Branding life’s moments: Melissa “Lisa” Holladay ’89

Clemson Alumna Lisa Holladay

As global brand leader and vice president for The Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Lisa Holladay says her job isn’t to sell you a room, but to provide guests an experience. “The ‘Why?’ we exist as a company isn’t to sell hotel rooms or to sell beds, but it’s to create memories,” she said.

Landing at the Ritz-Carlton from Clemson wasn’t a straight line for Holladay. As an education major, Holladay had plans of entering the classroom. Even though she loved teaching high school seniors, student teaching revealed she didn’t want to move into the classroom. Next was graduate school at Georgetown University to pursue an English degree, but a study abroad program in England revealed to Holladay that she loved travel. Her path eventually led to a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., then to a non-profit. A half dozen jobs later she was in San Francisco and found her niche with Mercedes-Benz.

“I grew up there,” she said about staying with the company for over a decade. “I loved it. I knew I wanted to be passionate about something, but I didn’t know what it was. That’s when I went to work for Mercedes-Benz and did everything from PR to marketing to advertising.”

Her last move with Mercedes took her to New Jersey and New York where she was national manager for experiential marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, and where she finally found her “Why?” — her love of brand management.

“My job is to make people fall so in love with our brands that they are loyal beyond reason,” she said.

When the opportunity came open from Marriott to interview for the Ritz-Carlton, Holladay said she studied like there was no tomorrow.

“It’s travel, food, wine, spa, luxury … I really, really wanted that job and thought, ‘They’re never going to hire me because I have no hospitality background,’” she said.

Being an outsider was her “in.” “They wanted to extend the brand as more than just a hotel company,” she said.

Now as a global brand leader for luxury brands, Holladay wants to have guests explore the city and the hotels, while providing relevant, contemporary luxury that aligns with core brand values.

“There’s a reason my two longest career stints have been with brands that have heritage,” she said. “I should have known when I was at Clemson that I was a brand person because even then I was enamored with the Tiger paw on everything, the football team running down the hill and the story of Clemson.”

— Julia Sellers

Accelerated path: James ’16 and Anna Bernhardt ’15 Hodan

Clemson alumni James and Anna Hodan

Over the past five years, James and Anna Hodan moved five times, purchased a home, became landlords and adopted two dogs. Clearly familiar with change, the couple didn’t hesitate to shift their careers when opportunities opened up, and they enrolled in Clemson’s accelerated nursing program.
As the health care industry continues to fluctuate, many professionals are pivoting their career paths to better suit new demands. James and Anna are two of these professionals. While they found success in their respective careers in prosthetics and health care marketing, they wanted to play more direct roles in patient care and remove themselves from the administrative duties that have increased in recent years. Anna enrolled in the accelerated nursing program in August 2014; James followed suit in August 2015.
“The prosthetics field is transitioning away from patient care to require practitioners to spend a majority of their time on insurance paperwork,” James said. “This is not where I feel my strengths lie. Nursing allows me to get back to what I know best, which is focusing on providing excellent patient care.”

Anna is similarly familiar with the administrative side of health care, yet finds it an asset in her nursing career. “I feel that because of my background [in administration], I have an appreciation for what the administrative staff has to go through in order to ensure the department runs smoothly and efficiently,” she said.
With close ties to local hospitals and a rigorous curriculum that combines classroom experience with hands-on clinical work, James and Anna felt that Clemson’s nursing program was the perfect spot for them. Clemson’s program allows professionals like James and Anna to divert their career path to nursing, a facet of health care that is grounded in hands-on patient interaction. Clemson’s reputation as one of 35 programs recognized by the National League for Nursing as a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education helped solidify the decision.
When Anna graduated in 2015, she began work as an emergency room nurse at Spartanburg Regional Hospital. After graduation in December 2016, James took a job at Pardee Hospital in Hendersonville, N.C., in the ICU.
For Anna, a new mindset was the best takeaway. “The professors and the program challenge you to think beyond the classroom. Now that I am working in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment, I value the ability to think critically to help my patients.” After two years of intensely scheduled lives and graduation, the Hodans are excited to settle into their new normal.

