Creative, determined, focused and driven to make a difference: These are a few of the many ways we could describe the College of Charleston’s Class of 2023.
The academic, civic and athletic contributions of our graduates during their years at the College has set the bar high and, undoubtedly, left a lasting impact on the CougarNation for years to come. The College will celebrate more than 1,500 bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients during spring commencement ceremonies May 12-13, 2023.
Here are eight members of the Class of 2023 who have made the most of their time in Charleston and are primed to change the world in the years to come.
College is all about opportunity. That may seem like an oversimplification, yet it’s exactly how Rex Bingham has approached the past four years. Ever since his first days on campus, this Honors College student has been putting himself out there, seeking new ways to move out of his comfort zone and take advantage of all the College has to offer.
Recently, he won second place among undergraduates at a national conference when he presented his research on communication in the food supply chain. Shortly afterward, he earned certification as a supply chain management professional (CSCMP). He also secured Yellow Belt status within the Lean Six Sigma system. And those are just a few of the markers for this native of Spartanburg, South Carolina. He’s also graduating as a Global Scholar and a Schottland Scholar.
When asked to consider the highlights of his undergraduate years, Bingham pauses to reflect.
“Three things come to mind,” he says. “First, the mentorship, support and friendship I’ve enjoyed from professor Lancie Affonso all four years. Second, participating in the ImpactX competition where our team created a great business called FoodProof. And third, throughout the past year, I’ve conducted research under the guidance of Rafael Teixeira, assistant professor of supply chain and operations management. He’s an extraordinary researcher and I’ve learned so much working with him.”
Post-graduation, Bingham plans to work in Denver, Colorado, where he’s been hired as a supply chain analyst with Ernest & Young, but says that he’s also investigating other opportunities.
“As my time at the College comes to an end,” he says, “I couldn’t be happier with my experiences. The friends and mentors I’ve met along the way will stay with me and provide me with a launching pad for my career and life aspirations. I look forward to using what I have learned to shape my future experiences, and I’ll be excited to come back and visit the College!”
Mary Gurley can pinpoint the exact moment she knew that she wanted to major in art history. Gurley was traveling in London in 2018 with her mother when she stumbled into a small art gallery off of New Bond Street.
She recalls being overwhelmed with a feeling that she didn’t belong in the space, but then her eyes connected with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe hanging on the wall.
“My anxiety and undue awareness dissipated,” says Gurley. “The piece’s recognizable content yet complex interpretation sparked my curiosity about the power art has on society and cultural dialogue. My encounter with the work instilled my passion for contemporary art and led me to major in art history.”
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Gurley decided to nurture her love of art at the College, drawn in by the city and the university’s strong offerings in fine arts. She would go on to explore Warhol’s work of the iconic actress in her sophomore seminar course with her methodological paper entitled “Andy Warhol and His Gold Marilyn Monroe.”
“This study left an impression on me by providing me with a new understanding of theoretical art analysis and an appreciation for pop and contemporary art,” she says.
After Gurley graduates later this week with a bachelor’s degree in art history and a minor in film studies, she will go on to attend the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City this fall to pursue a master’s degree in contemporary art.
“This is an opportunity to advance my passion, while gaining the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed as a future art curator,” she says. “This next step of entering a graduate program, especially in New York City, is both thrilling and nail-biting, but in the best way possible. I truly believe the best things happen to a person when they overcome their nerves and feelings of apprehension by just simply doing it.”
Community is everything to Honors College student Andrea Kimpson. That’s why she has spent her time at the College focused on making things more equitable for everyone on campus, particularly African American students.
As a member of the Student Government Association, the Charleston Fellows Program and a peer facilitator with the Honors College’s Beyond George Street (BGS) First-Year Experience program, Kimpson has made it her mission to ensure diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts are front and center at the College.
“My lived experiences as well as those within my community have taught me that there are great needs that require intentional planning and intervention with community input being the key motivator,” she says. “Here at the College, this has looked like getting involved in the efforts to improve DEIB in the Charleston Fellows program because I knew that our community could benefit from greater diversity and stronger community. My involvement with BGS centered around having our community reckon with hard conversations and topics that are needed to develop genuine belonging and inclusion.”
Kimpson, who is from Columbia, South Carolina, was introduced to the College when she participated in “Junior Project,” a program to help multicultural high school students learn more about the College and its admissions process. It was a fortuitous opportunity that led her to enroll at CofC as a double-major in economics and international studies with a Latin America and Caribbean concentration.
Now as a senior preparing for graduation and life beyond Charleston, she is grateful for all the opportunities the College has provided.
