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.

Baseball’s been very good to him: Brian DeWine ’02

Brian DeWine

From an early age, Brian DeWine was destined to be in baseball. The Ohio native and 2002 Clemson University marketing graduate ate, slept and breathed baseball growing up near Cincinnati, home of the Reds. “Our family dinner conversations centered around baseball. It was such a part of our lives, and attending Reds games, which were 60 minutes from home, was something my brothers and sisters and I did regularly.”

After the DeWine family sold its Ohio-based international seed business, they ventured into baseball, purchasing the minor league Asheville (N.C.) Tourists in 2010. Stepping in as president and a co-owner was a natural move for Brian, now in his sixth year at the helm of the Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

“It was a dream come true,” said DeWine, who is the only family member with an active role in the ball club. “The game is in our blood, and we take great pride in creating a family-friendly atmosphere that helps improve the quality of life in our community.”

As president of the team, DeWine is responsible for everything but the players, which falls on the major league club. So, providing a facility (McCormick Field) for them to play in and putting fans in the seats are his primary business responsibilities.

“One of the biggest changes we’ve made is in the atmosphere of fans’ experiences at McCormick Field. We started Saturday games earlier for families with younger children, added eat-free nights for very young fans, jersey nights and other promotions, but also significantly improved the quality and variety of food,” said DeWine.

His Clemson education helps him every day on the job, DeWine said. “It was really a plus getting a marketing degree that had an emphasis in sports, yet it took me through business school. Basic econ and accounting have really helped me in understanding our accountant’s language and reports.”

As for the future, DeWine said this is his dream job, and he doesn’t see an end date. “I’m doing what I love, and as we look to the future, it will be all about improving the fan experience. There’s a lot of competition for our audience’s free time, and we have to make every one of their visits unforgettable.”

Impacting Others: Laneika Mattress Musalini M ’11

Laneika Musalini

Laneika Musalini has committed her life to transforming the lives of others through servant leadership.

In 2009, Musalini founded the nonprofit organization, Women’s Empowerment Inc., which has positively affected over 1,400 women since its inception. The program aims to empower women through support, education and networking; additionally, it promotes the well-being of women and encourages positive female role models in communities. Musalini also serves with Accept. Inspire. Minister., and Young Professionals of Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce.

“If I can change the life of one person, if I can make a difference in the world, if my works lead another to grace, my life is not in vain,” Musalini said.

A graduate of Clemson’s Human Resource Development master’s program, Musalini also works full time as director of grants at Tri-County Technical College. There, she strategizes proposal development, seeks out funding opportunities and creates industry partnerships.

“I have worked and collaborated with some really great people who share the same goal I do: building the workforce and strengthening the economy,” Musalini said.

Musalini’s hometown of Anderson has taken notice of her, too. This past summer, she received the ATHENA Young Professional Award®. This accolade honors an upcoming leader committed to achieving personal and professional accomplishments, devoting efforts to community and serving as a role model for young women.

“I have come to realize that my life is not about me, but about the impact that I have on others,” says Musalini.

Musalini and her husband, Wadud, live in Anderson with her four children, one of whom entered Clemson fall 2015 as a Gates Millennium Scholar.

“My family is so much fun! We are Tiger fanatics and have no bias. As long as it is a Tiger sport, we are cheering!”

Connecting fans, rivals and brands: Meredith L. Starkey ’99

A portrait of Meredith Starkey in Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 26, 2014. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

A portrait of Meredith Starkey in Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 26, 2014. Photo by Ackerman + Gruber

During her undergraduate years at Clemson, Meredith Starkey couldn’t escape sports — not that she wanted to. She didn’t simply attend athletic events, she owned them — dancing in the east endzone with the Rally Cats and tossing orange T-shirts to fans in Littlejohn Coliseum. Whenever she wasn’t on the field, she excelled in her marketing courses interacting with Clemson’s athletic sponsors.

Now, 15 years later, Starkey has channeled her passion for competition into a career with one of the largest wireless companies in the nation. As T-Mobile’s director of sponsorships, entertainment and events, Starkey seeks out sponsorship and event marketing opportunities to spread the company’s core message. Although she’s no longer on the sidelines in Death Valley, she’s still at the heart of crowd engagement.

