Natalie Claypool has claimed the highest honor for a student at Clemson University, the Norris Medal. Considered the most prestigious student award, the Norris Medal is given to the best all-around graduating senior.
Claypool’s Clemson Experience began with her involvement in the National Scholars Program, which allowed her to visit as a high school senior.
“From the moment I stepped on campus, it felt like everyone wanted me to be there and to join the Clemson Family,” she said.
Once enrolled, she gravitated toward the language and international health major with a concentration in Spanish. The major, jointly administered by the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities and the College of Behavioral, Health and Social Sciences, pairs a modern language concentration with coursework in public health theory and practice.
“Even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do after college, I decided to take classes that interested me and just go from there,” she said.
However, she quickly found direction, both in and out of the classroom, making an impact through research and service. She participated in four different Creative Inquiry projects during her undergraduate career, spanning topics of child development, sexual health, public health and educational inequality.
“I was definitely surprised by how accessible research is as an undergraduate student,” she said. “Research seemed like such an imposing and distant concept in high school, but Creative Inquiries make research opportunities accessible to students from any discipline and experience level.” Her experience in Creative Inquiry allowed her to participate in international conferences and to have her research published in academic journals, including a study of the influence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on Latinx children, which she co-authored with Arelis Moore de Peralta, associate professor of Spanish and community health.
“Natalie has demonstrated cultural humility and dedication to assist underrepresented populations’ efforts for improving their health and wellbeing,” Moore de Peralta noted. “Her many volunteering and mentorship experiences are a tangible proof of her commitment to social justice and health equity.”
Claypool clearly demonstrated her passion for helping children in her extracurricular service. She worked with Michael LeMahieu, interim associate dean of undergraduate and graduate studies in the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities, to implement the Youth Scholars Program at Pendleton Elementary School. The initiative is designed to connect students in Title 1 elementary schools with Clemson honors students to mentor and excite children about their future college prospects.
“Natalie thinks in terms of the big picture, and she wants to ensure that what she helped build will continue to benefit children after her time at Clemson,” LeMahieu observed. “She is truly one of a kind.”
The Youth Scholars Program provided Claypool with what she considers to be her best memories of her time at Clemson. She worked with LeMahieu, her National Scholars cohort and other faculty volunteers to organize field trips that featured tours of the football locker rooms, cryogenics science experiments, virtual reality technology demonstrations, ice cream at the 55 Exchange and even a talk from President Clements.
“Aside from these field trips being an absolute blast, they really serve to demonstrate how the Clemson Family can band together and utilize its abundance of resources to make Clemson more accessible to the next generation of student leaders,” she said.
Claypool is spending her final semester as an undergraduate studying abroad at Universidad Blas Pascal in Córdoba, Argentina, and she plans to graduate in August. As one of the Class of 2022’s most distinguished students, Claypool has no shortage of career opportunities. But Instead of pursuing the most lucrative option, she has chosen service to the most vulnerable with a year-long fellowship at Casa de Esperanza in Houston.
“I will work as a house parent to help abused, neglected and HIV-positive children within a community that provides comprehensive residential and family support programs to break cycles of child abuse and neglect,” she said. Following the fellowship, she plans to pursue an advanced degree and a career as either a child life specialist or pediatric psychologist.
Given the opportunity to offer advice to students following her footsteps at Clemson, she said to center on meaningful service.
“That’s been my guiding principle throughout the last four years, and I feel ready to graduate with no regrets and deep fulfillment through what I was able to accomplish,” she said. “Enjoy every moment and do your best to leave Clemson better than when you found it!”
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