Facing fears, finding vocation
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On December 12, 2015, Hailey Owens reached a goal she had been working toward for years: She received her bachelor’s degree from Coker College. But she was also recognized for something she never expected when she began her college journey. This year, Hailey was named as the SCICU (South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities) J. Lacy McLean Student of the Year. The annual $2,000 scholarship award honors the most outstanding student nominated by SCICU's 20 member colleges and universities.

Mentoring and helping others are central to Hailey’s experience at Coker and her goals after graduation. Originally from Pelion, S.C., Hailey plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health and eventually develop her own leadership program to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse in schools.

Her college accolades include membership in Phi Chi the international psychology honor society, Dean’s List (every semester), and the Susan Coker Watson Scholarship for study abroad in Spain and Portugal—but those distinctions merely scratch the surface of what she’s achieved at Coker. In her own words, Hailey reflects on her transformation here.

“I remember the first time that I came to Hartsville. I was there with my family to watch my cousin, Anna Oswald, play in a Coker softball game. As we drove down Carolina Avenue, I remember seeing Bizzell’s, Minnie’s, the Midnight Rooster, and an old candy store. I loved that all of these places were just a short walk from campus. Whenever we went to see Anna’s softball games, we would always stop by her dorm room, visit Coker’s campus, and eat lunch in town—and the more we visited Hartsville, the more it felt like home. When it was time for me to start looking at colleges, I knew without a doubt that Coker was the first place that I wanted to visit.

When I first came to Coker as a prospective student, I attended a lecture with other prospective students. I remember reading the schedule of events and thinking that the lecture would be the most terrifying session of the entire day. When I walked into the classroom, Professor Puffer began a round-table discussion with all of us about our biggest fears going into college. Looking back now, my biggest fears were really nothing to be afraid of. I have excelled far beyond my expectations, and I have loved every minute of my time at Coker. Professor Puffer may not remember this lecture, but I will never forget it.

"Looking back now, my biggest fears were really nothing to be afraid of."

That was also the day that I met Dr. Li, the Chinese professor at Coker. She encouraged the prospective students to step out of their comfort zones and learn Chinese. Her lecture demonstrated that Chinese is a tonal language, can be fun to learn and is useful in many professional fields. Dr. Li welcomed me into the Chinese Culture Club as its treasurer during my sophomore year at Coker and later as the club’s vice president. She has been a wonderful support system for me throughout my time at Coker, and I could never thank her enough.

Many of my high school classmates chose to attend larger colleges and universities, but I preferred the small class size and hometown feel of Coker’s campus. Like many other students who have chosen to attend Coker, I wanted my professors to know me by name; I didn’t just want to be a number. The most meaningful times during my days at Coker have been the mornings when I was walking from one class to another, and a professor stopped and simply asked, 'How are you today, Hailey?'

Since I first came to Coker as a freshman, I have gone through so many changes. I’ve had changes in major, changes in friends, and many changes in opportunities along the way. But all of these changes have been for the better. My experiences here have led me to discoveries about myself; I have new interests, new goals, and new passions. I have learned that I am passionate about advocacy, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, leadership, community, and travel. To me, graduating is a culmination of all of the wonderful experiences, memories, and things that I have learned while at Coker.

After graduation, I plan to use the passions that I have discovered during my time at Coker to earn a master’s degree in public health. Coker has prepared me to achieve this goal by providing me with a support system throughout my academic career and by opening up my mind to all that I have to offer the world. I am confident that I am ready for whatever experiences lie ahead of me, and it’s all thanks to the preparation that I have received from my family and from my alma mater, Coker College.”