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NC State’s Outstanding Young Alumna: Jess Ekstrom

Jess Ekstrom
Jess Ekstrom spoke at NC State's 2017 Evening of Stars gala.

NC State’s Alumni Association names and celebrates an outstanding young alumnus each year during the university’s Evening of Stars gala. Jess Ekstrom (communication ’13) earned the honor for 2017.

As an undergraduate, Ekstrom interned at a wish-granting organization for children with life-threatening illnesses. She noticed how many children loved to wear headbands after hair loss from chemotherapy. So she founded Headbands of Hope during her junior year. For every headband sold, a headband is given to a child with cancer. By the time she graduated, Ekstrom had donated thousands of headbands to children with cancer and was elected to give the commencement speech at NC State’s 2013 graduation ceremony.

Headbands of Hope has since donated more than 200,000 headbands to every children’s hospital in America and across six countries. They’re  available online and in more than 1,000 stores across the United States and Canada. Women’s Health Magazine named Ekstrom its 2017 Game Changer winner.  The company has been featured on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” and in Forbes, Seventeen, Vanity Fair, Self and People Magazine.

Ekstom has spoken at more than 100 campuses, conferences and businesses, appearing before more than 100,000 people. She’s found time to write a book: “The Freshman Fabulous: The Girls’ Guide to College” and is a contributing writer to and

“The Alumni Association is proud of this young alumna and her passion to change the lives of others,” said Benny Suggs, executive director of the Alumni Association. “There’s no better example of our university mantra, Think and Do, than Jess Ekstrom.”

Ekstrom joins an impressive list of alumni from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences who have earned distinction as NC State Outstanding Young Alumni in recent years, including Harold Pettigrew, Jr. (political science ’02) in 2016; Tony Caravano (sociology ’04) and Van Nolintha (chemistry; minor in religious studies ’09) in 2014; and Daniel Gunter III (history and Spanish ’00) in 2011.