MY CLEMSON: Eric Mac Lain ’15

 

during the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 6, 2015. (Photo by Jason E. Miczek, theACC.com)

Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C., Dec. 6, 2015. (Photo by Jason E. Miczek, theACC.com)

My name is Eric Mac Lain, and this past December, I became a Clemson alumnus. It was a day I thought would never come, but now that I am reflecting on it, I realize it happened in what seemed to be a blink of an eye.

My experiences at Clemson were second to none. I was very fortunate to have been a team captain during our special 2015 football season (14-1), losing only to Alabama in the National Championship. I graduated with a B.S. in health science and was able to start my master’s program in athletic leadership. This past fall, I had the honor of introducing Vice President Joe Biden when he spoke at Clemson.

More important than all of that, I found my future wife at Clemson. We met freshman year because she and my roommate were family friends, and I tagged along to a cookout. We became good friends and started dating two years later. So the phrase Clemson family is very real to me! Her father and other relatives went to Clemson, and both of our brothers now attend Clemson. It is safe to say that orange will run in our bloodlines for many years to come.

There is something special about Clemson that’s not true about every other University. As soon as we aren’t at Clemson or at least nearby, we miss it. I can attest to this because I have been away this spring training for the NFL, and cannot wait to be back in Tiger town.

I’m Eric Mac Lain and this is MY Clemson. CU soon!

You probably saw Eric Mac Lain during the coverage of the Orange Bowl and the National Championship as he was being interviewed by what seemed like every reporter in the country. Click on the photos below to see more about Eric’s life at Clemson.

Giving a hand up, not a hand out: Caroline Tyler Robertson ’97

Caroline Robertson_026From an early age, Caroline Robertson was a wallflower — so shy that even a teacher calling on her in high school riddled her with immediate panic. But these days, “no” isn’t even an option. A personal challenge she made to herself while at Clemson shaped Robertson into a strong-willed, determined nonprofit executive who fights tooth and nail for her clients to succeed and have the same opportunities she’s been afforded.

Since 2007, Robertson has headed up Greer Relief and Resources, making sure every can of corn feeds a hungry tummy and every monetary donation helps a family’s financial crisis.

“The legacy I’m leaving is one of fearlessness. I don’t say no to anything especially when it comes to outreach and publicity. Because I’m not just talking to someone who might just help us donor wise, but also need wise.
I want anyone who needs us to know they can get to us. In that respect we’re not afraid. We’re not afraid to ask for help. We’re not afraid to give help. We’re not afraid to say we need to give more and do more. It doesn’t take much,” she said.

In 2015, Greer Relief assisted 3,927 individuals in 1,564 households. In addition, 10+ days of food was given to 4,991 people in 1,906 households. Having the gumption to be an advocate for others started in college with a promise to no longer let shyness dominate the determined will that truly existed within her.

Each week Robertson made herself sit in the front of the class and raise her hand at least once. She also made herself take speech as a first-semester freshman. After freshman year she joined the national service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma and became the sorority’s public relations officer. She was a founding member and vice president of membership for Kappa Kappa Psi, a national honorary band fraternity.

By mid-college she was house manager for Tiger Paw Productions and organizing shows for James Taylor, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and Hootie and the Blowfish.

“I love Clemson,” she said. “Any other place, I don’t think would have created the Caroline I am today. I have been solid orange since I stepped on that campus on Aug. 23 of 1991 and I have not looked back.”

“There were times where it was questionable if I could even afford to go to school, but I wouldn’t take no for an answer and did whatever needed to be done. Now, I take that same attitude into Greer Relief,” she said.
“We do whatever we can do to help.”

Runnin’ Wild: Christy Belcher ’03

Christy Belcher_030AChristy Belcher wrapped her arms around the newborn giraffe much like she did a foal during her field training at Clemson. Belcher had arrived at the Greenville Zoo early Feb. 2 after receiving a 5 a.m. phone call. Initially, she ignored the call, thinking she was hitting snooze on her alarm. The phone rang again. She sprang awake, now realizing what was happening. The zoo’s female giraffe, Autumn, was giving birth to her third calf.

Adrenaline racing, Belcher hurried through the dark and fog to the downtown Greenville Zoo. When she arrived, Autumn was standing in her stall, in the early stages of labor. Tatu, a boy, was born at 6:16 a.m.

“Those few moments of watching for the baby to take its first breath seemed like an eternity to me,” Belcher said. “Once I saw it breathing I felt much better about it.”

Tatu was standing within an hour.

“We’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, but it’s well worth it,” Belcher said.

A 2003 graduate of Clemson’s Animal and Veterinary Sciences program, Belcher has been a veterinarian at the Greenville Zoo since 2009. An Easley native, she was always fond of animals. As a child, she would sneak turtles and snakes into her home against her mother’s wishes.

