Nat Bradford eased his pickup into a parking space at Moe Joe Coffee. He stepped out, straightening into a lanky, lean-faced guy in work-worn jeans and shirt, logoed visor and Blundstone boots, looking like what he is: a son of the soil. He had something for me.
Bradford dropped the tailgate, leaned in and wrapped his arms around his family’s past and future.
It was a watermelon the size of a toddler. Dark green, slightly ribbed along its oblong flanks, weighing about 30 pounds, a classic Bradford watermelon.
“This is for you,” said Bradford. “If I picked right, this will be the sweetest, best-tasting watermelon you have ever eaten.”
That night, my wife and I had watermelon for supper. We had to eat half of it just to get the rest into the refrigerator. The sweetness was superb, but it was the flavor that won out. The melon tasted like the watermelons I ate when I was a kid in the ’50s. That is the Bradford signature — a flavor of memories.
Big watermelons, big dreams
The Bradfords have been growing their watermelons for more than 170 years. In all those years, it’s doubtful they made enough from their melons to buy a new truck. Most of the melons were given away to friends and neighbors in Sumter, where the sandy soil is well suited for a melon patch.
Others did make money. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Bradford melons were sold commercially, as was seed to gardeners. Along came melons that were easier to grow, store and ship, pushing the big green melons back to family patches cared for by seed keepers who passed on their know-how and best seeds from generation to generation.
Bradford is the eighth generation in his line to take up the hoe. This time there’s more at stake than a good harvest. Bradford is sowing the seeds for his family’s future. He’s also determined that the Bradford watermelon will help to make the world a better place for thirsty people.
With two year’s experience growing melons part-time, the Bradfords are making a move. This summer, Nat and Bette Bradford and their five children will resettle from Seneca to Sumter. They are returning to the Bradford family farm to grow a life on 12 acres. They will raise watermelons and other crops sustainably, without irrigation and chemicals. They will sell some fresh watermelons and use the rest to make watermelon rind pickles, watermelon molasses and distilled spirits. Seeds from the best melons will be saved.
Money from fresh market sales will support Watermelons for Water. In its third year, the family’s foundation helps people in need of clean, dependable water. A project the Bradfords fund in Tanzania is well underway.
It’s a big dream, but Bradford watermelons are big melons.
Hanging on by a tendril
By the 1850s, the Bradford watermelon had developed a reputation for sweetness and for its edible rind. The crisp meat of the melon, ranging from pale pink to deep red imbedded with white seeds, was a sugary treat to eat fresh. The high-sugar content also made it a favorite for making watermelon molasses. A thin white rind, which turns translucent amber in cooking, made delicious watermelon pickles. “They are very nice and will keep for two years,” writes Maria Massey Barringer, in Dixie Cookery, or How I Managed My Table for Twelve Years: A Practical Cook-Book for Southern Housekeepers.
A melon of such quality did not just appear. It was the offspring of good stock and careful breeding. Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford was part of agrarian bloom in the South. Farmer-experimenters shared seeds and sought to raise fruits, grains and vegetables that were both hardy and flavorful.
Agricultural societies, such as the Pendleton Farmers Society to which Thomas Green Clemson belonged, published journals detailing their efforts and observations. Nurseries offered catalogs of their stock. More than simple inventories, nurserymen described and critiqued plants.
The research made its way to the marketplace. The Bradford became a late-season market melon sold throughout the South. It was a popular melon, but flawed in the eyes of truck-produce shippers who sought to expand their sales to other regions. Breeders developed “boxcar melons” with “rhino-rinds” that made them tough enough to be stacked nine high without crushing. The bowling ball watermelons lumped in cartons at grocery stores are the latest varieties bred more for commerce than flavor.
The Bradford withered in popularity. Once grown in seven states, by 1925 it was grown only in South Carolina, where it hung on by a tendril. One of our nation’s founding watermelons would have been lost had it not been for one man.
Fathers and sons, and coming full circle
Nobody knows how he came to be called “Chief,” the man who was Nat Bradford’s great grandfather, Linwood Bonneau Bradford. “I’ve known about him from family stories, but I did not meet him,” says Bradford. Family stories tend to deal with family doings — births, deaths, marriages, vacations — and not about growing watermelons. Fortunately, someone wrote about Chief and his watermelons.
Clemson Extension agent Jim Eleazer turned out to be a skilled writer, having a book published, 50 Years Along the Roadside. For 25 years before World War II, Eleazer was the Sumter County agent, where he became friends with Chief, who grew his late-season watermelons as a hobby.
“Others couldn’t do much with late melons,” Eleazer wrote. “Diseases would get ’em. But Chief had been mixing and selecting his melons for years, and had gotten one with considerable resistance to late ills.”
The rest of Eleazer’s story dwells on Chief’s generosity, filling the agent’s car with watermelons. But for Nat Bradford, the few sentences about his great-grandfather being a seedsman would become a guiding principle for his own approach to growing plants.
Chief’s son Theron — Nat’s grandfather — would play another part. He would teach young hands to fulfill the dream.
“I called him ‘Paa Paa,’” says Bradford, who loved to work with his grandfather. They would plant and tend the vegetables and flowers. Nat, more than his four siblings, took to gardening. He soaked up what Paa Paa knew about making things grow.The Bradford principles rest on abiding with natural forces, caring for the land and observing a divine plan for abundance.
Nat, the one with the “green gene,” as his family calls a gift for growing, learned to plant at least a mile away from neighboring melons, to prevent cross-pollination. Save seeds from the very best melons, preserving growth traits. Don’t irrigate or apply chemicals; instead cultivate plants suited to local conditions. Care for the soil, and the soil will care for you.
Paa Paa’s son — Nat Bradford’s father — left the farm to become a doctor. When he returned he moved his family to the city of Sumter. A dermatologist, Dr. Bradford’s connection to farming was treating the consequences — cutting away skin cancers from sun-rayed hands, arms, cheeks and necks. His children, like so many others, moved farther away from farm communities. Nat, a solid student and able athlete, went off to college, looking for a future. He did not know it yet, but he would come full circle.
Landscape architecture and love
“I tried a couple of majors, and then I took a course in horticulture, and I knew this is what I wanted to do,” says Bradford. “I was made for rowing and set my sights on the Olympics.”
While his dream of going for the gold faded, romance bloomed.
“My friends said he liked me,” says Bette Ritchie Bradford ’97. “I knew about him as the guy who always talked about his family’s watermelons.”
Before they could begin their lives together, Bradford had his degree to complete.
