Wastewater Provides Early Warning System

As universities all over the country began scrambling to figure out what campus life would be like in a year of COVID-19, several Clemson professors got busy on parts of that puzzle that related to their own research.

One of those professors was David Freedman, chair of the University’s Department of Envionmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. In the spring of 2020, Freedman began testing coronavirus levels in wastewater on the University’s main campus and in the surrounding community to provide an early warning system that shows how fast the virus is spreading.

Freedman likened the tests to the “canary in the coal mine” that can help administrators make informed decisions about what they need to do to protect the public’s health even before COVID-19 case counts start to rise. In addition to campus, his testing covers the city of Clemson and the town of Pendleton, both home to many University students, faculty and staff.


Studies have shown that the virus starts showing up in wastewater as much as one to two weeks before clinical symptoms are reported.


Clemson City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on June 24 that mandated face coverings after Freedman found surprisingly high virus levels at the city’s Cochran Road wastewater treatment plant. The ordinance cited “elevated levels of virus in the community similar to levels in other cities in which an outbreak of the virus was about to occur or was well underway.”

Previous studies first done in Europe have shown that the virus starts showing up in wastewater as much as one to two weeks before clinical symptoms are reported, said Freedman.

“Even before people are coughing and getting a fever, they’ll start shedding the virus in their feces, and that will show up in the wastewater,” Freedman said. Once or twice a week, Freedman collects wastewater samples from one campus plant and two municipal plants and sends them to a lab in Tennessee. Results from the testing are posted on both the city and the University websites.

App Helps Forensic Teams Determine Time of Death

Katherine Weisensee, chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, has collaborated on a smartphone app to help forensic teams determine times of death. Dubbed geoFOR, the app allows coroners and forensic teams to enter observations when human remains are recovered and then upload photos along with information, such as clothing, location, insect access, scavengers, apparent trauma and decomposition stage. The goal, Weisensee said, is to capture as much information on body decomposition as possible across a variety of geographic areas.

The app automatically factors in information from numerous geographical and environmental databases in order to start building a database on how these specific variables observed on the body overlap with geography and environmental factors.

Ideally, after years of use, the app will have captured enough data on body decomposition from a large enough collection of locations globally to provide a near-instant estimate of time of death. The app is currently being beta tested by multiple South Carolina coroners.

Weisensee is no stranger to the study of human decomposition. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of Tennessee, and she spent a significant amount of time studying body decomposition on the campus’s body farm. She is also often consulted by law enforcement agencies who find corpses well past the final stage of skeletonization.

Her insights into the condition of skeletons have been instrumental for law enforcement in determining time and cause of death in bodies that have long since decomposed. She said the first question across all these consultations is usually related to time of death, so she’s motivated to get this application in the hands of law enforcement, humanitarian agencies and members of the general public with a strong stomach in order to start answering that question automatically.

“It’s exciting to see just how geospatial information meets forensic science, and how all of this information can be combined to finally start quickly answering a question that has eluded people for so long,” Weisensee said. 



A Rare Bird


Drew Lanham receives national acclaim for his memoir


This spring, Clemson Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology J. Drew Lanham ’88, M ’90, Ph.D. ’97 has been quoted widely in the national media in publications ranging from The Atlantic and Vanity Fair to Garden and Gun magazine and The Bitter Southerner. He’s also been on NPR podcasts and in Newsweek.

Much of his visibility has been in response to the Central Park birdwatching confrontation in May between Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper, a white woman whose dog was unleashed.

A nationally known birder and proponent of increasing diversity among the ranks of birders, Lanham has had his own confrontations with those who see a Black man with binoculars as a threat rather than as another human exploring the world of flight. “My binoculars have become heavier now,” he said during his NPR interview. “It’s become harder for me now to pick up my binoculars and singularly focus on birds.”

Lanham also was lauded in the national media this spring for his memoir, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, which was named by The Chronicle of Higher Education among “The Best Scholarly Books of the Decade” and by Literary Hub among “The 10 Best Memoirs of the Decade and Then Some.

“To have a work of creative nonfiction — of nature writing — recognized in a way that puts it in a scholarly realm is personally important because it validates your personal story, your personal struggles,” Lanham said.

