Tinker Tailor Surgeon Spy: Fletcher Derrick ’55

Alumni Profile: Fletcher Derrick '55

No one would suspect a urological surgeon to be a covert courier — even his wife.

“AS THE CIA SAYS, I was hiding in plain sight.”

After graduating from Clemson in 1955, Fletcher Derrick joined the Army as a young medical student at the Medical University of South Carolina and was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for an internship. Following medical school, he traveled with the Army to Germany and continued his urology training there at a hospital in Landstuhl. When Derrick and his wife, Martha, returned to the U.S. with a new baby, Derrick began his four-year residency at MUSC, where he helped start the kidney transplant program.

Next came teaching and chairing the urology department at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., until Derrick finally settled back in Charleston, where he started his private practice. “Settled” is perhaps the wrong word because the Derricks traveled constantly for medical conferences and committee trips to places like Cambodia, Egypt, Scandinavia, Japan, Peru and Nepal, to name a few.

But Derrick’s work as a covert courier for U.S. Military Intelligence began long before this, when he was a medical intern at Fort Benning — at the height of the Cold War.

“The commanding officer called me in on what I thought was a routine check,” Derrick says. But after a few moments of small talk, the officer approached him with the courier position, which involved transporting and delivering sensitive documents around the globe during Derrick’s many travels. When asked if he would be in any danger, the officer replied, “Highly unlikely.” The next question was, “Can I think about it?”

“You have 24 hours. And you can’t tell a soul. Not even your wife.”

Derrick accepted. And it wasn’t until he wrote his book Surgeon Spy in 2016 that Martha Derrick was surprised to discover her husband’s secret life.

After serving as a courier for over 20 years, Derrick remembers the last package he ever delivered: “How they knew we were planning a trip to Italy, I’ll never know, but they called and said, ‘Package on the way.’ So, we traveled to Anzio and were visiting one of the art exhibits there. I was just looking at a mural on the wall when this major walks in. Seeing his nametag, I knew I had to deliver the package to him.

“He said, ‘I’ve been waiting on you!’”

Far from Home: Corbey Dukes ’84, M ’94

Alumni Profile: Corbey Dukes

As the director of Oasis, a residential refuge for abused girls in Guatemala, Dukes is determined to find justice for them — a home as well.

“TO SEE AN EIGHT-YEAR-OLD TESTIFY in court about —” Corbey Dukes pauses for a moment, the long-distance call falling silent, “just horrors. It’s overwhelming at times.”

The girls at Oasis are brave. Braver than anyone should have to be. And Dukes, the director of the residential program for sexually abused girls in Guatemala, witnesses their bravery every day.

After graduating from Clemson in 1984, Walter Corbett “Corbey” Dukes III and his wife Janie Stevenson ’84 began careers in engineering and nutrition, respectively. The couple eventually settled on Pawleys Island. During this time, Dukes worked a corporate job, earned his MBA from Clemson and was very involved in his church, which often hosted mission trips to Oasis. Dukes got to know the residential program and staff through these mission trips, and on one significant trip, he was surprised to learn that the current director was leaving. In 2009, Dukes and his wife found themselves back in Guatemala, this time with Corbey as director of Oasis and Janie managing nutritional needs.

As soon as he arrived, Dukes began building up Oasis’ staff of social workers and psychologists; more were needed to treat the depth of the girls’ trauma. Over time, the home’s capacity grew from one part-time social worker and one part-time psychologist for 36 kids to five full-time social workers and four psychologists for around 100 kids. Working without a background in psychology — or a lick of Spanish — Dukes remembers this early period as being particularly difficult:

“I’m not a psychologist,” he says. “When I got here, I was just trying to figure out what was going on. The biggest challenge was understanding why the kids were acting the way they were acting. Basically, I taught myself child psychology to figure out what system we needed to have here and the funding infrastructure needed to put that system in place.”

