Soccer Startup: Blakely Mattern M ’16

It was like something out of a movie. Blakely Mattern was picking up her journal one day in 2014 when a newspaper clipping slipped out of its pages. It was a small article she’d cut out months before from The Greenville News. Flipping it over, she saw, fitting perfectly in the cut-out square, an advertisement for Clemson’s MBA program. Mattern took it as a sign.

A Greenville native, Mattern attended the University of South Carolina on a soccer scholarship and graduated with an international business degree in 2009. She went on to play professional soccer abroad in the Netherlands and Sweden before returning to the U.S. and taking a head trainer position at a gym in Greer. In between playing overseas and nursing an ACL injury, Mattern met India Trotter through a mutual friend. Trotter was the assistant coach for the USC Upstate women’s soccer team at the time but had previously played overseas and on the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

While playing on various teams and coaching different groups, both Mattern and Trotter discovered a need in the young soccer community: comprehensive, supplementary soccer training. In addition to regular practice, girls were paying monthly gym memberships to keep up their strength and were also seeing trainers or personal coaches for technique and speed work. While Trotter was coaching and Mattern was training at the gym, the beginnings of a business model were taking shape.

“A couple of girls that summer asked if India and I could train them, so we started putting together sessions. … The funniest thing is that we started on this random baseball field like a mile away from my house, probably the worst field possible,” Mattern laughs. “But it was all we had at the time.”

Soon after, Mattern began to think of grad school, and the fateful newspaper clipping practically fell into her lap. She decided to pursue her MBA at Clemson, a decision that would help to catapult 11.11 Training from a developing idea to a full-fledged business.

11.11 Training, cofounded by Mattern and Trotter in 2016, is an all-inclusive soccer training facility for girls in the Upstate. Ages range from 10 to 18, and every girl is asked to come in hungry for improvement.

“Any girl that comes here is obviously taking the time and financially investing whatever it takes to get better, but those who grow fastest are those that learn — those who are humble and listen to those who have gone before them,” Mattern says.

While it was certainly a winding road to get to where she is now, Mattern is in her element — back in her hometown, training young girls in the sport she loves.

“11.11 is very much who I am and who India is. It’s a product of both of us and our experiences. And now, we’re giving back to the community and the girls that are trying to achieve what we’ve done.”

Crafting a Plan: Bobby Hottensen ’11

It’s a way of life the locals call “tranquilo,” and it led Bobby Hottensen to take a leap of faith and trade a fast-paced urban lifestyle in Washington, D.C., for the laid-back tropics of Nicaragua.

A series of trips to the beach town of San Juan del Sur brought Hottensen and fellow surfers Brendan DeBlois and Matt Greenberg to a life-changing realization: “There was no craft beer here — not one brewery,” says Hottensen, a December 2011 graduate in environmental and natural resources. “It’s just an awesome little tourist town, beach surfing hub, and there were no options as far as craft beer goes.”

Hatching an idea to change that, the friends went to work raising funds, developing a business plan and scouting the area. And in early 2013, New York City native Hottensen left behind his job in D.C. and made the move to Nicaragua’s Pacific coast to start the country’s first craft brewery.

After some initial trials and tribulations, “The Cerveceria” opened in late 2014 and has grown into a bustling 100-seat brewpub that annually produces about 350 barrels and serves about 20,000 customers — an eclectic mix of backpackers, surfers, adventure travelers and locals. Construction is underway on an expansion that will double the business’ production and add a bottling line for product slated to be distributed throughout Nicaragua in the late spring.

After breaking new ground in the craft brewing industry in Nicaragua, the Clemson alum and his business partners are working to share a taste of the country’s laid-back lifestyle with the United States. In September 2017, Hottensen and his partners launched Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. in New York and Los Angeles. The concept: to leverage the allure of Nicaragua that they had fallen in love with and ride the wave of America’s fast-growing premium import market segment.

