Researchers study activity of Russian ‘trolls’

Patrick Warren, left, and Darren Linvill

Patrick Warren, left, and Darren Linvill

Clemson faculty members Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren are studying the activities of social media accounts created by Russian agencies to influence elections and political discourse. In 2018, they identified over 3 million individual tweets by these types of accounts, a sharp contrast with previous reports of only a fraction of that number.

They’ve studied how these “trolls” work and what the timing and frequency of posts have to say about their intentions and efficacy. After making their data publicly available, the duo continues to gain international attention as news agencies examine the data and seek their expert knowledge to explain it.

“It’s incredibly important that we understand how these people work to sow distrust in our political system, mainly because they’re getting better at it,” Linvill said. “Their efforts to galvanize one side against the other are succeeding, and for the foreseeable future, they will remain a problem.”

With all the news surrounding Russian trolls on Facebook, both researchers agreed in late 2017 that they should at least attempt to use the Social Studio software housed in Clemson’s Social Media Listening Center to investigate whether the problem with troll accounts was better or worse than reported by Twitter.

Linvill took the time to examine every account one by one to verify suspicious activity, and in the process, he has helped people falsely accused of being trolls clear their names with Twitter.

Center for Human Genetics Opens in Greenwood

Trudy Mackay and students at the Clemson Center for Human Genetics.

With an internationally prominent geneticist at the helm, the Clemson Center for Human Genetics opened its state-of-the-art facility in August in Self Regional Hall on the campus of the Greenwood Genetic Center in Greenwood, S.C.

Center director Trudy Mackay, Self Family Endowed Chair in Human Genetics and professor of genetics and biochemistry, is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the genetics of complex traits.

Mackay, recipient of Trinity College’s 2018 Dawson Prize in Genetics, is joined at the center by Robert Anholt, Provost’s Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Biochemistry and director of faculty excellence initiatives in the College of Science. Both came to Clemson from North Carolina State University.

“We now know that all of us are 99.9 percent identical in our DNA, but that tenth-of-a-percent difference translates to 3 million small genetic differences
between any two of us,” said Mackay, who has published more than 200 papers. “The challenge now is to understand how these molecular differences in DNA affect our susceptibility to diseases like cancer and heart ailments.”

The naming of Self Regional Hall recognizes the ongoing support from Self Regional Healthcare, which has contributed $5.6 million to the facility. In addition, the $4 million endowed chair held by Mackay was funded equally by the Self Family Foundation and the state of South Carolina.

Clemson President James P. Clements noted that the partnership with the Greenwood Genetic Center and the support of Self Regional Healthcare and the Self Family Foundation “will allow our faculty researchers to translate their findings into tangible treatment options more quickly and efficiently.”

School of Nursing opens Greenville education and research facility

Clemson Nursing building in GreenvilleSouth Carolina is one of seven states projected to have a shortage of registered nurses by 2030, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. South Carolina’s nursing shortage is expected to top 10,000; it’s one of only four states expected to have that significant a shortage.

A collaboration between Clemson and the Greenville Health System is designed to address that shortage. The Clemson University Nursing building, an education and research facility housing an expansion of Clemson’s baccalaureate nursing program at GHS, opened in August.

The new building allowed the School of Nursing to increase first-year enrollment from 64 in fall 2015 to 173 in fall 2018. By fall 2021, total enrollment in the baccalaureate program is anticipated to top 700, an increase from 256 in fall 2015.

“The collaboration will not only expand our enrollment, but will also integrate teaching and clinical practice in innovative ways that will positively impact nursing education and patient outcomes,” said Kathleen Valentine, director of Clemson’s School of Nursing.

Nursing students will take their general education and nursing foundation courses on Clemson’s main campus during their freshman and sophomore years. After that, they are placed into one of two cohorts: One will take nursing courses in Greenville under the guidance of Clemson faculty and complete clinical rotations across multiple GHS campuses; the other will take junior and senior nursing courses on Clemson’s main campus and complete clinical rotations at health systems across the Upstate, including GHS.

Graduate nursing students will have priority clinical rotations within GHS to be prepared to care for rural and vulnerable populations.

“This innovative collaboration will help ensure that GHS and the entire region and beyond have high-quality nurses in spite of a nursing shortage,” said GHS President Spence Taylor.

$11 million NIH grant creates new center for musculoskeletal research

Hai Yao, the Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair of bioengineering at Clemson University and leader of SC-TRIMH, talks with a student in his lab at MUSC. Image Credit: Grace Beahm

Hai Yao, the Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair of bioengineering at Clemson University and leader of SC-TRIMH, talks with a student in his lab at MUSC.
Image Credit: Grace Beahm

Disorders affecting bones and joints — including arthritis, osteoporosis and chronic back pain — are a major driver of health care costs around the world. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that by 2040, more than one-quarter of Americans will be diagnosed with arthritis.

Clemson is looking to address that problem. With an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Biomedical Research Excellence, the University has launched a new research center that will bring together scientists from across South Carolina to change the way musculoskeletal disorders are diagnosed, treated and studied.