— Courtney Meola ’17

Comfort Zone: James Comfort ’08

Clemson alumna James ComfortGrowing up the third of four boys, hand-me-downs were a natural part of life for James Comfort. “We just never really went out shopping too often,” he said. “There were always plenty of clothes around.”

Comfort said finding clothes got really difficult just out of college when he had to start looking for professional clothing. Big and tall stores offered the length he liked, but the 2X and up sizing didn’t fit his athletic frame. “There wasn’t just a ‘tall’ store,” he said.

But a few years ago when the 6-foot-5-inch tall and lean Comfort found a shirt that fit — really fit — with long sleeves and a slim torso, he wanted more. He set out to bring that fit to fellow tall men so they wouldn’t be left looking like they were wading in a pool of fabric two sizes too wide. After working his day job at an IT consulting firm out of Philadelphia, Comfort would come home and work on designs. Leveraging what he knew of business and his background working part-time in a T-shirt shop in college, Comfort was able to use the overseas market to his advantage.

After finding the high quality fabrics he loved through shows in New York, Comfort used an overseas producer to make his designs become an inventory of polos and laid-back plaids so men had options for work and play.

“One of the ‘un-successes’ came during one of the first productions,” Comfort said about the trial and error of doing production in China. “They changed out the collar type on me, and it wasn’t the quality I’d set out to provide.” Comfort used friends and family to try his product and get the word out, even shipping product to family in Germany to sell at markets frequented by soldiers. Comfort’s shirts were also placed in a store in his hometown of Morris, Illinois, this past winter.

“Fortunately it’s not too big yet,” said Comfort of his mostly online sales model. “It’s manageable, I want to make sure that I do it slowly so I’m able to adapt and grow as needed.”

Currently bins throughout his home and basement are filled with product, and he spends his evenings filling orders from his dining room table. “It’s a good feeling when you get something you really like,” he said.

— Julia Sellers

Whipped goodness: Washica “Shica” Hagood Little ’96

Clemson alumna Shica LittleShica Hagood Little saw her waistline expand as she was drinking multiple cups of sugar-and-cream-filled cups of coffee while teaching and working on her Ph.D. in education leadership at Grand Canyon University. But Little wasn’t ready to cut coffee from her routine. Something had to give. That’s when she got in her kitchen and started from scratch.

She bought cream, butter, spices and vanilla and blended it with a hand blender. “It came out horribly,” she said. “It didn’t perform the way it should and didn’t taste the way it should,” she said. “So I started researching.”

More than 2,000 batches later, she’s the proud creator of “Dr. Shica’s Healthy Surprises,” which includes “Incredi-Whip,” a coffee creamer, fruit dip and whipped cream in one. “Initially the product was called “Coffee Whip,” but once I started working with a couple of the stores and buyers, I decided it should be not only for coffee drinkers, but for everyone,” she said. The product doesn’t include artificial colors or flavors, high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan or gluten. With many of the ingredients that were going into her 1,000-calorie cup of coffee gone, Little said she was able to drop about 40 pounds using her product instead.

The next step was to bring Incredi-Whip to the masses. Little saw an audition for “Hatched” on the CW network, where entrepreneurs pitch their brands to business moguls. Her pitch was a success, and she partnered with investors Mark Koops, “Hatched” TV executive producer, and Freddy Cameron, retail expert and host of season 1 “Hatched,” to bring her product to Walmart, Sam’s Club and Kroger. “What that show did for me is amazing,” she said. “They have consumers come in and try your product so you have real-time feedback, and they tell you what you have to do to get on shelves.”