Today, inside Memorial Stadium, more and more fans spend time staring at their smartphone screens. But this doesn’t necessarily take away from the spectator experience. With just a tap of a thumb, fans can generate photos, videos and social media posts to share with friends, family and rivals who couldn’t be at the event.

It’s Starkey’s responsibility to capture the attention of these fans and paint T-Mobile as the choice carrier for sharing these moments. It’s not easy competing against larger wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, with big names and bigger budgets. But, Starkey rises to the challenge, employing the creative perspective she gained while firing up fans at Clemson.

After a year of negotiating contracts and unraveling legal tape, Starkey closed on a huge sponsorship deal that gave T-Mobile exclusive Major League Baseball rights. During the World Series in Minneapolis, Starkey and the T-Mobile team set up in-stadium ads encouraging fans to record and submit videos of themselves singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” from their smartphones. Then, they showed the video mash-up during the “seventh-inning stretch.”

As Clemson’s former Rally Cat captain leads the charge to strengthen T-Mobile’s brand messaging, she will also make the game-day experience more universal — one snap, share and selfie at a time.

Southern hospitality in Southern California: Karen Mohr Sunshine M ’94

Oct. 2, 2015 - PRTM alum Karen Sunshine in the Development Office on campus. Ms Sunshine was on campus to share her work on running the Rose Bowl Parade and Rose Bowl games.
The first day of the year is a particularly special day in Pasadena. For more than a century, floats constructed of rainbow rose petals and other natural materials have been paraded through the streets in celebration of New Year’s Day. Last year alone, 28 million Americans tuned in to ESPN’s coverage of the Rose Bowl game — the Rose Parade’s grand finale.

Behind the scenes and on the sidelines, yet seemingly at the center of it all, you’ll find Clemson alumna Karen Sunshine — special events manager for Disney, founder of her own event planning company and full-time mom to three kids and a pup named Pawley.

Although Sunshine grew up in Southern California, she credits her bright career in the hospitality industry to the Southern hospitality she experienced at Clemson.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Sunshine applied to volunteer for the Tournament of Roses — it was perfect opportunity for a new grad (and avid football fan) to get started in the event business.

But her application was denied.

In the wake of rejection, Clemson’s Death Valley became a spontaneous destination. While flipping through the game program in Memorial Stadium, Sunshine saw an advertisement for the University’s parks, recreation and tourism management graduate degree.

“The rest is history,” she said.

Despite the stress of coordinating high-caliber events, she finds reward in giving others an unforgettable experience — and sharing those stories. During Clemson’s Homecoming week, Sunshine traveled to Clemson to share her career experiences and offer advice to current students.

“When you put on an event, you should always walk away with a jewel of a story,” she said.

In her 20-year career, Sunshine has more than a few gems — from riding on the team bus with the MLB champions to zip lining above the rainforest at a tropical Disney resort. And it’s all part of the job description.

“I get to do things for work that I wouldn’t normally get to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had all this fun if it weren’t for Clemson.”

“Education has been the ticket for me”: C. Tycho Howle ’71, M ’73

Profile-TychoHowleThis past spring, C. Tycho Howle stepped up to the microphone and told a room full of Clemson faithful, “I’m glad to be home.”

The stage at his alma mater was a long way from his humble beginnings in a small South Carolina town, but Howle never forgot how important education has been in his success.

With two degrees from Clemson and one from Harvard, Howle became a pioneer in the e-business world and an Atlanta philanthropist. A company he founded in 1983, Harbinger Computer Services, grew to more than 40,000 active customers, 1,000 employees spread across eight countries and annual revenues exceeding $155 million.

“All along the way, a quality education has been the ticket for me to be able to move on to the next stage of life,” Howle said in an interview. “I think most people know how important education can be to a successful career, but I take every chance I can to reinforce that notion with the young people I encounter.”

Now retired and living in Naples, Florida, Howle returned to Clemson to help recognize Eileen Kraemer as the C. Tycho Howle Director of the School of Computing. Her directorship was the second endowed chair his family has supported.

Howle began life in Lancaster, a small city about 40 miles south of Charlotte. The son of a mechanic and seamstress, he was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters. He played football and ran track and did well on his SATs. He needed to pick a state-supported school and, as a Tigers fan, preferred Clemson.

He graduated with honors in physics and went on to get a master’s degree in systems engineering. After a few years at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Howle went to Harvard Business School for a master of business administration.

