Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of the “Student Affairs Talk” podcast for 2019-20. Communications Director for Student Affairs Philip Sikes visits with various leaders from the staff and student communities. This week’s featured guest is Olivia Loynes, a junior elementary education major from Camden, South Carolina.
Olivia Loynes could feel herself shaking with excitement as she was being announced as the winner of Miss Homecoming at Tigerama on Oct. 25, 2019. The day that followed was even more exciting, as she was honored at midfield of Memorial Stadium during halftime of Clemson’s football game against Boston College. Loynes is proud of the accomplishment, but it illustrates only one small part of a journey that has been filled with involvement across every level of Clemson University.
Loynes joined ClemsonLiVE — a student-run entertainment board which plans campus events — as a freshman. She also lived in Holmes Hall as part of a living-learning community within the CONNECTIONS program, designed to transition first-year students of color and first-generation students to Clemson. Now, she serves as a mentor for students seeking to find a sense of community on campus. She’s also been an Orientation Ambassador and member of Clemson Undergraduate Student Government, all while studying in the College of Education and serving on a pair of key student advisory boards.
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Paige Zoltewicz, University Housing & Dining
Miles Maynard, Graduate Student
Sarah Custer, Emergency Management
Cam Walters, Sophomore
Pam Davis, Campus Activities & Events
Ty Robinson, Junior
Jack Debbout, Senior
Almeda Jacks, Vice President for Student Affairs
Full Interview Transcript
Q: Thanks for joining me today, Olivia. A little less than one week ago, you were named Miss Homecoming at Clemson University. What was your reaction when you first heard that news?
Loynes: I was standing on the stage and they called my name, and my hands were shaking. As I looked up in the stands, I saw my mom and my uncle, and they were so excited. It’s been an amazing experience so far.
Q: You said on stage, so this was during Tigerama, correct?
Q: So, tell me a little more about the competition — how the contestants were nominated, how it was judged — some of those logistics.
Loynes: A couple of weeks ago, I was nominated by student government to be the representative for the pageant. We went through practice, did dance training, learned some choreography. We practiced our walks for when we were on stage. First, we had interviews with our panel of judges. Then we had the on-stage portion, where we did casual Clemson wear and then evening gown. They decided a top 10 based on interview and the on-stage portion, and the top 10 went on to Tigerama. The top five at Tigerama were based on student votes.
Q: So, was the panel of judges also comprised of students?
Loynes: No, the judges were faculty members and community members.
Q: So, what was it like, when the very next day, you had the opportunity with your court to stand at midfield at halftime of the Boston College game to be recognized as Miss Homecoming?
Loynes: It was amazing! We got to stand on the field in front of 80,000 people in Death Valley. That was amazing to be on the field and be connected to the football tradition and the real spirit of Clemson.
Q: Miss Homecoming is just one small part of your Clemson Experience. It seems like you’ve been involved in a lot of different things. What are some of the ways you’ve tried to be involved on campus going back to your freshman year?
Loynes: The first thing that I was involved in was Clemson LiVE, which is an event planning organization here on campus. As a freshman, I was just a general member. My sophomore year, I had the opportunity to be a director. I got to plan one of the biggest events on campus, which is moonlight breakfast. That happens in the dining hall at midnight. We had games and prizes and a fun time eating breakfast in the middle of the night.
Q: That’s pretty neat. I think you were an Orientation Ambassador as well. A lot of student leaders go through that process as freshmen and then a year later turn around and serve in that role. Is that what happened with you as well?
Loynes: I did it this past summer, so I waited two years past my Orientation experience. But it was a great opportunity to meet incoming students and their families, and work with them through that transition to here at Clemson.
Q: What was your favorite part of being an ambassador? That’s a very close-knit group of people.
Loynes: Yes, it is. I think it’s definitely the people. We were on a team of about 35, and to be able to become close with all of those people ‑ people who have a diverse set of interests all across campus and who have different life experiences, some out-of-state, some in-state, and different families and households.
Q: I know you’ve also been part of the CONNECTIONS program. I spent time earlier this fall semester at our annual retreat back in August. We went over to Greenville, and I was able to touch base with a lot of y’all over there, take some pictures and write a story. It was very educational for me. What has that particular program meant to your sense of community here at Clemson?
