Lander alumni reveal why the Honors College is a success

February 17, 2024

Since its founding in Fall 2013, the stories of success from Lander University’s Honors College have been measured through study abroad experiences, student research awards, prestigious internships, academic honors and career achievements.

But when Honors College alumni gathered for Lander’s recent Homecoming, they agreed that the program’s legacy is measured best through the contributions of Dr. Lillian Craton, who has been the college’s director since its inaugural year.

In a resolution read by alumnus D.J. Stroud Moore, the alumni lauded Craton’s “profound influence and impact she has had on our lives” and cited the “welcoming community where learning and growth are limitless, for which she provided the foundation.

Having selected a larger university for his education, Moore nonetheless came to Lander from his home in Latta in 2014 on a college visit skip day. After a tour of the campus and the realization that he would receive a financial aid package to cover the cost of his education, along with admittance to the Honors College, Moore said choosing Lander “was the easiest ‘yes’ of my life.”

Moore, who had not traveled beyond the Southeast before arriving at Lander, was apprehensive at first about the travels and experiences he might have as an Honors College student. “But I knew I wanted an academic experience that would set me apart and make me competitive for the job market,” he said.

A trip to New York helped him realize that he made the right decision. Then, Moore had an opportunity to attend a two-month program at Harvard University, which “was the biggest leap of faith I had taken leading up to 2017.”

He accepted the offer immediately, and “then the nerves hit,” he said. “I remember having several long conversations with Dr. Craton and Dr. Mandy Cleveland about the opportunity, and they were always so encouraging.

In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for Craton to give reassurance on other occasions. Her you got this, dudemotivation led Moore to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Lander in 2018 and a master’s degree in higher education in 2020 from UNC-Wilmington, where he participated in an international internship with Maynooth University’s Student Union in Ireland.

Today, Moore is a community director at Clemson University’s Honors Residential College and is pursuing a second master’s degree in human resource development at Clemson.

“Dr. Craton has done more for me individually than I ever could put down on a piece of paper. She was and will always be my ‘college mom,’ and I will always be thankful for her presence and support in my life.”

Bre Duncan also found that Craton’s compassion for her students extended far beyond the classroom. Craton’s heart led the teacher and student to the open road.

During her freshman year, Duncan confided to Craton that she didn’t know how to drive. Over the summer, “she put me in her car and said she was going to teach me,” Duncan said, admitting she was terrified. “I was so scared. I kept thinking, ‘I can’t hurt her.’”

But their trips across Lander University’s parking lots gave Duncan the confidence she needed to pursue her driver’s license. An English teacher at Emerald High School, Duncan now has the legal authority to drive wherever she wants.

Nevertheless, “I am the passenger princess for life,” she said.

Duncan described the Honors College “as a family,” and said Craton “took being a mom to a whole new level.”

For Kim Modica, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in international relations in 2016, the Honors College “attracted me with its community of like-minded individuals striving to enact positive change. It influenced me profoundly by fostering an environment where diverse perspectives were valued in discussions,” she said.

In classes with students of different political views, “I learned the art of compromise, a skill often overlooked today. The emphasis on individuality and unwavering support from the staff, who appreciated my unique problem-solving approach, instilled confidence in me as a professional,” Modica said. “Now, I confidently engage with senior executives, advocating for data-driven solutions while embracing healthy debate as an integral part of the process.”

Modica, who lives in New York, has put her Honors College lessons to work across the globe. She earned a master’s degree in international relations from the University College of Dublin in Ireland in 2017. After that, she contributed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign in New Zealand.

“My career journey spans diverse sectors, including nonprofits such as the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense, and Fortune 500 companies like Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, and Apple,” she said. I’ve collaborated with startups worldwide … and currently, as a senior director of project management, I focus on planning and executing international projects and products. Notably, I have successfully managed projects in Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Dubai.”

Modica said Craton and other Honors College faculty “profoundly shaped my life … Their belief in me paved the way for my success, granting me a life beyond my wildest dreams. While at Lander, I pursued studies at the University of Winchester, interned in Washington D.C., and rose in a statewide political organization, all while juggling multiple jobs. They taught me that grades matter, but vision and diverse experiences define true success.

In January, Moore said he wondered how alumni could celebrate Craton and the 10th anniversary of Lander’s Honors College. His established a $10 for 10 years Campaign,” which led to a $500 donation for the “Dr. Lillie Craton Scholarship for Excellence.”

Alumni presented Craton with a check, which she is donating to a student for a study abroad experience, and a plaque honoring her contributions. Moore also enumerated the successes of the Honors College in a resolution given to Craton.

Among her contributions, the alumni noted that Craton has helped more than 600 Honors College students achieve their personal and career goals; has been instrumental in 175 students earning the prestigious Honors medallion, and “has provided a foundation for Honors students to view the world from a global lens and has created several opportunities for experiential learning inside and outside of the classroom.”

Honors College alumni ended their praise for their beloved mentor by saying, “Dr. Craton has selflessly dedicated so much of her life to her students, and the program has flourished because of her resilience, passion, intelligence, and leadership.

For Craton, the decade has been “an experience we never dreamed possible.”

Now, she said, “It’s time for us to continue our growth and to build on the many stories of success that our alumni have written. It is my honor to be part of their lives. The adventure continues.”