“It was always in our business plan that we wanted to export and share this unique brand and story and the things we love about living here,” Hottensen says. “We always thought it would translate well, especially as Nicaragua became more and more popular. So, it’s always been our goal, but the real goal was just to open the first brewpub.”

And the vessels for sending that “tranquilo” lifestyle back to the United States are 8-ounce squat cans filled with a brew dubbed “Panga Drops,” a crisp, unfiltered Keller Pilsner that sits at the intersection of a hyperlocal craft beer and an easy-drinking Mexican-style beach beer.

“The packaging is probably the most unique thing,” Hottensen says. “It’s an 8-ounce craft beer, which is the same footprint as the normal 12-ounce can, but just shrunk down. The idea is that down here it is so hot, and you’re drinking a can of beer on the beach, and the last couple sips are always pretty warm. So, we just decided to eliminate them.”While the initial launch was limited to New York and L.A., Hottensen hopes that the beer can reach a much wider audience. The company now has distribution in D.C. and Maryland and is adding Rhode Island, with hopes of eventually reaching South Carolina and Georgia.

Working to help spread the brand’s footprint is another Clemson graduate: regional marketing representative Catherine Czerwinski, who finished her bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2012 after a senior-year internship for Sweetwater Brewing Company.

Czerwinski’s father operates a distributorship, so the beer business runs in her family. But after she graduated it was a random encounter with Hottensen that led to the opportunity for the two college friends to team up.

“The summer after I graduated, I actually moved down to Costa Rica. A couple months later I was in Nicaragua and ran into Bobby, and I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Czerwinski says. “And he told me how he left his job in D.C., and he and his friends were starting a brewery.”

Czerwinski continued living in Costa Rica for nearly three more years but would visit Hottensen in Nicaragua to follow the development of his business. After moving back to the United States, Czerwinski’s location in New York made her an ideal candidate to help Hottensen and his friends launch their products in America.

“I’m still doing my non-profit work here, but also helping them expand their company through marketing and sales efforts,” she says. “It’s going really well. It’s fun to keep those memories and that time alive with me in New York. I get to talk about Nicaragua and Central America a lot. And that’s really something they try to push with the branding. It’s not just the beer; it’s the whole lifestyle — they say ‘tranquilo.’ It’s just Spanish for chill, pretty much.”

A Delaware native, Czerwinski’s choice of Clemson came because her older sister attended college in North Carolina, and she wanted to head south for her own collegiate experience, too. She knew very little about Clemson when she applied — and had never even visited campus before freshman orientation.

“I can’t say enough good things about Clemson,” she says. “It was amazing. I think it was fate that I ended up there because I totally fell in love with the place.”

From a marketing perspective, Czerwinski said Panga Drops occupies a unique corner on the American beer scene as both the only 8-ounce can currently on the market and the only craft export to come out of Nicaragua.

“That’s probably the most exciting part of all of it,” Czerwinski says. “It’s different for Bobby because he just uprooted his way of life and went down there to try out something totally new, but then the beer itself is just such a market disruptor that it’s really interesting that he’s bringing it back to the States. It’s totally new here; it’s something that’s never been seen before here. It’s cool that there’s a Clemson alum behind it.”

Designing Dream Worlds: Colie Wertz ’92

Colie Wertz taught himself to draw by copying the characters and vehicles he saw in Star Wars comic books.

“All I had were pictures,” Wertz says. “I bought all the comic books, studied all the ships and read about all the ships. I didn’t really have any big dreams. I just wanted to keep drawing.”

Today, Wertz designs the ships he might’ve copied in those early days as a veteran concept artist and modeler in the film industry. He has five Star Wars films under his belt, including one notable recent addition to the franchise.

“I did a bunch of concept art and modeling for Star Wars: Rogue One’” he says. “It was a passion project for the people working on it. The amount of research each one of us had done over the course of our careers really came into play and helped add to it.”