The memoir takes readers back to the origins of the titular love story — to Edgefield County, South Carolina, where generations of Lanham’s ancestors, dating to slavery, called home and where Lanham began to fall in love with the natural world around him. Through his journey, Lanham never loses sight of the significance of his identity as a Black man in the Deep South and eventually as “the rare bird, the oddity” of a Black man in the conservation sciences.

“Lanham explains how much he wishes there were other Black scientists at the ornithology meetings he attends,” wrote Anna Tsing in The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Too often, our ideas of what it means to be Black are contained within the life of the city. The countryside is banished; it can only be known for its violence and bad memories. Yet many African Americans continue to live in the countryside, and many in cities are proud, not ashamed, of their rural roots. Lanham’s memoir makes it possible to imagine a confident Black embrace of nature.”

Lanham called the recognition for his book “a great honor,” not least because he says some in academia view such personal, creative endeavors as antithetical to serious scientific pursuits. “That validation from the outside is important for any of us at a university. We don’t just want the acceptance of those people we work with — we all know that’s important — but what we strive to do is get the science out and get the words out to the world.” 

Listen to a podcast on Threshold with Lanham.

Listen to a Yale Podcast with Lanham.

CNN: The realities of being a black birdwatcher



Students Shine On National Stage

Clemson students won record numbers of prestigious national awards this year, ranging from the highly competitive Fulbright awards to the National Science Foundation, Goldwater, Astronaut and Hollings fellowships, which focus on STEM fields, and the Truman, Udall and Knight-Hennessy awards, which are service oriented.

1 | Charles Dove ’20 majored in electrical engineering and received the Fulbright Program’s Switzerland Study-Research Award. He received an Honorable Mention from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship in 2020, a 2019 Astronaut Scholarship and was the recipient of the 2019 W.M. Riggs Award, given to the top student in electrical engineering.

2 | Jessica Baron is a Ph.D. student in computer science, visual computing, and received the Fulbright Program’s Switzerland Study-Research Award. She is currently a graduate research assistant in 2D and 3D facial analysis and a graduate teacher of record for digital production arts. Additionally, she has interned at TH Köln in Germany, Weta Digital in New Zealand and Pixar RenderMan.

3 | Jonathan Vogel ’20 majored in mechanical engineering and received the Aston Martin Coventry University Automotive Award. This is the first year this award has been offered by Fulbright, and Vogel was selected as the single recipient. It covers the first year of his master’s degree program and includes an industry placement with Aston Martin upon completion.

4 | McKinnon Reece ’20 majored in mechanical engineering and minored in Mandarin Chinese. He received the Taiwan English Teaching Assistantship from the Fulbright Program. He was previously selected for the Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department to study Chinese. He will be a teaching assistant and will work with local English teachers in elementary, middle or high schools.

5 | Madison Butler ’15 majored in language and international health. She received a Spain English Teaching Assistantship from the Fulbright Program. As a teaching assistant, she will be teaching English in elementary, middle or high schools. She previously served as a teacher with Teach for America.

6 | Mary Lyons ’19 majored in English and political science. She received a Serbia English Teaching Assistantship from the Fulbright Program. Lyons previously studied abroad in Serbia and will be returning to teach English to K-12 students.

In addition to Fulbright awards, three seniors and four graduate students received Graduate Research Fellowships from the National Science Foundation; three undergraduates received 2020 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships; one undergraduate is the third Clemson student ever to receive the Truman Scholarship; and an undergraduate is Clemson’s second-ever Udall Scholar.

In addition, Clemson students and recent graduates received the 1897 Phi Kappa Phi Fellowship, the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship to Stanford Law School, the University’s first Madison Fellowship and the Astronaut Scholarship, as well as two Hollings Scholarships and 23 Gilman Scholarships.

More about Clemson students on the national stage:

Tyler McDougald awarded Point Foundation Scholarship



Seven Faculty Win Top Awards for Early Career Achievement

Seven assistant professors are receiving some of the nation’s top awards for faculty who are early in their careers, providing a boost to Clemson’s research in smart materials, supercomputers, environmental sustainability, math education and soil science.

Their awards came from three separate federal agencies, each of which have grant programs aimed at supporting researchers early in their careers, including several hundred thousand dollars in research funding.

