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Lander’s Olivia Urban Continues Academic Path of Success

Dr. Michael Fekula, left, dean of Lander’s College of Business, and Dr. James Colbert, Lander’s provost and vice president of Academic Affairs congratulate Olivia Urban on being named the University’s Thayer Award recipient for the fall semester of 2023. Photo by Laura Wood

When Olivia Urban arrived at Lander University for her first semester, she already had her sights set on earning the prestigious Thayer Award for academic excellence.

Urban, of Iva, knew that it would be a challenge. She would have to earn an “A” in every course and graduate with summa cum laude honors to be the recipient of the Thayer Award, named for the late Greenwood business leader, Henry Thayer. For many people, such a challenge would be daunting even under the best of circumstances.

But Urban refused to give in, even when her academic work load merged with the demands of real work – juggling three jobs and managing two restaurants plus three emergency surgeries over the course of her studies.

“When I came to Lander, I was aware of the prestigious award presented to the student with the highest GPA in their graduating class. I knew that I wanted to challenge myself to achieve the Thayer Award at my graduation,” she said. “What I love most about life is the constant opportunity to set new challenges and witness the surprising achievements that unfold when you remain dedicated.” 

Step one of Urban’s strategy was to earn straight As in her first semester. Once she accomplished this achievement,  Urban challenged herself to continue on the path and graduate early. The path, however, was far from easy. “Following my freshman year, I faced a significant obstacle – a medical condition that caused me to return home,” she said. “I had to commute an hour to school daily.”

The emergency surgeries took a physical and mental toll, she said, and the commitment to maintain stellar grades became an intimidating challenge. 

“I was not going to give up on my goals due to a few bumps in the road. God gave me the strength and motivation I needed to overcome all of the obstacles that I was faced with, big and small.”

Her resilience paid off. On Jan. 22, Lander University officials presented Urban with the Thayer Award and a certificate recognizing her academic achievements for earning a bachelor’s degree with top honors.

Dr. Michael Fekula, dean of Lander’s College of Business, praised Urban for her diligence in pursuing her goal and earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in health care management, along with a minor in entrepreneurship.

“This performance speaks for itself and reflects Olivia’s personal dedication, accompanied by humble gratitude for those who helped her get here,” Fekula said.

Her dedication is even more inspiring upon close examination of Urban’s resume. She held multiple jobs as an undergraduate student. During her first week of classes as a freshman, Urban became a student worker for the Student Success Center. In the second semester, she became a peer tutor. “Over the years, I tutored multiple business courses at the center. I was a student worker and peer tutor until I graduated,” she said.

During her second year at Lander, Urban ventured into work in the restaurant industry, first as a waitress at a local eatery. Within a few months, she was promoted to manager. “After a year, I felt the need for a more flexible on-campus job, leading me to join the Chick-fil-A team. Within three months, I earned a promotion to the night shift supervisor role,” she said. 

“Many questioned how I managed it all, and my response was simple – determination and countless sleepless nights. However, I also knew that I had bills to pay and a goal that still had to be achieved,” Urban said. “I firmly believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to, but you have to remind yourself daily that you are capable and ask God to be with you every step of the way.”

The “way” included an active place on campus, too. She was a project chair for the Lander Rotaract Club and became a member of such esteemed organizations as Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society, the National Society of Leadership and Success and the Alpha Chi Honor Society. Her academic success was acknowledged through the numerous departmental scholarships she received and the earning of President’s List honors throughout her three years at Lander.

She credits Lander’s faculty and staff for keeping her focused during the ups and downs of her college life, along with the support of parents Lisa and Terry Urban, a Lander employee. But she also credits her beloved grandmother Betty Urban, who died in 2019, for being her best friend and role model.

“Throughout her life, my grandmother encountered numerous challenges, yet faced them with remarkable resilience. The hospice nurses who provided exceptional care during her final days have continued to maintain a meaningful connection with my family even years after her passing,” Urban said.

Those compassionate healthcare professionals and her grandmother’s need for special medical services led Urban to set another goal. “I wish every senior was treated with the respect, patience and care that they deserve at their final stage of life,” she said.

Urban chose to stay at Lander to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree with micro-credentials in Healthcare Management and Organizational Leadership. “I plan to take the South Carolina Nursing Home Administrator license exam and become an executive director of a local assisted living facility,” she said. “My goal in life is to ensure that I always advocate and provide support for seniors and their families when I start working in senior care this year.”

Until then, Urban is a graduate assistant in Lander’s Student Success Center, where her job involves supporting students and helping them create plans to achieve their goals – just as others supported her in college.

“The friendships and connections that I made at Lander will forever hold a special place in my heart. The genuine care and unwavering support from the faculty and staff created an environment where every student feels valued,” Urban said. “I can honestly say that I never had a single negative experience. I feel grateful for the opportunity to extend my educational journey at this institution.”