“I can truly say that I am able to look at complex problems from multiple perspectives thanks to my fields of study,” says Kimpson.
The Honors College has been an important part of Kimpson’s journey, particularly her work with the BGS program where Honors Faculty Fellows Brooke Permenter ’06 and Jennifer Cavalli worked with her to redesign parts of the program’s curriculum to focus on race, equity and inclusion.
An internship with the mayor’s office in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2021 gave her more appreciation for the importance of bridging gaps within the community. Then in 2022 Kimpson spent the summer participating in the Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute Fellowship at the University of Minnesota, where she learned how economics, statistics and communication impact public policy decisions.
After graduation, Kimpson will head to the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago to obtain a master’s in public policy with an emphasis on health policy. She hopes to promote health equity through technological innovation.
Looking back at her time at the College, Kimpson is proud of her efforts to help make the campus a more diverse and welcoming place.
“I am even more proud to see other students forming organizations and getting involved with DEIB to continue improving the College for the future,” she says.
A tomboy kid thumbing her nose at the gender norms in her hometown in southeast China, a doctoral student studying nuclear physics at the University of Virginia, a scientist teaching math and physics at UC Santa Barbara, a mother homeschooling 5-year-old twins during the pandemic: Kangkang Kovacs has been a lot of things over the years.
But, at her core, she’s always been a writer.
That’s what led her to the M.F.A. in Creative Writing Program at the College of Charleston, where she has been a Dorothea Benton Frank Fellow, a graduate research assistant for the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, a graduate assistant for swamp pink literary journal and an integral part of the program’s writing community.
“This community of support is one of my most valuable takeaways from the program,” says Kangkang, noting the faculty in the program – including her advisor, English professor Anthony Varallo – enhanced her storytelling and encouraged her growth as a writer. “These brilliant writers and teachers inspired me to find my own voice.”
It’s exactly what she needed to develop her thesis project into a novel – a multigenerational family saga following a Chinese grandma, mother and daughter.
“Professor Varallo encouraged me to go with this particular topic, and to stumble down the path of an expansive novel,” she says. “He was like a window and a mirror at the same time, in the sense that he affirmed some of my choices and shined a new light on the others. My manuscript would not have been the same without his guidance.”
And her career, it turns out, may not have been the same without that manuscript, which caught the eye of a William Morris Endeavor literary agent visiting campus for the Dorothea Benton Frank “Industry Talks” series last March.
Before long, the agent offered her a contract with the agency – a gamechanger for both her career and her confidence.
“It does mean a lot to have the affirmation from the outside world, to have an experienced agent see value in my writing,” she says.
Kangkang is, of course, a writer – always has been and always will be.
“I will always try to write from a place of truth, a place of genuine curiosity,” she says. “I guess I’ll start from there and give it my best, one sentence at a time, page by page.”
Luzy Lieger has always set high goals for herself. As a student at a sports high school in the north German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lieger excelled in rhythmic gymnastics. Then one day she decided to try pole vaulting. She quickly enjoyed it and soon decided to make it her main sport.
It was a smart move. In her senior year of high school, Lieger took first place in pole vault at the North German Championships in 2018 and finished fifth at the national championship meet.
After graduating from high school, Lieger was offered a track and field scholarship to the College of Charleston. Even though she had never been to the United States, she jumped at the chance to come to Charleston. The move was both an athletic and an academic success for her.
Lieger currently holds the College of Charleston pole vaulting record in both indoor (12 feet- 9 ½ inches) and outdoor (13 feet-9 ¼ inches). Earlier this year, she took first place in the inaugural CAA Indoor Championships. Last month, Lieger won the 2023 College of Charleston Athletics Coug Award as the Female Student-Athletes of the Year. And on Friday, May 5, 2023, Lieger also claimed first place in the CAA Outdoor Championships after clearing 4.10m (13 feet, 5 ¼ inches).
Now after four years in Charleston, she is graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and a minor in marketing. But this will not be the end of her athletic and educational story.
In response to the impact COVID-19 had on college athletics during the 2020-21 season, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes. Lieger has decided to take advantage of the opportunity. This fall, she is going to continue her track and field career at CofC and also pursue a master’s in business administration.
“The extra year has worked out perfectly with the College’s one-year MBA program,” she says. “I am really looking forward to being in the MBA setting and striving toward a career.”
Pushing the limits and seeing the intersection of things is something Lucas Moyon loves to do.
“I realized college would be my last time to do random things without judgement, so I explored a lot of different fields to determine what I want to do,” says the economics, physics and astronomy triple major with the Honors College.
