History in Plain Sight

Students and faculty were busy over the summer, unearthing remnants to help tell the stories of the men, women and children who lived and worked as slaves during the antebellum era on the Fort Hill property, today a part of Clemson’s campus.

The historic Fort Hill property was home to South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun and later the University’s namesake, Thomas Green Clemson, and his wife, Anna Calhoun Clemson. While their time on the property is well-recorded, the lives of enslaved African-Americans are largely undocumented.

David Markus, an archaeologist and visiting lecturer, provided training in archaeological excavation and analysis methods to a dozen students enrolled in his six-week summer course in anthropology. They have carefully moved dirt in areas between Fort Hill and nearby residence halls where a kitchen once stood in the house. Historians believe domestic slave quarters and other outbuildings existed in the space.

“We hope to understand more about the daily lives of people who were enslaved at Fort Hill — how they lived and worked — and interpret their stories in a respectful way,” Markus said. “The University has made a commitment to tell its history more completely, and we hope our work will help support that effort.”

Will Hiott is the director of historic properties at Clemson. He said historical archaeology can be a new conduit to the important task of reinterpreting Fort Hill by relocating long-lost plantation buildings where African-Americans once toiled.

“The long-range plans would be to bring that hidden history back to plain sight as the foundations of the kitchen yard, spin house/weave room, laundry — along with the smokehouse and cook’s residence — are excavated,” Hiott said. “Unfortunately, not everything can be unearthed in one summer session, but we see this as a first step in seeking foundations, artifacts and material culture.”

Entrepreneur’s vision rewarded by MBA EnterPrize competition

Virgil Platt’s vision for a startup may have caught the eyes of judges in the sixth annual Clemson MBAe EnterPrize competition, but the real winners of the entrepreneur’s business idea may be military personnel.

As the winner of the graduate school’s competition, modeled after the TV show Shark Tank, Platt won $15,000. He’ll use the prize money to purchase inventory for his business, Armed Eyewear, which will provide fashionable, military-approved glasses to service members.

Platt, of Fayetteville, N.C.,  was one of 26 Clemson MBA candidates who competed for $26,000 in prize money at EnterPrize events held in Columbia and Charleston and at the finale in Greenville.

As an area manager for retail vision centers in the heart of military country, Platt identified an unmet need for military personnel. With Fayetteville being home to the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg, the world’s largest military installation, Platt regularly heard of dissatisfaction over the limited eyewear choices available to service members because of the military’s restrictions on frame and lens aesthetics. In addition, glasses cannot have emblems or brand logos on the outside.

Realizing that more than 2 million U.S. military personnel were subject to these restrictions, he set out to find a solution. Platt discovered many alternative eyewear designs that his acquaintances in military human resources divisions said met standards. He was even able to work with frame manufacturers who would serve the military marketplace.

Armed Eyewear’s website is in development; Platt expects its soft launch by the end of the year with online sales. He would eventually like to sell through military channels as well.

Platt said Clemson’s part-time MBAe program was a good fit for him in several ways. “Having a network of cohorts in this with you really helped. You have 15 to 20 people all trying to open their own businesses, and they come with a wide variety of backgrounds, be it marketing, finance, sales or accounting,” he said. “When you add in the professors who have their own specialties, there’s so much expertise to tap into.”

Other winners in the competition included Jimmy Palmer, a full-time MBAe student who placed second and won $3,000. His startup, Comma Furniture, specializing in furniture that assembles and disassembles easily, is targeted to students and those early in their careers who are moving frequently.

Third place and a prize of $2,000 went to Michael Siegel, also a full-time MBAe student. His startup, Groundshare, allows landowners to rent land to hunters similarly to how Airbnb works.

EnterPrize judges included James Bennett, owner of Upstate Home Care Solutions; Joe Gibson, founder of Helping Businesses Grow Profitably; Beth Veach, career and business coach at Entrepreneur Acumen; Cory Bridges MBAe ’17, co-founder and chief operating officer for RingoFire Digital; and Sadie Perry MBAe ’17, an Eggs Up Grill franchisee.

Student researchers developing STEAM workshop model

Graham crackers, marshmallows and toothpicks might not be standard tools for civil engineers, but they’re adequate stand-ins for fourth- and fifth-graders in Clemson College of Education doctoral student Abby Baker’s STEAM workshop. Their objective, using food as construction materials, is to create buildings that can withstand the forces of a gelatin earthquake.

