My Clemson: J.D. Tuminski ’07

Tuminski, vice president of digital at Def Jam Recordings/Universal Music Group, is making waves in the music industry and has been since his college days at Clemson.

Q| Before you transferred to Clemson, you were going to college in Pennsylvania. What made you decide on Clemson?

A| I was really looking for something purposefully out of my comfort zone and somewhere that excelled academically. I actually made a conscious decision to look toward the South, and Clemson was the place I fell in love with. I knew almost immediately when I stepped on campus.

Q| Did you always want to go into the music industry, or was it something you kind of fell into?

A| I always wanted to get into entertainment somehow, but music came about pretty organically after I graduated. My senior year at Clemson, I started developing a website, just on a whim. I just really immersed myself in the music scene — not necessarily what was playing on the radio — and the website was a place I could share the artists I was finding with my audience. I wound up interviewing some pretty significant people. I’ll regret this, but there was a time that I was supposed to interview Drake; I couldn’t make the interview because I had something for class. It’s funny to think about that now.

Q| After an MTV internship and positions at HBO and Columbia Records, you’re now the vice presidents of digital at Def Jam Recordings/UMG. Can you give us an overview of your responsibilities?

A| Digital encompasses a lot, everything from marketing tactics to social media to website creation to advertising for the label as a brand and all the artists on the roster. Basically, digital has a hand in everything, and I’m overseeing all of our efforts there. It also includes working with external partners like YouTube and Instagram to come up with original content that complements our projects.

Q| What’s it like working with high-profile artists? How do you respect their vision and also do your job?

A| They are the talent, and they are the ones who ultimately make this a business. But I start with treating celebrities in the industry as people. I like to connect with them on a personal level. After I establish that, then I get into the music, sharing what I know about different platforms and different tactics that will really amplify the music and the message that they’re trying to bring across when they’re putting their art out into the world.

Q| Is there a misconception about working in the music industry that you’d like to clear up?

A| I think people who are maybe uninformed just think it’s partying with the celebrities and artists all day, and it’s just not that. There are elements of that and we do get access to certain things, but there’s a lot of hard work going down from all departments across the board. And it never stops. It’s a 24-hour business, and it’s a global business as well. As it turns to night in the U.S., you’re thinking about the other side of the world and what’s going on over there.

Q| Favorite Clemson tradition?

A| My personal favorite tradition is getting into town on a Thursday before a football weekend and spending those three or four days with my best friends from Clemson. We’ll go out on Thursday, go for a boating day on Friday, tailgate all day Saturday and wrap up on Sunday with a nice lunch and head back to wherever we live. It’s just fun because we live in different places around the country, and we all get together for these weekends every fall. It’s been something we’ve consistently done for 10 years now.

My Clemson: Bear Walker ’11

Bear WalkerGraphic communications major-turned-custom skateboard maker, Bear Walker reveals his creative process.


A: I got my degree from Clemson in graphic communications, and for one of my projects, I actually chose to design a skateboard. After that, I didn’t touch anything skateboard-related for a few years. I became a prop master at a special rims company and then a fabricator at a custom sign shop. When I was carving out a custom sign one day, I thought it would make a pretty cool grip for a skateboard, so I tried it and made one. People started asking me where I got it from, and I started taking orders. It just grew from there.


A: My favorite stuff at Clemson was the printing projects, and that meant you were going to be in lab for, like, your entire life. But it was the fun part. That kind of translated to my career. If you’re going to do something more fun as an occupation, it’s going to be a lot more work because most of the time, passion projects aren’t necessities. Like if someone’s breaker goes out, they have to call an electrician to get a new breaker, but I have to convince someone to buy a skateboard.

Beacon by Bear Walker


A: If I’m doing stock orders, I can make six. If I’m working on a custom, it’ll probably just be that one.


A: I do get burnt out every once in a while, but then I’ll do a custom for a client, and they’ll request something I’ve never done before. I’ll try it out and figure out new ways to carve, which brings so many new possibilities for other projects. That’s what keeps me inspired. I know the more I do this, the crazier and better stuff I can come up with.


A: Be susceptible to change. If you have a really good idea of what you want to do, that’s awesome — kudos to you. But if you’re not 100 percent set in your career path, don’t be afraid to take opportunities you didn’t quite have in mind to begin with. Sometimes, you get into a job or get offered an opportunity, and it completely changes your mindset for where you want your life to go.


A: Power slide.

Show Me How You Really Feel: Brian Sullivan ’90

Brian Sullivan

Brian Sullivan at Vizbii Inc. headquarters

Imagine leaving an online review without having to write a single word. Thanks to Sullivan, there’s an app for that.

A 1990 PSYCHOLOGY GRADUATE and clinical psychologist, Brian Sullivan is also the co-founder of Vizbii Inc., a technological communication company headquartered in Charleston. Vizbii is home to Morphii, a platform that’s changing the game for measuring emotion in the professional world.

With more than 20 years of experience teaching and working in the counseling center at the College of Charleston as well as in private practice, Sullivan watched as his patients struggled to describe their feelings using traditional scales and typical Q&A formats, sparking the original idea for the Morphii project.

