While the University of Georgia Honors student has compiled an impressive list of on-campus credentials, he’s spent an equal amount of energy lending a helping hand to the community’s lower-income citizens.
“It really started when I was in high school and began to go on youth-group mission trips,” says Clay, who plans to graduate in May 2013 with degrees in physics and mathematics and a minor in German. “I grew up in the Atlanta suburbs and also spent time going downtown with that same youth group once a month to feed the homeless at a church. My parents also did a great job reminding me that there are a lot of people who don't have what we have.”
When he wasn’t taking a graduate-level course in math and working as a grader for the UGA Mathematics Department, the balance of Clay’s summer was spent working nights at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter, and he’s also volunteered at the Bigger Vision Winter Shelter and the local chapter of the National Coalition for the Homeless, and created a homeless advocacy organization on campus called Faces of Homelessness.
Clay admits he regards his volunteer work for the disenfranchised with both fulfillment and a desire to do even more.
“It’s a little of both, and it should be,” he says. “You really can’t be satisfied with your own personal contribution. But I really enjoy some of the personal interactions I have with residents of the shelter and other people involved with it. It’s such an institutional thing that it’s hard to feel like you’re making much of a difference sometimes, but in general, I hope I can uplift some of the people there.”
After graduation, Clay says he’ll seek a graduate degree in engineering with an eye on working in the alternative energy industry. He also wants to work for Teach For America and hopes to find time in his twilight years teaching high school physics and coaching soccer.
“I always liked math and science, but I felt like the best way to prepare myself for a future in engineering was to be more math-intensive in my undergraduate work,” says the National Merit Scholar. "I switched majors a couple of times, and after having that first freshman physics course, I found I enjoyed the challenge. I liked the interface of math and science.”
Much of Clay’s volunteer work has come under the auspices of the Presbyterian Student Center, where he’ll take on an expanded role in the coming school year.
“This year, I’m starting as a student minister there, and I’ll be dealing with interfaith relations, so that’s something where I’ll focus a lot of my time and energy, making connections with different faiths and community groups. We hope to find common ties between the groups, and I hope one of the ways we do that is through community service. That’s something people from all faith backgrounds can agree is a good thing.”
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