On warm, sunny days you can find College of Charleston sophomore Olivia Yalden stretched out on Rivers Green studying for a class or hanging out with friends in the Cistern Yard, taking shade under the oaks.

As a public health major in the Honors College, Yalden stays busy with classes as well as all of the additional programs, experiences and opportunities available through the Honors College. She plans to get her master’s degree in public health and eventually work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemiologist.

The College Today caught up with Yalden to find out more about how the Honors College is enhancing her experience at CofC and why she loves being a Cougar.

What about the Honors College appealed to you as an incoming student?

The Honors College was appealing to me for its extra advising and experiential opportunities. I chose to be an Honors student because I wanted to be able to take advantage of all of the extra mentoring, experiential opportunities and community that the Honors College had to offer.

As a freshman, I joined the Honors Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community (E-LLC), where I got so many hands-on opportunities and experiences that I may not have gotten without being in the Honors College. For example, I received multiple one-on-one mentoring sessions to help me navigate my freshman year. I was also given the opportunity to have a leadership position by coming back to serve as the student director for the E-LLC. Lastly, I was connected to other freshman students who were like-minded and gave me a great group of friends that felt like a family.

What are the benefits, in your experience, of being in the Honors College?

I think the most important benefit of the Honors College is the chance to engage in meaningful and leadership-centered opportunities. For instance, I had the opportunity to be the student director of the E-LLC the year after I participated in the cohort, which was an amazing opportunity to see the structure of the class and community in a different light and also helped me grow my leadership skills. My role as the student director consisted of leading the HONS 205: Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice course, which included mentoring the younger cohort members, giving them feedback on their weekly pitches and providing them insight on adjusting to college life and how to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.

How has the Honors College supported you in finding experiences outside the classroom?

My Honors professors have given me advice regarding my major and they have connected me to other professors in different fields to help me learn more about research and study abroad opportunities.

As part of my Honors curriculum, I participated in research with J.D. Adams, assistant professor of exercise science, relating to mechanisms and drugs that alter thirst perception. This opportunity allowed me to experience research at an undergraduate level and develop crucial skills that will help me in my future academic career.

What’s your favorite Honors class?

My favorite Honors class was HONS 380: Genetics and the Good Society. This class was so interesting to me because we discussed moral implications involved with genetics and genetic testing, and also discussed popular genetic databases like 23andMe, so it was very relevant to things happening in life and currently in science.

How do Honors courses fit in with your major courses?

Honors courses fit into my major classes so well because I feel like they break up my major courses with very specific topics that Honors professors are very passionate about. The discussion-based style of Honors classes allows me to take those critical thinking skills and apply them to my major classes.

Outside of classes, what is the Honors student experience like?

The student experience as an Honors student feels like a community and a place where people want you to succeed. My friends in the Honors College are like-minded and driven. They give me motivation while also providing support and friendship as I navigate college life.

You don’t study all the time. So, what do you like to do for fun?

Some of my hobbies include dancing, working out, going to the beach or the Battery with friends, shopping and eating out.

What is one thing you wish you’d known about the Honors College or the College of Charleston when making your college decision?

Before I came to CofC, I wish that I’d known how easy it was to switch my major. I was very stressed about keeping my original major because I was worried it would be difficult to switch or the classes I took previously would not count toward my new major, which is not the case at all. At CofC, it is easy enough to switch majors. So, if you feel like that change is right for you, do not be afraid of doing that.

What is one piece of advice you have for incoming students?

One piece of advice I have for incoming freshmen is to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, even if you may be scared or think you are not capable. Some of my best college experiences thus far have been ones that I contemplated not doing because I doubted myself, like my research or my student director position. Believe in yourself and trust that the community around you, paired with your determination and hard work, will make every experience an opportunity to learn and grow.