Wertz has worked on plenty of recent blockbusters outside of the Star Wars orbit. His resume reads like a roll call of the past two decades’ megahits: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Transformers, Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War, Men in Black, Flight and Looper.

Getting to this place in the movie business took some time. When he graduated from Clemson he moved to Charleston to be an architect. There, he made a discovery. “I enjoyed making the models more than I actually enjoyed designing someone’s house,” he says.

Wertz quit his job at the architecture firm and moved to Los Angeles. There, he bounced between his day job at a software company and nighttime training in Photoshop and 3D art. After honing his technical skills, he entered a design contest. One of the judges took a liking to his work and offered him a job at Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco, a famous visual effects company founded by Star Wars visionary George Lucas. He couldn’t say no.

After 21 years in the film industry, Wertz still feels pretty close to that kid sketching Star Wars comic books. He’s still refining his craft, hoping to get a little better each day.

“Over the years I’ve just gotten better and better at being able to express form through sketching,” he says. “As you put yourself out there, people start talking to you, and you get even more education. I’m a research education junkie.”

STEM Trailblazer: Wayne Tolbert ’83

According to Wayne Tolbert, earning an engineering degree was probably the most difficult thing he’s ever done. But then Tolbert doesn’t like to take credit for the strides he took to make sure minority students felt included in campus life during the 1980s, a change that made a positive impact on Clemson students past, present and future.

“There were approximately 300 American-American students on campus at that time. There were a couple of older native African students in the ceramic engineering program, but I didn’t have anyone like me in my classes,” remembers Tolbert.

During his junior year, Tolbert joined 23 other students to found the Clemson University chapter of the Society of Black Engineers (CUSBE). Tolbert was elected president.

“I remember going to the national convention in Atlanta and seeing other [African-American] engineering students and thinking, ‘There are others going through the same thing!’”

Tolbert continued to bring awareness to minorities in the workplace through his work as a systems engineer on Department of Defense military contracts. Last year, Tolbert received the Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award at the 2017 Black Engineer of the Year Awards Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference. The award is given on behalf of Career Communications Group’s U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine, the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Tolbert was nominated by his employer, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The award recognizes engineers who, among their many talents, possess the ingenuity to open career doors for others.

“It’s pretty amazing to be honored with this award. I believe I received it in part because I’m able to get along with a variety of personalities,” Tolbert says. “I think it goes back to my days at Clemson being the CUSBE president and a part of many other organizations on campus. There’s something in me that strives to pull people together to succeed; I think they [the awards committee] appreciated that, especially since the typical impression of an engineer is someone buried away in a cubicle or laboratory.”

Tolbert admits it’s cliché, but the advice he shares with others from his time in college and beyond is to never give up: “There’s a reason you are here on this earth. Find it and don’t stop doing it until you’ve blazed your own trail.”

Woman on the Move: Norma Hudnall ’72, M ’74, M ’80

As one of five children, Norma Hudnall jokes that she comes from a long line of overachievers. Today at 68, the former counselor is still competing.

Hudnall runs a 7:18 mile, and last spring, the Spartanburg resident competed in the World Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships representing Team USA and the Atlanta Track Club. She took home the bronze in the triple jump and long jump, placed seventh in the 800-
meter race and took sixth in both the 1,500- and 3,000-meter races.

“I couldn’t do it without the peer pressure of my 5:30 a.m. running group,” Hudnall says about her rigorous training schedule that keeps her in top form.

But having competitive sports open to her wasn’t always a given. Hudnall competed in high school tennis, but when she came to Clemson in 1968, no women’s sports were recognized by the NCAA.

“I was dating this guy who was on the fencing team, and they let me fence with them,” she says. But awards weren’t hers to take home. Despite the roadblock, she feels like she’s making up for lost time now.

She began racing at age 40. Since then, she’s run 10 full marathons, including ones in Boston, Honolulu and Ireland.  When she turned 60, she started running for the Atlanta Track Club, competing in her most recent events in South Korea. “I just decided to start experimenting with steeplechase and triple jump, and quite frankly, it’s just more fun to compete in more than one thing.”