1 | Fadi Abdeljawad
assistant professor of mechanical engineering
Army Research Office Young Investigator Program Award

Abdeljawad and his team are working to better understand how nanocrystalline metallic alloys respond to extreme environments. Their work could be the next step in creating a new generation of alloys with unprecedented properties, resulting in lighter, more fuel-efficient cars and airplanes.

2 | Abby Allen
assistant professor of special education
Institute of Education Sciences’ Early Career Award

Allen is researching and designing a sentence writing intervention for students with learning disabilities. She hopes to fill both a research and practice gap she first noticed during her time as an elementary school speech-language pathologist.

3 | Jon Calhoun
assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering
National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Calhoun’s project is aimed at helping engineers and scientists use supercomputers to solve increasingly large problems, potentially clearing the way for new research ranging from predicting the weather to designing better airplanes.

4 | Carlos Gomez
assistant professor of education
National Science Foundation CAREER award

Gomez will use the grant to characterize and analyze the developing mathematical identities of Latinx students transitioning from elementary to middle-grade mathematics. He is interested in how mathematics and language intersect, especially for students who are pulling double duty learning math and the English language for the first time.

5 | Kara Powder
assistant professor of biological sciences
National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Powder investigates gene regulatory elements that determine craniofacial development and evolution. Insights from Powder’s research may someday provide targets for gene therapies addressing craniofacial malformations, which occur in about 70 percent of all human birth defects.

6 | Ulf Schiller
assistant professor of materials science and engineering
National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Schiller and his team will employ sophisticated supercomputing techniques to better understand complex fluids, a step toward creating new smart materials that could potentially be used in energy storage, drug delivery and water treatment, and have applications in the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.

7 | Rongzhong Ye
assistant professor of plant and environmental sciences

National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Ye studies soil biogeochemistry to understand physical, chemical and biological processes that affect microbial communities, soil health and crop production. The grant will allow him to extend his research in identifying the links between soil microbial communities and soil functions in agriculture. 

There’s Something Sweet In These Hills … and You Can Have It Shipped

Since its creation about 100 years ago, Clemson Ice Cream has undergone transformations to keep up with the times. This year is no different. The ’55 Exchange is now accepting online orders for Clemson Ice Cream to be shipped directly to customers. Orders ship the second week of each month.

The ’55 Exchange is a student-run business, and, much like other small-business food retailers, it has taken a big financial hit from forced closure due to COVID-19. “We operate just like any other small business, including paying rent to the University as well as paying our student and professional staff,” said Amy Grace Funcik, one of the student employees. “We entered the shutdown with a strong balance sheet but with no means to generate sales. Our financial strength has been severely impacted, placing the ’55 Exchange business future in jeopardy. So, we are looking for members of the Clemson Family to help us promote the launch of our ice cream shipping program.”

 Anyone interested in helping support ’55 Exchange programs can email Funcik at afuncik@g.clemson.edu. Online orders can be placed at clemson.edu/icecream.

Trustees Rename Honors College



Board also requests authority to restore
original name of Tillman Hall


During their scheduled June meeting, the University’s Board of Trustees approved changing the name of the Honors College to the Clemson University Honors College, effective immediately. The college has been named the Calhoun Honors College since 1982. The trustees also approved a resolution requesting authority from the South Carolina General Assembly to restore Tillman Hall to its original name of the Main Building, commonly called “Old Main.” The building was renamed by the trustees in 1946.

“Clemson University has a long-celebrated history of tradition and excellence, but we must recognize there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose ideals, beliefs and actions do not represent the University’s core values of respect and diversity,” said Smyth McKissick, chair of the board. “Today’s action by the board acknowledges that now is the time to move forward together as a more unified Clemson Family in order to make our University stronger today and into the future.”

The actions taken were consistent with a deliberative process set in motion in 2015 when the board of trustees established a history task force to tell the full and complete history of Clemson. During the past few years, the task force has erected historical markers, documented Clemson founders’ biographies, and updated historical signage to better reflect the complete history.

“Our Trustees’ leadership today sends a clear message that Clemson University intends to be a place where all our students, employees and guests feel welcome,” said President Clements. “Our work in this area is far from finished, but we are committed to building on the progress we have made in the areas of diversity and inclusivity as we strive to serve our entire state and the nation.”

