CLEMSON — The start of a new academic year always brings an air of excitement to the Clemson University campus. It also brings with it the introduction of new leadership in student government.

Undergraduate and graduate student body presidents Killian McDonald and Courtney Allen took advantage of their first opportunity to speak in front of a large incoming class at the annual Victor Hurst Convocation.

The message from two of the newest student leaders was simple: take advantage of your Clemson experience and positively impact campus.

“Clemson was designed based on the vision of one man,” McDonald said. “But the Clemson University we are now has been shaped, changed and inspired by thousands of individuals who have left their mark here on campus. We would not be a top 25 public institution if not for those individuals who challenged Clemson to be better, to move forward and open its doors to revolutionary change.”

Courtney Allen, graduate student government president for 2017-18

Courtney Allen is president of Clemson’s graduate student government.
Image Credit: Amanda Walker

Allen echoed those sentiments, but also offered advice to students experiencing the typical emotion of fear as they settle into a new home.

“The most overwhelming emotion I had coming to Clemson was fear,” said Allen, 30, who spent five years at Widener University working in Student Affairs before returning to school to pursue a doctorate. “It’s pretty normal in your educational journey to go through transitional periods every few years. Overcoming fear doesn’t happen overnight. You must make the decision to walk, run, push and fight through it.”

Allen speaks from experience. A native of Manhattan, she completed her undergraduate and graduate degrees and worked in higher education in the Northeast, which is vastly different from the culture she’s experienced in Clemson.

She got a taste of graduate student government last year as director of engagement and ultimately hopes to pursue a career in diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.

Killian McDonald, undergraduate student government president for 2017-18

Killian McDonald is president of Clemson’s undergraduate student government.
Image Credit: Amanda Walker

“Getting people engaged in the Clemson spirit is something we do well — everyone loves it and connects to it,” she said. “To me, the impact in changing someone’s experience is the most important factor. That will hopefully be a measure of success for us this year.”

McDonald hails from just a couple of hours away in Columbia. After earning a national scholarship in 2014, she has put together an outstanding portfolio over the course of her undergraduate career. This spring, she was announced as Clemson’s first Truman Scholarship recipient since 1979 and only the second in school history. The honor is afforded to aspiring public service leaders. McDonald is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in political science and women’s leadership.

The third leader who will have a platform this academic year is Leland Dunwoodie, president of the undergraduate student Senate. Originally from Stevensville, Michigan, he joined the Clemson family by way of Georgia after his family’s relocation a few years ago.

“Ultimately, it was Clemson’s campus that drew me in,” he said. “The fact you can walk across it in 15 minutes was appealing because I love to be outside. The student environment and school spirit was amazing.”

Dunwoodie is a senior biochemistry major and is in the process of applying to medical school. He spent the summer as a pancreatic cancer research intern at MD Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Leland Dunwoodie, student senate president for 2017-18

Leland Dunwoodie (right) is the president of Clemson’s student senate.
Image Credit: Ashley Jones / Clemson University

Formerly the chair of the Senate’s academic affairs committee, Dunwoodie hopes to foster a comfortable and inclusive environment across the board this year.

“It’s college, we’re here to learn and have fun,” he said. “I want to be involved in personal dialogues, and it’s why I contacted every senator and committee chair over the summer. I’ve seen first-hand that great role models can make all the difference.”

Clemson has a team of role models throughout its student body leadership in 2017-18, a fact not lost on Vice President for Student Affairs Almeda Jacks.

“One of the real pleasures of my position is working with our student leaders,” she said. “Our leaders this year will lead discussions that help shape so much of the Clemson Experience.”