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Lander University’s Campus Vibe Returns with Students


It was a time for hugs as Lander University students returned to campus after a three-month summer break. Photo by Laura Wood

Leslie Horne McKesson admitted that her first day of class at Lander University “was a bit nerve wracking.”

Although she’s already earned an associate’s degree in nursing, McKesson has a path to a bachelor’s degree that is different from that of many of her Lander peers. For McKesson, “this” college experience comes 13 years after she earned her R.N. degree. She’s married now and the mother of three children, ages 12, 10 and 7, and she has a full-time job at Self Regional Healthcare where she is on the hospital’s infection prevention team.

McKesson is enrolled in Lander’s R.N. to B.S.N. program. Her four nursing classes are taught online to help nurses, who have graduated from a diploma or associate-degree nursing program, earn their bachelor’s degrees. Earning her four-year degree, McKesson said, “has been a bucket list item for some time.”

The online classes make that degree possible. McKesson is taking four online nursing courses – a total of 17 credit hours. “It’s going to be hard work. I’m juggling a lot,” she said. “I’m very excited, though, and my children are excited that Mom is going back to college.”

McKesson said the B.S.N. will give her enhanced leadership skills for her career. “I work with many of Lander’s graduates. They are phenomenal nurses,” she said.

The path to Lander was more straightforward for athlete Jacob Rushton. The sophomore from Johnston is majoring in sports management. He was recruited to be a member of the Bearcats baseball team. Being back on campus “feels like I’m where I belong.”

Taking a lunch break with friends Taylor Dean and Braeden Sides, both of North Augusta, Rushton said Bearcat athletics, with its “amazing people and staff,” drew him to Lander. “It’s a great campus, not too big, not too small,” he said.

Dean arrived at Lander with 62 college credit hours through dual enrollment studies. An exercise science major, Dean plans to become a physical therapist.

Although it’s her first year at a four-year university, Dean said she’s ready to dive into her course work. “Because of the classes I took in high school, I’m more acclimated to taking college courses, and I have developed time management skills and study habits. Moving in was much easier than I thought it would be.”

Sides, a junior, began his college experience at Lander as a music major but switched to a degree program in marketing management. A trumpet player, Sides is a member of Lander’s Jazz Band, and he’s earned professional status in disc golf.

“I realized last year that I had a shot of making disc golf a career,” he said. “A degree in business is versatile, and will allow me to pursue my dreams.”

The “pursuit of happiness” is a topic that will be explored through a wide range of books and writing assignments this semester for students in Dr. Lillian Craton’s honors English class.

Before delving into the rigors of course work, students had the opportunity to introduce themselves and give their classmates an interesting fact to two about their lives. The common theme: Students left their pets behind as they headed to college. A number of dogs, cats, chickens and a duck now are under the care of parents and siblings.

Ashlyn Kinard, a freshman from Prosperity, said her goodbyes to goats, Billy and Willy. She misses her routine of “tucking them into bed at night.”

That task can be handled only by her parents, she said. “I don’t trust anyone else.”

The goat’s bedtime is more than a simple “good night.” Every evening, Kinard goes to their shed and gives them special treats. They have “good night prayers,” and she tells them “to go to sleep,” which “sometimes they do.”

She’s getting frequent reports on the pair and has “a camera on them” to monitor their activities.

As students began the first week of classes, University leaders made sure students had a chance to enjoy college life through a variety of Welcome Week activities, from movies to bingo to karaoke and more.

Ashly Rivera, a junior from Easley, distributed doughnuts to students, who were asked the question, “Does cereal count as a soup?”

Laughing about the survey, Rivera said, “I was super excited to return and be with my friends.”

She’s looking forward to her year as president of the Lander Dance Team and her job in Lander’s Student Life office, where she will help coordinate social media posts.

“There are a lot of new faces on campus, freshmen and transfer students,” she said. “I love it.”

The launch of the fall semester is always an exciting time for the University family, said Lander President Richard Cosentino in his welcome back message to campus.

“The campus is buzzing with a familiar, invigorating energy as we have welcomed home thousands of students for the first week of classes,” he said. “It is gratifying to see our Bearcat family together once again.”