Hudnall says naysayers who worry about injury or ailments keeping them from pursuing similar endeavors shouldn’t have so much trepidation. “One of my problems has been arthritis, and the first line of treatment for arthritis is exercise. I have severe scoliosis and spinal stenosis, and exercise can only make it better. Running can be therapeutic. But there’s also walking or water aerobics or cross training. Exercise is a good injury preventer as you age.” And that’s sage advice from an overachiever who hits the track every morning.

Fair Winds and Following Kites: Phil Broder ’90

“When the education career came to a sudden end, I was kind of looking around like, ‘OK, what do I do now?’”

Phil Broder worked in environmental education for 25 years before his career path suddenly changed, and he found himself starting his own kite-making supply business.

As a student at Clemson, Broder studied wildlife and fisheries biology with “a grand plan to become the president of the National Wildlife Federation.” While that dream didn’t quite pan out, Broder enjoyed serving as the first nature instructor at Clemson’s outdoor lab after graduation and moved on to work in a nature center outside of Chicago, where Broder’s career would take a wild turn.

“I was literally driving to the mall one day and drove past this kite festival,” Broder says. “I thought, ‘Huh. That looks cool.’ And I stopped to talk to some people, and found out that this kite shop had just opened up the street from my house. That was $100,000 ago.”

Broder’s newfound interest in kites soon blossomed into professional purpose when America’s biggest kite-making supplier closed. “There was a niche in the market, so I moved to fill it,” he explains. And so around four years ago, his online business, Fly Market Kitemaking Supply, was born.

While currently based in Lewisberry, Pa., Broder travels on a regular basis to show off the kites he crafts in events and competitions all over the world: “Besides kite festivals all around America — including the EPCOT Festival of Kites in Orlando to Kites on Ice on a frozen lake in Wisconsin — I’ve been to England, France, China, India, South Africa, Poland, Portugal and Canada.”

Becoming a kite-making supplier and award-winning kite maker was never in the plan for Broder, but he’s grateful for finding his passion and sharing it with his clients. “One of my customers sent me an email the other day of all the kites that he’s built with my supplies. As a business owner, that’s really cool. People are taking this stuff from me, and they’re making it into something beautiful.”

For Broder, the future looks bright. Recently married, he’s planning on taking a trip next fall to one of his favorite destinations: Cape Town, South Africa. “There just happen to be two kite festivals there in October,” he says, “so the idea is kite flying and honeymooning all together.”

Surprise Chef: Suzanne Paraiso Cupps ’02

Suzanne Paraiso Cupps '02

No one is more surprised than Suzanne Cupps that she has ended up becoming a chef. She didn’t grow up watching “Iron Chef” or “Chopped” or “Top Chef,” dreaming of being head chef at a high-profile restaurant.

“It wasn’t something I dreamed of doing or something that had even crossed my mind,” says Cupps, who took over last April as executive chef at Untitled, a contemporary American restaurant located on the first floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Cupps is the only female executive chef with Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates Untitled and 14 other New York restaurants. Her name and title is blind-embossed on the bottom left of the menu, an understated claim that fits her calm, understated demeanor. She hasn’t gotten where she is by being loud and overbearing, but by being precise and detailed and thorough.

And she’s gotten there by being a mentor and a teacher, which is somewhat humorous given that was her original career goal. A math major at Clemson, Cupps was dreading student teaching her senior year enough to know that wasn’t the right direction. So she moved to New York and eventually landed at the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel, working in human re­sources. When they needed extra help in the steak house, she pitched in and discovered a love of food preparation.

She didn’t know the difference between cilantro and parsley and had never held a knife properly, but she forged ahead and began classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. A lover of precision (a part of her math background, she says), she would take potatoes home every night and practice slicing and dicing until she got them perfect.

