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Experience Matters

Carolinian magazine asked nine random freshmen to reflect on USC's nationally recognized first-year experience.

Student on relaxing on Horseshoe with laptop.

Luca, Brianna & Aaron

Drop into the WUSC studio at Russell House during Sunday afternoon’s Foreign and Domestic show, and you’ll hear vibrant music from around the world. You’ll also hear college radio DJs Luca Albaran, Brianna Hale and Aaron Jacobs chatting and laughing it up like they’ve known each other for years.

In reality, the three first-year students have only known each other since August 2023 — when they met at Maxcy College.

“Being on WUSC is an opportunity that I didn’t know I’d have when I got to college, and it truly is so much fun”

Brianna Hale
Luca Albaran, Brianna Hale and Aaron Jacobs

“When I got here, I expected everyone would have their doors shut and be in their rooms all the time, but the people on my hall are very outgoing,” says Brianna, a music industry studies major from York, South Carolina. “In the first few weeks, we just all kept our doors propped open to meet each other.” 

One of those new dormmates was Luca, a broadcast journalism major from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Aaron, a double major in film and media studies and media arts from Columbia, entered the mix shortly thereafter.

“Someone knocked on my door like three days after we moved in — ‘Hey, there’s a group in the basement playing Cards Against Humanity, do you want to come?’” says Aaron. “There were like 15 people in a circle, and Luca and Bri were sitting next to each other.”

He and Luca were the first to catch the college radio bug — when they saw a poster on the common room wall advertising an information session. “Luca was like, ’We should do that,’ Aaron says. “At the time, I didn’t really know much about what the university offered in terms of extracurricular stuff, so I was like, ’I’m down to do that.’”

After completing training and passing the test to become DJs, they launched Foreign and Domestic in the fall. Brianna saw how much fun they were having, completed the training herself and joined them this spring. “Being on WUSC is an opportunity that I didn’t know I’d have when I got to college, and it truly is so much fun,” she says.

And while college radio is an extracurricular, it’s a chance to hone a new skill set and broaden their knowledge. It may have been Luca’s idea to sign up for DJ training — after all, he’s the broadcast major — but all three bring fresh ideas to the mix.

Aaron is big on reggae. Brianna namechecks alternative bands like Glass Animals and Backseat Lovers. Luca likes the cross-pollination that comes from sharing the booth.

“I love doing it, but I wouldn’t love it as much if I didn’t have people with me,” says Luca. “There are more perspectives when we’re coming up with what songs to play — ’Oh, have you heard this song? This would be good to play this week.’ It’s a good sense of community, not just with my co-hosts, but the entire WUSC organization.”


Jonathan Chen was born in New Jersey and grew up in Atlanta but chose to come to college at USC because he wanted to experience “someplace new” — and because of the Darla Moore School of Business.

An aspiring entrepreneur, he is majoring in international business, minoring in Chinese and hoping for a career that will continue to expand his horizons. “I want to be able to travel around the world,” he says.

“I was introduced to badminton before college, but then when I got here, I joined the badminton club and found a lot of other people to play. It’s so much fun and it’s good exercise, but I am competitive, also.”

Jonathan Chen
Jonathan Chen stands in front of the staircase at the Darla Moore School of Business.

He also hopes to help change the world while scratching the creative itch: “I’ve been into fashion lately but using renewable resources.”

Like just about every other first-year student, he says college has been an adjustment.

“There’s more freedom but also more responsibility,” he says. “Not having class every single day of the week but making sure I go to every class and learn the material all at once — the biggest challenge for me was just balancing everything.”

He jumped right in first semester, taking several classes related to his major; he focused more on core requirements in the spring. “Managerial accounting has probably been the toughest class,” he says. “But once you get it down and it starts to make sense, it’s pretty satisfying.”

Otherwise, he spends a lot of time with friends back at Capstone, works out at the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center and plays badminton at the Blatt P.E. Center “almost every day.”

“I was introduced to badminton before college, but then when I got here, I joined the badminton club and found a lot of other people to play,” he says. “It’s so much fun and it’s good exercise, but I am competitive, also.”

He says the business school holds a similar appeal. “It is very professional and competitive, but it’s also a nice environment,” he explains. “There’s pressure, but it does motivate me.”


Forest City, North Carolina, native Kinsley King was excited to start college. The McNair Scholar makes friends quickly and was eager to get involved. But for a young woman from a town of around 7,000 people, the first couple weeks were almost too much.

“Everything is thrown at you, and it’s so much to choose from — different clubs, different opportunities across campus,” she says with a laugh. “Coming from a town where I had nothing to choose from to having everything in the world to choose from was kind of overstimulating.”

“Where I’m from, I got to see firsthand the lack of health care for rural communities.”

Kinsley King
Kinsley King sits on a bench outside of Thomas-Cooper library.