Girls are sent to Oasis under court order for protection and rehabilitation after being removed from abusive environments. The healing process is long and hard as are the investigation and judicial proceedings that follow. According to Dukes, the rate for a successful prosecution of a sex crime is 6 percent in Guatemala. To improve the chances of a better outcome, Oasis staff work with Guatemalan prosecutors and provide resources for thorough investigations. Above all, the girls courageously testify against their abusers in court — efforts that yield a 70 percent successful prosecution rate.

“It took us a year pounding the doors, getting the district attorneys to pay any attention to us,” Dukes says. “Everybody was saying, ‘You’re wasting your time. Nothing will happen. It’ll re-traumatize the girls, and the bad guys will come and kill you for revenge.’ None of that was true.

“The girls are always better on the other end of the justice system. They get their voice back. We get threats, but we’re all still here. Just because something looks hard and is dangerous, it’s not an excuse not to do it.”

Beyond working with the justice system, Dukes and his team have also been meeting with government officials to advocate for adjustments within Guatemala’s foster/adoption system that will help bridge the age gap between young children who are being adopted and older children who still desperately need families. The girls at Oasis range in age from five to 17, but most of them are adolescents. Placing traumatized, adolescent girls into families (whether it’s their biological, foster or adopted family) is difficult, requiring serious rehabilitation and preparation often for both parties. Oasis oversees this whole process and sometimes struggles to find appropriate placements for girls due to limited options. But the struggle is worth it. And Dukes isn’t giving up:

“These kids deserve what any kid deserves: to be heard, to be loved and to have a family.”

Road Bots: Lionel Robert M ’97

Alumni Profile: Lionel Robert

Lionel Robert poses among equipment at an on-campus robotics lab at the University of Michigan.

Robert is looking for answers to all of the questions surrounding autonomous vehicle technology.

LIONEL ROBERT is an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan, where he researches and collaborates with students on the relationship between technology and teamwork in modern society. Robotics and autonomous vehicles — AVs for short — are his specialty, which is why, when an AV struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on March 18, Robert suddenly found himself in high demand by the media.

The fatality occurred when a woman stepped out in front of a self-driving Uber. The AV failed to stop even with a safety driver, and Robert confirms that the AV’s lidar technology (like radar but using light rather than radio for detection and ranging) should have been able to detect the moving person and respond. But he also stresses that this tragedy is a result of multiple factors.

“We have to be careful to not oversell the technology,” he says. “Look, an autonomous vehicle is a vehicle. A vehicle weighs one or two tons and, moving at x amount of speed, cannot stop on a dime.”

There’s a widespread perception that autonomous vehicles will all but eradicate traffic problems and accidents on the road once they become commonplace. But Robert explains that figuring out how to program AVs and how to integrate them into society brings up one issue after another, many of which are counterintuitive.

“When we first started with the problem of autonomous driving, we thought it would be easy, and the reason why is because driving is a pretty explicit activity,” he says. “There are laws. There are fixed lines. It seems to be made for an algorithm, for artificial intelligence. But it turns out that driving is an incredibly social activity. No one follows the law when they drive.”

Should AVs be programmed to break traffic laws in order to avoid accidents or react to other drivers? Should urban infrastructure and roads be redesigned to accommodate AVs? Questions like these continue to arise as AVs become more of a reality. Robert believes it will take a lot of education and engagement of the general public to move forward with this kind of technology.

In the meantime, Robert is focusing on research with his students. One particular study they’re conducting uses virtual scenarios to explore the ways AVs might communicate with pedestrians.

“The thing about this research is that we’re doing something that people don’t know,” Robert says. “I tell students the answer isn’t in the back of the book; we’ve got to find out together.”

One for the Books: Megan Brown Clarke ’04

With a lot of hard work and long hours, Clarke rose in the ranks of the broadcasting industry.

Alumni Profile: Megan Brown Clarke

MEGAN CLARKE LEARNED TO GET ahead by raising her hand. At 22 years old, she began her career at Fox News as a greeter.