Little has gone on to appear on another show called “MVP: Most Valuable Partner” on Verizon’s Go90 television, where she earned the endorsement of basketball star Kevin Durant and his mother, as well as three other sports stars on the series. Little’s research showed Durant’s mother was an avid coffee drinker, and he was going to 7-Eleven every night to get her a coffee.

Little knew she had her hook. “I didn’t know if any of them wanted to work with me, but they all worked with me.” Little said she always dreamed of being “somebody” and going to California to lead her life. In October she was able to make her dream a reality and work full time for her brand that’s helped her rub elbows with industry titans and earn superstar endorsements.
— Julia Sellers

A Cup of Mustard: Charlie Mustard ’91

Clemson alumnus Charlie Mustard

Free cups of coffee were all Charlie Mustard wanted when he volunteered to roast coffee at Jittery Joe’s in Athens, Georgia. At the time, he was working on his graduate thesis at the University of Georgia in nutrition and chugging cups of coffee as he wrote. Twenty-two years later he’s still at Jittery Joe’s, but now as their head coffee roaster.

“That was awesome they let me do that because I didn’t know anything about roasting coffee,” said Mustard with a laugh. But he found the answers at the UGA library. “There was a whole shelf dedicated to coffee and coffee production.” With a background in biological sciences from Clemson, and having focused on sciences most of his life, Mustard said, “Oh yeah, I can do this.”

Now he’s roasting batches from all over the world and has mastered how to get each bean to open the flavors indicative of their area. “If I am roasting a coffee from Tanzania for example, I am thinking about temperature, humidity, air pressure, size and density of the bean and how the bean was processed on the farm — to name a few of the variables” he said.

Jittery Joe’s is now sold all over the Southeast, throughout the country and around the globe, including being the brand packaged for the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta. Roasting has even taken him as far as Japan to teach, as well as learn techniques.

“I actually do reflect from time to time about how much coffee we roast and how many cups are consumed every day — you can make 35 to 40 cups of coffee per pound. It blows your mind when you think about how many cups we’ve shared with this community,” he said. “This community is such a neat, creative place to be. There are so many who are being creative, whether that’s in a band, painting, acting or writing poetry. What I really like is that we get to help fuel that creativity.”

Mustard’s love of his job even filtered into his 20- and 21-year-old children’s lives. Mustard said when they were little he caught one son on the playground saying, “My daddy doesn’t work, he just drinks coffee all day.”

“Just for me personally, I see success in that I’m doing something that I truly like doing. What
excites you that you say, ‘I can do this for the rest of my life’? My children have never heard me saying, ‘Work sucks.’”

— Julia Sellers

 

 

Global wellness: Lauren Whitt, Ph.D. ’06

Lauren Whitt had been awake since 3 a.m. PST taking Google Hangout video calls with her global colleagues in London and Sydney. Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sporting hair still wet from her morning routine, the easy-going Google wellness manager settled in at the California-based headquarters, ready to chat. This unconventional and interactive environment is nothing out of the ordinary for Whitt.

In fact, she prefers it.

“At Google we have a fun culture, so our campuses feel a lot like college campuses. We encourage people to do their work in comfortable and collaborative spaces,” Whitt said.

Whitt’s position at Google is vital — it’s her responsibility to ensure a happy and healthy work environment for every employee. As the wellness manager, her global team promotes and supports the wellbeing of Googlers worldwide. They even set a Guinness World Record for most money raised in 24 hours with their “Get One, Give One” flu vaccination campaign where every flu shot given on campus was matched with a charitable donation to vaccinate people in developing countries.

“Employees spend so much time in the workplace, so if we can create a culture promoting healthy decisions, then we’re ahead of the game,” she said.

One way they achieve this environment is by using behavioral science principles to prompt Googlers to make healthy snack choices.  Google provides free meals and snacks on campus, supporting the principle that collaboration and creativity often occur around food. It’s rare for a Googler to be more than 150 feet from a micro-kitchen or cafe. Sugary drinks are hidden behind frosted glass or on the lowest shelf, while the water bottles are displayed at eye level; healthy snacks are presented in clear bins while unhealthy snacks are hidden behind opaque bins. “Small daily changes promote a healthy office culture and employee base,” Whitt said.