Loynes: Being in CONNECTIONS really helped me find my community here at Clemson. My mentor was Janay (Crosland) my freshman year, and she helped me really get out there and get involved in the things I was interested in on campus. CONNECTIONS has also been a great opportunity to help me build my career and personal development here at Clemson. We have workshops all the time. We did some resume-building and even got the opportunity to go to the Career Closet one day as a group.
Q: Were you part of the living-learning community in Holmes Hall?
Loynes: I was. I lived in Holmes my freshman year. My roommate was in CONNECTIONS and I was able to live on the hall and really form strong connections with everyone in the program.
Q: Now, you serve in a mentor capacity. I know that part of the retreat was getting grouped off with other mentors of similar skills and experiences. What’s it like now getting a group of folks and taking them under your wing and showing them the ropes here at Clemson?
Loynes: It’s definitely a lot more work than I thought it would be. But it’s been a wonderful experience getting to know my mentees and seeing their transition here at Clemson and watching them grow. I’m excited to see what they’re going to do these next couple of years.
Q: You mentioned student government, we touched on it a couple of times already. You’re still involved now, as I understand it. What sort of role are you playing within student government?
Loynes: Currently, I serve as chief of operations within Cabinet. I kind of fill in the gaps where Logan (Young) and Andrew (Kwasny) need them. Right now, we’re working on women’s events — domestic violence awareness, sexual assault awareness, consent awareness week events — for the spring.
Q: You’re also part of some student advisory boards for the College of Education and Student Affairs. Tell me about those experiences.
Loynes: For the College of Education Advisory Board, this past month we completed our alumni panel. We’re reaching out to those teachers who graduated from Clemson and having them come to talk to students about their experiences was something that I was a part of. And that was amazing to be able to put that together. As part of the Student Affairs Student Advisory Board, I have the opportunity to speak with staff and learn what’s going on at the University and spread that to my peers.
Q: Let’s backtrack a little bit. Before your Clemson Experience, what was it that first attracted you to Clemson in the first place. I don’t know your background, whether you’re in-state or out-of-state. Take us through that progression.
Loynes: I’m from Camden, South Carolina and first became interested when I received an email about a Clemson career workshop. It’s a camp for minority students to come in and experience a week here at Clemson, get involved in student life by being part of some activities. That is what really set the course for me to be here at Clemson. I met some current students who were still here my freshman year. I met my peers, one of them is my roommate now. Getting to learn about campus life and getting to really experience that made a huge difference for me.
Q: Camden is pretty close to Columbia, so were there ever any thoughts about the University of South Carolina or another school in-state?
Loynes: Yes. My grandpa is a huge USC fan, so he was like “I don’t understand why you want to go all the way up there.” But they were so happy for me when I chose to come to Clemson.
Q: One of the biggest things that a student chooses Clemson for is the academics. What is your major and what are you hoping to pursue in terms of a career after graduation?
Loynes: I am a junior elementary education major and my emphasis is in literacy and diversity. When I graduate, I want to be able to teach probably in the second or third grade range. I want to teach reading and social studies. Working with students is especially important for me. I’m from a very rural area where students don’t really get to leave the classroom and have those hands-on experiences outside of their community.
Q: When you think back on your time at Clemson, what has stood out the most about your experience?
Loynes: I think it’s the people here at Clemson. And when I think of Clemson Family — and I have been a lot the past couple of weeks — mine isn’t the people I choose to be around. It’s the people I’ve been thrown together with, like Orientation Ambassadors, my family in CUSG and in CONNECTIONS. And in my residence halls and classmates in the class of 2021.
Q: So, let’s say you’re visiting with a high school junior or senior and they’re thinking about the college choices in front of them. What would you say to them to sell them on Clemson?
Loynes: To sell them on Clemson, it’s the community. It’s definitely what made it for me. It can seem like a big school from the outside, but I have met so many people and created so many life-lasting bonds that I’ll never forget. I created so many amazing memories here that I just wouldn’t have been able to experience at another university.
Q: Away from the classroom, what are you into? Tell us a little more about yourself outside of the classroom.
Loynes: I LOVE Clemson football, I don’t see how you can’t love it. I used to dance in high school, so that’s still interested me in college. I’ve taken dance classes and I also love to get out and do things in the Clemson community.
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