Rocket Woman: Vanessa Ellerbe Wyche ’85, M ’87

NASA is working on sending astronauts back to the moon in 2024. Wyche will be there every step of the way.VANESSA ELLERBE WYCHE ’85, M ’87

Excitement sneaks into Vanessa Wyche’s voice as she talks about the upcoming Artemis program, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s 2024 directive that will see astronauts set foot on the moon once again.

“Our intent is to go and have infrastructure in place that would allow additional capabilities on the surface of the moon,” she says. Those additional capabilities include setting up a small gateway platform that will act as a checkpoint for future missions to Mars.

As the deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Wyche has a lot to do before then. One major priority is Orion — the spacecraft on track to return to the lunar surface.

“Having spacecraft that are able to withstand going from Earth to the lunar vicinity and returning is very important,” she says. “We’ve not done that since Apollo, so having the right technologies and the right testing are what our workforce is responsible for laying out.”

Aside from overseeing construction of Orion, Wyche’s responsibilities include monitoring the International Space Station and the Human Research program (which investigates how humans might survive for longer periods of time in space) as well as working with commercial partners, like Boeing and SpaceX, to develop vehicles that will transport astronauts to and from the space station. Wyche was named deputy director in 2018, but her career with NASA has spanned nearly three decades. After graduating with a bachelor’s and master’s in bioengineering from Clemson, Wyche headed to Washington, D.C., where she worked in the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Device Evaluation. When she and her husband moved to Houston, she found work at NASA as a project engineer, designing flight hardware. Since then, she’s held multiple leadership positions and earned two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals and two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals.

When she’s not at Johnson Space Center, Wyche is championing STEM in her community. For the past six years, NASA has partnered with The Links, Incorporated to bring a science fair to a local elementary school. NASA employees visit the school and mentor the children on their projects, while the nonprofit provides the supplies and resources to put on the fair.

“The carrot, the way to get all the kids to participate,” says Wyche, “is that if they do their project — no matter how good or bad — they get a field trip to NASA.”

Recently the program has expanded to another local school, which faces even more challenges. Many of its students are destitute.

“But the surprising thing is that those kids were the most excited about being able to do a science project,” Wyche says. “I’m hoping to be able to continue to support both schools, and my longterm goal is to see if we can expand this further.”

Wyche’s work in STEM outreach comes from a place of gratitude for NASA’s commitment to future generations — and also a place of reflection about her own career, one she describes as “awesome. I cannot begin to tell you just how awesome.”

Fort Bragg Family: Mark Pisano ’81

Pisano has spent his entire career serving a unique group of people: children in military families.

Mark Pisano '81

As a school psychologist, Mark Pisano has been helping military kids process emotion, cope with transition and do their best in the classroom for over 35 years. Pisano works in the Fort Bragg Schools in North Carolina, which includes nine schools on the army base, assessing children for learning disabilities and providing mental health services.

“Sometimes kids feel, and adults, too, that there’s something wrong with them because they’re upset all the time,” he says. “I help them understand that the feelings that they have during deployment — the fear, the sadness — there’s nothing wrong with them for feeling those things.”

After playing on the golf team at Clemson for four years and graduating in 1981 with a degree in psychology, Pisano began his first school year at Fort Bragg in 1982 and has been there ever since. He earned a master’s in 1982 and certificate of advanced study in 1984, both in school psychology, from Western Carolina University and a doctorate in education from Campbell University in 1992b.

Throughout his career, Pisano has not only been able to raise awareness about the unique experience of military kids but also further the resources available to them and their families. He has presented workshops across the country; traveled abroad to work with military kids in Uruguay, Bolivia and Cuba; partnered with Sesame Street, helping disseminate their literature for military families (even bringing Cookie Monster to the Fort Bragg Fair during the Month of the Military Child); worked with John Donvan of ABC News to discuss the intricacies of the deployment cycle and the way it affects kids’ development; and coauthored the Kimochis military families activity kit.

Kimochis, a California-based company founded after the Columbine shooting, creates stuffed animals designed to help children work through trauma and grief and build social and emotional skills. Each character is designed for different feelings and circumstances. According to Pisano, the military families activity kit (which includes the character Hero, a black Labrador) is now found “in every school building in the Department of Defense from Cuba to Hawaii.”