“What I quickly found was that the traditional method, especially when the answer format is a scale with some numbers on it, is too far removed from their actual experience,” Sullivan explains.

His patented solution is a collection of morphing cartoon faces called “morphiis” that are embedded in an analytics database platform. His co-founder, and now wife, Corey Sullivan, animated the idea and then developed several prototypes to perfect the application.

To combat the drawbacks of scales and questionnaires, morphiis are equipped with a sliding scale. Each morphii represents a different emotion — happiness, anger, disgust or surprise — and the scale is used to adjust the intensity of the morphii’s expression. This feature helps the participant account for a much larger range of emotions than the traditional numerical scale.

Morphii can be used in business or health care settings and is incorporated into mobile- and web-based applications to easily capture and measure emotions.

“It’s like an emotional Intel chip inside a computer,” Sullivan says.

Recently, Vizbii has helped big-name brands like Verizon, JetBlue and Capital One incorporate Morphii into development projects. Other clients include a preschool on Daniel Island that uses the application to assess teacher and employee engagement as well as parent satisfaction and a physician in North Carolina who is integrating Morphii into his practice to identify patients who may be on a pathway to opioid addiction.

Morphii’s usefulness across a range of industries has Sullivan excited for the future of his smiling — and frowning — faces.

Check out Sullivan’s TEDx talk on the power of emotion:

The Patriot: Robert McPherson ‘Mac’ Burdette ’72, M ’74, M ’77

Mac Burdette

Mac Burdette at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant

As the executive director of Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Burdette is motivated by his passions for history and the military.

PATRIOTS POINT Naval and Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, known affectionately as the Fighting Lady. The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, decommissioned in 1970, earned 11 battle stars in the Pacific offensive of World War II and five more in the Vietnam War.

In 1968, the Yorktown recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and their capsule in waters south of Hawaii. Now, moored in Charleston Harbor, the ship falls under the watch of Robert McPherson “Mac” Burdette.

“It’s almost a feeling of destiny,” Burdette says. “This is where I was supposed to end up because I do have a passion for [the military]. Frankly, everybody who works here does. No doubt Clemson prepared me for what I do today.”

Burdette was a history major at Clemson when his studies were disrupted by the Vietnam War. He enlisted: “The wisest thing to do was enlist because you assumed you were going to be drafted. Enlisting meant getting a commission, and that was the smartest move.”

After serving in active duty as a second lieutenant in the Army, Burdette entered the Army Reserve, where he achieved the rank of colonel after 30 years of service, including a year in the Persian Gulf War.

Outside of the Army Reserve, Burdette spent much of his career as the city manager for Mount Pleasant, helping it grow and develop for almost three decades. In 2010, he was considering retirement when the executive director opportunity at Patriots Point came into view. Burdette couldn’t resist.

Along with the USS Yorktown, Patriots Point hosts the USS Laffey, a destroyer, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine, as well as a Vietnam War exhibit and a Medal of Honor museum. Each year, the museum sees more than 300,000 visitors and hosts 24,000 overnight campers. The site also has an economic impact of more than $29 million on the area, according to a 2014 College of Charleston study.

Burdette’s goal for the museum is to help younger generations of Americans understand the sacrifice and courage of veterans. “I like to think we’re a lot more than a museum,” he says. “It’s more about gaining perspective on what war is all about. As difficult as it is, there are times when men and women are called to preserve the values we hold dear as Americans.”

A Voice for the Community: Whitney Sullivan ’13

Whitney Sullivan

Whitney Sullivan at WLTX News 19’s headquarters

As an early-morning anchor, Sullivan has been nationally recognized for her dedication to viewers.

WHITNEY SULLIVAN begins her day as Columbia sleeps. She usually settles into her desk at WLTX News 19’s headquarters around 1 a.m. The office, a utilitarian mishmash of brick and steel on Garners Ferry Road, is never truly quiet.

In the digital age, news is not only constant but also constantly documented, and Sullivan knows this dynamic better than most. As an anchor in the 4:30 a.m. slot, she must pull double duty keeping her viewers informed and keeping them from crawling back into bed. But the early hour creates a bond.

“If you get up at 4:30, we’re family,” she says. “Those are my people, those who have to get their day started a little earlier than everyone else.”

Sullivan’s embrace of her viewers is an extension of her approach to journalism. In her role as an anchor, reporter and producer, she favors a community-focused approach acting as a mouthpiece for unsung local heroes and a watchdog for local concerns.

Sometimes that community-conscious approach means covering national news as well. Sullivan’s coverage of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, which was nominated for an Emmy, helped Columbia viewers empathize and express grief in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.

“I’m proud of that show because not only did we do that within hours of finding out about it, but I feel like we really presented the facts,” she says. “We worked toward healing. We really got to hear from everybody, about how they felt about that, in our community. Even though it happened in Orlando, there were people hurting in the Midlands from what happened miles and miles away. We were able to tap into that and give a voice to the people and let them express how they were feeling.”

The twin desires to inform and give voice to the local community animate Sullivan’s work.

“I get to be a voice for the people in the community that I love,” Sullivan says. “It’s something that I fall more in love with every day.”

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.”