Another year and another class of Clemson students are graduating and heading out to make their mark on the world. We will miss them, but are equally excited to see what they accomplish next. Let’s take a moment to meet six of those graduating students.

Jesse Burdett

Four Clemson students pose for a picture with the trophy from the annual Foresty Conclave.

Jesse Burdett, far right, and fellow Forestry Conclave teammates.

Major: Forest Resource Management

When high school senior Jesse Burdett flipped to the “forestry” page in Clemson’s course catalog, he had no clue the impact that his future major would have on his college experience.

“By my second year at Clemson, I realized this was what I was made to do,” he said.

In fact, Burdett loved his forestry courses so much that he sought to conflate his academic pursuits with his extracurricular activities: He joined Clemson’s Forestry Club and took on the position of vice president a year later. Senior year, Burdett served as the club president, coordinating community outreach, alumni networking events and trips to professional conferences throughout the state.

But Burdett’s greatest Clemson memory was competing alongside his friends and classmates during the Forestry Conclave, an annual competition that brings together forestry students from universities across the Southeast.

“Not only did we host the competition, but we ended up winning this year,” he said, smiling. “All four years our club worked up to that.”

Burdette took home the gold medal for the “underhand chop” event — but the conclave isn’t all fun and games.

“You don’t just pick up an axe. There’s an academic side to it with wood identification and estimating values of timber,” he said.

After graduation, Burdett will be heading to Savannah, Ga., to start his career with International Paper. On the job, he will work as the liaison between International Paper’s mill facilities and regional timber suppliers; it’s the perfect intersection of his forestry knowledge and his negotiation skills.


Laurel Burst

Major: Special Education

Laurel Burst has been working with kids with disabilities ever since she was in middle school. So when she came into Clemson as an architecture major, it wasn’t long before she returned to her love of special education.

Laurel Burst, right, poses with Rion Holcombe after the 2016 ClemsonLife graduation.

Laurel Burst, right, poses with Rion Holcombe after the 2016 ClemsonLife graduation.

“The day I decided to switch into special education, I was giddy with excitement. I just knew it was the right choice,” she said.

An active person who thrives on energy, Burst plans on entering Vanderbilt University’s special education program next year in order to pursue her dream of going into physical therapy for kids with special needs or creating her own program for adaptive sports or adaptive physical education.

After getting involved with ClemsonLIFE her sophomore year, Burst’s future plan began to develop and be influenced by her work with the ClemsonLIFE workout buddy program.

“I think it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. It’s awesome. You attend fitness classes with the students and help them out. Some of them love it and some of them dread it; they get really sassy,” she laughed.

But it was Burst’s work as a manager of Clemson’s Challenger baseball team that brought her vision of bringing sports to kids with disabilities to life. The Challenger baseball team is an opportunity for children with disabilities to play baseball and be a part of a team with the help of volunteers like Burst.

“It’s an awesome experience watching all of the kids come out because most of them don’t get to play sports due to their different disabilities. Their parents are so proud of them, and they get really proud of themselves. … It’s just a very cool experience,” she said.


Jeremiah Davis

Major: Biosystems Engineering

Caring for a newborn while punching out an engineering degree is no easy task. But for Jeremiah Davis, a married father of three, juggling kids and school has been a reality for the past five years.

“Telling your kids you don’t have time to play with them because you have so much homework, every day — including weekends — for three to four years? That’s hard. But, then there’s that moment when you walk in the door, and they come running up to you in utter joy to see you … that’s healing right there. This whole series of hoops I’ve jumped through has taught me a different value set of appreciation.”

Davis’ kids are 12 years, 4 years and 13 weeks old.

The 33-year-old biosystems engineering major started college in 1999 at Greenville Technical College studying conservation biology. He continued part time, paying for school as he went, but eventually had to put his education on hold to care for his family. Within 10 years, he had successfully entered the restaurant business and started his own restaurant and music venue before moving on to employment with BPI. But work ran out; so Davis adapted again.

Despite the demands of living two full-time lives and commuting from Greenville every day, Davis has thrived in his studies. His department recently honored him with the George B. Nutt Award, which is given to a senior student with outstanding achievements and possessing personal attributes necessary for successful accomplishments in biosystems engineering.

“The more I moved through the program, the more I loved it. The faculty are amazing, and they, along with the biosystems student body, form a tight-knit family,” Davis said. “I can’t tell you how many times students from other majors have been around the exchanges in our study rooms and said ‘man, I picked the wrong major.’ ”

Davis’ goal is to work on “developing sustainable, self-reliant communities that utilize integrated and sustainable food, water and energy systems that provide for the occupants’ needs.” A future master’s and Ph.D. are in the plans too, but the next few weeks will be taken up by something more important.

“I owe my family and house a lot of make-up time and attention,” Davis said.

