As Makayla Stark considered her graduate school future in 2019, she wanted to ensure a wide range of available options as she went through the Clemson University Graduate Assistant Recruitment and Selection (CU-GARS) process.
She set up a gamut of interviews, speaking with representatives from 12 different departments and areas on campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As it turned out, she wouldn’t need nearly that many.
“The Office of Advocacy and Success (OAS) was my very first interview of the day at 8 a.m. and I could’ve stopped after that,” joked Stark, who interviewed with the office’s associate director, Kathy Cauthen.
During her preparation for the interview and while speaking with Cauthen, Stark gained an understanding and appreciation for just how much support services are in place for Clemson students. It ultimately proved to be the most appealing aspect of the graduate assistantship, which she accepted immediately after earning the offer from Senior Associate Dean of Students and OAS director Kimberly Poole.
“Knowing the University has a system in place to support students is what really drew me to Advocacy and Success,” said Stark, who completed her assistantship and earned a master’s degree in counselor education with a focus in student affairs this past May.
About a month later, Stark began in a full-time role with the office as CARE case manager. She handles many of the same responsibilities for OAS, which serves as a resource referral point for students experiencing concerns ranging from academics to grief to relationships — and anything in between. She provides follow-up service for assigned CARE reports and helps facilitate follow-up related to the medical alcohol amnesty policy and notification of absence system.
Among other assigned duties, she’s also charged with student outreach and educational initiatives.
“Makayla gained a great deal of applicable experience during her graduate assistantship and has shown a strong desire to continue this type of supportive work with our students,” Poole said. “She has great intuition when it comes to engaging in the appropriate steps to take to help students be successful and understands what is expected of her in this position. She is very committed to the Clemson Family and we are excited to further engage her in more opportunities as a full-time member of our Advocacy and Success team.”
Likewise, Stark is equally ecstatic about continuing her work with Poole’s team, which is housed on the second floor of Hendrix Student Center.
“It’s been absolutely the best,” she said. “She’s always good about having one-on-one time for me. She’s always available and has been so supportive. My journey would have looked so much different without her guidance, knowledge of Clemson and expertise in the field.”
Stark’s Clemson journey looked pretty different in its own right, to be honest. She earned her undergraduate psychology degree in only two years after entering Clemson with a significant head-start, thanks to the USC Upstate Scholars Academy. As a student at Boiling Springs High School and participant in the program, she took college courses and advanced high school classes over a four-year period — while still participating in extracurricular activities at Boiling Springs.
She was heavily involved in activities beyond the classroom before ever setting foot on Clemson’s campus. In 2016, she was named Miss South Carolina Teen, following the legacy of several Clemson graduates — including Ali Rogers (2009) and Rachel Wyatt (2012). And like Wyatt, Stark was a competitive cheerleader, something she looked to continue at Clemson.
Stark made the Tigers’ cheerleader squad as a freshman. Coming from a non-football family, she still vividly remembers the first time she walked into a full Memorial Stadium on gameday.
“Nothing can prepare you for Death Valley, especially the heat down on the field,” she said. “Plus, as I was preparing for the season I was going through sorority recruitment with Kappa Kappa Gamma at the same time. That was very challenging, but luckily our coach was supportive and other girls came into the program who were going through the same thing.”
Four years and two degrees later, Stark is the one looking to provide assistance to Clemson students. She relishes the relationships she has formed with partners across campus and hopes to use newfound knowledge of the University’s vast support structures to help others take advantage of resources they might not necessarily know about.
“Clemson afforded me many opportunities and I had many people pour into me to get me through those first two years, especially,” she said. “I knew I wanted to continue helping students and give back to the University because of how much it has given me. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I hope to continue to be here for a long, long time.”