PENDLETON --- Getting out of your comfort zone often leads to doors opening and opportunities expanding.

As a freshman Mechatronics majors, Caleb Allen put this strategy for success into place two years ago when he attended a Sister Cities/Anderson Chamber of Commerce event.  As a Junior Leadership Anderson representative, he had attended the National Youth Summit in San Antonio, Texas, because he was interested in networking with local business and industry leaders, as well as learning about work-based learning opportunities.  "My friend, Carol Burdette, chief executive officer of Anderson United Way, introduced me to Jim Murphy, former president of E + I Engineering.  I asked him about co-op opportunities at the plant, which opened in Anderson County in 2014.  We got to know each other during a brief conversation, and he asked me to send him my resume."

 Allen followed up with a letter and phone call.  The Sister Cities meeting was in January, and by February he was hired as the company's first intern and began to get valuable hands-on experience that complemented his studies.  He was among the first five employees hired at the new company, and during his year-and-a-half-long paid internship as a technician, he learned various aspects of manufacturing which will prove to be valuable when he combines his recent Mechatronics degree with a bachelor's in human resources in preparation for a career in human resources in industry.

"I've learned you have to take the initiative, be forthcoming, and ask questions. Networking and communication are the keys to success," said Allen, who graduated debt free in August, thanks to Lottery Assistance tuition, and LIFE, Abney Foundation and Upstate Federal Credit Union scholarships.

He combined his networking and communication skills over the last couple of years by immersing himself in the College by serving as president of the Student Government Association, as a student ambassador, and a leader in Palmetto Boys State, where he was a junior counselor and currently as a member of the production staff.   He also traveled to Columbia with Tri-County President Ronnie L. Booth to address our legislative delegations, telling them about his Tri-County experience.  Later, Allen accompanied Dr. Booth and Call Me MISTER mentor Wallace Cobbs in June to a Black Educators Caucus Summit in Columbia. The South Carolina Caucus of Black School Board Members, several state entities and the National Association of Black Journalists and Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, Inc., hosted "Moving Forward Together: A National Summit of Schools, Communities & Law Enforcement."  This Summit provided a safe environment to discuss complex issues surrounding race relations and the roles of law enforcement, and the community, in educational settings.

During his time as SGA president, the group was honored for its Community Involvement Project at the South Carolina Technical Education Association Conference.  Their project, "Captivating Lives with Literacy," received third-place honors in the 2015-2016 Community Involvement Project competition.

He shares the success with fellow SGA officers Samuel Hill, vice president; Jimmy Knott, treasurer; and Rebecca Griebno, secretary, who he says played a vital role  in making SGA an organization dedicated to keeping students informed about and engaged in campus happenings through weekly newsletters, general session meetings and social media.

"You don't do anything alone," he said, crediting his faith and "the many mentors" in his life -  folks like his parents, his former E+ I Engineering supervisor Atalie Norton, Hannah Arnold, his former guidance counselors and teachers at Crescent High School, SGA Advisor Croslena Johnson and Dr. Booth, whom, he says "gave good career planning advice and stressed the importance of distinguishing myself to be marketable and proving to an employer that he/she cannot live without you."

College Commissioner Dr. Valerie Ramsey approached him after the student awards banquet and asked him what's next. "I had no idea I would be saying working for Dr. Booth in the office of the President," said Allen, who this fall began a part-time position while continuing his general education studies and earning a human resources certificate through Tri-County's Business and Public Services Division.  He plans to transfer to Anderson University next year.

A Starr native, Allen entered Tri-County after graduating from Crescent High School, where he served as class president his senior and sophomore years and as class treasurer during his junior year.  He was active in the Future Business Leaders of America club and in Boys State, which he considers "a lifelong commitment that simply cannot be described but has to be experienced."

"Once you are given an opportunity, you must give back in some way. In my new role, I plan to serve as a mentor to students and to engage with them and inspire them to be successful," he said.