Attending university marks the start of a new chapter in a person’s life, and with it comes many unique experiences. It is a time filled with many firsts: the first time away from home; the first time living with a roommate; the first time traveling on one’s own. And for some Tigers, attending Clemson University isn’t just a first for them, it marks a first for their entire family.

The daughter of a small business owner and a maintenance worker with York School District 1, Samantha Lovern is the first in her family to attend university. And thanks to a national grant from Procter and Gamble and generous Clemson donors, she’s also the first in her family to study abroad.

Lovern (far right) was one of four students who traveled to Costa Rica this summer to study abroad.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

In May, she, along with three other students from Clemson’s FIRST Generation Success Program, left South Carolina to study at the University of Costa Rica in San Ramón.

PREPARING FOR TAKEOFF

Lovern grew up in Fort Lawn in Chester County, South Carolina and attended Lewisville High School.

“I grew up in a small town and always knew that eventually I would leave to advance my education,” said Lovern, an Honors College student and Palmetto Fellow majoring in biological sciences. “Before my freshman year, I attended the FIRST Program’s Summer Preview on campus and took a public speaking course. It was my first interaction with the program and I knew it would be beneficial for me to get involved.”

And Lovern has made every effort to take advantage of the opportunities available to her – including those that have made it possible for her to study abroad.

“The traveling I’ve done has been isolated. I haven’t even been to Florida,” said Lovern. “Studying abroad is something I’ve always been interested in. I want a better understanding of what it’s like to live in a different country – to experience different cultures. I just want to understand the world better.”

Lovern knew several FIRST students who traveled last year and didn’t want to leave traveling abroad to chance.

“I knew I wanted to study abroad, so I just asked what I could do to make it happen,” said Lovern.

She spoke with Sherry Dorris, director of Clemson’s FIRST Program, and learned a study abroad grant would be available again this year. From there, she went through a competitive application process, which included letters of recommendation and interviews with program staff.

YEARS IN THE MAKING

This is the fourth time Dorris has secured funding from the Procter & Gamble Fund Higher Education Grant Program, and the second time it has included funding for FIRST students to study abroad. The program was established to provide support to institutions that “will better prepare students for success in business.”

“This has been an idea 12 years in the making,” said Dorris. “We live in a global economy and employers value international experience, so we’re thrilled to provide our students with the opportunity to engage with others in communities beyond our own.”

The grant, along with the help of matching funds from private donors, covers all expenses, including airfare, tuition, program fees and room and board.

“I was a first-generation student myself, and while I was an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Mexico. It changed my life,” said Dorris. “I want studying abroad to be a reality for many more FIRST students in the future, and because of this grant and our gracious donors, it can be.”

Last year, this funding allowed for five FIRST science students, including Tiquez Rivers, to study in Cyprus at the University of Nicosia.

“Studying abroad allowed me to experience a rich and unique culture while taking classes at the best medical university in the country,” said Rivers, who graduated from Clemson in May and is now enrolled at the Medical University of South Carolina. “I had the opportunity to learn human anatomy, develop clinical skills and work in a technologically advanced cadaver lab. I know the knowledge I gained will allow me to excel in my medical training and better serve my community.”

ABROAD AND BEYOND

Lovern (left) enjoyed spending time with her host family and their dog, Emma.

While in Costa Rica, Lovern took a tropical ecology class and participated in service activities, including working at a local veterinarian’s office.

Lovern also integrated herself into the day-to-day life of locals and lived with a host family, which allowed her to strengthen her Spanish while helping them learn English. She also took Latin dance classes and cooking lessons.

“My trip to Costa Rica was honestly one of the most exciting times of my life. By studying abroad I gained a new perspective on what life is like outside of the United States,” said Lovern, who returned at the end of June. “Now that I am back home, I miss being in Costa Rica; my host family there was so welcoming and inclusive, and the atmosphere of the whole country was so relaxed. One day I do plan to visit again. The friends I made there and the experiences I had are ones that I will never forget. Choosing to study abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Lovern will return to campus in the fall to continue her undergraduate studies – and her sights don’t stop there. She hopes to add M.D. to her name after she graduates in 2020.

“Last summer my dad had heart surgery, and although I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, it inspired me to consider becoming a heart surgeon,” said Lovern. “At the end of the day, my main goal is to go to medical school.”

To prepare for her medical studies, she’s participating in research focused on student learning with Dr. Dylan Dittrich-Reed, an assistant professor in the Biological Sciences Department.

“We are exploring what learning is and how students learn best,” said Lovern. “I think participating in research as an undergrad is so important because it gives you the chance to connect with professors and feel like the work that you are doing has a greater purpose. Although my research doesn’t directly deal with medicine, I believe that by participating in this research I am gaining valuable skills that may appear again later when I am in medical school.”

Next semester, her sister will follow in her footsteps and join FIRST’s Class of 2022. Lovern’s advice to her little sister?

“Clemson is the best school in South Carolina and we are so fortunate that we’re able to attend thanks to in-state scholarships,” she said. “You just have to take advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to you. Even if it’s scary, you have to take a chance. If you follow through with it, it can literally take you anywhere.”