A series of kitchen jobs followed, and she landed at Gramercy Tavern (also part of Union Square Hospitality Group), learning from chef Michael Anthony. She moved to Untitled as chef de cuisine before taking the reins as executive chef.

She loves sourcing local seasonal ingredients and creating plates that are works of art. And she loves teaching, though in a very different type classroom than she initially envisioned. “My style is very much teaching,” she says, “and it’s funny that I didn’t become a math teacher, but I teach all day in the kitchen.

“I show cooks how to get better.”

Watch Cupps make an appearance in a New York Times Style Magazine video from 2015 that explores Untitled at the Whitney and really captures the restaurant’s style and appeal.

Here’s a more recent article from StarChefs that features Cupps as a rising star chef in New York City.

My Clemson: Christine Hart ’18

Christine Hart '18

Christine Hart ’18 working on the Habitat for Humanity Homecoming Build.

For the past 24 years, the Clemson family has come together to build 25 Habitat for Humanity houses. Since my freshman year, I have seen students, faculty and alumni dedicate their time and resources to give a local family the homecoming of a lifetime. To me the Habitat for Humanity Homecoming Build embodies what it means to carry a Clemson education into the larger world.

During my first year at Clemson many mentors opened my eyes to the inequalities present in our society. With the guidance of two Habitat advisers, Chris Heavner and Cindy Sanders, I began to work on Habitat houses as far away as Detroit, Michigan.

While the experiences in Detroit were impactful, my life was transformed by the needs I discovered within the Clemson community. As a freshman I became friends with a person experiencing homelessness, and it surprised me that someone I interacted with on a daily basis would be experiencing such difficulties. I found that homelessness could be present in any community, including Clemson. Thankfully, one house at a time, Clemson volunteers work for a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

The community that forms around the Homecoming House is truly a Clemson family. It is an acknowledgement that with an education comes a responsibility to care for those in need. Next year will be the 25th year of the Homecoming Build — the 25th year that students are empowered to look beyond the boundaries of campus and share their talents with a greater Clemson family.

A Beautiful, Terrible Problem: John Skardon ’76, Ph.D. ’11

A Beautiful, Terrible Problem: John Skardon '76, Ph.D. '11

John Skardon is a problem solver. It’s why he earned a degree in engineering from Clemson. It’s why he returned for a Ph.D. in policy studies after decades leading manufacturing companies and various startups. And it’s what he teaches his students at Cal State University where he is a lecturer.

Skardon saw a problem in his home city of Monterey, California, where nearly 80 years of expanding agriculture had contaminated wells and ground water with nitrates, primarily from the constant use of fertilizer. This issue isn’t exclusive to California, as the resulting unsightly algae slicks cause ecological and economic impacts across the world. Many farmers are now required to clean up runoff but don’t have an affordable way to do so. When told there was no solution to remove these nitrates, Skardon just saw an opportunity for problem-solving with students.

“Removing nitrates is not a science problem because it’s done all the time in aquariums and fish farms,” explains Skardon. “The real issue is doing it in an agricultural environment without labs and in some cases without power.” He looked to large-scale denitrifying filters in water and waste treatment systems along the Mississippi River. The challenge was clear: take big technology and scale it down.

Skardon and his team of students built five small biofilm reactors, but Skardon tempered his expectations. Drastically downsizing technology usually results in reduced effectiveness. “The last one worked so well we were stunned,” Skardon says. “The reactor was 90 percent as efficient as a large-scale reactor, which is amazing. So we said, ‘We think we’re done.’”

The research was moved into practical application through Skardon’s business, Tailwater Systems, where he’s now demonstrating what he studied in his doctoral program — the role of institutions in perpetuating or solving problems through innovation. The company is providing an affordable, scalable solution for farmers dealing with fertilizer runoff.