“I was thrown into this amazing, incredibly fast-paced environment interacting with celebrities and politicians,” Clarke says. “I was the first person they’d see when walking in the door.” Wanting to be a part of everything meant raising her hand for anything — breaking news, overnights and television specials.

“It was grueling,” she says. “The days were incredibly long.” Eventually, Clarke’s hard work paid off. Now at 35, she’s one of the youngest vice presidents ever at Fox News, where she leads the booking team. Her responsibilities include making sure sources and contributors are scheduled and prepared for being on air. For her success, she credits the early days of her career.

“You get to know the talent really well [in the greeter position],” Clarke says. “You also have to know the subject matter we’re covering. You’re constantly learning every day. It’s phenomenal.”

With cable news days running 24/7, Clarke says she rarely steps away from her iPhone. Mornings begin with a thorough news browsing session, which involves taking in 15 to 20 different news sites and flipping among all the morning news shows. “I’m like a sponge. I want to see what people have covered and compare that with what’s on my docket for the day,” she says.

Although the days are long, Clarke says she’s never once looked at the clock — 5 p.m. is just another hour of the day. “Our expectations as the No. 1 news network are very high,” she says. “We want to be the closest to the floor of an event or news story. We want to key up the best person on one side of the issue and get the other side of the issue so viewers are exposed to all viewpoints.”

Clarke’s no longer on the front lines of the station greeting guests and contributors, but she never fails to remember — or remind others — where she got her start: “When I was working at 1 a.m. in D.C. cleaning earpieces, I learned you’re never too good for any assignment.”

On Ozark: Kevin L. Johnson ’07

Alumni Profile: Kevin L. Johnson

Johnson left the shores of Hartwell Lake — not knowing how important another lake would become to him.

WHEN KEVIN L. JOHNSON LEFT the shores of Lake Hartwell after graduating, he had no idea how important another lake, the Lake of the Ozarks, might become to him.

The actor and Clemson alumnus has become a fan favorite on the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Ozark.” A sleeper hit last summer, the TV series returned for a second season on Aug. 31.

In “Ozark,” Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star as seemingly ordinary parents that move to a lakeside home with their kids in search of a simpler life. Blue skies, tall trees and the placid lake make things look picture perfect. But below the surface, it all gets darker. The Byrdes are no ordinary parents, and a nefarious past has followed them to their new life.

Johnson plays Sam Dermody, a real estate agent who finds the Byrdes their new nest in the Missouri Ozarks. Quirky and unassuming, Dermody appears oblivious to the criminal currents swirling all around him, pulling almost everyone into the wake.

“He’s a little eccentric. He’s a little naïve,” Johnson says of his character. Dominated by an overbearing mother, Dermody is working hard for respect and independence as the first season of “Ozark” unfolds.

Making a name

Johnson is an actor on the rise.

He landed a small part in the big film “American Made” with Tom Cruise in 2017. He also earned acting credits in the upcoming remake of the 1990 thriller “Jacob’s Ladder” and the independent heist film “American Animals,” which made its debut at the Sundance in January. Johnson also has a supporting role in the thriller “Don’t Look There,” now in post-production.

But his role as Dermody came with something new — recognition.

“I always use the word ‘surreal,’” he says. “It’s still surreal. Every now and again, people will recognize me at the mall.”

Though “Ozark” is set in Missouri, most of the filming takes place at Lake Allatoona in Georgia. Johnson, who is based in Atlanta, said the tremendous growth of filming Georgia has led to new opportunities: “There’s no reason to leave the Southeast right now, if you’re working on building a resume, in my opinion. It’s the best place to get started.”

Netflix has helped change entertainment in other ways, too. Each series episode has a cliffhanger, which tempts some viewers to binge watch an entire season in one or two days. The lack of commercials also allows more time to develop drama. “The content’s much deeper, richer, and you can do a lot more in each episode,” Johnson explains.

Speaking of episodes, Johnson comments on working with Jason Bateman, who directed some of “Ozark’s” episodes in season one. “As a director, he’s really down to earth,” Johnson says. “He’s a great actor’s director. He’s perfect at it.”

