Making his way in L.A.: Judson McKinney ’08

Judson McKinney hopes he has just joined the likes of Elton John, James Taylor and Tom Waits. All three of them performed early in their careers at the legendary Troubadour club in West Hollywood, where McKinney had the opportunity to take the stage on June 20.

Unlike the alums who headed to Nashville (see p. 20), McKinney headed to Los Angeles with a degree in philosophy. He’s worked hard, pounding the streets with CDs, even living in his car on occasion.

But it’s paid off, as evidenced by his performance at the Troubadour. With a style that’s been described as Americana, the singer/songwriter/guitarist is playing regularly at venues in Los Angeles and beyond. His new album, “Drink the Wine,” released by Atomic Sweater Records, cracked the iTunes charts upon its debut. And one of the tracks, “People Grow Up So Slow,” is soon to be featured in Michael Rosenbaum’s film “Old Days.”

His reviews describe him as “both straightforward and oddly mercurial.” A reviewer from L.A. Record described the performance at the Troubadour like this: “Judson and his Americana crew rocked the Troubadour and got everybody’s hips shaking and faces smiling.” LA Times has called him one of “the more compelling live acts around.”

At Clemson, McKinney played in a band called Sum Yung Gai, later known as Everyday Strangers, which performed at the now-defunct Joint, as well as at the Handlebar in Greenville and at clubs in Charleston.

Tiger is a Harvard Hero: Rupal Ramesh Shah M ’07

Rupal Ramesh Shah, a microbiology graduate, was honored by Harvard University as a 2012 Harvard Hero. This prestigious award is given to a select number of Harvard staff members who are recognized for “above and beyond” achievements and for their contributions to the university. Out of 12,000 Harvard staff members, only 49 received this award in 2012.

Shah is laboratory manager of the tuberculosis laboratory in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases in the School of Public Health.

“As a researcher, I value working with and learning from other scientists and colleagues in the lab and the department,” she said. “As a lab manager, I use the leadership skills I developed at Clemson to organize, lead and manage teams, and I truly enjoy this aspect of my work.”

Shah’s view of the world extends from the cellular to the global. Her work as a laboratory scientist involves molecular biology to help fight disease. As a humanitarian, she volunteers with both local and global organizations to help fight poverty, lack of education and improve public health.

“Her dedication to the well being of humanity is innate. I don’t think she will ever stop trying to make the world a better place, and many will benefit from her efforts,” said Alfred “Hap” Wheeler, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Clemson, and one of Shah’s mentors.

Turning ‘Mock Turtle Soup’ into ‘Gold’

When Jason Underwood ’04, Harrison Brookie ’07, M’08, Meg Pierson ’08  and Ben Burris  ’11 were members of Clemson’s improv comedy group, Mock Turtle Soup, they never dreamed that one day they would come together and form their own theater.

Alchemy Comedy Theater was created to perform and teach improv comedy. All of the members have day jobs, but have pooled their talents and experiences to form the only comedy improv theater in Greenville.

Artistic director Brookie is a secondary education graduate teaching at Southside International Baccalaureate High School. Underwood, class instructor, has a degree in architecture and works at Fluor Daniel. Pierson, Improv 201 instructor, graduated in history, and electrical engineering graduate Burris works at aeSolutions and is the group’s assistant artistic director.

They created a training center that has produced almost 50 students of comedy — some who have joined the theater. Performances are every Friday night at Coffee Underground. For more information, go to

Veterinarian with heart: Mary Mauldin Pereira ’01

After graduating with a degree in animal science, Mary Mauldin Pereira enrolled at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) on the island of St. Kitts. Her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian was realized after graduating in 2005. She and her husband, Gary, and their daughter, Ava Kate, live on the island where she is an assistant professor of parasitology at RUSVM.

In addition to teaching, Pereira has created a fundraising program, oneLOVEPets, for animals in need. Through the sales of pet collar tags, wristbands and other products, funds are raised to support animal shelters, spay and neuter clinics, fostering and food drives.

For more information, go to, oneLOVEPets on Facebook and Twitter @OneLovePets!

Coming back to Clemson: Jimmy D. Mullinax ’94

Industrial management major Jimmy Mullinax has come back to Clemson 17 years after being commissioned by the Clemson Army ROTC. A lieutenant colonel in the Army, Mullinax, a logistics officer, returned in June tasked with developing cadets into future Army officers and ensuring that they meet yearly Army commissioning requirements.

Mullinax has also served as an air defense officer in a Patriot Missile unit, as well as in a variety of positions ranging from platoon leader to brigade operations officer. He has been stationed in South Korea, Germany, California, Kentucky, Virginia and Texas. He has his master’s degree in military studies from Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Mullinax and his wife, Angie Chapman ’95 (SED-MA) Mullinax, are living in Liberty with their three children.

ChillSpot™: Ken M. Leahy ’93 and Mark H. Raeside ’93

What do you get when you combine a hot Southern summer’s day, a furry, miserably hot dog and two Clemson graduates? No, not a strange meal at a tailgate.

You get an ingenious way to keep a pet cool.

Marketing major Ken Leahy and design major Mark Raeside, both of Atlanta, are the inventors and co-founders of ChillSpot™ — a cooling dog bed. From the prototype made with sawed-off coolers and the use of thermodynamics, they were able to perfect a design that uses ChillPods placed in the super insulated base and transfers the “chill” to an aluminum top.

ChillSpot™ has become the cool place to be, not just for the family dog, but for famed animals such as the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascot, Uga, the pandas and tigers at Zoo Atlanta, and President Barker’s dog, Mookie.

For more information about ChillSpot™, go to

Bridge to book: Thomas S. Black ’92

Electrical engineering graduate Thomas Black of Blythewood was looking for a way that he could give back. The vice president of engineering at Fairfield Electric Cooperative took his Clemson education and life skills to serve as the project coordinator for a 200-foot pedestrian bridge over a raging river in rural Nicaragua.

The walking bridge improved the lives in two communities by allowing the people to reach stores, medical treatment and their farmland when the river floods. Black’s experiences on the church-sponsored project led him to publish a book, Ten $1 Bills. The book can be downloaded for free at

The Iguana Tree: Michel Smoak Stone ’91

English graduate Michel Smoak Stone’s debut novel, The Iguana Tree, which Library Journal says “recalls the work of John Steinbeck,” received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and an award for one of the top novels published in 2012 by an independent publisher.

Raised on Johns Island, Stone encountered illegal Mexican immigrants who “were forthright in telling me their story.” The inspiration for her book came from a couple who were smuggled into the U.S. with their young child. Stone wanted to explore why people would take such a risk, would put themselves into the hands of people they couldn’t trust — people who might, in fact, just as soon kill them as look at them — without even knowing whether the risks ultimately would be worthwhile.

Stone lives in Spartanburg and is working on her second novel.

Are you a Clemson FIRST?

There are many first-generation college graduates among our alumni, and we’re trying to find out who they are.

Were you the first in your family to go to a four-year college? If so, you are a Clemson FIRST, and we’d like to hear your story. Go to to read FIRST generation profiles on alumni Bob Barreto and Jennifer Rahn. Then go to to tell your story. Let us know if you’d be willing to volunteer and serve as a mentor for current Clemson FIRSTs. We’ll send you a free alumni car decal and a FIRST pin just for letting us know who you are!