Belcher’s training with livestock on the research farms at Clemson would serve her well as she transitioned to a career working with the 350 exotic animals at the Greenville Zoo.

“The giraffes receive the same vaccines that we use in horses and cows,” she said. “The vaccine that my cat at home gets is the same rabies vaccine that our leopards and lions get.”

After Clemson, Belcher studied in the Caribbean and at North Carolina State University and Texas A&M University. At the Greenville Zoo, Belcher helped design the first Winter Zoo Vet Camp and collaborated with Clemson’s Animal and Veterinary Science department to design a pre-veterinary science summer internship eligible for college credit.

“Everyone asks me, ‘How do you know how to work on a giraffe?’ It really did start with my training and education at Clemson, just being out on the farms with the horses, with the cows, with the goats and the sheep,” Belcher said. “I like to tell people to always embrace the education [you] are getting at Clemson because you never know what that’s going to prepare you for.”

Marilyn-Thompson

Working with words: Marilyn Walser Thompson ’74

Marilyn Walser Thompson is no stranger to breaking news. From being the first reporter who revealed the existence of Strom Thurmond’s biracial daughter in 2003, to editing reporters’ pieces that went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, Thompson’s background with the major news players led her to being named a Joan Shorenstein fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

As one of eight annual recipients, she’ll research where tax dollars head when taxpayers donate money to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.

“It’s highly relevant because of the 2016 race. I’m looking at the financing for presidents put in place after the 1970s,” she said. “The pace of modern campaigning — and to be in an ultra competitive race – means this fund is no longer relevant [to candidates.] No one wants to use it because you have to agree to restrictions.”

Thompson’s fellowship and reporting will look into how candidates who have used the fund spent the money and if the fund should still exist.

“It’s an exciting challenge — and a frightening challenge — moving back into writing because I’m an editor, and I work on other people’s stories. Generating all the information through reporting, it’s a different skillset,” she said. “It’s a great step in anyone’s career to take a step back and say, ‘Can I do that?’ ‘Will I provide anything useful people want to read?’”

Thompson’s reportage started in The Tiger newsroom where she began by selling advertising before jumping to reporter and eventually becoming the managing editor.

“It was the ’70s and The Tiger was this scrappy, liberal, anti-war publication,” she said. “I was this meek little freshman. I was so happy to be at college because I didn’t think I would get to go. I remember vividly being really dressed up — in a dress and heels — and it was like nine flights of stairs to the top of the horrible dorm to get to The Tiger meeting. I get up there in my prissy dress and heels and it’s like a hippy haven. I looked like an idiot because I thought I actually had to dress up!”

Once she kicked the heels and changed her major to English, Thompson settled into the newsroom atmosphere for life. Her career has taken her from local coverage at The Greenville News to national politics with The Washington Post, Reuters and Politico.

“I do look at things differently than most people,” she said about her career. “That probably goes back to my childhood and the influence of my father — the counter-intuitive Archie Bunker type. He didn’t trust anything or anybody.”

Thompson’s fellowship research will be out this May, as well as featured in future Politico publishing.

Pottery perfection: Brent Pafford M’14

BrentPaford1BrentPafford_StudioShotGrowing up exposed to heirlooms on his family farm in Rock Hill gave Brent Pafford an appreciation for creative work that holds multi-generational significance.

“The objects I create are made to be used, enjoyed and imbued with memories of shared experiences,” Pafford said.

Pafford produces under the studio name Brent Pafford Ceramics and recently qualified as a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made contest, which honors creative entrepreneurs for their contributions to their field.

His pieces are made with the pinching wheel-thrown method which “allows the porcelain to capture, preserve and document the process of making,” Pafford explained.

Pafford collaborated with fellow Clemson MFA graduate Adrienne Lichliter and Chef Lindsey Byrd to produce “Southern Intentions: Prints, Pots and Provisions,” a series of dining events. He crafted the dinnerware used for the meal and displayed other work in a gallery.

“When I get to see [my work] utilized in the lives of others, it has to be the most exciting part of my job,” said Pafford.

Pafford participates in the national and international ceramic community through social media, blogs and publications. He attends the Council on Education for Ceramic Arts each year, where he contributes to national discussions and exhibitions.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Treading water doesn’t get you anywhere,” Pafford said.

To keep up with Pafford’s creative journey, go to his website at brentpafford.com.

Woodwalker excerpt, by Emily Benson Martin

WOODWALKER

PROLOGUE TO WOODWALKER

King Valien drummed his fingers on the rough table, the scars on his right hand shining pink against his copper skin.  Both he and the figure facing him were keeping their hoods up over their heads, and this extra covering coupled with the unsettling news he had just received were making his skin damp with sweat.  Before him, the only distinguishing characteristic the shadowed figure bore was a wrought silver band around one finger, set with a milky pearl.

