Skip to main content
Student Success

No Fear

Samantha Steffanus is about to graduate from NC State with two degrees and five years of incredible experiences under her belt. What keeps her reaching for such great heights?

Samantha Steffanus

Samantha Steffanus has never been afraid to go outside her comfort zone. For instance, before she had even enrolled as an NC State student, she was already a business owner. Another time, she took a bad campus tour experience and turned it into a job.

It’s safe to say that without her “no fear” mantra, her five years with the Wolfpack wouldn’t have been the same. Across that time, she scaled her business, became an award-winning public speaker and earned three impactful scholarships. Now, she is set to graduate with a double major in business administration and psychology, a minor in Latin classical studies and a heart set on changing the world.

As she puts the finishing touches on an incredible college career marked with failures, yes, but also with many achievements, an unquenchable desire to make these years count — sprinkled with a genuine love for her (almost) alma mater — has been the motivating force.

Falling in Love with the Wolfpack

When Steffanus first came to NC State for a campus tour, the experience was … underwhelming. Unfortunately, she said, the guide who led her tour group acted the opposite of glowing and enthusiastic.

Luckily for her, she was accompanied by her mom — an alumna from the class of 2000. The two snuck away from the group to embark on a more enlightening private tour. She never let the less-than-ideal experience with the student tour guide sour her on NC State. Instead, she was driven to become a University Ambassador so she could become a tour guide herself.

“I wanted to be [a] University Ambassador so people could see NC State through my eyes,” Steffanus said.

Steffanus worked with NC State Student Centers for three years, eventually becoming a building manager. “I met my best friends there.” Photo courtesy of Samantha Steffanus.

When she wasn’t leading groups around campus, Steffanus worked as a building manager at Talley Student Union, played flute in the NC State symphonic band, worked as an academic support center tutor for Wolfpack student-athletes and made time for two internships, both procured through the NC State Career Fair.

“College is what you make it, and that is 100 percent what has happened with me at NC State,” Steffanus said. “I have fallen in love with the university.”

A Business Owner at Fourteen

In 2015 tragedy struck the Steffanus family. Samantha’s infant cousin’s lung collapsed shortly after birth. Because she grew up in such a tight-knit family where many extended members lived around the greater Triangle area, she remembers regularly visiting her cousin at UNC Children’s Hospital and, later, at a local Ronald McDonald House Charities facility as he recovered.

Soon after that first visit, without so much as a nudge, Steffanus was off to the races looking for ways to offer help. She started by collecting items around her home that her cousin’s family needed, eventually branching out to collecting items for other families in the same hall at the Ronald McDonald House. Before long, she had started a neighborhood collection drive.

Steffanus not only maintained her small business, Simple Essentials, throughout her time as a student, she also utilized faculty and classmates to scale it. Photo courtesy of Samantha Steffanus.

In high school, she really kicked things into gear. Steffanus can still vividly picture the day she organized her first school-wide donation drive. Nervous, unsure of how her classmates would respond, she was amazed to walk into a classroom filled corner to corner with donations.

So began Samantha’s foray into being a small business owner. Two or three times a year, she and her brother, Rylan, round up donations for the Ronald McDonald Houses of Orange, Wake and Durham counties. When they started, they found that the most-requested items tended to be things like stuffed animals, blankies, and birthday cake candles — simple, yet essential, items. They decided to name their business just that, Simple Essentials

Since 2015, the sibling duo has donated north of $10,000 worth of items.

The Role Scholarships Played

Steffanus always knew she wanted to study business and entrepreneurship. She was inspired by her father’s career in pharmaceutical sales and from an early age showed a love for thinking outside the box.

“As a kid I had a knack for creative thinking,” Steffanus said. “I was the kid who didn’t play dress up and stuff, I was building roller coasters. I was doing Lincoln Logs. And when I played Barbies, I made Barbie movies.”

When it came time to declare a major, choosing the Poole College of Management to pursue business with a concentration in entrepreneurship was a no-brainer. Creativity was where she shone the brightest.

