Lisa Carlson is easy to spot.
She’ll be running through campus, ear buds in, singing to herself, and she’ll see someone – anyone really – and smile in mid-stride.
She does it every time. It’s no accident. It’s because of a story she heard.
“This person was walking across a bridge in San Francisco, and all he wanted was someone to smile at him, no one did, and he ended up jumping,” she says. “I took that into my life. You never know what’s going on in someone’s life, and a smile is one of the simplest things. You know what it stands for – a sense of caring. You see the person where they are.”
Carlson runs 40 minutes almost every day. It makes her feel good and keeps her focused. That focus has helped become a leader in many facets of campus life at High Point University.
Carlson has been picked as HPU’s Extraordinary Leader award for the month of January. She’ll graduate in May with honors, receiving a dual degree in psychology and strategic communication with a minor in Spanish.
At HPU, she found her path. In more ways than one.
Before she came to HPU, Carlson had never really run. She started the summer before her first semester. Once she arrived at HPU from her home in Summit, New Jersey, she kept at it.
She started with a mile. She built up to five miles. Today, she has marked off a must-do from her bucket list: run the Goofy Challenge, a half marathon on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday.
Over two days at Disney World, Carlson ran nearly 40 miles.
With her iPhone and her music, she sees running as “my own little dance party,” and at HPU, she’ll often run into someone who’ll say, “You always smile when you run past me!”
That was the beginning of her HPU discoveries.
She had played tennis since eighth grade, and when she discovered HPU’s club tennis team, she was elected the team’s captain her freshman year.
Since then, she has helped the program by assisting their entry into tournaments as well as playing club teams from Duke, Davidson and other North Carolina schools.
Carlson is a peer mentor, a member of its executive board and a member of Alpha Chi Omega. She has been inducted into three honor societies, made the Dean’s List multiple times and is part of HPU’s Honors Scholar Program.
She also has been selected as a University Ambassador, and for the past two years, she has been elected the program’s captain.
With every campus tour she gives, with prospective students and their families in tow, she’ll often say: “There are so many opportunities here to succeed, if you just go out and do it.”
Carlson has built chimneys for an HPU service project in Guatemala, and she has visited six different European countries over 16 days, going from Amsterdam to Rome with an HPU student group.
She presented her undergrad research at a conference on personality and social psychology in San Diego. And last fall, she and nine other HPU students visited five companies in New York City on the school’s inaugural career-networking initiative, “HPU in the City.”
Then, there is her internship last summer with the Nielsen Company.
She discovered it at an HPU Career Fair. And where did she live? Downtown Chicago. She knew no one.
She shared an apartment near Millennium Park with three other college interns, and she got up 4:45 a.m. to commute 90 minutes to her internship outside the city where she worked with Nielsen’s team assisting Kraft Foods.
Meanwhile, she visited museums, kayaked the Chicago River, rode the carousel at Navy Pier Park, cheered for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and celebrated her 21st birthday.
“Oh my gosh, I was so overwhelmed, but I grew so much,” she says. “I learned what I liked, what I didn’t like, and I embraced those moments.”
In her essay for her Extraordinary Leader application, Carlson wrote: “Anytime I was unsure of something, I asked questions – something that High Point taught me.”
She felt ready.
The Lesson in a Pair of Shoes
Carlson’s friends on campus joke and call her “Miss High Point.” No wonder.
Carlson has taken advantage of the opportunities she has discovered at High Point University. She sees them as building blocks that create who she is today and who she will remain far into the future.
Every time she runs, she’s reminded of that. All she has to do is look down.
It’s her customized Nikes, size 7 1/2. On one tongue says “HPU;” the other, “2016.” It reminds her how she sees her time spent off University Parkway.
“College is a marathon,” she says. “Not a sprint.”