted a job with the United States Department of Defense in Washington D.C. She is pursuing her master’s degree in engineering management at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Shawná is the perfect IM example that “anything’s possible.”