The workshops are part of a Clemson Creative Inquiry project that finds Baker and undergraduate students translating concepts related to science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) to a young audience. The lessons are a valuable extension in the education of Clemson students and the fifth-graders they teach, but Baker is also using them to test a model she hopes will address a growing need for students interested in science and math.

Baker had the perfect venue for a STEAM workshop after she and a small group of community leaders transformed the closed Holly Springs Elementary into Holly Springs Center in 2017. She attended the elementary school as a child and now is the center’s director. 

“It felt like the space should be used,” Baker said. “Its purpose is to do something good for the community, and providing quality science and math education falls right in line with that.”

The project measures how effective a team of education and engineering students can be in increasing interest in STEAM fields among K-12 students. Engineering students bring concepts to the table, while education students act as the filter for the younger audience.

If the sessions aren’t reinforcing concepts fourth- and fifth-graders have already encountered in the classroom, they’re introducing what’s to come. The marshmallow towers on gelatin actually cover two state education standards. In the case of sound waves, students learn how different variables affect properties of sound. They also analyze and interpret data to describe and predict how natural processes affect the Earth’s surface.

Baker hopes to one day use a similar model in the students’ own schools and spread the workshops to other parts of the state.

“For many students from under-resourced schools or areas, the concept of college can be a vague thing, but it gets clearer when someone from Clemson is in front of you making these concepts exciting,” Baker said. “This is just another way Clemson can serve all of those students and let them see that a future in these areas is attainable.”

Clemson scientist sending research on cotton genome into outer space

A Clemson University scientist is sending his research on the cotton genome into outer space after being selected as a winner in the Cotton Sustainability Challenge.

Christopher Saski, associate professor in the plant and environmental sciences department, is the principal investigator on a project that seeks to explore the cotton genome and how it reacts in microgravity and normal gravity.

“We are using a systems genomics approach in a very unique environment to fully understand the developmental programs and molecular mechanisms that orchestrate the regeneration of plant cells into whole plants,” Saski said. “This new understanding has the potential to unlock plant genomes to biotechnology and subsequently transform agriculture.”

The Cotton Sustainability Challenge, run by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and sponsored by Target Corp., provided researchers and innovators the opportunity to propose solutions to improve crop production on Earth by sending their concepts to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory.

CASIS announced Monday the selection of three projects as winners of the challenge, which sought potential solutions to benefit cotton production by improving water sustainability. Through the collaboration, CASIS and NASA will facilitate hardware implementation and in-orbit access to the ISS National Lab, while Target will provide grant funding for selected proposals.

Saski’s project proposes to examine gene expression, DNA methylation patterns and genome sequences of embryogenic callus material that respond differently to regeneration in tissue culture during the process of regeneration under micro- and normal gravity environments.

This innovative approach could have the potential to unlock the phenomenon of genetic recalcitrance (resistance) to regeneration, advancing fundamental biological knowledge and can have translational impacts to other plant species that are critical to global agricultural sustainability.

“Dr. Saski’s proposal is such a novel idea and epitomizes the goal of our department’s research, which is translational, problem-solving science to advance crop agriculture in South Carolina and beyond,” said Paula Agudelo, interim associate dean of research and graduate studies for Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.

Saski’s transdisciplinary team of investigators includes Li Wen, a scientist from Changsha University of Science and Technology in China and a visiting scholar at Clemson University; Shuangxia Jin, a renowned cotton scientist at Huazhong Agricultural University, also in China; and Jeremy Schmutz, a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“Space science provides unprecedented opportunities for the study of molecular biology where we can investigate the molecular mechanisms of life development and growth regulation from a unique perspective aboard the ISS,” Jin said.

On the space station, a variety of physical and biological phenomena can be tested in ways not possible on Earth.

“Microgravity is a unique trigger that alters epigenetics and gene expression and will have a profound influence on understanding the genetic programs of plant regeneration,” Wen said.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, located in Huntsville, Alabama, is a nonprofit institute dedicated to developing and applying scientific advances to health, agriculture, learning and commercialization.

“We will apply our experience to produce a novel reference genome of cotton and apply genomic tools to compare gene expression changes between space and earth plants, along with epigenetics, which are subtle accumulated changes to the functioning of DNA,” Schmutz said.

The research aims at solving a quandary that affects everyone: No tractable solution is in place to satisfy the growing demand for fuel, food, and fiber as the global population continues to expand. Better understanding gene function and the use of genome engineering technology has the potential to change the lives of everyone and everything on the planet.