Led by bioengineers at Clemson, the South Carolina Center for Translational Research Improving Musculoskeletal Health combines orthopedics and other clinical expertise from the Greenville Health System and the Medical University of South Carolina with computer scientists, computational engineers, biophysicists and other experts to better understand musculoskeletal disorders and to design and evaluate new devices, interventions and drug therapies.

The largest study of bullying prevention in U.S. schools reveals positive impact

Researchers at Clemson and the University of Bergen in Norway recently published positive findings from the largest study of bullying prevention efforts in U.S. schools. In the three-year study, the researchers evaluated nearly 70,000 students across 210 elementary, middle and high schools who had participated in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

They found clear reductions in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life is the training and consultation hub for the Olewus program in North, Central and South America.

According to Sue Limber, Clemson professor and author of the study, the results were stronger the longer the program was in place: “It’s encouraging to see that despite some more ingrained behaviors in older students, we still see quite positive responses in later grades.”

The study also found increases in students’ expressions of empathy and decreases in students’ willingness to join in bullying. The success of the program is encouraging for students and schools, according to Dan Olweus, author of the study and founder of the Olwus program.

“This study clearly shows bullying prevention efforts can positively affect behaviors and perceptions of students of all ages,” said Olweus. “Given the scarcity of positive results from anti-bullying programs in the U.S., this new study is a breakthrough.”

Students receive prestigious Fulbright and Boren awards

Justin Giles

An economics major, Giles was selected for the Boren Scholarship, created by the National Security Education Program for students who want to work in the national security arena. Giles is the second Clemson student to receive this scholarship. He will spend a full academic year in Tanzania, where he will stay with a Tanzanian family, learn Swahili and intern with a local company.

Irene Cheng

Cheng, who graduated with a dual degree in bioengineering and modern languages with a focus in Mandarin Chinese, is the first Clemson student chosen for the Boren Fellowship, which was created by the National Security Education Program. It provides funding for select graduate students to study less-common languages in foreign regions that are critical to U.S. interests. Cheng will live in Chengdu, China, for 10 months to study Mandarin and participate in a medical internship.

Sloan Nietert

A mathematical sciences and computer science double major, Nietert was selected for a Fulbright Award. The Fulbright program aims to increase understanding between citizens of the United States and of other countries. Nietert will spend nine months in Hungary, learning Hungarian and researching high-dimensional geometric structures at the Alfréd Rényi Institute of Mathematics.

‘They gave me back my hope’

Chastyn Webster graduated from Clemson in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Along the way, she volunteered with Alternative Spring Break, was a research team member with Aspire to Be Well and Tigers Together to Stop Suicide, and a member of Sigma Kappa. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

Long before her arrival as a freshman, Webster had experienced a different side of Clemson — one that has served more than 5,000 marginalized youth ranging from students with autism to teenage mothers in foster care to low-level juvenile offenders. She had been part of a program at Clemson’s Youth Learning Institute. YLI creates and delivers programs for youth and families throughout the state.

“Every kid is at risk, including mine, and every kid deserves a chance,” said Cody Greene, director of at-risk programs at YLI. Greene has spent the past 18 years at YLI, 14 of them as director of the Youth Development Center at Camp Long in Aiken, where Webster was placed by court order at the age of 15. Through team building, experiential learning, life and leadership skills development, and a heavy dose of fun, students are able to envision and achieve different paths for their lives.

“The kids who come through our programs are rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic, Asian — you name it,” Greene said. “They need positive role models and a safe, nurturing environment, the same as all of us.”

Carlos Gore is the current director at the YDC, where he’s worked for almost 11 years. “Our students are no different than you and I,” he said. “They made poor choices due to circumstances that we take for granted.”

Gore remembers Webster’s early days at Camp Long: “She felt like everyone was against her. It took her awhile to know the things we were saying would help her.”

Webster was at Camp Long for the whole summer, returning home a week before school started. “Being there was good for me,” she said, “because I was separated long enough from the people I claimed were my friends.”

She struggled for the next year, she said. “It took awhile not to want to return to all those friends I had before, but I decided I wanted more for myself.” Because of her experience at YDC, she set her sights on attending Clemson and studying psychology, with the encouragement of her father.

Webster has now returned to Camp Long, this time on staff as a behavior modification specialist for the YDC, working with teenage girls. “I can’t relate to everything because I’ve had privileges that some of them will never have,” Webster said, “but I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. When I was their age, I thought everyone in the world was against me.”

Hope, she said, is the key. “It could have been a terrible time in my life, but it wasn’t. It was tough some days for sure, but we had lots of fun times. They allowed me to feel like a kid again — which I was — instead of a misfit of society. They gave me back my hope.”

Learn more about the Youth Learning Institute.

Ford to sponsor Deep Orange prototype design

Ford Motor Co. is sponsoring the 10th-generation Deep Orange vehicle prototype, which will be conceived and designed by automotive engineering master’s students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

The Deep Orange project at CU-ICAR provides students an opportunity to work directly with automotive industry partners to create a prototype vehicle in two years. For this iteration of Deep Orange, students will develop an electric autonomous mobility concept vehicle for 2030 smart city life.