samamtha petrelli and dalton stalvey at the great wall of china

Class of 2020: Dalton Stalvey

Chemical engineering major explored love for travel during college

Loris, South Carolina, native Dalton Stalvey loves his home state, but when it came time for college, he looked forward to exploring new horizons. He got his wish through the South Carolina Honors College, which he attended on a Palmetto Fellows scholarship.

And just in case Columbia wasn’t far enough from Mom and Dad, Mom and Dad moved to McKinney, Texas, the same week he moved into the Honors Residence Hall in Columbia.

“They had all their stuff packed up, I had all my stuff packed up, and they dropped me off on campus, then just kept on driving the rest of the way,” he says. ”I wanted to spend a little more time in the state, and I also wanted to move away from home, so it all worked out!”

Stalvey spent his holidays throughout college at his parents’ home in Texas — and he’s riding out the pandemic there now — but the itch to see new places only grew as the chemical engineering major pursued his degree.

I had never studied the language, but the trip was amazing ... I had so many great experiences — I got to see Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall — and everywhere we went everyone was just so friendly.

Dalton Stalvey, chemical engineering graduate

One of his fondest memories, he says, was visiting China with his friend Samantha Petrelli during winter break senior year. The trip was sponsored by the Confucius Institute, which is a collaboration between UofSC’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Beijing Language and Culture University and the Chinese Ministry of Education.

“I like to explore cultures as different as possible from my own,” he explains “So my friend called me one morning and said, ‘Hey, there’s a trip sponsored by the Confucius Institute, and all you have to do is buy airfare. It’s two weeks. Do you want to go?’”

Despite no prior knowledge of Mandarin, Stalvey didn’t hesitate. He gave himself a crash course in basic phrases on the flight over and otherwise depended on the kindness of the Chinese people.

“I had never studied the language, but the trip was amazing,” he says. “The food was Chinese, but it wasn’t ‘Chinese,’ and I had so many great experiences — I got to see Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall — and everywhere we went everyone was just so friendly. If they spoke English, they wanted to speak English with you.”

The timing was another matter, though. Stalvey arrived in China just before the COVID-19 pandemic started to heat up, and got out just before the virus exploded.

“It was crazy that happened when it did,” he says. “The trip went from December 27 to January 9, and everything really started to get bad in January in China. It was a very close call.”

And then he had another close call just a couple of months later, when he embarked on a Caribbean cruise during spring break. The ship was docked in a port when he was finally able to check his email and saw a flurry of messages concerning the possible closure of campus.

As a resident mentor, he had responsibilities beyond the standard college student.

“I had to go through about a hundred emails — a lot of them about how all the RMs had to be back the next day,” he says. “And then the next day, when I got back to the U.S., everything was different. I hung out with some people in Florida for a couple of weeks until we finally learned we weren’t coming back at all.”

Instead of returning to Columbia, Stalvey finished the semester from his parents’ place in Texas and turned in his honors thesis during the last week of online classes. He also continued to fulfill his duties as an RM, a role he enjoyed for three consecutive years at Patterson Hall.

“Every week, I had a Zoom call where I invited all my residents to come chat with each other,” he says. “I would give them information about the status of the university and just check in to make sure everybody was doing OK, to make sure they were keeping up with their classes and studying. It wasn’t nearly as much support as we provided when everyone was still on campus, but we stayed in touch.”

Now, Stalvey is reflecting on his many adventures at Carolina. He looks forward to a career in chemical engineering — he completed a co-op program with an engineering company in Charlotte his junior year and calls that experience “his second favorite experience after the China trip” —  but he also hopes he can continue to indulge his wanderlust.

In fact, prior to the pandemic, Stalvey was preparing to go to Africa with the Peace Corps.

“I was actually supposed to leave for Cameroon in a little less than a month, but the Peace Corps has suspended all operations until at least October, and maybe even later,” he says. “So I’m looking for jobs again. If I don’t find anything, and if things improve, hopefully I’ll leave for Cameroon in the fall.”

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