Whitt’s education, including her Ph.D. in parks, recreation and tourism management from Clemson, led her to ask the question, “How do we help people be their best selves in their daily environments?” Though her research initially focused on academic advising and resiliency skill development for college athletes, she found her experience could be applied to inspiring personal action in the workplace.

Whitt’s holistic wellness approach encourages employees to be continually present to achieve their peak performance. “We encourage Googlers to be in the moment,” said Whitt. “If you’re at work, then be present and focused at work; if it’s at home, then invest yourself in your family and friends.”

— Courtney Meola ’17

My Clemson: Joey Wilson ’17 Duncan, South Carolina

My time at Clemson has been quite a ride. I watched the Tigers win their first football national championship in 35 years. I’ve devoted my senior year to serving as undergraduate student body president. I met former Vice President Joe Biden while working in the fight against sexual assault. I’ve traveled the world from the Balkans to China.

The thing that probably drives me the most is my desire to have an impact on the world and change Clemson for the better. Every morning when I wake up, I take some time and think about different things I could do to make someone’s day a little bit better.

Relationships are so important. I think in our generation one of the things that’s lost right now is personal interaction. Some technology is great, but I think it’s important to meet face-to-face with someone and have a real conversation. That’s how you solve a lot of problems.

In my travels, I’ve learned that everyone is more similar than they are different. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to find happiness. Even if you don’t speak the same language, just a smile and handshake goes a long way. It’s not always about where you go. It’s about who you meet and who you’re sharing it with.

The honors I’ve received while at Clemson University have been humbling. It’s been wonderful to have been named a Schwarzman Scholar and to have received the Astronaut Foundation scholarship. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my family, the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, the Department of Bioengineering at Clemson, my research mentor Dr. Delphine Dean, all my professors and the Calhoun Honors College.

I’ll miss Clemson after graduation. But I’m excited about the next chapter in my life, and I will always be a Tiger.

Joey is graduating this month with a degree in bioengineering and a minor in global politics and will be pursuing a master’s in public policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, as a Schwarzman Scholar this fall. In 2018, he will move to England to pursue a Ph.D. in oncology as a Cambridge International Scholar at Cambridge University.

My Clemson: Brian Burger ’03

After high school, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps as an infantryman and served with 3rd Battalion 8th Marine Regiment in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

After four years, three continents and 13 countries, I wanted to give back on a larger scale, and I knew I needed a formal education. One thing I didn’t cultivate in high school or by crawling through swamps, though, was my academic skills.

When I applied to Clemson, it was a total Hail Mary based on my dismal high school GPA and SAT scores. The only thing I had going for me was four years of service in the Marines. To someone in admissions, that stood for something, and Clemson let me in. That sent a message to me that serving this country meant something to people at Clemson. And if they were going to take a gamble on me, I surely could not disappoint them.

With unwavering support from my future wife, Amy, I worked relentlessly and graduated cum laude in mechanical engineering and was in three different honor societies. A degree from Clemson has opened so many doors for me. I really do bleed orange because of the chance they gave me.

My second act at Clemson is to help more of our veterans come back to the workforce and bring the intangibles and leadership they honed while serving. Amy and I want to help them further their education at Clemson. We know firsthand how wonderful everyone here was when I was a struggling veteran getting re-immersed in 1999. The Veteran Resource Center is a clear display of the commitment Clemson has to veterans, and we couldn’t be more proud to support it.

I am Brian Burger, and this is My Clemson.

 

Brian Burger is co-owner of Fathom 4, a veteran-owned small business in Charleston that provides engineering services.