Majoring in landscape architecture, Bradford had an internship at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. There, he worked on his senior exit paper.
“I wanted to do it on the Bradford watermelons,” says Bradford. “I knew about Chief — we had Jim Eleazer’s book — but I didn’t know for sure much more.”
The gardens had a collection of old horticulture journals and catalogs. Bradford came across a document from the 1860s. It stunned him.
It was a vegetable critique, listing best choices for home gardens for that period. Bradford looked for watermelons. He found his name.
“Oh my gosh, I said to myself,” remembers Bradford “Could it be the same Bradford watermelon? What was the connection? Why didn’t we hear about this in the family growing up?”
Bradford began searching for more information. He hit a dead end.
“This was before Google,” says Bradford. “I couldn’t get online and see if there was some connection there or not.”
Life goes on, ready or not. Bette and Nat married. They started a family and Eco Art, a landscape design and installation business.
Twelve years passed. Meanwhile, Google blinked awake, ready to answer a world of questions.
In 2012 Bradford went to a sustainable agriculture conference in Greenville, reviving his quest. Was the watermelon mentioned in the 1860s the same one that his family had been growing?
“I knew in my heart of hearts it was, and now I had Google,” says Bradford. He didn’t find the answer. But he found someone who did.
David Shields, a professor at the University of South Carolina, is an international expert on Southern food history, particularly agriculture journals, catalogs, cookbooks and seed lists.
“He had his own list of vegetables that shaped the food waves of America and, in particular, in the Southeast,” says Bradford. “I figured this guy must know something, and so I sent him an email and introduced myself.”
Bradford hit the send key after midnight. When he woke he had mail.
“I had an email waiting for me at nine in the morning with this big, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve been looking for this watermelon for the past 10 years,’” recalls Bradford.
Shields knew the heritage of the Bradford melon, providing new information. “He had every one of my forefathers mentioned, and who had handed down to who (sic). I didn’t even have that information. It was really cool.”Bradford learned his family watermelon was dropped from sight in 1922, when an Augusta, Georgia, seed company stopped carrying the seed.
“I know our family never shared in any of the commercial success of the watermelon because it was always kept local,” says Bradford. “The seeds had spread, migrated north and then lost appeal.”
Shields wanted to know from Bradford one thing — the only thing that mattered. Were there any Bradford watermelon seeds?
Bradford had some, but he would need seed from other years to blend the genetics for top quality melons. He went to Sumter to search where Paa Paa may have saved the seed.
“I went back to his old house that winter and found where he was keeping his seeds. It was the last of our Bradford watermelon seeds other than the ones that I’d been keeping for the last 20 or so years. He saved those from 1990 to ’93, and that’s really when I took over to breed and keep the line going.”
Summer 2013, Bradford planted two small plots, one in Sumter, the other in Seneca. He couldn’t have picked a worse year. It was one of the wettest years on record. Vegetables rotted in fields. Gov. Nikki Haley declared a disaster for growers. Bradford was nervous, but he trusted in the ways passed on to him.
“We plant 12 seeds in a hill,” says Bradford. “Then when they first sprout up, we thin them down to about five or six of the strongest plants, and then from there we thin them down to two per hill. It sounds wasteful, but what we did, in effect, is we selected naturally for the two strongest plants, per hill, for a cold, wet summer in South Carolina. That’s something that modern agriculture doesn’t account for, doesn’t take into account in their food model. But it works. We had over 100-percent yield, 465 watermelons out of 440 plants, which was tremendous.”
Delighted by the abundant harvest, Shields expected to see South Carolina’s heritage watermelon return to markets and kitchens. Bradford, unfortunately, had made other plans for the melons. They were bound for a distiller in Alabama.
Shields is devoted to restoring the crops and foods that nourished and flavored the South, especially the South Carolina Lowcountry. There is hardly a Charleston chef who hasn’t consulted Shields on vegetables, grains and meats of the Carolina Rice Kitchen, the cooking and ingredients of coastal Carolina. Shields called a friend who could save the watermelons from leaving South Carolina.
The friend, founder-owner of Anson Mills, has restored the good name of flavorful and nutritious grits and revived Carolina Gold rice, a dietary and economic staple of the coast until rice cultivation collapsed in the Carolinas. Glenn Roberts persuaded Bradford that there was a far better destination than Alabama.
Bradford hauled a trailer carrying 300 melons to the Holy City. Fifty of the melons — their seeds to be saved — went to McCrady’s, Chef Sean Brock’s highly rated restaurant in Charleston. Bradford still gets a kick out of the photo where the chefs and staff stacked the melons on the stairs to the kitchen. The pulp was boiled down to make watermelon molasses, the rind made into pickles.
The rest of the melons, selling for $20 apiece, sold out immediately.
Chef Forrest Parker drove from Greenville to buy Bradfords. In a comment connected to a digital news story about the melons, Parker raved: “I brought the first of these up to High Cotton Greenville from Charleston this morning. We tasted with the team this afternoon, and they were, in a word, revelatory. Completely fantastic. We all just sat there giggling like little kids. Just fantastic.”
Praise from chefs will help spread the word about Bradford melons. The local foods and farm-to-table trend continues to grow. Still, fresh watermelons sales are a seasonal and risky moneymaker.
Until they’re settled in Sumter, Bradford will continue his landscaping business. Like with most family farms, a job in town is essential to make ends meet. The goal is to go all in.
To have that happen, Nat and Bette Bradford will use the whole melon — from rind to seed.
The first of the Bradford family product line is watermelon-rind pickles. Other items soon will be available, including molasses and vinegar. Recently, High Wire Distillery in Charleston made a batch of watermelon brandy. Diversifying, Bradford collards will find a spot on the family farm. Other heritage produce is sure to follow.
“Here, a gift,” says Bradford, handing me a quart Mason jar of watermelon-rind pickles when I visited.
Grateful for the generosity, I counter with cash. Bette folds the money and nods thanks.
There are no sustainable farms without sustainable farmers.
Peter Kent is a news editor and writer for Clemson’s Public Service Activities.
Luke Yoder ’94, director of field operations for the San Diego Padres, is a behind-the-scenes star.
On a hot July day in 2011, Luke Yoder was watering the infield dirt to keep the dust down — as he does before every home game — when a grounds crew member caught his eye. The man was gesturing frantically, pointing at a mound of turf that was rising, alien-like, near the left field line. Yoder dropped his hose and ran over to it. It was 3:15 p.m. The game was due to start at 3:35.
