Clemson Calhoun Honors Student Combines Engineering with Global Studies

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Clemson website.

Civil engineering student Kate Gasparro has backpacked through Europe, studied abroad in Strasbourg, France, and helped build a schoolhouse in Nicaragua. Attending Clemson is the biggest part of what’s made those distant travels and many of the experiences that came before, during and after them possible

When Gasparro first began looking at colleges, she knew she wanted to pursue a degree that let her think big. As the daughter of two civil engineers, she also knew that a civil engineering program would help her do that: “Civil engineers are the ones who build the big things that we use everyday, and we make a difference,” she explains.

She visited 25 colleges before she landed at Clemson her senior year of high school. By the time she left Clemson’s campus, she knew she’d found her college home. Today, the Huntington Beach, California, native is only a semester away from graduating with a Clemson degree in civil engineering and a minor in international relations.

And just as she’d hoped, she’ll be leaving this place with a lot more than just a diploma in her hand. She’s moving forward with a portfolio of experience she can’t imagine having received anywhere else.

“It’s not about the name on the diploma. It’s about the experience you have there,” Gasparro offers. “Clemson helped me shape my future and where I want to go and who I want to be.”

The Calhoun Honors College has been an important part of that experience, with its small class sizes that allow personal, passionate and intellectual relationships with the University’s best and brightest, she says. For Gasparro, that meant spending her freshman year taking general engineering courses alongside honors classes, including a medieval history class with one of Clemson’s Harvard-educated professors. There, she and seven other students engaged in discussions about how war influences culture.

That same year, she and fewer than 10 other students studied Russian literature and philosophy as a part of the Dixon Fellow program, which “allows students to learn for the sake of learning,” Gasparro explains. “It expanded my own worldview and sparked my love of philosophy.”

Her Clemson experience has also meant getting involved in everything she wanted to be involved with. On the academic front, she is one of 12 Dixon Global Policy Scholars, a Coca-Cola Scholar and a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership fraternity. She’s served as treasurer and Latin American project leader for Engineers Without Borders, as well as vice president of the Alpha Lambda Delta honor society. And she stays involved with a variety of student groups including the Clemson University Student Alumni Council, not to mention University tour guides, Tiger Band, symphonic band, orchestra and the Hillel Jewish Organization.

“Getting involved is a great way to meet these people and realize your own potential,” she says. “You feel such a greater tie to the University when you are involved, and it makes you be a better student because you can see the impact you make. You can tie your extracurricular experiences into your academic curriculum, making theory into practice and deepening your broader understanding.”

Even with all the accolades and experiences, Gasparro’s favorite thing about Clemson isn’t just one thing: it’s the people. Sure, the University’s president knows her by name, but so do countless other students, staff and faculty who share her appreciation for community, not to mention her love of Clemson.

“Clemson invests in people. You’re never just a number,” she explains. “They make that personal connection, and it’s all about that Clemson Family.”

Gasparro’s travels abroad have provided some of her most significant academic opportunities. As a Dixon Global Policy Scholar, she was able to complete a short-term study abroad in Strasbourg, where she met with officials from the European Union, Parliament and NATO to learn how international policy is made. After interacting with French and German students, she and some of her classmates backpacked throughout Europe, and during those travels she also completed course work in enlightenment philosophy and public policy.

Gasparro also joined Engineers Without Borders and started the student organization’s first Latin American project. Leading a group of six other students, she located a nonprofit already doing work in Nicaragua. They partnered with them in early September 2011, and a few months later, Clemson’s first Engineers Without Borders team traveled to the Central American country to lay the foundation for a schoolhouse there. She returned to the country again the summer before her senior year.

“I’ve learned what it means to partner with people who have a different culture and history, and work with them to construct something sustainable,” Gasparro says.

These days, she prides herself on being smiling, enthusiastic proof that a challenging degree doesn’t have to take away from the “college experience.”

“College is what you make of it,” Gasparro offers. “Being involved and in a challenging degree is all about time management and understanding your own abilities. Being able to relate your extracurricular experience to your classes and understanding the value in having both is key to making the most of your time.

“College is what you make of it. Why not make the most of those four years of your life?”

Determined to think big. Head on.