For the Public Good: Pamela DeFanti Robinson ’73

Prodding from a library colleague led Pam DeFanti Robinson on an adventure that’s put her at the heart of influencing young lives — just in a different classroom than originally planned.

Robinson currently serves as the director of the University of South Carolina School of Law pro bono program. Before law school, Robinson’s path was elementary education. The Rhode Island native came to South Carolina as a teen during her father’s relocation with DuPont. With no ties to Clemson, she applied because a summer program had piqued her interest. After teaching in Atlanta and outside Washington, D.C., life brought her back to South Carolina, where she settled in Camden as a children’s librarian. “I knew I needed to go back and get another degree,” said Robinson.

A colleague challenged her to try law school. Robinson stayed around USC’s law school after graduation to assist with projects. A conversation over a cup of coffee with her dean was how the pro bono program idea started — the first of its kind in the state and the nation. Now she’s opening doors for those who need legal aid and students who need guidance navigating careers. The program is open to all law students who are willing to volunteer to work on everything from filing taxes to translating documents to Spanish.

“[Pro bono] doesn’t mean for free. The phrase is part of a Latin phrase meaning ‘for the public good.’ Sometimes [services] are free or low cost for people who can’t afford an attorney for whatever reason,” she said. “When you’re in law school [students] can’t practice law, or give legal advice, so we go right up to the line of what’s legal.”

Robinson says every class is different and offers a different skill set and potential for what they can accomplish that year, but the one-on-one experience the program offers showcases the breadth of the law and what a potential practice can entail.

And even though her students are bigger than first-graders, she still gets tickled when her students have “eureka” moments. “That’s such a good feeling to say, ‘Hang in there, you can do that,’” she said.

“We can’t, as law school and law students, solve all the problems of the community, but we can be there as part of the solution,” she said.

Golden Girl: Brianna Rollins ’13


One, two, three — jump. One, two, three — jump. With a fierce face and a breakneck pace, former Clemson track standout Brianna Rollins lunged across the finish line. A time of 12.48 seconds earned Rollins a gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August. Right behind her were USA teammates Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin in second and third place. “It was awesome feeling to have to my teammates up there on the podium alongside me. We made history and I couldn’t have been happier to share it with Nia and Kristi. Kristi and I train together, and Nia is a really good friend of mine. It just goes to show you that if women can come together as one we can accomplish something huge.”

After catching their breath, the women draped their bodies in three American flags and jumped for joy for the cameras and the television crowds back home. It was the first time three American women claimed all three medals in a track and field event in the Olympics.

Rollins isn’t new to claiming victories. In 2011 and 2013 she was the NCAA indoor champion in the 60-meter hurdles, the 2014 NCAA outdoor champion in the 100-meter hurdles, and the 2013 IAAF world champion in the 100-meter hurdles while still a student at Clemson. But it wasn’t until her time at Clemson that she realized she could compete at an elite level. Rollins didn’t begin competing in the sport until she was in high school in her hometown of Miami. In 2012, as a sophomore at Clemson, she made the Olympic Trials. In the next months she earned a win at the NACAC Under-23 championships. From there she blossomed into the runner she is today.

“At the 2012 Olympic trials is when I realized I could compete on the professional level. I had the second fastest time coming back in the finals at the trials. I finished sixth in the finals but seeing that I was competing with the professional and running so close gave me the hope I needed,” she said. “Training as an elite-level athlete is a blessing; it comes with a lot of hard work, sacrifices, commitment, and focus but it is all worth it when the reward is being an Olympic champion and an inspiration to those who look up to me.”

Rollins is the second female from Clemson to win a gold in track and field and the first Clemson athlete to win an individual Olympic gold medal since 2004. Kim Graham won a medal as a member of the 4×100- meter relay team in 1996 and Shaw Crawford won the 200-meter dash in 2004. Nine athletes from Clemson have gone on to win Olympic gold.

Rollins is currently training for the next 2017 World Championships in London and hopes defend her title in Tokyo in the 2020 Olympics.