On reaching the spot, he saw that the bubble, now two-feet high, was surrounded by an 8-by-4-foot square of wet turf, and when he bent down and touched the area, it rippled like a water bed. It was now 3:20 p.m. The stands were filled with spectators and the team was warming up.
Yoder ran and shut off the water main to stop the pressure from building. “Then I switched into surgical mode, snatched a knife and made a four-inch cut in the bubble. Water immediately gushed out,” Yoder recalls. It was 3:25. As the groundskeeper reached into the hole to determine its depth, his arm sunk up to his shoulder. “I grabbed four bags of Diamond Dry, a drying agent that’s like kitty litter, and filled the hole with it,” he says.
Yoder prepared to tell the umpires to delay the game. If that happened, it would make the news on ESPN, and even though the problem with the turf wasn’t his fault, Yoder’s bosses would not be happy. Even more important, the area could be a safety hazard. A player stepping into a 3-foot hole could be badly injured.
With six minutes until game time, Yoder stood for the national anthem. Then he tamped down the Diamond Dry, checked that it was packed solid, and breathed a sigh of relief as he hurried off the field. This was definitely not a typical day at work.
The Genesis of a Career
As a kid, Yoder never thought he’d end up working for a ballpark. The summer of his junior year in high school, on a family visit to his grandfather’s farm in Ohio, an uncle took him to the elite country club where he worked as golf course superintendent. “I was amazed at how meticulously the fairways were maintained. They looked like carpets,” Yoder says. He had a lawn cutting business at the time, and his uncle was the one who suggested that the teen study horticulture because he knew his nephew liked being outside. Yoder decided to study horticultural turfgrass management at Clemson.
Because he wasn’t sure he’d get in, he and his parents were thrilled when he got accepted. Between the biochemistry and physiology, the coursework didn’t come easy, he admits. But with discipline, his GPA rose every semester.
Yoder worked for a golf course his first three summers during college, and during the year he worked at the turfgrass research plots on campus, which gave him a chance to apply what he learned in class. “I assumed I’d work on golf courses, like most students in my major at the time, but my adviser suggested I try sports turf, or athletic turf management, to make sure I wouldn’t be missing anything,” he says. As it turned out, the summer before he graduated in December 1994, he worked for the Greenville Braves and fell in love with ballparks.
His first job was as head groundskeeper with the Sioux City Explorers in Iowa. Then he moved to the Iowa Cubs, followed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, which proved to him that sports turf could be a viable career. He’s been with the Padres for almost 12 years.
A Perfect Match
Turfgrass management requires knowledge of both art and science; the former, for the design and aesthetics of both the grassy areas and the dirt, or skinned areas, and the latter, because of diseases and insects that can affect the grass and plants. The Clemson alumnus gained his artistic skills on the job and his scientific knowledge from his college classes like plant pathology and ornamental plant diseases.
Ask him his favorite part of the job, and he rattles off a litany of favorite tasks instead. Being outside every day. The smell of fresh-cut grass. Getting his hands dirty. Traveling to the Padres’ minor league fields, which takes him to places such as El Paso, Texas, and the Dominican Republic. “Just showing up to the ballpark every day is something a million people would love to do, and it never gets old. I get to work on, be in charge of and mold the biggest parcel of natural grass in downtown San Diego. It’s like a canvas for our artwork,” he explains.
The Home-Field Advantage
Baseball has more of a home-field advantage than other sports, Yoder maintains, because aspects of the field can be manipulated to give a team a leg up. “Take the grass,” he says. A football or soccer field is all grass; it doesn’t make much difference how high you cut it. But if you cut a baseball field one quarter of an inch higher or lower, it affects how far the ball will roll into the infield and favors different pitchers or hitters.
Then there are the skinned areas, Yoder continues. In baseball, 70 percent of the field is played on these areas, so you might make the area in front of home plate extremely soft if you have a sinker-ball pitcher on your team. Since batters will be more likely to hit ground balls, that can help with getting an easy out. Or, if you have a batter up against a sinker-ball pitcher on the other team, you could make the area hard so your team has the advantage.
Yoder may not wear a Padres uniform, but he says that “to be able to work with the players and give them an edge” makes him feel part of the team. And the team, in turn, would likely describe him as a most valuable player.
Yoder, whose family is from Greenville, may live on the opposite side of the country now, but he tries to get home for at least one Clemson football game a year. If there’s one thing he has taken with him, it’s his Clemson pride. His sister and two brothers also attended Clemson, and if his math is correct, he calculates that for 16 years straight there was a Yoder attending the University.
Pat Olsen is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Photos by San Diego Padres
“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”
— Aldo Leopold
I suppose I’m one of those folks who can’t live without wild things. Neither am I one who takes a burnt orange and northwest purpling October sunset or the joy of walking through the riotous kaleidoscope of leaf-turning in the Clemson Forest for granted.
No, I consider myself among those fortunate in understanding that a better life for all lies in the appreciation and care for “… things natural, wild and free.” As Leopold eloquently paints the opening strokes of his masterpiece, A Sand County Almanac, it quickly becomes clear that a care and love for nature establishes the foundations for what we now know as “The Land Ethic.”
This ethic is essentially a way of living such that we consider ourselves a part of nature and morally bound to steward it for its own sake and the sustenance of future generations. I think that ethic is at the core of who we are — and should be — as sons and daughters of Dear Old Clemson.
My home place
I grew up in the backwoods of Edgefield, South Carolina. Only about a two-hour drive south of Clemson, the two places are inextricably linked beyond the personal history that has so shaped my life. Two of the men prominent in the University’s establishment — John C. Calhoun and Benjamin Tillman — hail from my home place. However, growing up I didn’t have any clue that I would somehow find my way to the place formerly known as Fort Hill. My focus coming up as a feral farm boy meant that jumping puddles, climbing trees, skipping stones and wandering in the woods took priority over things like history.
My family’s time on the 200-acre farm nestled in the middle of the Long Cane Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest was taken up with more important things. There were cattle and hogs and chickens to care for. There were crops to be planted. There were forests to be tended for lumber and firewood. There were fields to be plowed and harrowed for hay. There were gurgling creeks to be fished and always it seemed some fallible fence to be mended. There were three television stations — sometimes — and no video games.
Most distractions were born of something beyond the technical “out there.” Our mother and father — both science teachers — nurtured us in the midst of the naturing to appreciate where our food came from. The system of gardens and cow-keeping and spring-fed plumbing meant that relatively little of what kept us alive came from outside the acreage we owned. A strong land ethic — a love for it all — meant survival for the Lanham family.