Military families live with abnormal amounts of stress, worry and transition. That transition means Pisano sometimes has to say goodbye to his kids when their families are placed at new locations. He says he often gets asked how he deals with getting too emotionally attached. Does he try to distance himself? His answer: “I welcome it. I don’t avoid it. I don’t fight against it. I welcome all of the friendships and the connections.”

Remaining engaged and connected is key in Pisano’s line of work; there’s always another project

to work on and another child to help. “I love the opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “That is really what’s driving the train, being in a position to make a difference for children, whether it be teaching them to tie their shoes or helping them get enough confidence to raise their hand in class.”

My Clemson: Allison Kidd ’10

As an archaeologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, Kidd specializes in Roman architecture and urbanism.

Allison Kidd '10 stands with colleagues in Turkey

Q| WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO TO CLEMSON?

A| Going to Clemson was a decision largely guided by my parents, considering they are both alumni, and the University’s high national ratings and low in-state tuition. Although I was not initially invested in the idea, it was not long into my freshman year that I found myself embedded in the Clemson experience, thanks to the countless professors who challenged my academic growth, the members of the administrative and academic staff who went above and beyond the call of duty to invest in my future career, and my classmates who challenged my personal growth — many now lifelong friends. All future applicants should know that these are Clemson’s virtues, and they mean much more than the annual published statistics and college ratings!

Q| WHAT CAREER STEPS DID YOU TAKE AFTER CLEMSON?

A| I began a master’s degree in classical archaeology at the University of Oxford immediately after graduating from Clemson. Before taking the big leap into the Ph.D., I returned to Clemson for a year, where I worked for the Calhoun Honors College as an assistant major fellowships adviser and for the Office of International Affairs as an international programs coordinator while also serving as an intern for the Columbia Museum of Art. In 2012, I began my doctoral studies in the history of art and archaeology at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. I spent the next five years conducting research, leading archaeological excavations and teaching courses in classical archaeology in New York City and abroad, mostly in Italy and Turkey. After graduating with my doctorate in 2018, I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh.

Q| WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW, AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

A| I am currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I am a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. I also currently serve as the field director for the Edinburgh-Apolline Excavations at Aeclanum in Italy and a member of the research team for the NYU-led Excavations at Aphrodisias in Turkey.

Q| WHAT’S THE COOLEST ARTIFACT YOU’VE UNCOVERED IN YOUR WORK?

A| I find that people often love to hear about the statues or mosaics I’ve found, but for me the ‘coolest’ artifacts are those items that are either considered extremely rare finds — such as the 1,800-year-old preserved wooden beams with intact nail holes we uncovered in 2017 or a polychrome mudbrick wall we uncovered in 2018 — or items that reveal unexpectedly extensive trade networks and connectivity — such as finding in a rural Turkish medieval settlement a silver Crusader coin that had been manufactured in Wallachia, modern-day Romania.

Q| WHAT’S A COMMON MISCONCEPTION OF BEING AN ARCHAEOLOGIST THAT YOU’D LOVE TO CLEAR UP?

A| Archaeologists do not study dinosaurs! Archaeology is the study of human history through their material culture and the changes they affected on the natural environment, whereas paleontology is the study of Earth’s history through plant and animal fossils. Think more Indiana Jones, less Ross Geller.

Ring Story: Double Trouble

Frank Hammond '83

Frank Hammond ’83 lost not one but two Clemson class rings. He tells the strange story of how they were both recovered:

Due at least partially to the shock that I was (seemingly) going to graduate in 1982, my parents offered to buy me a Clemson ring. Much to their disappointment, I took a victory lap but did graduate in ’83. I proceeded to lose the ’82 ring in 1986 on a business trip in Columbia, and they were even more kind to purchase a replacement.

Flash forward to the summer of 2006 on an island in Lake Hartwell. I was with my family, throwing the ball for the Lab, and felt the ring come off, making a nice soft splash some distance offshore. With no luck finding it and figuring two was probably my limit anyway, I resigned myself to moving forward without my Clemson ring.