Immediately after his make-up “home” work, Davis will be volunteering lab time with Clemson professors and looking for employment in water resource engineering or bioremediation.


Shelly Kaur

Image of Shelly Kaur standing in front of a very ornate door.

Shelly Kaur

Major: Marketing

Shelly Kaur will be starting life after college as certainly as she began her life at Clemson. Following her graduation with a degree in marketing, Kaur will be starting a 15-month professional experience with investment firm Vanguard in its prestigious Vanguard Accelerated Development Program.

But the company’s prestige wasn’t the program’s biggest selling point. What Kaur valued was its commitment to service, the target demographic of families and investment in the community.

“I’m a people person. My biggest passion is adding value to someone’s life,” Kaur said.

While at Clemson, Kaur did exactly that. As community service chair for her fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and sorority Delta Sigma Theta, Kaur connected Clemson students with the local community through service.

In the past two years, she served as team captain for Relay for Life and organized volunteer activities to serve nonprofit organizations around the Clemson area.

“Students live in a happy bubble, and we don’t always see what’s outside. That’s why we need to serve beyond campus,” Kaur explained.

Since her freshman year, Kaur has made service — especially servant leadership — a focus of her undergraduate preparation. She entered Clemson as a Community Scholar, a four-year program that emphasizes service on local, national and global levels, requiring students to achieve 56 hours of community service per semester

Kaur is a Thomas F. Chapman Leadership Scholar, a three-year program that gives students an opportunity to learn and apply lessons associated with servant leadership. And her senior project has been volunteering with Safe Harbor, an organization dedicated to protecting and helping victims of domestic violence.

“I would tell incoming students and others that you need to find your passion, and then give back. One person could change someone’s life,” Kaur said.


Tyler Lewis

Tyler Lewis shows off a fish he just caught.

Tyler Lewis

Major: Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management (Community Recreation, Sport and Camp Management emphasis)

Tyler Lewis started his freshman year at Clemson with a good idea of what he wanted to do with his future career, but a change of plans and interests hasn’t stopped Lewis from taking things in stride.

Originally hoping to go into marketing or community relations in football, basketball or baseball, Lewis explored different internship opportunities as an undergraduate, like being an Olympic Sports intern for Clemson Athletics and interning with the city of North Charleston’s Recreation Department. But the internship that changed his life turned out to be a last-minute opportunity. When he didn’t hear back from many of the summer positions he had applied to, Lewis turned to his professor Dan Anderson for help.

“He passed on my email to the U.S. Tennis Association, and, sure enough, they called me for an interview,” Lewis said.

Lewis worked as a competition intern for the USTA in South Carolina’s main office in Columbia this past summer, helping the director of tournaments with registration, getting feedback on events and writing story lines for the organization’s website.

Getting this writing experience exposed Lewis to new career opportunities and has inspired him to pursue a public relations career in a newfound interest: outdoor recreation. Lewis shifted his focus when he discovered a passion for fishing on the shores of North Carolina during that summer’s weekends.

“Clemson will definitely yield a return on investment for me,” he grinned. “And with this whole job process, you can never get discouraged.”

Even though Lewis’ plans after graduation aren’t set in stone just yet, there’s one summer destination that’s calling his name.

“My friend invited me to go back to North Carolina after graduation to get some more fishing in,” he laughed. “It won’t be too long before I’m back up there.”


Joanna Nieman Olivera

Major: History and Modern Languages, Spanish (double major)

Many incoming Clemson students come to campus from across the country. Joanna Olivera came from just down the road. And when she arrived at Clemson, she continued the curriculum she already knew she loved.

Joanna Olivera is pictured here standing on a balcony in Santiago, Chile, where she studied abroad.

Joanna Olivera

“I studied history and Spanish in high school. When I got to Clemson, I couldn’t give it up — I wanted to keep learning.”

There was only one thing (well, two things) to do: double major in Spanish language and history.

During her junior year, Olivera brought the lessons she’d learned in the classroom to life by spending a semester abroad studying history and Spanish literature at Andres Bello University in Santiago, Chile.

“It was good to make myself step out of my comfort zone. I spoke Spanish every day, and I learned a lot about the language and about myself,” Olivera said.

When she brought these lessons back to the States, Olivera saw her crosscurricular education come together. In her senior seminar, she delved into research on the Spanish Civil War by reading through Spanish newspaper archives.

Olivera’s Clemson experience hasn’t been centered on her studies alone. During her four years in Tigertown, she has been an active member of the Asian Student Association and served as an ambassador for the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. As an ambassador, she’s served as a helpful voice for prospective students.

Her hard work and propensity for paying it forward have been well rewarded. After graduation, Olivera has secured an internship with the U.S. Department of State in Charleston, S.C.

While Olivera will miss the familiarity of family and friends in the place she’s grown up — and the ability to stop home for a favorite meal or help with laundry — she looks forward to what comes next.