Years later and 100 miles or so northward I found myself at Clemson in the untimely wake of my father’s sudden death. As a middle schooler, I learned of Clemson’s exploits on the football field and made the choice it seems most South Carolinians have to make at some point between going to school in Columbia or finding a place in Pickens County. Clemson was close enough to home, and I could support our mother and the farm with just a short trip home.
With the ties to Edgefield still strong and a preference for a tiger’s paw over a rooster crowing, I found the shadow of the Blue Ridge and a campus swaddled in green more to my liking. Years of watching the sunset burnish the sky in the school’s colors instilled in me that deeply infused “something” that makes the Upstate such a special place. Some might even call the “something in these hills” a love for the land.
Coming into the present I find that all those years of woods wandering haven’t disappeared. In fact I’m one of those fortunate enough to call my career and personal passion by the same name — conservation. What’s more, I live in the midst of an incredible place where nature won’t be ignored. Just a few miles up the road, Chattooga whitewater, born just minutes ago of an early morning rain, tumbles over boulders that count their ages in millions of years. The Blue Ridge escarpment’s deeply incised gorges and rich forest-cloaked coves seem more tropical than temperate as they abut the Pickens piedmont.
This is where Clemson can boast about its own natural superlatives. It’s here in our own backyard that an extraordinary place like the Clemson Experimental Forest gives us the chance to practice the love and care for land.
The Clemson Experimental Forest is almost 20,000 acres of land reclaimed from the past two centuries’ abuses of cotton-farming and subsequent erosive soil loss. As Clemson gained momentum as a leading Southern land-grant university in the 1930s — the worst of times — there were those who envisioned better for the farmed-out lands surrounding Fort Hill. When Congress ceded the land and its care to what was then Clemson Agricultural College through the federally provisioned Bankhead Jones Farm Tenant Act, a living laboratory for land ethic was born. At the same time that Aldo Leopold was creating the science of wildlife management and fortifying the foundations of what would become the Land Ethic, trees were being planted, gullies filled and streams cleared to make good again what carelessness had made bad.
I’ve seen the old aerial photos of what the college inherited. It was more moonscape than anything. With gullies gashing the land and few trees to be seen, it seemed a hopeless place. But then caring stewardship came in the way of science-based management, research and outreach that made the land-grant mission live in loblolly pines and soil-saving practices. Wildness began to return to the land as white-tailed deer and wild turkeys once again found refuge in a place where boll weevils were more likely to be found than wildlife. As the wounds healed and the land recovered, it has become a showpiece for what hope and care — and love — can do for wildness.
In its northern extreme around Lake Issaqueena, the forest is more mountain than piedmont in character. Scarlet tanagers set the hardwoods aflame in spring, and black bear find a safe travel corridor to the lower piedmont. The streams run cold enough for massive black-bellied salamanders, and entomologists find six-legged things dwelling in the riffles that speak to the ecosystem’s stellar health.
The southern expanse of forest — most of which is in the region locally known as “Fant’s Grove,” with its wide-open pastures, well-managed forests and winding wetlands — blends into an agrarian landscape that represents tried and true piedmont. Over all the 18,000-plus acres, sustainable timbering practices pay the way as bikers, hikers, birdwatchers, hunters and horseback riders make the forest their place, too.
A place that wraps its wooded arms around me
I remember my first visits to the Clemson Experimental Forest when I re-found my wild heart as a zoology undergraduate. It was a new and wonderful world in which to wander. My nature-loving friends and I would marvel over the wetlands. We walked under tulip poplars that towered above us and soaked in the birdsong at dawn and frog chorus at dusk. We mucked knee-deep into newly made beaver marsh, turned stones in Wildcat Creek, spying on salamanders, and looked skyward to watch broad-winged hawks soaring above it all. I’ve sat in vain on a spring morning waiting for a woods-wary wild turkey to come to my call on Bombing Range Road and sat high in a stand on Fant’s Grove hoping a white-tail buck would make a mistake.
In those wanderings I’ve often felt more like a child than a college student or professor. Edgefield was my nurturing paradise, the wild place that set the stage for what was to come. Some 30 years since I left that home place and made the northwest corner of the state home, I’m in a place that wraps its wooded arms around me.
As I take students afield into the special places to see how it’s all woven and working together — forests, fields, streams, swamps, creeks, rivers, lakes — I think of Aldo Leopold and his maxim of conservation being a “…state of harmony between men and land.” It’s easy then for me to link that to the mission that tasks us with playing the music tunefully and dancing in time to what nature would demand.
As I wander along a forest trail on a brisk fall day — a storm of red and gold leaves raining down around me — I think of all that this was, has become and will be. I love this place as I know so many others do, too.
Land ethic is the land-grant mission. And all of it is about love.
Drew Lanham is Distinguished Alumni professor of wildlife ecology in the School of Agricultural, Forest and Environmental Sciences.
Photos by Ashley Jones.
Lanham provides feast for thought about the nature of birding in the United States. He recited this powerful and evocative poem at the first Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding Conference at John Heinz NWR on October 22, 2011.
Every spring, Clemson recognizes a select number of extraordinary alumni. And this year is no different. Five men have been nominated and selected by their peers using three areas of evaluation: enhancing Clemson’s value for future generations, serving both in the professional and public realm, and serving as a model for present and future students through personal accomplishments.
These are no ordinary alumni. And because of that, they have been designated as recipients of the 2015 Distinguished Service Award.
When Gerald Glenn was still a student in civil engineering at Clemson, he was offered a position with Daniel Construction, which merged with Fluor. An integral part of the team that designed the structure of Fluor Daniel, he rose to group president and later became the chair, president and CEO of Chicago Bridge & Iron, one of the world’s largest construction companies. After early retirement in 1994, he started his own consulting company, The Glenn Group.
Glenn serves on the board of directors of Houston’s CHI-St. Luke’s Hospital and United Way. He stays involved with Clemson, recruiting students from The Woodlands area and supporting the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering, named in his honor.
A member of the Clemson University Foundation Board, he is a founding partner of the Barker Scholars Endowment and a major supporter of IPTAY.
Personal discipline and the mentorship of one of his closest friends, Dean Walter Cox, helped Normal Pulliam achieve his degree in industrial management. A job at Owens Corning Fiberglass and an MBA from Harvard Business School followed. After a position at Sonoco Products, Pulliam founded Pulliam Investment Company and Pulliam Enterprises, as well as First National Bank of the South in Spartanburg.