That is until about a month later when my home phone rang, asking if I was the Frank Hammond that graduated from Clemson in ’83. Affirming that it was indeed me, the caller relayed he had seen something shiny while recently fishing on Hartwell and dove down to retrieve what turned out to be my ring. He was a Clemson grad as well and mailed it back to me, politely refusing any reward. I considered myself more than fortunate to have lost two rings and actually gotten one back, though some nine years later, the story takes an even odder twist.

While sitting at my desk in 2015, my phone rings with that same question, asking for a Frank Hammond who graduated in ’82. The caller said she was looking at my ring, which turned out to be the first one I’d lost. It had been missing for almost 30 years. She was the manager of an assisted living facility in North Carolina, and one of their residents, who could no longer speak, had given it to her the day before with no further explanation of how she came to have it.

“What’s the story?” I asked the manager.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “She just handed it to me.”

Tradition Flavors the Future

McGregor children honor parents with support of ’55 Exchange

Ice Cream coneSam ’49 and Betty McGregor’s family history is deeply rooted in Clemson, and their love for the University was passed down to their children and grandchildren. The McGregors also instilled the value of giving in their family. Years ago, they began a family tradition of giving back to worthy causes in honor of one another.

That philanthropic spirit, along with an enduring love for Clemson, inspired the four McGregor children to establish the Sam Evans McGregor ’49 and Betty Ulmer McGregor Clemson University MicroCreamery Endowment Fund in honor of their parents.

As a South Carolina dairy farmer, Sam McGregor was a prominent leader in the agriculture field, named one of four Outstanding Young Farmers in America in 1964 and the recipient of the Clemson Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1977. Betty McGregor was honored as National Mother of the Year in 2009 and was named Clemson’s Mother of the Year in 2010.

The choice to give to the ’55 Exchange was an obvious one for the proud children of a Clemson-educated dairy farmer. The ’55 Exchange is a student-led entrepreneurial center in which the students design, manufacture, sell and serve Clemson’s world-famous ice cream, blue cheese and other products. All revenues generated support Clemson students and their academic and professional training.

Students benefit from being a part of the creative process at the ’55 Exchange. They created a special flavor — McGregor’s Salty Caramel Glazed Southern Beignet Ice Cream — to express appreciation for the family’s gift.

The McGregor family’s gift reflects the motto of the ’55 Exchange, “Where Tradition Flavors the Future.” The McGregor family gave back to honor the traditions established by their parents, and to help ensure success for future generations of Clemson students.

Surviving Calculus

Boyd Scholars Program gives engineering students a path to success

Beth Stephan works with an engineering studentEighty Clemson freshmen are participating in a program that gives them a chance to ease into the challenging math courses that sometimes derail students’ dreams of becoming engineers.

Boyd Scholars are first-year students in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences who are selected to complete courses during the long summer academic term. The award covers tuition and fees for the seven credit hours required in the summer, along with summer housing and a summer meal plan. Students take an extended curriculum that delays their start in calculus yet keeps them on track to finish their required courses before their sophomore year. The Boyd Scholars Program is made possible through a $1.25 million gift from the Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation.

For many students, calculus is a major stumbling block on their path to engineering degrees through no fault of their own.

Beth Stephan, who oversees Boyd Scholars, noted, “Students often arrive on campus underprepared for calculus because their hometown schools didn’t offer programs that could get them ready.

“This money allows us to keep those students at Clemson all summer,” she continued. “They can start in the right math for them, and there are no extra dollars out of pocket to get them caught up. This program has the potential to be truly life changing.”

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said Boyd Scholars also play an important role in helping address the state’s STEM workforce shortage: “STEM careers can be the golden key to elevate many students to a better life with rewarding salaries and job security. Too often students struggle with the rigors of college-level STEM education, particularly with calculus. The Boyd Scholars program will help them clear hurdles that might otherwise trip them up.”

Anand Gramopadhye, the college’s dean, said that when he sat down with Darnall Boyd in 2015, they talked about their shared concern for South Carolina’s students and a vision for a better future.

“He understood that an important factor lay within our ability to educate future generations in STEM disciplines,” Gramopadhye said. “The program developed by the college positions our students and the state for success.”

