It is not unusual for a newly enrolled student to receive a welcome letter from a member of the Clemson Family Advisory Board.
It is unusual when a newly enrolled student receives a letter from someone who lives under their same roof.
“It was so funny for Nella to receive a note from me,” recalls Robin Stringer. “She was supposed to get one from another parent.”
“I can’t tell you how many people from my high school — me included — have received Clemson letters from my mom,” laughs Nella in response.
The Clemson Family Advisory Board is made up of parents from all over the country. Robin has served on the board for years and, in fact, was recently named chair-elect of arguably Clemson’s most engaged group of volunteers.
One of the board’s signature outreach efforts is its letter-writing. When Nella enrolled at Clemson in 2019, Robin was a member of the writing committee. Four years later, Nella is on the verge of becoming the newest Stringer to call Clemson her alma mater.
‘It was always Clemson’
Nella Stringer grew up in the shadows of Clemson University, graduating from T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson. Her college choice was an easy one.
“For me, it was always Clemson,” she says.
She is the fifth member of her family to attend Clemson, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, father and two older sisters. Nella’s oldest sister, Natalie, graduated in 2018. Nina followed two years later. A sixth Stringer, Wes, is a freshman in the Bridge to Clemson program.
Nella is a member of the Clemson Honors College and is set to graduate this week with a degree in biological sciences, with minors in psychology and microbiology. She’s always excelled in the classroom.
Finding community, however, didn’t come as easy.
Developing her mindset
Nella admits she was not in a good place when she arrived at Clemson. Despite her academic prowess, she was struggling with an eating disorder. It affected her mental health.
After working to overcome those initial struggles, a global pandemic hit and — in the blink of an eye — her freshman year came to a screeching halt.
“I had made a lot of progress, and when COVID hit, it felt like that progress was ripped away,” she says. “I was angry at the universe.”
She decided to channel that anger and make a difference — not only for herself, but also others at Clemson who found themselves in a similar position due to the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, she spoke with campus officials and learned how to start a student organization.
She wanted a club that provided students an inclusive space to talk openly about mental health. She applied for a grant and was awarded $1,000 in organizational start-up costs. She named the organization Mindset, a nod to her persistence in the face of adversity.
“When the organization started, there were 12 students,” Robin says.
Nella learned to budget, plan and reserve meeting space. She figured out how to work with resource areas on campus. By the club’s one year anniversary, it had grown to over 100 members.
Mindset helped her become more involved. She served a tenure as the organization’s president. She chaired the Out of the Darkness Walk — an annual fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — in 2022.
“My experience with Mindset totally exceeded my expectations,” Nella says. “It challenged my leadership and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wanted it to be a central tie to making my mark at Clemson.”
Service to others
As Clemson slowly came out of the pandemic, Nella saw campus begin to change. The atmosphere it was known for returned.
While she was contributing out of the classroom through Mindset, she also was making an impact on the academic experience for students. She was hired by Jenai Brown in Fall 2020 as a tutor in the Academic Success Center (ASC), working with chemistry students — first online and ultimately in person as COVID cases declined.
“Tutoring was a great way to meet people and help quell some of their anxiety about college life and academics,” she says.
Nella became a tutor mentor as a junior. Her supervisor, Trey McCurry, says she’s been an invaluable part of the ASC community.
“Nella helped make my transition to tutoring coordinator so smooth,” he says. “She’s always available for questions and to run ideas by that would impact the program. She puts the needs of the tutoring program before her own and has been vital to the return of in-person tutoring.”
Nella also engaged in creative inquiry, working with faculty members Jennifer Grandits and Sarah Sanborn on developmental psychology research. She helped research the effect of auditory stimuli — such as an infant crying or bird singing — on an individual’s ability to perform a cognitive task.
She’s served as an ambassador for the College of Science. No matter the role, for Nella, it’s all about positively impacting others.
“It’s gratifying, knowing what you’re doing is making a difference,” she says. “The feeling of helping others succeed is awesome.”
Turning a dream into reality
As Nella prepares for graduation at 6 p.m. on May 11, she’s completely at ease. She’s already figured out her next step. She’ll be following in Natalie’s footsteps and enrolling at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Her journey at Clemson has not always been smooth sailing. And she’s okay with that. She’s thankful for every moment along the way.
“I’m very thankful for everything that’s happened to me, academically and personally,” she admits. “Clemson helped me figure out who I am and what type of impact I want to make in the world.”
Graduating from Clemson was Nella Stringer’s dream. She grew up attending First Friday parades and dressing up in a Clemson cheerleading outfit.
The dream is now reality, and Nella relishes in the pride it’s brought to her family and friends.
“I’m so incredibly proud of Nella,” says Robin. “She was not in a good place mentally when she started, but the resources and support she’s received at Clemson have been second to none. To see her give back to others has made my heart swell and to see her soar has been amazing.”