The second season started production in late November, and shooting lasted from January until May, according to Johnson. “It’s going to be lots of fun next season.”

Ozark: Kevin L. Johnson

Orange and purple

At another lake in South Carolina, Lake Wylie, Johnson grew up in a Clemson family. “I bleed orange and purple,” he says. Early on, he knew Clemson was where he wanted to study. What to study was less clear. Starting out in computer science, Johnson ultimately graduated with an English degree, but he found a home in performing arts.

“When I got to school in the morning, I would always go to the Brooks theater,” Johnson says. “It was definitely like a second family.”

His path to acting began in a Clemson English class, when the students watched a play related to their curriculum. “I thought, ‘Oh man, that looks like a lot of fun,” he says.

Though his first audition at Clemson didn’t win him a role, Johnson still got involved in theater by working on a tech crew. Before long, he won the lead role as a different Sam — this time as the pickle-maker seeking a love match in “Crossing Delancey” — at the Clemson Little Theater.

In his first big musical role, Johnson starred as Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” also at the Clemson Little Theater.

“I didn’t realize I could sing, really, until college,” says Johnson.

Johnson’s mother had been a country singer, but he hadn’t tested his own voice until he checked out a cast recording of “Urinetown” from the library to prepare for an audition. “I was like, ‘Wait a minute, why didn’t I know that I could sing?’”

Kevin L. Johnson on Ozark

Major revelations

Looking back at his Clemson years, Johnson recalls how much his trajectory changed during college.

His advice for students is to keep looking for new opportunities and experiences.

“After you arrive and start taking your classes, if it’s not what you are looking for, then switch majors,” he says. “Switch it up. That’s what I did.”

Johnson definitely switched it up as a student at Clemson. His first, small role in a Clemson production, a bit part in Seamus Heaney’s “The Burial at Thebes,” changed his life forever.

“It changed my whole outlook on what was going to happen in my life.”

All-Star Administrator: Beth Goetz ’96

Alumni Profile: Beth Goetz

From soccer player at Clemson to the chief operating officer at UConn’s Division of Athletics

“CHARACTER IS WHAT YOU HAVE when you think no one is watching. You have got to live and breathe it every day.”

Beth Goetz’s definition of character has served her well so far. From her time as a Clemson soccer player to her current position as chief operating officer of the University of Connecticut’s Division of Athletics, Goetz has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of intercollegiate athletics.

Goetz began her experience with college athletics as a soccer player, transferring from Brevard College to Clemson her junior year. Team captain for the women’s soccer team, she went on to earn her degree in psychology in 1996.

Grad school and coaching came next. While studying counseling at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, she coached the women’s soccer team to eight winning seasons. It wasn’t long before she became an assistant athletic director and the senior woman administrator for UMSL, setting aside her original plan to be a therapist. However, Goetz explains that her education in counseling and psychology has contributed to her success in athletics.

“I was calling my coaches at 23 saying, ‘What am I doing here?’” she says. “But once I got into it, I felt like I was making an impact on the athletes, which is what I would have been doing through counseling as well.”

After 12 years at UMSL, she moved on to positions at Butler University and the University of Minnesota, where her responsibilities and leadership gradually increased.

Her current role at UConn has her overseeing day-to-day operations as the sport administrator for football, softball and men’s soccer, Goetz focuses on building a team culture. “Athletics can teach and foster so many important things like commitment and time management, but it’s also about believing you can accomplish more as a team than you can as an individual,” she says.

While Goetz’s career has taken her around the country and to different colleges, she wants one thing clear: “I will always be a Tiger.” During her time at Butler, Goetz fondly remembers one game in 2009 when the Tigers and the Bulldogs went head to head in men’s basketball: “I went into the game thinking, ‘I can’t really lose here.’”

UPDATE: Since we wrote this story, Goetz has moved on to become the director of athletics at Ball State University earlier this year.

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.”