When All Things Are Possible

Mary Satcher “Sissy” Bynum ’84 and her late husband, Henry “Clarke” Bynum Jr. ’84, were a true Clemson couple. They met at freshman orientation and were married a month after graduation in 1984. Clemson has remained an important part of their family’s life ever since. Three of their four children and multiple family members are also Clemson graduates.

After Clarke Bynum passed away in 2007, Sissy Bynum knew that she wanted to give back to the place that had made such an impact on their life together and the life of their family. At the time, their daughter, Ann ’12, worked as a teacher at an inner-city St. Louis school. That experience made the family more aware of the disadvantages that many young people face who do not have the opportunity to go to college.

A first-generation college graduate herself, Bynum started to think about her estate plan and began a conversation with her children: “I talked to them about the opportunity to give to Clemson, and we all enthusiastically agreed that our family wanted to establish an endowment to benefit the FIRST Program.”

The Bynum family legacy is being realized through Sissy Bynum’s planned gift, to be known as the All Things Are Possible First-Generation Scholarship Endowment.

Clemson’s FIRST Program helps first-generation college freshmen and transfer students adjust to the college experience by offering a variety of opportunities and resources, from academic support to social activities.

It’s a mission that resonates with Sissy Bynum. “I want to leave a legacy that underscores my faith and the appreciation for all that Clemson has given me,” she said. “Clarke would want our family to do this.”

Laying the Foundation for Success

Nieri Cornerstone gift provides perpetual funding for Construction Science and Management department

Construction science and management students at Clemson take classes in calculus, physics, economics and business, and management as well as those focusing on structures, materials and methods, contract documents, estimating, scheduling, safety and project management.

But it’s in the laboratory — the Construction Science and Management Construction Yard at the Ravenel Research Center — where those theoretical concepts are reinforced and practiced.

Now, thanks to Michael ’86 and Robyn Nieri, both classroom and experiential learning for these students will be enriched. With their $5 million Cornerstone gift, the department will become the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities’ first named department. The Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management will also receive funding for experiential learning projects with a focus on residential construction; a new residential construction professor of practice faculty position; and the Nieri Family Endowment, which will provide perpetual funding for these initiatives.

“I attribute a great deal of my success within the construction industry to the education I received from Clemson University,” said Michael Nieri, president and founder of Great Southern Homes. “Our hope is that this gift will allow Clemson to offer even more learning opportunities for our students, establish even more prominence for the department among our peers and prepare our students to make significant impact as they enter the industry.”

This is the Nieris’ second Cornerstone gift; their first created the Nieri Family Student-Athlete Enrichment Center, laying the foundation for student-athlete success. They are the University’s second Cornerstone partner for both athletics and academics.

“As an Academic Cornerstone Partner, Michael and Robyn Nieri are laying the cornerstones upon which the future of academic excellence will be built at Clemson,” said President James P. Clements. “Their generosity will take our construction science and management program to the next level and will help us better prepare students to be leaders in the field.”

 

Honorary Alumni

The Clemson Alumni Association recently named three honorary alumni:

HonoraryAlum_CandiceGlenn

Candi Glenn is one of Clemson’s most well-known volunteer student recruiters in Texas. Glenn and her husband, Gerald ’64, have supported Clemson through the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering and as an Athletic Cornerstone partner through the Gerald and Candice Glenn Family Unrestricted Endowment for Clemson Athletics.

Jacqueline Reynolds, who married into the Clemson Family, has shown a lifelong commitment to the University through the Jacqueline Morrow Reynolds Endowment for Music in the performing arts department and a devotion to historic preservation as the president of the board of trustees for the Pendleton Historic Foundation. She established the Jacqueline M. Reynolds Conservation Endowment for Fort Hill to ensure its conservation. This endowment has since expanded to the Hanover House, Hopewell and the Trustee House.

HonoraryAlum_TerryDonPhillips

Terry Don Phillips, who served as Clemson’s director of athletics from 2002-12, was recognized as an honorary alum on Aug. 22, 2019. Known as the athletics director who “gave Dabo a chance,” Phillips is considered by many to be, as former vice president of advancement Neill Cameron stated in his letter of recommendation, “a person who is ‘just Clemson.’”