When Alex Hight was growing up in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, there really wasn’t any talk of her following in her mother Clark Hight’s footsteps.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened.
Alex is graduating this week from NC State with a B.S. in paper science and engineering – the same degree her mother earned from the university in 1986.
“It’s been kind of surreal,” Clark said. “She went to the same school; she was in the same dorm I was, almost in the same suite.”
“It was not something we ever talked about – but she has followed in my footsteps very closely.”
The similarities don’t stop there. Clark received a Pulp and Paper Foundation Full Scholarship to attend NC State, and Alex is a Paper Super Scholar, having received a full ride supported by a variety of philanthropic gifts including the Barre R. Mitchell Scholarship, Continental Forest Industrial Scholarship, Jacob C. Belin Scholarship, Jim and Paula Bowen Scholarship and L.H. Camp Endowed Scholarship. Alex was also awarded the Michael J. Kocurek Student Leadership Scholarship.
With so much in common, it’s only fitting that the mother and daughter are now working together to pay it forward. They have plans already in place to endow a scholarship and have begun making gifts to the fund.
The Hight Family Scholarship will be awarded to students studying paper science and engineering. It will give preference to students who reside outside of North Carolina, with special consideration to students who are underrepresented in the College of Natural Resources’ student body.
“It was never really a question for me whether I would donate back,” Alex said. “I came here for free because people donated – that’s had such an impact on me. I don’t see how anyone would be OK receiving all that and not giving back.”
Alex chose NC State, and her major, after touring campus and noting that the paper science and engineering program felt very close-knit, while offering the opportunities of large university.
“It has so much to offer with hands-on labs and learning,” Alex said. “The professors are very personable, and they know you by name.”
Early in her college career, she was part of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Village, a living and learning community for first- and second-year female students in STEM majors at NC State, and she immediately found a sense of community there as well.
Coming from a small town to NC State’s large campus, Alex said she was thankful for the mentor she received through WISE, who helped guide her through her early days as a student.
She also jumped right in to NC State’s student chapter of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI). This year, she served as chapter president, learning some valuable professional and life lessons through that role. Clark served as president of TAPPI while at NC State, too.
“As president, it was my first time really managing people,” Alex said. “We have around 15 or so officers, and I was responsible for making sure they were doing their jobs.”
When she visited NC State prior to enrolling, Alex said, she made the decision that she’d attend, scholarship or no scholarship. However, she said scholarship support allowed her to choose the opportunities that were the best fit for her, rather than worry about finances. Where she saw classmates selecting internships with the highest pay so that they could cover their tuition bills, Alex said she was able to pick internships based on what best matched her goals.
She has served on a student interview panel for scholarships the past three years, as well as having been involved in recruitment opportunities and visitation days.
Meanwhile, Clark, a longtime supporter of NC State who serves on the alumni relations and individual giving committees for the Pulp and Paper Foundation, also got involved in student recruitment for her company, International Paper, when Alex went to college and she found herself with more free time.
“Through that, I’ve been able to find students who are not only the best and the brightest, but also who can thrive in this industry – because it’s a challenging industry,” Clark said. “I love having the new engineers come in; I love having them challenge me on a daily basis.
“Staying involved in recruiting was my way of making sure we got that high caliber of students that we were hoping to get.”
Clark said she finds many of those high-caliber students come from NC State.
“I know anyone from NC State is going to be a good engineer and I don’t have to worry about their technical ability,” she said.
One of those best and brightest also grew up right at home with her. Alex, who also graduates with minors in business and in industrial engineering, has plans to work for International Paper upon graduation. She and Clark will be based in different locations, and Alex said she feels well-prepared to make an impact, just like her mom.
“Through my experiences with TAPPI, and the leadership role there, I feel comfortable talking to industry professionals, and managers, and talking to a group of people, or in front of a group of people,” she said. “Making the transition from NC State to the professional world, I know I’m ready.”