Caylan Harrison Finds Community and Growth at WPU

June 19, 2020

William Peace University (WPU) graduate Caylan Harrison is no stranger to change. Throughout her college career, she excelled in the face of unexpected obstacles and transitions, meeting each challenge with determination, optimism and grit. As part of the spring class of 2020, these experiences have prepared her to tackle the professional world during uncertain times. 

Harrison feels that attending WPU was “meant to be.” She and her twin sister made the last-minute decision to enroll two days before they moved on campus as first-year students, drawn to WPU by its softball team, charming campus and welcoming community. Harrison played softball for two years before deciding to be involved in a different way on campus. She decided to become a peer mentor, a key player in the First Year Experience

Peer mentors are selected to guide first-year students based on their unique experiences and passion for helping others. They act as academic and community role models, introducing these students to new opportunities, resources and activities. At the encouragement of Associate Professor Roger Christman, Harrison applied for the position in her senior year. 

Being a peer mentor helped Harrison find her calling on campus as she made new connections and supported students in need of help.

“It makes me feel like I did what I was supposed to do at Peace. I impacted other students; I made a difference in their life. I was that person that they could talk to, whether they needed help with schoolwork or they just needed help with life. I was there for them, and they knew that. And that’s an experience I will never forget,” she says.

Harrison appreciates WPU’s small, tight-knit community. As a Communications major, she benefited from personal interactions with faculty and numerous immersive learning experiences. Harrison complimented her coursework with professional development. She interned with Activate Good, a non-profit that connects individuals to community service opportunities. 

While Harrison initially helped Activate Good launch the Good Hub Pop-Up, a physical location to connect with volunteers, COVID-19 brought major changes to her internship. No longer able to work in person, Executive Director Amber Smith asked Harrison to edit promotional videos featuring interviews with community partners and volunteers. Pushing past her comfort zone, Harrison created several high-quality videos, enhanced her production skills and completed her internship despite the disruption.

“Even though I wasn’t there hearing the stories from people and talking with the volunteers, I watched the videos and edited them together. I still got a sense of wow — these people have really been impacted by Activate Good. I could still hear all of these stories that were being told and all of the great ways that Activate Good impacts the entire community.”

At the same time, Harrison was making a difference at WPU. Encouraged by Assistant Professor Marti Maguire, she became editor-in-chief of The Peace Times, WPU’s student news outlet. Harrison’s strong writing and leadership skills helped her advance to this role, but she still felt nervous. Would she be able to inspire and lead her peers? 

Harrison outmatched her initial hesitations, even in an unprecedented period of crisis. When the platform transitioned fully online in response to COVID-19, she stepped up to keep the team of staff writers and editors motivated. They wrote stories about mental health in quarantine, changes to study abroad and factual news coverage. The experience left Harrison confident in her ability to persevere and lead, no matter the circumstances. 

“I felt respected, and I felt like I was someone that [the team] could look up to. I didn’t think I could do this, but then I did, and everyone was supporting me.”

Harrison’s college experience brought many surprises. Having approached each one fearlessly, she’s stepping into her professional career with invaluable knowledge, skills and experiences as well as a lifelong home at William Peace. 

“I didn’t know that everyone would care as much as they do. Everyone who works at Peace genuinely cares about the students, the alumni, their community partners and everyone who is involved. It’s like one big family, and I’m so glad that I’m a part of it.”