“Are you sure?” the king pressed quietly.  The tavern buzzed with the ambient noise of townsfolk drinking away the day’s toils, but he could take no chances that he might be overheard.  If there hadn’t been a howling storm outside, he would have met his informant far out in the hills, away from sharp-eyed folk all too ready to report his surreptitious meeting back to his council.

“Positively,” replied his informant.  “I found them in Sunmarten.  All three.  Queen Mona Alastaire and her brothers.  My king, the royals of Lumen Lake are not dead as we assumed.  And it’s only a matter of time before our enemies find out as well.”

The king frowned, his fingers still restless.  This changed everything.  This threw every power in the eastern world into a startling unknown.  His own crown, so recently won, would be among the first to be affected.

“Well,” he said evenly, curling his fingers into a fist and staring at the hooded figure.  “We must do something about it.”

Read more about the Emily Benson Martin here.

Early Entrepreneur: Alex Skatell ’08

AlexSkatellBy age 10, Alex Skatell already had a knack for knowing his market. He convinced his dad to take him to Wal-Mart to buy 24-pack cubes of soda. From there he filled a rolling cooler with ice and the soda and went and sat on the smoldering hot corner near a halfway house and a golf course and just waited. The people came to him since he was selling soda for less than the local convenience store.

“I was doing so well that after a while [the convenience store] called the police on me. I was 10 or 11. I was really young. And they called the police on me to get me to move because they said I was taking their business,” Skatell laughed.

But he saw a need and anticipated it. Supply. Demand. Market-setting trends. He sees them.

Now, he’s anticipating the news, media and how stories will unfold and how people want to view, read, scroll or listen to their stories. Since his days on the corner, the construction science major has carried the same attitude into his ventures creating start-up Independent Journal Review and co-founding IMGE, a digital consulting firm. In the last year, Skatell was named to Forbes30 under 30” rising stars in media and was also named to Wired magazine’s “20 Tech Insiders Defining the 2016 Campaign.”

“I made a bet that I thought iPhones were going to change how we communicate with one another. … And I made a bet that Facebook … was going to change how news was distributed. So I didn’t just talk about it, I went about figuring out how this platform was going to do that and how could I best invest my time and energy into understanding this platform that would change how news was distributed,” he said.

This past fall Independent Journal Review played host to a Republican debate in New Hampshire along with ABC News by providing first-hand accounts from the candidates’ and viewers’ perspectives.

“So what our experience allowed to have happen was for everyone in America to have input in who’s up and who’s down during the debate. That’s what Americans are looking for in news. They expect the news not to tell them how to think, but show them what is happening and let them make their own decisions,” he said.

Skatell’s success looks like it happened overnight, but success and building two companies with 105 employees took a lot of rejection.

“Entrepreneurship is also just getting rejected and punched in the face nonstop. You really have to be a glutton for punishment,” he said. “You have a lot of people tell you no, and you have to make a lot of decisions that won’t go over well with a lot of people, but you know you have to be confident in your decisions and your vision. The barriers to entry for just anyone right now are so low. You don’t have to ask for permission.”

“I saw an opportunity,” he said. “There have been several times in my life where I’ve seen opportunities and I’ve leveraged just a very little amount of capital at my disposal and made big bets on whether or not those things would change an industry.”

Light of hope for beating cancer: Brittany Anne Avin ’15

Brittany Anne Avin

With the Capitol building as a backdrop, Brittany Avin and hundreds of volunteers placed 20,000 lights in paper bags — each representing a loved one who has battled cancer — and arranged them to spell out two words: “HOPE” and “CURE.” The most important words, though, were the handwritten messages of compassion and support that decorated 
each bag.

This breathtaking display is a staple of the annual “Lights of Hope” ceremony held in Washington D.C. As the event’s emcee, Avin gave voice to the 750 cancer patients, survivors and volunteers from across the country who attended the event. In addition to honoring those whose lives have been affected by cancer, the ceremony urges Congress to take specific steps to make cancer treatment and research a national priority.

Avin’s determination to make a difference began at Clemson, where she took on an ambitious genetics and biochemistry major. Her impressive academic accomplishments earned her an invitation to the prestigious National Scholars Program, and when she wasn’t studying, she spent her summers participating in undergraduate cancer research programs at Emory University and Vanderbilt University.

Avin was chosen to lead the national event based on her involvement with Clemson’s “Relay for Life” event as a student and her continued commitment to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) as an alumna.

At the ceremony, Avin spoke from her heart, but also from her experience. She was diagnosed with cancer at age 13.

Avin is going beyond advocating for legislative reform as one of 14.5 million cancer survivors living in the United States today. She is currently studying at Johns Hopkins University with hopes to become a cancer researcher.

“Research helped make a difference for me when I was 13 years old,” she said. “It is critical that our lawmakers do everything possible to ensure progress toward treatments is not impeded for those who are receiving a cancer diagnosis today or in the future.