Pulliam has served on the board of commissioners of the S.C. School for the Deaf and Blind, and has been president of the Spartanburg Boys’ Home and currently serves on the board of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.
A faithful Clemson supporter, Pulliam provided the endowment and initial funding for Clemson’s Master’s of Real Estate Development, is the namesake of the Norman F. Pulliam Founders Award and was responsible for the development of the Walter T. Cox Scholarship.
Gregg Morton believes Clemson prepared him for life — it taught him discipline and to always be prepared. After graduating in administrative management in 1978, he worked his way up at Southern Bell to become president of AT&T Southeastern region, managing state governmental and external affairs.
Morton has served on and chaired the executive committee and legislative task force of the S.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education and the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville.
A mentor for students in the College of Business and Behavioral Sciences, Morton is a past member of the Clemson University Foundation Board. He has supported Clemson Athletics both financially and by mentoring football players through the new Tigerhood Program. He has secured more than $1 million in gifts and contributions from AT&T for the University, including donations for the AT&T Auditorium at the CU-ICAR campus.
Charles Mickel credits his Clemson education for his success — from graduating with a degree in industrial management to earning an MBA from the University of South Carolina to his professional career.
After serving as vice president for U.S. Shelter Corporation, which
was acquired by Insignia Financial Group, Mickel founded Capital Deployment LLC, which manages commercial real estate and private equity investments.
Mickel volunteers with the Daniel-Mickel Foundation, dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all people in the Greenville community. President of the Museum Association board and of the 2014-2015 Artisphere festival, he serves on the Christ Church Episcopal School Board of Visitors and with the Community Foundation of Greenville.
Mickel was the president of the Clemson Real Estate Foundation, served on the Board of Visitors and the Clemson University Foundation Board, and was integral in the development of the CU-ICAR project in Greenville.
A member of the 1980 basketball team that advanced to the Elite 8, Bobby Conrad graduated with a degree in history. He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia, then carved out a legal career that took him from South Carolina to Washington, D.C.
Conrad was selected by Attorney General Janet Reno as chief of her Campaign Financing Task Force in 2000. That year he became the first lawyer to question under oath in the same week a seated U.S. president and vice president (Clinton and Gore). In 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him as U.S. Attorney for Western North Carolina, and in 2005, he was confirmed by the Senate to a position as U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of North Carolina.
Conrad is an adjunct professor at Wake Forest School of Law, a trustee at Belmont Abbey College and on the faculty of the Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia.
A member of Clemson’s Athletic Hall of Fame and Letterwinners Association board of directors, Conrad serves as a mentor for pre-law students.
One jellyfish fires projectiles from a sunken airplane, and another retaliates with a blast from a ship’s canon.
What caused all the fuss?
A jar of peanut butter that had fallen off a boat and drifted to the coral reef below.
The animated short, “Peanut Butter Jelly,” showcases the increasing sophistication coming out of a Clemson program that mimics a real-world animation studio. It also shines a light on the School of Computing’s growing influence in the movie industry.
Graduates are winning top honors, including an Academy Award as recently as February. They are learning from professors who have worked their computer magic on feature films ranging from “Happy Feet” to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
“Peanut Butter Jelly” takes about one minute to watch, but it’s the result of a year’s work by 26 students, said Alex Beaty, the student writer and director.
The film’s producer, Jerry Tessendorf, racked up credits in several movies, including “Happy Feet” and “Superman Returns,” before becoming a professor of visual computing at Clemson.
While Tessendorf provided some guidance on “Peanut Butter Jelly,” he described it as an “all-student production.”“This is very close to what is done in feature films,” he said. “The ability to do this kind of work is rare in academics.”
“Peanut Butter Jelly” illustrates the growing technical ability of students in Digital Production Arts, a program in Clemson’s School of Computing. Students learn the skills needed to work in the animation, visual-effects and electronic-games industries.
Beaty, who recently received his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in the program, said 14 graduate students worked on the film in artistic roles and 12 undergraduates worked in supporting roles. Tessendorf and Joshua Tomlinson, who is also a faculty member, supported their efforts.
“What excites me most is the number of people who came together to make this,” Beaty said. “We’re not paying them, and they’re putting in large amounts of time. It all came from passion, and that represents why we’re all here in the DPA program — not to be on screen but because we all love making movies.”
One of the strongest ties between Clemson and Hollywood is Tessendorf. He shared in a 2008 Technical Achievement Award from the Academy with Jeroen Molemaker and Michael Kowalski while at Rhythm & Hues Studios. They developed a system that is still used in film and allows artists to create realistic animation of liquids and gases.
Beaty, who aspires to direct movies, said he decided to write and direct “Peanut Butter Jelly” after participating in an intensive summer program at Clemson with professionals from DreamWorks.
“They said if you’re interested in layout you need to have some sort of film that you direct,” Beaty said. “That’s the role of layout — it’s really close to a directorial role. As soon as I heard that, I said, ‘Ok, I’ve got to make my own film.’”
The DreamWorks program was a success and will be back this summer, Tessendorf said.
“It’s a very intense 10 weeks during the summer,” he said. “We choose a few students. They are volunteers because they have to commit to working 100 hours a week in the studio with DreamWorks mentors. The goal is to produce professional-quality work, not just student-quality films.”
The School of Computing’s Digital Production Arts program offers both an undergraduate minor and an MFA. Currently, 30 graduate students are enrolled in the MFA program.
Two School of Computing alumni were recognized last year for their work on the Academy Award-winning film, “Frozen.”
Jay Steele, who received a Ph.D. in computer graphics, received a film credit in the area of animation technology. Marc Bryant, a Digital Production Arts graduate, was part of the animation team that received an award from the Visual Effects Society for outstanding FX in the segment called “Elsa’s Storm.”
Digital Production Arts’ co-founder, Robert Geist, who had a credit in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” remains a professor in the School of Computing and currently serves as interim director of the DPA program.
“Our graduates are doing some of the highest-level visual effects in the world,” Geist said. “For them, the sky is the limit.”
Paul Alongi is a technical and feature writer for the College of Engineering and Science.
Education changed everything for Eugene T. Moore School of Education founding Dean George J. Petersen and his family. Now, he is ready to do the same for children and families throughout South Carolina — and beyond.
As founding dean of Clemson’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education, you would expect me to say glowing things about the role of education in the lives of individuals, families, communities and societies.
You would be correct, but not just because I have spent my adult life studying, teaching and serving in the education field.
It’s because education literally changed my life.In the 1960s, my mother was a single parent to three young children — my two younger sisters and me. Divorced and without a high school diploma, she had worked as a migrant farm worker, hotel maid and seamstress in California.
