Of all the new Presidential Scholars for 2015, Carissa Lavin is from the farthest away. But after being uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, she’s not afraid of a long-distance relocation. “I didn’t completely understand what was going on,” says Lavin, whose family had to move to Pennsylvania from Luling, La., just west of New Orleans. “I remember being very distraught because I’d been in third grade, I had made friends at school, and having to move to a new place was tough.
“I remember when we came back to clean the house out, everything smelled like fish and there was a ton of water damage. But we were still very lucky, because we lived about 20 minutes from where the storm hit the worst. No trees fell and the flooding wasn’t too terrible, so we were lucky that we got away with as little damage as we did.” Lavin’s most recent change of residence, fortunately, was under much better circumstances. At Georgia State she has access to a fast-growing Honors College and one of the top actuarial science programs in the country — and those are just the beginning of the opportunities she’s found.
Georgia State ‘Just Felt Right’
As the middle of five children, one of whom has special needs, Lavin knew it would be a challenge for her family to shoulder the cost of out-of-state college tuition. “But when I came and interviewed for the Presidential Scholarship, and I was here on campus in the middle of downtown, it just felt right,” she says. “And I knew I really wanted to be here.”
Lavin says she knew for a long time that she wanted to have a career in business, so she was attracted to both the J. Mack Robinson College of Business and the numerous opportunities and connections available in Atlanta. But she adds there were plenty of other factors drawing her to Georgia State.
“Their marching band is phenomenal, and I was a member of the color guard in high school, so I was very excited to be a part of that here,” she says. “And diversity was definitely important — I wanted to go somewhere I would meet people with different backgrounds and ethnicities and religious upbringings.”
When Lavin got the news that she’d been awarded the Presidential Scholarship, making the prospect of a Georgia State education real, she says she “felt like my breath was taken away. “I was actually in choir class — because we’re an hour behind Atlanta, I’m assuming they thought I was out of school. I saw the 404 area code, and I was like, ‘I have to go! I have to go!’ Thankfully, my teacher let me out into the hallway, and I answered, and it was Dean [Larry] Berman, and my heart dropped. And he told me I got it, and I felt so honored. It was wonderful.”
Never Intimidated by a Challenge
Lavin says she first started examining the possibility of an actuarial career after taking an advanced-placement calculus class her senior year high school — which she says was one of the hardest classes she’d ever taken. “But I appreciated the challenge. It didn’t come completely easily, and I had to work for it,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in investments and the stock market and the idea that you can take $50 and turn it into $100 if you play your cards right — I always kind of wanted to break that down and see how it worked.”
While actuarial science may deal with cold, hard numbers, though, Lavin says she also picked it for reasons that have personal meaning to her. “My mom owns a therapy clinic for special-needs children,” she explains. “I’ve actually volunteered there, and I’ve watched her set everything up and manage it all. So I guess business is something that runs in the family, it’s something I was interested in at a young age. And I knew that I wanted to go into business because people fascinate me in general, and I figure if I’m doing actuarial science I’ll be able to use my strength with numbers and with people and let them build off each other.”
Lavin’s affinity for special-needs kids also prompted her to set up a charity run for the Special Olympics earlier this year, which raised more than $1,500. Physical fitness, too, is something that’s been a priority for her since she was young — she started learning the martial art of taekwondo at 7 or 8 and got to the point where she was competing for the world title in her age group on a regular basis.
That wide array of interests, she says, helped keep her from feeling overwhelmed when she first set foot on Georgia State’s campus as a student.
“It would be nice to have a safety net of friends coming with me, or family in the area, but the fact that I’m so far away kind of forces me to really be on my own, which is something I think is really important. It’s a good motivator for getting into everything,” she says. “I’m really excited to figure out how the big city works, because my hometown has maybe 5,000 people, nowhere near the size. I’m excited to see what kinds of opportunities are here, because I know that there are so many, and I just want to take advantage of all of them.”