The University of South Alabama is home to some incredible students. From advocating for solutions to childhood hunger to acting in Shakespearean plays, our freshmen are truly exceptional members of their communities. Plus, we already know they have great taste in universities! Read on to explore Freshman Focus, a series highlighting some of our talented, motivated and newest students.
From Demopolis, Ala., comes Samuel Blankenship, who was inspired by his mother’s battle with cancer to pursue a degree in biomedical sciences at USA and a career in pharmacy. Already certified as a pharmacy tech, Blankenship’s experience with Boy Scouts of America led him to develop “Unpack Hunger,” a food collection and distribution program for students who suffer from food insecurity. He launched it, coincidentally when the time of need was greatest: at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“We had to start really fast,” he said. “I’d been planning a project to deliver food to the school, but once quarantine hit, it turned into delivering packs to the school counselor, so kids could keep getting them. We were able to do 25 packs for 10 weeks.”
Kaylee Williams, an international studies major from Biloxi, plans to learn to speak Spanish and Korean, which will come in handy when she fulfills her dream of visiting South Korea. Doing new things and meeting new people come naturally to Kaylee, who, along with a friend, introduced herself to their residence hall neighbors by playfully slipping notes under their doors, something she saw on TikTok. Kaylee chose USA as part of her path to become a physician.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor,” Williams said. “I always admired my pediatrician, and she inspired me. I shadowed her when I was in high school. I shadowed my dentist, too.”
Thanh Haas, a double major in German and hospitality and tourism management, almost opened a coffee shop near campus until she listened to her intuition.
“I heard this voice in my head and decided not to invest in this business, but in my education,” said Haas, 36. “I thought, this school is where I want to go. So I went to the German department, talked to them, and they said OK.”
Why German? Haas hails from Vietnam but lived and worked in Germany most of her life. Six years ago, her husband, a German engineer, had a job opportunity here in Mobile, which brought them to the area, where their son and daughter were born.
“We wanted to challenge ourselves and take this adventure,” she said. “We decided to stay because of the weather, and the local people, and living close to the beach on weekends.”
Jhalana Jones, a freshman studying music education, has graced the stages as an actor in local productions of “Macbeth,” “Hairspray” and even the title role in “Aida.” Jhalana dedicates her theater performances to her older sister Jameya Becoats, who died of pneumonia in 2014. Jones, who took a gap year after graduating from Baker High School in 2019, knows the University of South Alabama is the place for her to pursue her dreams. "We have this teacher, Dr. Thomas Rowell, who is a hoot-and-a-half. He lets us know we're not just his students, we're his people."
Of her part-time job performing for fundraisers and children’s parties as Tiana from Disney’s “Princess and the Frog,” Jones says, “It’s really fun and the kids love it. You get to go to these parties and you’re a princess and the kids are over the moon for you.”
Kaitlyn Reynolds is originally from Robertsdale, Ala., but when she was young, she moved to Orlando, Fla., with her USA-alum parents, who are pleased to see her following their legacy.
“I never really toured campus, but my parents and I drove through a few times,” Reynolds said. “They were in shock to see how much it’s changed. They couldn’t believe all the new buildings and the football stadium.
A soccer and football player, Reynolds’ game-winning kick in overtime made the TV news and earned her a feature in the Orlando Sentinel.
“It showed me that I can do anything I want,” said Reynolds, who has plans to become a physical therapist. “Even if there are gender boundaries, you always have a chance to do something greater. I’ve had little girls come up and tell me, ‘I want to be like you.’ I never saw myself doing anything like that, and that’s helped change me as a person.”
The second he toured the Mitchell College of Business, Trey Hall knew he wanted to come to school at the University of South Alabama. On his tour, Hall heard about the business school’s financial center with a dozen of the Bloomberg data terminals that keep a close watch on business news and the stock market.
A graduate of the West Florida High School of Advanced Technology, Hall won a prestigious Mitchell Scholarship at South. He is an avid bowler, and works and competes at Cordova Lanes in his hometown of Pensacola. He aspires to start a bowling team at South and compete with other colleges in the area.
Hall says USA is special. “Out of every school I've toured or that close friends and family went to, South has stood out and cares about its students. I truly feel welcome and excited to be here.”
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