Then, less than a month in, came the double whammy. A flood displaced her from her residence hall. On the heels of that, a nasty case of mono and strep threatened to torpedo her first semester.

But Kinsley found the support she needed. Housing offered to put her up with a resident mentor in another hall, and her U101 peer leader did her one better. “She heard what happened, contacted me and let me come stay in her apartment,” she says. “That’s just a testament to what the Carolina community is like.” 

And while mono and strep would soon take the wind from her sails — “At first I was like, ’I am so tired, but maybe I’m just overworking myself’” — her new Gamecock family picked her up again.

“All my professors were very willing to work with me, my friends brought me food from Russell House — I couldn’t have made it without all the different communities I’ve found here,” she says.

Once she got back on track, she finished the semester strong. She also applied to be a peer leader through her scholarship program and was accepted.

“I told Emily, who was my peer leader, ’People are going to sleep on my floor if they need to,’” she says. “Because if she did that for me, I want to be that person for someone else.”

Kinsley, who became a public health major after an Arnold School faculty member showed her how the profession aligns not only with her career goals but with her personality, hopes to take that same attitude into the workplace as a physician’s assistant. 

“Where I’m from, I got to see firsthand the lack of health care for rural communities,” she says. “At one point our birthing center shut down, and people had to travel outside of our county to find resources. Seeing how my major focuses on problems like that, I felt like that would be a good fit for me.”


As a first-generation college student, Myron Harris faced a lot of expectations coming into his freshman year. Born in Chicago to parents who hadn’t attended college, it never occurred to him that he himself could.

“When I was small, I never thought I’d be able to do anything like this,” says the Patterson Hall resident. “No one I knew around me went to college. I didn’t have any influences. No one was going to push me to go to college.”

“I feel like coming down here pushed me toward a better path.”

Myron Harris
Myron Harris stands in front of the South Carolina statehouse.

But then Myron and his mom, Shantel Cole, moved to Conway, South Carolina. Mom motivated him to be the best he could be at everything, and his grandmother, Alicyn Foster, planted the college seed. An employee at Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, she showed him the value of hard work and inspired him to think big.

“My grandma didn’t go to college either, but she was just like, ’You know, I always thought you could break our generational curse, you could go to college, you could do this,’” he explains. “I feel like coming down here pushed me toward a better path.” 

Myron considered other schools — Clemson and Duke ranked high on his list — but he ultimately chose USC because of the support and opportunities provided by the state’s flagship public university.

USC’s TRIO program deserves a lot of the credit. A unit of the federal TRIO Programs created by the Higher Education Act of 1965 to help low-income Americans enter and graduate from college, the office might sound like part of an impenetrable government bureaucracy. Myron’s experience has been exactly the opposite.

He talks about USC’s TRIO staff like they’re family — “They’re all great,” he explains, rattling off names of advisors, mentors and coordinators like he’s known them since childhood — and he describes the program’s networking opportunities in similarly glowing terms.

“What really pulled me to USC were the programs like TRIO and some of the opportunities in student government and through multicultural clubs,” he says. “Because before I even got to school, I was like, ’What can I join? What can I do that can make me get out there?’”

The answers came quick. Being in TRIO opened the door to Student Government last fall when he joined the organization’s Freshman Council. In the spring semester, it led to a job as a page at the South Carolina State House, which he landed after asking the instructor of his TRIO section of University 101 if they could steer him toward a job.

“Because of TRIO, I have this opportunity, this opportunity and this opportunity,” he says. “There’s 800 students in TRIO, which doesn’t sound like a lot on this big old campus, but those students are in several other organizations that I ended up joining.”

Myron hopes to go to law school and possibly work in politics, though while he plans to stay involved in student government, he says he’s not interested in electoral politics.

“Contrary to what others expect me to do — especially my choir teacher back in Conway, Mrs. Spearman — I don’t have plans for running for office,” he says with a laugh. “I like the idea of working in the background. I like the people who make sure everything gets done and goes according to plan.”


Vlad Oniskevich isn’t only a first-generation college student. He’s also a first-generation American — born in Buffalo, New York, to parents who had recently immigrated to the United States from Belarus and Ukraine.

He grew up in Summerville, South Carolina, though, and chose to study at the state’s flagship public university because it was close to home and because of the scholarships available through USC’s TRIO program, which helps make college accessible and affordable for first-generation students.

“I’ve gotten into basketball since I’ve been here. I haven’t been to a football game yet, but next year.”

Vlad Oniskevich
Vlad Oniskevich

And coming out of freshman year, the Capstone Scholar is hitting his stride. Initially a double major in physics and math, Vlad started to feel the weight of the extra-heavy course load after winter break and ultimately opted to solve for X.

“It’s something I love, math,” he says. “I have fun doing all my homework and going to those classes.”