Future Connections

Students work alongside career manufacturers to improve plant efficiencies

The whirring of pneumatic wrenches filled the Komatsu plant in Newberry, South Carolina, as four Clemson students made their way past workers assembling yellow forklifts. A woman noticed the students’ bright orange hard hats and greeted them with the two words every Clemson diehard likes to hear:

“Go Tigers!”

It was a warm welcome for a team that had made the 90-minute drive from campus to help Komatsu assess how it could reduce its energy use. The students were from Clemson’s Industrial Assessment Center, a program that takes engineering education out of the classroom and into manufacturing plants. The center’s energy-use assessments are free and come with the potential to save each participating company tens of thousands of dollars.

With 36 site visits in its portfolio, the center is now charging into its fourth year with 20 student interns eager to leave their mark on the world. Among them is Lakshana Nagaraj, who is working toward a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

“I think energy saving is the ‘in’ thing right now,” she said. “There is a lot happening with climate change and the environmental effects. We need to do something about it. This is the first step. Everyone can make an effort toward energy saving.”

The center’s teams have been fanning out across the state for three years to assess small- to mid-sized manufacturers. Based on their recommendations, companies have implemented around $2.3 million in savings. In energy terms, that’s equivalent to 50,000 barrels of oil, or the equivalent annual CO2 emissions of more than 4,000 cars.

While the assessments have helped companies reduce their environmental impact, they have also provided students with real-world experience and connections with employers, said Michael Carbajales-Dale, the center’s director and an assistant professor of environmental engineering and earth sciences.

Clemson launched the center in October 2016 after receiving nearly $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. It is among 28 Industrial Assessments Centers nationwide, cited by the White House in an October 2018 report as an example of a federal program that “contributed to the progress in manufacturing education, training and workforce development.” Clemson’s center is made up mostly of undergraduate engineering students who work up to 14 hours a week as paid interns under the supervision of faculty members.

To be eligible for an assessment, companies must have fewer than 500 employees at the plant site, gross annual sales below $100 million and annual energy bills between $100,000 and $2.5 million. The plant must be within 150 miles of an Industrial Assessment Center. Most of the Clemson assessments take place in South Carolina, although the center’s coverage area also includes parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.

On the Komatsu site visit, the team looked for ways to save money throughout the plant, from the cranes and compressed-air system to the lighting and heating. Ben Snelson, an industrial engineering major, said that when he first started doing assessments, he hardly knew what a manufacturing plant looked like. By the time he went to Komatsu, he had been on several site visits and had an eye for energy efficiency. It was good that many of the workers were using cordless drills powered by batteries and saving the compressed-air drills for the bigger jobs, he said.

“When you have a ton of running tools and a lot of lines and a lot of moving things, the hoses can get leaks really easily,” Snelson said. “They’re using batteries, so it’s cheaper. Compressed air is expensive.”

All signs point to a bright future for the center. Carbajales-Dale said he was working to find new sites to assess and for new ways of connecting clients with various pools of money, such as low-interest loans and rebates, that may be available to help make energy-efficiency upgrades.

“It’s not just in-and-out,” he said. “We’re connecting them with resources that can help get the job done.”

New Online Degree Designed to Meet Big Data Demands

For the third year in a row, the number one job in the United States is data scientist, according to Glassdoor, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be 11.5 million data science job openings by 2026.

Business leaders in an array of industries — health care, manufacturing, finance, transportation, energy, defense and more — are finding it more difficult to hire talent for data analytics than any other position, largely because these lucrative careers, paying up to $150,000 per year, require an advanced education.

To meet this demand, Clemson is launching a new Master of Science in Data Science and Analytics online degree this summer for working professionals. Faculty from the College of Business and College of Science consulted with industry experts to design a curriculum consisting of five courses in mathematical and statistical sciences and five courses in business analytics and management.

“Students will be taught how to perform proper data analysis and then apply the results to datadriven managerial decisions,” said Ellen Breazel, senior lecturer in the school of mathematical and statistical sciences. Breazel also said the degree’s cohort model, which allows each incoming class to take classes together, will enhance collaboration and interaction in all their courses.

“It’s also very conducive for companies that want to send a contingent of their employees to the program at one time,” said Russ Purvis, associate professor of business analytics and information systems.

For more information about the program, visit www.clemson.edu/graduate/academics/ms-dsa/index.html .