“Dr. Saski’s work on plant transformation in zero gravity has significant implications for crop improvement; this is a very exciting opportunity,” said Tim Boosinger, interim dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.

In 2005, Congress designated the U.S. portion of the International Space Station as the nation’s newest national laboratory to maximize its use for improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users and advancing STEM education. The unique laboratory environment is available for use by other U.S. government agencies and by academic and private institutions, providing access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low Earth orbit and varied environments of space.

The challenge provided researchers a novel way to leverage microgravity to evaluate avenues for more sustainable cotton production. Cotton is a natural plant fiber produced in many countries and one of the most important raw materials required for the production of textiles and clothing.

Cotton cultivation requires sustainable access to natural resources like water that are increasingly threatened. This challenge sought to engage the creative power of the research community to leverage the ISS National Lab to innovate and generate ideas that will improve the utilization of natural resources for sustainable cotton production.

CASIS is the nonprofit organization selected to manage the ISS National Laboratory with a focus on enabling a new era of space research to improve life on Earth. In this innovative role, CASIS promotes and brokers a diverse range of research in life sciences, physical sciences, remote sensing, technology development and education.

“Bringing awareness to cotton sustainability is a powerful opportunity to showcase the unique research facets of the International Space Station,” CASIS director of commercial innovation and strategic partnerships Cynthia Bouthot said in a news release announcing the winners Monday. “We look forward to working alongside Target and our selected researchers as they prepare to send innovative research to our orbiting laboratory.”

Clemson to offer program for autism spectrum support

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, with the diagnosis being four times more common among boys. Currently there are no known post-secondary programs for degree-seeking students in South Carolina, North Carolina or Georgia to provide services for students with autism.

Clemson is hoping to fill this gap and will be offering a program of customized support services for students who identify on the autism spectrum beginning in the 2019-20 academic year. The program will provide support across four areas: academic skills and resilience; personal and interpersonal skills; independent living and social skills; and career and professional skills.

The program has been in development for the past two years, with pilot groups of Clemson students participating in a needs assessment and services involving the development of social skills, self-advocacy skills and career readiness, along with peer mentoring, academic coaching and individual sessions with a behavior therapist.

Students who are admitted to Clemson via the typical admissions process may apply to the program; the initial cohort will serve 10 incoming freshmen who will arrive for a summer transition program in summer 2019. The students will complete an academic class for credit while learning to navigate the campus and becoming familiar with the resources in place to support their integration and success. There will be a freshman-year emphasis on easing the transition from high school to college and enhancing independent living skills. Starting with sophomore year, participants will begin working on professional skills and developing career readiness, including participating in on-campus internships.

Jane Thierfeld Brown of the Yale Child Study Center and College Autism Spectrum co-founder has been an external consultant in the program’s development. She has helped established more than 20 similar postsecondary programs across the country in the past 15 years.

Operating Room Redesign Recognized at Healthcare Design Expo

Clemson project integrating research and design to develop a safer, more ergonomic operating room received two awards at the Healthcare Design Expo + Conference in Orlando. The Realizing Improved Patient Care Through Human-Centered Design in the Operating Room prototype was the sole winner for conceptual design and a gold-level award recipient for using an evidence-based design process.

Anjali Joseph, Spartanburg Regional Health System Endowed Chair in Architecture + Health Design and director of the Center for Health Facilities Design and Testing at Clemson, spearheaded the project. She worked with a multidisciplinary team of researchers and clinical specialists from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Health Sciences South Carolina, as well as Clemson colleagues, including David Allison, professor and director of the University’s Architecture + Health graduate program. Allison led the design development of the prototype and incorporated it into a semester-long project for Architecture + Health students. The plans will eventually be implemented in MUSC’s new Ambulatory Surgery Center in Charleston.

The new operating room will:

  • improve staff safety by reducing clutter and trip hazards.
  • reduce surface contamination through material selection and improving ergonomics.
  • support team communication by refining sightlines and visibility within the O.R.
  • adapt as care delivery and technology change.

Architecture Students’ Design for Ghanaian School Comes to Fruition

They say it takes a village ­— and for one town in Ghana that couldn’t be truer. Over the past decade, the people of Okurase have been working together to transform their community for a more prosperous future by constructing the Nkabom Centre, the area’s first-ever educational facility.

The 18,000-square-foot structure has electricity and running water and is the first of a 17-building complex completely designed by Clemson architecture students studying at the Clemson Design Center in Charleston (CDC.C). 