He has also enjoyed the quick friendships he has developed on campus and the support they provided as he wrestled with dropping the physics major. He describes his particular floor at Capstone as “one of the more active floors,” with frequent movie nights and lots of spontaneous socializing. 

“People always say the people you meet in college are going to be with you for the rest of your life,” he says. “Then you actually get here and you kind of realize that, yeah, these are people you want to know for the rest of your life.”

Of course, a good work ethic helps. He tries to knock out his homework as soon as possible so that he can devote more time to extracurriculars. He hasn’t joined any clubs yet but might look into the chess club in the fall. And while he doesn’t really consider himself a huge sports fan, the Gamecocks’ recent athletic success is hard to ignore.

“I’ve gotten into basketball since I’ve been here,” Vlad says. “I haven’t been to a football game yet, but next year.”

It’s all adding up for the math major, who says he might pursue a career in computer science. In the meantime, he is just exploring his options and enjoying the college experience. And while he feels a little pressure being a first-gen student, he is learning the skills to balance the equation.

“In my definition of the word, I’m successful at the moment,” he says. “I’ve got a great social life, a great academic life, and it’s been going pretty well all around. I’ve got a great support group if I need it, and I’m doing everything I need to for myself.”


Addie, Abby & Jess

South Carolina Honors College freshman Addie Ayler keeps a busy a schedule, which is just how she likes it.

On top of a heavy course load as a neuroscience major — Addie logged 17 credit hours in the fall, 16 in the spring and has already started lab research — the New Jersey native volunteers for Dance Marathon, USC’s largest student-run charity, and serves as a neighborhood president on the Residence Hall Association board.

“Balance is necessary, especially when your academics are demanding.”

Addie Ayler
(from left) Addie Ayler, Abby Edwards and Jess Deery

In the fall, she rushed Phi Delta Epsilon, USC’s medical fraternity. This spring, she became a recruiter for the organization.

“It’s a little scary now to be the recruiter in my second semester here, but it’s also funny,” she says. “People ask me, ’What year are you?’ and they’re sophomores rushing. I’m just like, ’I’m a freshman!’”

But the college experience is about more than classes and service. Back at the Honors Residence, Addie made fast friends with her roommate, Abby Edwards — “I swear we didn’t plan to have such similar names!” says Addie — and with her suitemate, Jess Deery.

Both Abby and Jess hail from the Philadelphia area, about an hour and half from Addie’s hometown, and like every other Gamecock these days, all three are huge fans of head women’s basketball coach and fellow Philly native Dawn Staley.

But they also became huge volleyball fans last fall after Jess convinced her friends to brave the rain for the Gamecocks’ August matchup against Clemson. It was partly about rivalry — Jess even has a twin sister at the Upstate school — but USC’s ticket and reward system also factored in: The more sporting events a student attends, the better their odds for getting football tickets.

“You earn double points if you go to a game against Clemson, so I was like, ’We need to go,’” says Jess. “It was torrentially pouring, I was wearing these knee-high rain boots, and we trekked down to the volleyball center in ponchos. And then it was just so exciting, we ended up going to every single game.”

Otherwise, they enjoy a lot of movie nights sprawled out on the dorm room floor and going to Main Street’s Soda City Market on Saturday mornings.

“The first week of December, right before we left for winter break, we went Christmas shopping together at Soda City, which was very nice,” says Addie. “We all were able to help each other shop, which was fun. I think we did almost all our Christmas shopping there.”

Come Monday morning, of course, it’s back to the grind. But Abby and Jess are every bit as dedicated to their schoolwork as Addie. And like Addie, the have found other outlets for their interests.

Abby is majoring in pharmacy, but this spring signed up for Campus Orchestra, a one-credit class that meets on Wed­nesday nights. “I played viola in high school and really missed it,” she says, “so when my parents came to pick me up at Thanksgiving, I asked them to please bring my instrument!” 

Jess, meanwhile, is a biochemistry major on the pre-med track. To get out and meet people beyond her classes and her residence hall, she joined Omega Phi Alpha, a community service sorority.

“That has honestly helped me branch out so much,” she says. “I never envisioned myself joining a sorority, but then I went to the info meetings, and I met so many amazing people. We’ve done community service projects for Final Victory animal shelter, and we’re helping with a 5K for mental health.”

All three women say they are happy with their decision to come south to USC, and they have helped each other stay focused on school while enjoying the overall college experience.

“Balance is necessary, especially when your academics are demanding,” says Addie. “But Columbia is great as a city, and also USC as a school is great, because you can still enjoy yourself and make sure it’s not all work, no play.”


Carolinian Magazine

This article was originally published in Carolinian, the alumni magazine for the University of South Carolina. Meet more dynamic Carolinians and discover once again what makes our university great.

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Cover of the Carolinian Magazine.