Psychology, political science dual major receives highest honor for undergraduates

Dylan Erikson was in his room playing the drums when his phone lit up. He saw the email subject line: Notice of Selection, and thought, “Oh, this must be for a job interview.”

It was anything but. He opened the email and read it over and over again.

Erikson is the recipient of the Norris Medal, the highest honor an undergraduate student can receive. The Norris Medal was established in the will of D.K. Norris, a Clemson trustee, and is awarded to one graduating senior who exemplifies the best qualities in a Clemson scholar.

Though Erikson didn’t expect to finish his senior year from his apartment in Clemson, he said the email about the Norris Medal was a bright spot during an unusual semester.

“It was a really great moment during a period that’s been difficult. For me in that moment, I reflected on my own Clemson experience and all the incredible opportunities I’ve had and the people I’ve met,” Erikson said. “ It’s an honor to know all those things I’ve done for the last four years meant something to this University.”

Erikson has completed degrees in both psychology and political science, and has plans to go to law school and work in the criminal justice system. During his time at Clemson, Erikson accomplished many things and didn’t pass up many opportunities to learn, which led to his receiving the medal. Erickson was involved in undergraduate research, the Dixon Global Policy Scholars Program, the Calhoun Honors College and National Scholars Program.

During his undergraduate experience, Erikson had the opportunity to travel to South Africa through the National Scholars Program.
During his undergraduate experience, Erikson had the opportunity to travel to South Africa.

Erikson said the National Scholars Program played a significant role in his Clemson experience. He studied abroad in South Africa and traveled to Alaska and Spain during Maymesters and made long-lasting relationships with peers and professors.

“First coming to Clemson knowing almost no one, I quickly became close to other students in NSP freshman year,” Erikson said. “After four years of learning, traveling and growing alongside my National Scholars cohort, the program allowed me to form friendships and mentorships with professors that will last the rest of my life.”

Erikson was also the co-president for Clemson’s UNICEF chapter and served for three years with UNICEF USA, advocating in Congress for funding and legislation to benefit needy children. He was a member of Clemson’s It’s On Us chapter and the Clemson College Democrats. Erikson served as a mentor for younger Honors students and also served on the Honors Student Advisory Board and on the Calhoun Honors College Committee. He worked as an UPIC intern and as a student assistant with the National Scholars Program. Last summer, he interned in the Office of the Counselor to the Chief Justice at the U.S. Supreme Court, where he prepared judicial news summaries and conducted background research for briefings given to special groups visiting the Court.

“Being at the Court that delivered some of the most impactful opinions of the term further inspired me to pursue a career in law and working closely with staff in the Counselor’s Office helped confirm that such a career was for me,” Erikson said.

Erikson said his professors’ support and encouragement contributed to his success at Clemson. Jeffrey Fine, an associate professor in the Political Science Department, mentored Erikson in the Honors College and the Dixon Global Policy Scholars Program. Fine even wrote a nomination letter for Erikson for the Norris Medal. Fine said he’s proud of Erikson’s accomplishments and all the work he has done for Clemson.

“His academic acumen is matched by a steadfast commitment to social justice,” Fine said. “He is the model of a well-rounded student who has made Clemson a better place than he found it.”

Erikson participated in several research opportunities with Psychology professors June Pilcher and Heidi Zinzow.
Erikson participated in several research opportunities with Psychology professors June Pilcher and Heidi Zinzow.

Erikson also participated in research opportunities because he deemed it important to learn skills that only research could sharpen. Through research since spring 2018 with June Pilcher, an Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology, he said he learned critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which he considers invaluable to his career path.

Pilcher said Erikson developed a complex project to examine the relationships between sleep, exercise and body mass index. He also became a leader and mentor to younger students on Pilcher’s research team. She said that on the behalf of the Department of Psychology, she was proud of his accomplishments and this medal.

“Dylan is an outstanding example of our Clemson students and is so deserving of this recognition from the University,” Pilcher said.

Through his classes, faculty support and extracurricular programs, he found his passion for mental health, law and the criminal justice system– a different career path then he initially planned for.

When Erikson came to Clemson, he thought he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. He was interested in suicide prevention and got involved with the suicide prevention Creative Inquiry class with Heidi Zinzow, an associate professor of psychology. But with the election coming up in 2016, he became interested in a different line of research.

“Politics were in the air, and I just became really interested in that, so I added a degree in political science,” Erikson said.

Through his political science classes and psychology classes, he began combining his passions for mental health and the criminal justice system and realized that he wanted to make policy changes to help those with mental health issues have better experiences in the criminal justice system.

“As I learned more about mental health and constitutional law, the connection just clicked,” Erikson said. “Learning how the criminal justice and the legal system worked, I began to wonder if it was just and equitable for individuals experiencing mental health illnesses.”

Erikson took advantage of many opportunities for him to get involved in his community, including advocating for UNICEF.
Erikson took advantage of many opportunities for him to get involved in his community, including advocating for UNICEF.

While at Clemson he had the chance to dive into this line of research. Through the Dixon Global Policy Scholars Program, he got the chance to develop a policy for law enforcement to help improve interactions with those who suffer from mental illness. This academic project made him even more keen to go to law school.

But, with a busy senior year and the COVID-19 crisis, he’s put law school on hold as he can’t visit the campuses, which he said is extremely important to him.

When he came to Clemson as a senior in high school and walked across the gardens and saw the library from across the pond, he knew that this was the university for him.

“Visiting Clemson was so important to making my college decision, so it’s definitely something I want to take time to do for graduate school,” he said.

While he’s waiting for the all-clear to visit law schools, he hopes to complete impactful work and confirm his career choice before he goes to graduate school. He’s applying to think tanks that deal with policy and legal issues as well as academic research programs and paralegal jobs.

Though his interest in careers has changed in the past four years, his goal has not.

“I want to be able to impact my community for the better,” Erikson said.