At times, when things got hard, we would live a week or two in a hotel room or the home of a family member or friend. Eventually, we went on to rent a home in East Los Angeles — a small place, but one all our own.
Faced with few options, Mom decided to go back to school. I was too young to comprehend the reasons at the time, but I came to understand that she wanted a better life for herself and for us, and that she wanted the sense of pride and accomplishment that came with pursuing an education.
So pursue she did. She always loved children, so she ran a day care, keeping 16 kids in our home during the day, and at night, she went back to school. First, she got her GED, and then she earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona. At age 40, with her credential in hand, she became a kindergarten teacher.
And our lives were never the same.
But beyond the career success that came to her and her children, Mom achieved the immeasurable accomplishment of standing on her own two feet and doing what she wanted to do for her family. She was able, in a sense, to command her own destiny.
That’s what education provides.
We often think of education as a formal process, a throughput to learn particular things and achieve a particular degree or credential. That formal process is valuable, and my education colleagues and I work hard to prepare students to shape that process in meaningful ways.
But I like to define education a little more broadly. In its best and broadest sense, education is the exposure to different ideas, different habits, different cultures, different thought processes and different disciplines. It happens in PK-12 schools, colleges, internships, apprenticeships, military training, technical education and professional development. It happens across kitchen tables, in conference rooms, on athletic fields and in ordinary conversations. At its best, education is the practice of learning and growing — and a process that never ends.
The pursuit of education enhances a person’s capacity and dignity. Education develops who you are, how you relate to other people and how you make decisions in a complex, integrated world. It also shapes how you see yourself. It did for my mother, for my sisters and me, and for everyone who actively engages with education.
The mission of educators — teachers, counselors, administrators, all of us — is to enhance the intellectual, emotional and social capacity of people. As that takes place, not only individuals but also entire families and communities are transformed.
Because of Mom’s experience, it wasn’t a question of whether or not we would go to college; it was an expectation. And that expectation was handed down to my two sons, who are both college graduates. My older son is teaching for Teach for America at a Title 1 school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and my younger son is following his dream of being a major league baseball player, having been drafted by the Los Angeles Angels after graduating. The capacity of the Petersen family is forever changed because of the actions of my Mom.
The impact of education is also seen in communities. Research shows that there is a significant relationship between the educational level of a community and other factors such as economic status, the quality of schools and public services, and crime rates. When individuals are educated, the capacity of their communities is also enhanced. Education is the game changer.
That reality is one of the reasons I traveled across the country to become founding dean of the Eugene T. Moore School of Education. An important part of our mission is to partner with underserved schools and communities in South Carolina to create sustainable, thoughtful methods for enhancing capacity. We have a very generous benefactor who shares this vision, along with alumni, donors and friends who recognize the need for quality education in communities where capacity may be limited due to location, poverty, violence, economics or other factors. Our faculty, staff and students realize that through their abilities, they play a vital role in shaping South Carolina’s educational future.
I am excited to be a part of the Clemson family, one that embraces educational excellence and is dedicated to making a difference in the Palmetto State, the nation and the world. Clemson has the people, ability and focus to move the needle in a positive direction as it relates to education — from pre-K through college and in communities, here and everywhere. I am looking forward to a continued partnership with my colleagues to engage that work.
As we do that, more children will have a life-changing experience and the opportunity for immeasurable accomplishments through education, just like Mom.
Astrophysicist Sean Brittain straddles two worlds
Sean Brittain has used some of the world’s most powerful telescopes to study the chaos swirling around a young star about 335 light years from Earth. Huge chunks of rock are slamming together to form what could be the first planets of a budding solar system.
Back home in Clemson, Brittain deals with a different kind of chaos each Tuesday and Thursday night during soccer season. He coaches a team of youths, ages 7-9.
“We’re working on passing the ball,” the father of three said with an easygoing smile.
Brittain’s feet are on Earth, but his eyes are often on the night sky. He led an international team of scientists that discovered evidence strongly suggesting a planet is orbiting a star known as HD100546. The team reported its findings in The Astrophysical Journal. News outlets around the globe covered the discovery in at least four different languages.
The planet would be at least three times the size of Jupiter, so there would be plenty of real estate. But if you’re looking to relocate, don’t book your ticket on the USS Enterprise just yet. The planet would be an uninhabitable gas giant. And even if you traveled at the speed of light, it would take more than four lifetimes to get there.
Astronomers are interested in the solar system for a different reason.
The work that Brittain’s team did built on previous research by a team that found a collapsing blob of gas and dust could condense into a planet in about one million years. That means astronomers believe they have found not one but two “candidate planets” orbiting HD100546.
Taken together, the findings could mark the first time astronomers have been able to directly observe multiple planets forming in sequence. It’s something astronomers have long believed happens but have never been able to see.
Other solar systems that astronomers have observed are either fully developed or too far away to see in the kind of detail that HD100546 offers.
“This system is very close to Earth, relative to other disk systems,” Brittain said. “We’re able to study it at a level of detail that you can’t do with more distant stars. This is the first system where we’ve been able to do this.
“Once we really understand what’s going on, the tools that we are developing can then be applied to a larger number of systems that are more distant and harder to see.”
AROUND THE CLOCK, AROUND THE WORLD
In one recent all-nighter, Brittain logged on to a video conferencing website to work with two collaborators, one in Tucson and one in Berkeley. The telescope they used was at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
The patchwork of faces on his screen looked like something out of “Star Trek,” Brittain said.
The team worked from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m. Clemson time, and then Brittain headed for the classroom.
“You finish observing, and you still have to teach class,” he said. “Your day job doesn’t get pushed aside.”
Brittain has the opportunity to observe the stars about four times a year. He collaborates with researchers all over the world, so conferences calls can be early in the morning.
“There’s no time of day when it’s 9-to-5 for everybody,” he said.
Brittain made three trips to Chile as far back as 2006 to gather data for the research he did on HD100546. He used telescopes at the Gemini Observatory and the European Southern Observatory.
Northern Chile is one of a few places in the world just right for high-powered telescopes, Brittain said. The weather is predictable, the skies are usually clear and the political climate is stable.
Each time Brittain went to Chile, he flew from Atlanta to Santiago, where he would spend the night. Then he would take another flight to Antofagasta, where he would catch a two-hour ride to the observatory. The city quickly gave way to a desert landscape, he said.
“It’s like being on Tatooine,” Brittain said, referring to the desert planet from “Star Wars.” “There’s no vegetation. It’s sand and rock, a really bleak landscape.”
