Long road to Clemson drives student’s entrepreneurial spirit to help others
CLEMSON — Kaitlynn Lewis has taken a circuitous route, unlike many others, in arriving at Clemson University.
Through grit, determination and generous scholarship donors, she has overcome numerous obstacles and hopes to use what she learned from the school of hard knocks — and Clemson — to help others like her move beyond the hardships in their lives.
Kaitlynn is a junior business management major with a nonprofit leadership minor and a concentration in entrepreneurship. Her future looks bright, but it wasn’t always that way.
The oldest of five children, she experienced a tumultuous childhood, having lived a nomadic existence from Texas to Virginia. She spent a good deal of her adolescence homeless, raising her siblings, working multiple jobs while in school, and in foster care. Along the way, she attended eight high schools, four middle schools and a dozen elementary schools. Kaitlynn’s 17th birthday was marked by her mother’s suicide. Through it all, her spirit and drive to help others hasn’t wavered.
Like the road to Clemson, Kaitlynn’s experience since arriving has been atypical of most 21-year-old college students. When she’s not commuting more than three hours a day to and from Greer, her day is consumed with a variety of jobs, volunteering and, of course, studying.
Kaitlynn is hoping to find personal and career happiness through her social entrepreneurship concentration in the College of Business and Behavioral Science. She’s very passionate about finding sustainable solutions to helping others like her that don’t simply provide handouts, but instill accountability in elevating individuals to a higher quality of life.
Scholarships have helped her with the financial burdens of tuition, but she is still supporting herself and has had to work upwards of 50 hours a week to cover living expenses, like food, gas money and car insurance.
“I worry all the time about my future, money and my family,” Kaitlynn said. “Happiness for me would be not having to worry about having food to eat, a place to live or not having to sleep in my car. Without the scholarships, a lot of my career objectives wouldn’t be possible.”
Outside the classroom, she’s learning and contributing to helping others less fortunate through her involvement in AmeriCorps and organizations like Youth for National Change, which among other endeavors, advocates free college tuition for financially challenged foster children.
Kaitlynn sees herself pursuing an entrepreneurial career path in helping people help themselves. “I see myself going the startup route in a way that will enable people in need to be able to sustain themselves and become self-sufficient on a path to stability and becoming productive members of society,” she said.
One startup idea Kaitlynn is championing involves building “tiny” homes for the homeless, where the future inhabitants would play a role in their construction, giving them skin in the game and an accountability. She calls the concept Micro Homes for Macro Hope and she floated the concept last fall at the Clemson IDEAS student organization’s “Startup Weekend.” The idea received an honorable mention and won the event’s social entrepreneurship award.
“In some ways, I’ve been very fortunate. My path to Clemson hasn’t been like a lot of others here, but I’ve learned from it,” Kaitlynn said. “That, combined with the nonprofit leadership and entrepreneurial track of my education here, is preparing me well to make a difference in the world.”
As for life after Clemson, Kaitlynn wants to continue helping others who walked in her footsteps, perhaps through the Peace Corps.
“I’d like to work in business development in the nonprofit sector, maybe helping people start their own business, again along entrepreneurial lines.”
Growing need for scholarships
Clemson students are fortunate to receive scholarship support from generous alumni and friends. With more than 500 College of Business and Behavioral Science students receiving scholarships through private donations, there remains a rising need for additional support. For information about supporting scholarships or other charitable giving opportunities, contact: Michael Ward, senior director, CBBS Development, firstname.lastname@example.org, 864-656-2261.