His first year, the Charleston Fellow and Colonial Scholar applied for an internship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
“It was right at the beginning of the pandemic and the intern they selected pulled out, so I got it,” says Moyon. “Ever since, my one unique experience has led to others. It’s my ‘Vibes Theory of Jobs’ — landing a job is 90% vibe and 10% experience.”
Moyon’s vibe must be off the charts. In addition to being a Market Process Scholar and member of the business fraternity Phi Chi Theta- Zeta Phi, he participated in a week-long colloquium on Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose and Capitalism is Freedom in Vermont. He took full advantage of networking with professors, donors and alumni, including presenting to the College of Charleston Foundation Board and participating in a #MaroonMemories fireside chat with Charleston philanthropist Anita Zucker. For his leadership and academic excellence, Moyon received the John Lewis Gervais Jr. Award, the School of Business Schottland Leadership Award and the Fanchon Morrow Condon Outstanding Economics Student Award.
In July, Moyon, who is from Rock Hill, South Carolina, will join the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., as a research assistant, a job he landed because all his random experiences came together.
“They want graduates with a more quantitative side for research, so they got really excited about my bachelor’s essay on inflation and my applied physics skills,” says Moyon, who also noted they were wowed by his internship with the U.S. Department of Justice during his junior year.
Moyon serves as a testament that trying new things and pushing yourself really can open doors.
Once you’ve met him, you won’t forget Jaheim President. His larger-than-life personality and his overwhelmingly positive attitude are extraordinary. Given that, it only seems fitting that he – and the rest of the world – learned about his acceptance to the College on television.
Along with his close friend and fellow Cougar Darius Smith, President was invited to California as a high school senior to appear on the The Ellen Show. He was told they were flying to California for a conference about the teaching profession, which included tickets to the show. But while in the audience, host Ellen DeGeneres brought President and Smith on stage to announce that the College had accepted them and would pay their tuition for four years. In addition, DeGeneres and company (backed by Cheerios) presented both young men a check for $20,000 and donated $10,000 to the high school they attended.
“That was amazing,” recalls President. “I was shocked and surprised when she called us down to the stage. I thought we were there just to see the show. The College was my top choice, and I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted.”
President enrolled as a participant in the Call Me MISTER Program, a statewide initiative designed to address the critical shortage of African American male teachers. He regards that involvement as a highlight of his time at CofC, serving as the program’s campus president while pursuing his major in middle grades education.
Darius Smith and Jaheim President on ‘Ellen’ in 2019.
“It’s a very powerful program and something that’s really needed across our state,” he explains. “I didn’t have my father growing up, so my teachers really impacted my life. I believe teaching is the greatest way I can give back to what they have done for me.”
And that – giving back – has become a compass for President’s life. Next year, he will be teaching at Berea Middle School in Greenville, South Carolina. It’s a Title 1 school where many students come from low-income households, and he feels confident he can make a big difference in the lives of his future students. Privately, on his Instagram account (@CallMePres), he offers encouragement for over 4,000 followers. He often urges them to “dream big, do big!” – precisely what President has been doing for the past four years.
“My college experience has been a wild one, but I realize that everything I’ve been taught has shaped me, both the easy lessons and the hard ones,” he says. “Graduating in four years is a big accomplishment for me, but now I know that investing in myself this way is going to pay off for others.”
Amazing opportunities await if you are willing to put yourself out there: That’s what Olivia Yalden has discovered during her time at the College.
“There are so many amazing professors who will go above and beyond for you by pushing you to take advantage of opportunities like research, leadership positions and study abroad: the biggest challenge will be allowing yourself to believe you are capable of taking advantage of these opportunities,” says the public health major in the Honors College.
Yalden has appreciated the individualized attention and experiential learning opportunities she’s had at CofC. The Swanson ICAT Endowed Scholarship recipient particularly enjoyed the Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community, where her hands-on experiences included serving as E-LLC student director. Yalden also participated in hydration research that was published and has also held leadership positions for mentoring cohorts.
During her junior year, Yalden worked as a behavior health and health policy intern at research company Westat. “It was a great way to gain advanced technical skills and gain exposure to how a successful public health corporation operates and collaborates with other agencies and organizations,” she says.
Yalden attributes her achievements to her professors and peers. “The faculty at CofC truly take an interest in their students and care about their personal and academic success,” she explains. “The community and family-like structure of the College has helped me to be the most successful version of myself.”
In the fall, Yalden will attend George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health in Washington, D.C.
“I am getting my Master of Public Health with a biostatistics concentration because I am passionate about working in infectious disease control,” says Yalden. “With biostatistics, I hope to learn quantitative methods to study the spread of infectious diseases that plague our communities and contribute to efforts that control the spread of viruses like COVID-19, Ebola and Zika.”