“When I realized how big the problem was, I said, ‘This is a great, terrible problem to work on!’” Skardon says, laughing. “I guess there aren’t many people who get so excited about a ‘terrible’ problem to solve, but that’s just me.”

King Bee: Buddy May ’62

Buddy May amidst his many beehives on May Farms. The smoker in his hand is used to produce a kind of fire alarm in the hive, keeping the bees busy while May checks up on them.

Buddy May ’62 amidst his many beehives on May Farms. The smoker in his hand is used to produce a kind of fire alarm in the hive, keeping the bees busy while May checks up on them.

May Farms is an earthy plot of 65 acres nestled in the backroads of northeast Greenville complete with small groves of growing fruits, a three-acre lake and around 40 buzzing beehives. “This is my sand pile,” chuckles Buddy May.

May, owner and operator of May Farms and a 1962 industrial management graduate, spent most of his career in textiles management. When it came time to retire, a friend from church gifted May with his first beehive in 2003. Since then, he has been harvesting and selling the honey gathered from his hives along with homemade propolis salve. Propolis is a wax-like material made with resins from tree trunks, limbs and bark and used by bees to patch small holes in the comb. May touts its excellent medicinal qualities when used to heal wounds and cuts. Honey also boasts significant health benefits, and according to May, allergies can be virtually cleared by eating honey produced in local flora regions. “The honey has pollen in it, and that’s where it is beneficial for an allergy. So, you can say local, but the best thing to say is if it’s similar to the plants in your area,” he explains.

At 83 years old, May is a double master beekeeper and master craftsman beekeeper, holding certifications from the Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) and the S.C. Beekeepers Association. May is the first person in South Carolina to receive the EAS master beekeeper title as well as the first to achieve master craftsman status from South Carolina. The tests and requirements for these accomplishments are extensive. For example, May studied three years for his EAS master beekeeper test, which is given over three days and consists of a written, practical, laboratory and oral sections. “I studied anything and everything and for years because any question about beekeeping — and there must be a blue bazillion of them — is fair game.”

Caring for bees is just as important to May as keeping them. On the road to becoming a master craftsman beekeeper, he investigated the ways oxalic acid could improve the conditions of the hive, specifically how the acid could address nosema disease, which affects the gut of the bee, and the varroa destructor, a devastating mite. After compiling his findings into a research paper, May published “Continuous Treatment of Bee Colonies with Oxalic Acid” in the American Bee Journal in October 2017.

Concern for these honey-producing insects stems from deep-seated admiration and respect. “The bee is blessed with a lot of things that I could talk to you for hours and days about. It’s the vastness of the bee itself that caught my interest.” May muses about the bee’s amazing and equally puzzling abilities. In order to produce honey, bees reduce nectar (which is about 90 percent water) to 18.6 percent moisture. That process never ceases to impress him: “How do they know when it’s 18.6? No one’s given me an answer for that, but I think it’s the antennae because the antennae can pick up moisture level.” According to May, the queen bee can lay more than 1500 eggs a day. “The mysterious part about that is that she can decide whether it’s going to be a female or a male,” he says. “It’s mind-boggling.”

His desire to know more about the bee inspires him to educate others and hopefully shed light on the bee’s current, disturbing situation. Increasing amounts of mites and viruses along with decreasing amounts of agricultural land and the misuse of insecticides have resulted in a reduction in the number of feral bees. “They can’t be treated in trees, so they die,” he says. “The feral bees are just about gone. If we ever get to the point where we have to pollinate, we’re going to have a whole lot less to eat.”

As the current vice president (and soon-to-be president) of the Eastern Apiculture Society, May is working on scheduling its first conference in South Carolina in 2019. Having lived in the Carolinas most of his life and with two sons and two grandsons as Clemson alumni, May is excited to show South Carolina off to the beekeeping community.

When asked about his motivation behind becoming an expert beekeeper in retirement, May credits the support of his late wife of 55 years, Pat Pressley, and adds with a smile, “I didn’t have anything else to do.”

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