College of Science; Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Graduate School

Winding path leads Ph.D. mathematics student Jakini Kauba to Clemson


Mathematics has always been Jakini Kauba’s first love. But like many long-term relationships, there was a time when she and her favorite subject broke up. 

When she took an upper-level math class as a North Carolina State University sophomore, she experienced a family emergency. A professor responded by encouraging her to prioritize her classes over her family’s needs.

“I decided that if that was how math was going to be, if I was expected to prioritize my work over my loved ones, then I didn’t want to do it,” Kauba said.

She switched her major to biological sciences with plans to go to medical school and become a psychiatrist instead. But late in her senior year, she learned medical students spend years training in various medical fields before choosing a specialty. Knowing she didn’t want to go into any other medical field, she decided instead to pursue a master’s degree in counseling from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

“My internship was amazing. I loved the work. I loved the clients. It was incredibly rewarding work,” she said.

Missing math

But she missed math.

She bought a couple of textbooks to “scratch the itch.” That wasn’t enough. She contacted the University of North Carolina Greensboro to inquire about undergraduate math classes. They told her she could earn another degree in two semesters because of her credits from N.C. State. Kauba enrolled and eventually earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s in mathematics.

“I tell everyone I’m back with my first love. And I think this time, we’ve got it together, and we’re going to get married and live a happy life now that we understand each other a little better,” she said.

Now, she’s headed to Clemson to pursue her Ph.D. in mathematics under Keisha Cook, an assistant professor in the College of Science’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, thanks to STEM All In.

Supposed to be here

As part of the program, prospective graduate students can meet with faculty, students and staff. A major goal of STEM All In is to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in STEM.

Kauba attended STEM All In primarily to learn about fellowships to use as a negotiation tool with the University of North Carolina Charlotte where she planned to enroll. 

Instead, she found the place she was meant to be.

“I’m supposed to be here. Everything just lined up for me to come to Clemson, and I couldn’t be more excited,” said Kauba, who plans to become a professor conducting mathematical research on social justice issues and mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students. Eventually, she wants to become a department chair, dean or chancellor of a four-year university.

Please help us welcome Jakini!

The College of Science pursues excellence in scientific discovery, learning, and engagement that is both locally relevant and globally impactful. The life, physical and mathematical sciences converge to tackle some of tomorrow’s scientific challenges, and our faculty are preparing the next generation of leading scientists. The College of Science offers high-impact transformational experiences such as research, internships and study abroad to help prepare our graduates for top industries, graduate programs and health professions.

Want to Discuss?

Get in touch and we will connect you with the author or another expert.

Or email us at

    This form is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.