“When someone is given a lot, it seems to me that you’re also responsible for giving back,” he said. “It seems the more generous we have been, the more good fortune we’ve had in our life. Some might think that a cliché, but in our case it’s true.

“When I think about the people and organizations that have played a major role in my life, Clemson is in the top tier. It prepared me not only with a great education, but also with a good set of values and lasting friendships.”

Sharing culture and conversation: Derek Owens ’11

Profile-Derek OwensA number of times during his college career, friends and acquaintances told Derek Owens he’d be a good fit for the Peace Corps. After researching the possibilities, he agreed, wanting to spend a significant period of time fully immersed in a culture, refining his Spanish skills and as he put it, “to put off life in the real world.” Plus, he says, “I love providing a service that I truly feel is needed and that I feel is fulfilling.”

He’s called Panamá home since February of 2014, and he’ll be there through May 2016. As a Teaching English volunteer, he’s living in a small indigenous community of about 400 people where he’s teaching English, but also working with 12th-grade students to encourage them to continue on to the university. “The idea and goal,” he says, “is that these students will return to their home after graduation to share more sustainable farming practices that produce more food for the subsistence farmers of the area.”

The community in which he lives may be very poor, but the people he says, “are incredibly warm and welcoming, always quick to brew some coffee over the stove or gift me a plate of their latest meal if I grace them with a visit.”

And while Owens is there to share his language and his culture, he has learned a great deal about the history of the people he lives among. “I have had the opportunity to interact with this still very persecuted minority group and have seen the direct effects of institutionalized racism, which has been difficult to stomach at times and has influenced me in more ways than I can measure.”

A political science major at Clemson with a Spanish minor, Owens says that he gained an incredible amount of self motivation and self direction in his political science classes and leadership skills through Tiger Band that have contributed to his success as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Wherever he heads next, Owens will leave as a different person than when he came, “deeply affected by the opportunity to get to know another country and everything about it in such a more intimate way than I would in any other circumstances.”

Mentoring on a Mission: Serita Acker M ’99

Environmental portrait of Serita Acker in the Fluor Daniel Building. Also a group photo with her WISE mentors.

Environmental portrait of Serita Acker in the Fluor Daniel Building. Also a group photo with her WISE mentors.

Mentoring others, especially those who may not realize their potential, has been a lifelong passion for Serita Acker. Those who know her weren’t surprised that she received the 2015 Calder D. Ehrmann Outstanding Individual Award at the 11th Annual Upstate Diversity Leadership Awards dinner. The dinner is hosted by the Richard W. Riley Institute® of Government, Politics and Public Leadership at Furman University and the Greenville Chamber, with support from other Upstate chambers. The event recognizes those who have shown leadership in promoting diversity in the Upstate. Acker was nominated by colleagues but was completely surprised by the honor.

“It was such a great honor to receive it. Calder recently passed, and this award is in his honor and the work he has done. It was very exciting for me. It was such a complete surprise,” said Acker.

Acker is in her 16th year as director of Clemson’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which provides support and resources for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Additionally, Acker oversees WISE-sponsored camps and programs to introduce elementary, middle school and high school girls to careers in STEM.

Acker’s outreach in the community is not limited to helping young women. She has worked with the University’s Staff Development Program that trains staff members for professional and personal growth. She has also served as a board member for the Rape Crisis Center to develop initiatives that assist survivors.

In addition, Acker was named one of 10 U.S. individuals selected as a mentor for the 2014-2016 MentorLinks cohort, a program of the American Association of Community Colleges and National Science Foundation that advances technological education. She travels to Texas State Technical College to assist the school in programs that encourage and support Latina women in automotive technology. Acker was also honored by Women of Color magazine with the 2014 College-Level Promotion of Education award. Acker said her Clemson studies were the perfect preparation.

“My Clemson degree in human resource development has done exactly what it was supposed to do. The degree is about training people and helping them develop. My Clemson experience as a student has helped me as a staff member. I love that my journey has been ‘in these hills’ and preparing students for great careers.”
Recently Acker received certification as a Global Career Development Facilitator, where she’ll focus on educating people about STEM career opportunities.

“I like to be that person who bridges the gap between the community and the University,” Acker said. “I want to educate people, encourage people and help them fulfill their dreams.”