What did surprise her, though, was the experience she had fulfilling a general education requirement. Soon after she enrolled in a personality psychology course in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, it became obvious she had discovered a new passion. She gave her mom a call to tell her of a change in plans; she was going to declare a psychology major.

“She’s like, ‘you’ve taken one class,’” Steffanus said with a laugh. “I said, ‘I know, but when you know, you know. … if I get to do two things that I love, let’s do it.’”

A meeting with her academic advisor revealed that with a fifth undergrad year and some summer classes, she could complete the two degrees. There was one glaring issue though: How would she pay for it?

“I don’t have the money,” Steffanus said, remembering her thought process. “I can’t afford that, and I can’t afford summer classes … I’m taking 16-18 credit hours while working 30 hours as a student. I can’t afford it. I was about to drop it. And then I got the scholarship renewal.”

Photo courtesy of Samantha Steffanus.

That renewal was for the CHASS Dean’s Scholarship, a merit-based competitive scholarship she had received once already. That support, combined with previously receiving the Southeastern Gas Association/Edward R. Ruggles Scholarship, proved instrumental in lessening the burden of paying for her education. 

Those gifts granted her the freedom and opportunity to say yes to both majors, something she believes will be deeply beneficial post-graduation.

“It was really cool seeing how they go hand in hand and how psychology is really influential in entrepreneurship,” Steffanus said. “At first glance, I’ve had interviewers ask why those two because they don’t seem to go together, but they truly do … If you’re wanting to start [a business] from scratch, the first thing you gotta do is understand people.”

Overcoming Failure to Win Big

Every fall, NC State Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosts its annual entrepreneurship festival: Entrepalooza. Steffanus had always wanted to be one of the 10 students chosen for “Minute to Pitch It,” a competition where participants get one minute to present a homespun invention to a panel of judges.

Previous failures to get a spot on stage had been discouraging, but with professors and advisors helping her refine both her idea and pitch, she decided to try out one last time. Much to her excitement, she was chosen as one of the 10 finalists to present on the big day.

“Never did I think I was going to win.”

When competition day arrived, Steffanus remembers getting up on stage, full of nerves, and looking into the audience.

“Seeing my brother and my mom out in the crowd, I was like, ‘OK, I got this,’” Steffanus said. “And I pitched and I was proud of myself. To me, that was what I needed to do. I just wanted to get on stage, I wanted to pitch … never did I think I was going to win.”

She had pitched the idea of Simple Spoon, an adaptive spoon designed to help people with special needs and stroke victims feed themselves. The moment she stood on stage awaiting the judges’ verdict was a moment she won’t soon forget. With heart racing, she was shocked to hear her name and invention announced as the judges’ choice winner. She couldn’t stop smiling. Her prize was $2,500.

“[Afterward] I met with one of the judges and he said, ‘Hey, I made something just like you’re trying to do. Keep pushing. Go talk to more people, go talk to some really big donors, take that impossible step,’” Steffanus said. “Getting encouragement from more people around here, it was an experience I will never forget.”

Steffanus has explored 3D modeling her Simple Spoon concept in the NC State University Libraries Makerspace. Photo courtesy of Samantha Steffanus.

In terms of what’s next for Steffanus, graduate school is certainly in the picture. In the meantime, she plans to follow her dad’s footsteps into pharmaceutical sales, something she feels well prepared for with her dual degrees.

“I always tell people, if you’re gonna sell something, sell something that matters. I love science. I like selling, and it kinda gets the two of them together,” Steffanus said.

When she looks back at everything she accomplished across those five years, Steffanus is quick to give credit to amazing faculty support — something she believes is an underutilized resource — plus an attitude that never allowed fear to keep her from trying again.

“I failed a lot, I’ve been rejected a lot,” Steffanus said. “What scares me more than failure is the fear of what if. What if I didn’t go up and do it? … You only live the season of your life that you’re in once, so you gotta make the best of it. If you do it and you fail, at least you’ll never be left wondering.”

This post was originally published in Giving News.