AN ASTROPHYSICIST BY CHANCE
Brittain grew up watching “Star Wars,” but he isn’t a serious sci-fi fan. And he wasn’t the kind of kid who grew up gazing at the stars through a telescope in his backyard every night.
Brittain fell into astronomy after receiving his bachelor of science in chemical physics from LeTourneau University in Texas. He headed to Notre Dame to study the foundations of quantum mechanics but found that the adviser he wanted was retiring and not accepting new graduate students.
Brittain soon found another professor who was doing research into the organic chemistry of comets.
It seemed to be a fit considering Brittain’s chemistry background. Even better, the professor did some of his research at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.
“Here I am in South Bend, Indiana, where it’s cold and gray, and here was an opportunity to go to Hawaii,” Brittain said.
Brittain has spun the opportunity into a successful career. He received his Ph.D. in 2004 and became a NASA-funded Michelson postdoctoral fellow at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Brittain came to Clemson two years later with his wife, Beth, and their children, Olivia and Sam. They have since added a third child, Charlotte.
MEASURING SMALL CHANGES TO DETECT GALACTIC EVENTS
Brittain’s chemistry background helped get him an early start on using high-resolution spectroscopy to study the formation of stars and planets. It was a relatively new technique early in his career, he said, and has played a major role in his research on HD100546.
The technique enabled the team to measure small changes in the position of the carbon monoxide emission. A source of excess carbon monoxide emission was detected that appears to vary in position and velocity. The varying position and velocity are consistent with orbital motion around the star.
The favored hypothesis is that emission comes from a circumplanetary disk of gas orbiting a giant planet, Brittain said.
“Another possibility is that we’re seeing the wake from tidal interactions between the object and the circumstellar disk of gas and dust orbiting the star,” he said.
Brittain served as lead author on The Astrophysical Journal article. Co-authors were John S. Carr of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.; Joan R. Najita of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona; and Sascha P. Quanz and Michael R. Meyer, both of ETH Zurich Institute for Astronomy.
Mark Leising, the chair of Clemson’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, said Brittain’s work will raise the department’s international profile.
“I congratulate Dr. Brittain and his team on their excellent work,” Leising said. “Astronomers are now very good at finding already formed planets around many nearby stars, but it has been difficult to watch the planets in the process of forming.
“Using very clever techniques and the most advanced telescopes on Earth, they have accomplished that. It’s great to see our faculty working with leading institutions around the world to make discoveries at the forefront of astronomy.”
Brittain said he is looking forward to observing the solar system using more advanced telescopes, including the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in 2018 and the 30-meter telescopes that could be ready as early as 2022.
If there’s any similarity between Brittain’s research in space and his coaching on Earth, it’s that both take teamwork to be successful, he said. “No one is the boss, but every-one is working toward a common goal,” Brittain said.
You can read more about Brittain’s research at the following links:
Listen to the MISTERs sing “One MISTER”:
Providing positive role models in classrooms and communities
TEACHING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL was not the future that Daniel Spencer ’09 envisioned as a high school senior in Swansea, South Carolina. With two brothers having dropped out of high school (one of whom served prison time) and parents who didn’t go to college, postsecondary education wasn’t even on his radar — even though he was in the top 10 percent of his graduating class.
Fortunately, he decided at the last minute to apply to Coastal Carolina University and chose elementary education as his major.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Spencer said. “I thought, ‘Well, I passed elementary school. I should be able to teach it!’”
When Spencer’s English professor learned about his major, he told him about Call Me MISTER®, a program started at Clemson to encourage and place African-American male teachers in South Carolina’s public elementary school classrooms. He advised Spencer to transfer to Clemson to be a part of the program. The rest, he says, is history.
“From the first day, Call Me MISTER changed what I thought would be easy into a lifetime challenge of working with people and shaping the lives of youth,” Spencer said.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
This was a challenge observed 15 years ago by Clemson University as well as Benedict College, Claflin University and Morris College, three historically black institutions in the state.
“We found that there were more black men in jail than were sleeping in the dormitories of the colleges in our state,” said Roy Jones, Call Me MISTER director and a faculty member at Clemson’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education. “There were more black men in prisons than were teaching in our state, especially in elementary education. That we saw as a problem.”
And, Jones added, in a state that is one-third African-American and where young black males were being expelled, referred to discipline and dropping out of school at higher rates than any gender or ethnic group, fewer than one percent of the state’s teaching workforce were African-American males.
Leaders at the four institutions saw a connection between those figures. They determined that if you could increase the number of African-American males in the classroom, perhaps there would be more avenues for understanding and tackling the challenges that confront young black boys during their formative years.
“We got together and said, ‘We can do something about this,’” Jones said.
And Call Me MISTER was born.
Clemson — along with Benedict, Claflin and Morris — started Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) in 2000. Clemson provided fundraising and program support, while the remaining three colleges carried out the program on their campuses.
Housed in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson, Call Me MISTER combines teacher education with co-curricular programs such as retreats, seminars, academic support, mentoring, a summer institute, internships and volunteer opportunities. Participants, known as MISTERs, also live and study together as cohorts and receive tuition assistance through loan forgiveness programs as well as help with job placement.
Since its inception, the program has grown to 19 colleges/universities in South Carolina, including Clemson and Coastal Carolina. That number also includes several two-year community and technical colleges, a move made to provide greater opportunity and access to the program.
As a result of these efforts, there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of African-American males teaching in South Carolina’s public elementary schools. Of the 150 students who have completed the Call Me MISTER program in the Palmetto State, 100 percent of them remain in the education field.
Understanding that the issue is not South Carolina’s alone — that nationally, the number of male teachers is at a 40-year low, and that African-American males comprise less than 2 percent of the teaching workforce — Call Me MISTER has expanded to include 13 colleges in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia and the District of Columbia. Including graduates and current students, approximately 425 participants are in the program nationwide.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Since the program’s inception, Call Me MISTER leaders have found that its purpose is being fulfilled: more African-American males are entering elementary classrooms and more African-American children — especially boys — are seeing them as positive role models.
“There’s no doubt about what it means for so many kids to see an African-American male in a position of authority where he is also nurturing, where he is also loving and where he is also mentoring,” said Winston Holton, who leads Clemson’s Call Me MISTER cohort. “Our MISTERs are filling an important void.”
But the program is doing something more — it is exacting a powerful personal influence that transcends race, gender and socioeconomics.