Cynthia Swenson, a professor with the Medical University of South Carolina, approached the CDCC for help in 2008. As the co-founder of Project Okurase, a nonprofit that develops sustainable, replicable solutions for disadvantaged villages, Swenson had been working in the Okurase community for several years and following the vision of the community, wanted to help construct a complex that would house educational and medical facilities with water and energy. But money was limited.

“Someone suggested Clemson because the students do hands-on service projects as part of their work,” Swenson said. “I knew after speaking with Ray Huff and Rob Miller that I’d found true partners in the CDC.C for this effort.”

“Everything we designed was built around local craftsmanship and skills we saw on our trip to Ghana.”

It was paramount that the buildings convey the local culture, so before undergraduate and graduate students began to tackle designs, students Kyle Keaffaber and Lindsey Willke traveled to the region to research. “They saw firsthand how the land, water and sun played into the structure’s dynamics. It was fascinating,” Swenson said. “We originally envisioned the medical center at the front of the complex with a school behind it, but our research indicated that would be a huge mistake because air flow would carry communicable diseases through the medical complex and toward the school.”

The trip provided another valuable lesson: The buildings needed to be constructed with compressed earth bricks. “To allow the community to play an active role and become invested in building their own community, everything we designed was built around local craftsmanship and skills we saw on our trip to Ghana,” Keaffaber said. However, the on-loan brick-making machine had to be returned before work was completed. Clemson faculty and staff stepped in and built four manual brick-making machines.

Today, the first structure in the complex stands tall, awaiting students of all ages to take their seats in the coming weeks, and now the community eagerly anticipates construction of the next building.   

“I’ve seen an absolute change. People who grew up in that village are coming back, and things are picking up economically,” Swenson said. “And the people have a level of pride in this building ­— they built it themselves — and they want to leave a legacy for their children.”

The 2018 Distinguished Service Award Winners

The Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor bestowed upon a former Clemson student. It recognizes those whose devotion to Clemson has increased the value of the University for future generations and whose lives have expressed, through service to community, profession and the public, the finest Clemson traditions.

A Walk Down the Red Carpet in Cannes

Madison Williams, a graphic communications major, poses for a photo with her camera.

When Madison Williams graduated in May with a graphic communications degree, she walked the red carpet while her classmates crossed the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum.

The Newbury, Massachusetts, native represented Clemson at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where her 5-minute documentary on a passionate Tiger football fan was screened alongside the work of the world’s most renowned filmmakers.

“It’s a dream come true, and I have the opportunities presented to me at Clemson and many of the talented people here to thank for it,” the College of Business graduate said.

Williams’ documentary, “136,” is a story about Bryson Carter of Anderson, who lost his sight as a student here but whose love for Clemson football has led him to attend 136 consecutive (now 150) games. She originally produced the documentary to compete in Campus Movie Fest at Clemson last February. Her work advanced to a national competition and eventually was selected to be screened as part of Cannes’ Short Film Corner.

“I have been blessed to have so many people who nurtured me on my journey to becoming a professional videographer,” Williams said. “There are too many to mention, but some of the most influential were people like Nik Conklin, Jeff Kallin and Jonathan Gantt in the athletic department; Craig Mahaffey and Jesse Godfrey in University Relations and Erica Walker, one of my graphic communications instructors.”

Inspiration for the documentary on Carter came from their chance meeting at the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. “Bryson and I shared a ride to the train station in Arizona, and he started talking about his passion for football,” Williams said. “He visualizes the game through the announcers’ commentary and the energy the fans paint in his mind. His story nearly brought me to tears.”

Telling stories comes naturally to Williams, but she had to work to develop her visual communication skills. “At a very early age, I wanted to be behind the lens,” she said. “I made music videos and filmed plays with my very patient sister. Then, in high school, I filmed the football team’s highlight reels and knew this was something I wanted as a lifelong pursuit.”

A year later, she was at Clemson studying graphic communications. Internships at Clemson and in Massachusetts primed her for a role on the Clemson Athletics social media team, where she cut her teeth as a visual communicator for the volleyball team. With the French Riviera experience a memory, Williams is looking forward.

“Right now, I’m looking for visual storytelling roles similar to what I do at Clemson,” she said. “Wherever I land, I know my education here, inside and outside the classroom, has put me in a great position to succeed. I’m very excited to see where my Clemson experience will take me next.”