“I believe that Call Me MISTER is making up the difference between what’s not happening in our homes, schools and communities and what needs to happen — and that is the fostering of healthy relationships,” Holton said.
“We don’t have healthy relationships across too many lines,” Holton continued. “You see this playing out every day in schools and playgrounds across South Carolina — and in teacher’s lounges, in businesses, in families, in neighborhoods, everywhere.”
From day one, Call Me MISTER encourages — even requires — its students to pursue healthy relationships, Holton said. Through an intentional yet organic process, MISTERs learn to understand and articulate their life stories and hear each other’s stories with empathy and understanding — and this skill makes all the difference when they enter the classroom and community as teachers.
“The result is that MISTERs have the capacity to empathize with their students, parents, fellow teachers and community members just as they, themselves, have experienced empathy,” Holton said. “They are able to see through the differences, even the maladies, and really see another’s humanity. That’s how learning happens and how students, schools and communities are elevated.”
“It’s all about relationships,” Holton summarized.
I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Countless young people have been influenced by their relationships with Daniel Spencer, including his niece and nephew, the children of his formerly incarcerated brother.
“I was trying to help raise them, and I realized through Call Me MISTER that I wasn’t teaching them; I was just telling them what to do,” Spencer said. “Listening to the MISTERs and learning from them taught me that I can do things differently — and that I can make a difference.”
Spencer’s niece and nephew, now ages 15 and 16, live with him in Seneca — happily adjusted and involved in school and community activities.
Spencer is also making a difference in his classroom at Blue Ridge Elementary, a Title 1 school with a high percentage of children from low-income families. He meets with each child individually and sets goals for the year, based not only on test scores but also the child’s own aspirations. And he holds them accountable to those goals, meeting with them throughout the year.
“I get to know all the kids and strive to meet everyone where they are,” Spencer said. “But I’ve gotten past the ‘I’m here for them to like me’ thing because at the end of the day, I know that they are going to love me — because they respect me, and they know I believe in them.”
What results from this exchange of respect, caring and expectation is academic progress. “The kids are exceeding their own expectations, which translates into authentic learning,” Spencer said.
SPIRIT OF HOPE FOR CHANGE
It is clear that authentic learning is needed for South Carolina’s children. The Palmetto State ranks 43rd in education, according to the 2014 Kids Count Profile, with 72 percent of South Carolina’s fourth graders lacking proficiency in reading, and 69 percent of eighth graders identified as below proficiency in math. Twenty-eight percent of high school students aren’t graduating on time, if at all.
The same report ranks South Carolina 44th in economic well-being and child health — both factors that affect children’s performance in school.
The statistics grow more dire in underserved schools and communities, where employment and other opportunities have increasingly diminished, says Roy Jones.
With these factors in mind, Jones and his colleagues focus on recruiting MISTERs from underserved areas and encouraging them to return to their communities or others with similar challenges.
“Call Me MISTER teachers are at the cutting edge of a new crusade — to ensure quality education in underserved areas by creating a pool of talented teachers who are fiercely loyal to their schools and communities,” Jones said. “Such teachers embody the spirit of hope for change.”
I WANT TO SEE THESE KIDS GROW UP
“Fiercely loyal” could be used to describe Daniel Spencer. Since he started his career at Blue Ridge, he has been offered many opportunities to teach in other school districts, but he is dedicated to remaining at the school and in the community where he has served as a volunteer since his days as a Clemson student.
“The first kids I mentored when they were in the fourth grade are now in the 11th grade,” he said. “I want to see these kids grow up.”
In addition to teaching, Spencer coaches high school basketball and middle school football in Seneca, attends his students’ extracurricular activities, holds free basketball clinics and workouts at Blue Ridge during the summer, and takes students to events such as Clemson’s spring football scrimmage, which many of them have never attended even though they live less than 10 miles away. When he greets former students or players in the grocery store or at school events, they avoid him if their grades aren’t up to par, because they know he’ll ask. “I love being there and talking to the kids because the more they see positive people and consistently have positive people talking to them, the better they are going to do,” he said.
THE INTANGIBLE ‘MORE’
What is it about Call Me MISTER that inspires such dedication and selflessness? If you talk to anyone associated with the program, you’ll find that it’s because it’s more than a program — it’s a lifestyle, a way of being.
The intangible “more” begins with the name of the program. The brainchild of Call Me MISTER founding director Tom Parks, the name is not only an acronym but also a tribute to a famous line by Virgil Tibbs (played by Sidney Poitier) in the 1967 movie “In the Heat of the Night.”
While investigating a murder investigation in a small Mississippi town, Tibbs, an African-American detective from Philadelphia, is asked by the racist sheriff what people in his hometown police force call him. With dignity and assertiveness, Tibbs responds, “They call me ‘Mister Tibbs!’”
It is a line that inspires, even demands, respect.
Respect is a cornerstone of Call Me MISTER, one that is seen as MISTERs receive the program’s signature black blazer upon graduation — and in the way MISTERs refer to each other as “Mister” in formal Call Me MISTER settings.
“Ultimately, our hope is for each MISTER to be self-assured and know himself, and to appreciate and understand the value of building relationships across traditional lines,” Holton said.
Other Call Me MISTER foundational concepts include ambassadorship, stewardship, personal growth and teacher efficacy. “And all of these things together pour into the most important tenet, servant-leadership,” which Holton describes as “living for more than yourself.”
Perhaps no one embodies servant-leadership more than Jeff Davis, former field director for Call Me MISTER, current assistant athletic director of football player relations, and 2001 recipient of Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life award.
All MISTERs continue to be challenged each time they recite the vision statement Davis penned, which includes the line, “A title is only important if one’s character and integrity dictate its use.”
The single MISTER who rises to that challenge most valiantly receives the Jeff Davis Spirit Award, one of the most coveted honors bestowed annually upon a MISTER.
According to Clemson junior Michael Miller, a MISTER from Orangeburg and 2014 recipient of the Jeff Davis Spirit Award, servant-leadership has been the key to his Call Me MISTER education.
“My viewpoint about education has changed from ‘What can I tell you or dictate to you?’ to ‘What can I do for you?’” he said.
“I want to be an educator rather than a teacher,” he continued. “A teacher delivers content, and that is important. The word ‘educator’ comes from the Latin word educe, which means to draw from within. That’s what I try to do with my students — to pull out what is already within them. Call Me MISTER has taught me how to do that.”
Melanie Kieve is the public information director for the College of Health, Education, and Human Development and the Eugene T. Moore School of Education.
To learn more about Call Me MISTER director Roy Jones, click here.