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Call Me MISTER Encourages Childhood Reading at Barbershops

Student Deakin Rencher teaches reading to Tydarius Cobb

Tydarius Cobb, 9, poses with Clemson University student Deavin Rencher, a sophomore studying special education and member of the Call Me MISTER program, at the Uptown Barbers barber shop in Central, S.C., after reading the book he’s holding as part of the Razor Readers program.

DeAvin Rencher is a fixture at Uptown Barbers in Central. But he’s not a customer or barber. He’s a special education major at Clemson and Call Me MISTER® student who works with kids through the Razor Readers program.

The Call Me MISTER program is sending its students to local barbershops each week to educate school children and their parents on the importance of reading early and often. These weekly sessions are the focus of Razor Readers, a program funded by the United Way of Pickens County that aims to increase children’s access to reading materials and individuals who can serve as educational role models.

Call Me MISTER works to increase the pool of available teachers from more diverse backgrounds, particularly among the lowest-performing elementary schools. The MISTERs play a key role in Razor Readers as role models, according to Amity Buckner, executive director of Pickens County First Steps. “When you realize that a MISTER may be the first African-American male these young learners meet who values education,” she said, “you realize the potential impact of this program.”

Rencher verified Buckner’s statement with his own experience. “I didn’t see an African-American male teacher until high school, and many of these young kids think it’s cool that I’m doing something positive through education.”

Children can read while waiting in line for haircuts or in their free time. Barbers have punch cards for each child that when filled qualify them for a free haircut. Before and during haircuts, MISTERs guide parents through early education tools that will help parents engage with their children and encourage reading at home and school.

“I like to talk to parents first to get their consent and also get them on board, and many of them have really gotten involved,” Rencher said. “We want to use every tool we can to get kids more engaged with reading, and coaching the parents to encourage it just increases the odds we’ll succeed.”

Smiley Garvin, owner and operator of Uptown Barbers, replaced an unused barber chair with a table and chairs for Rencher and the kids. He believes kids who come in and out of the shop are quicker to embrace reading in a setting that isn’t school, home or library.

Levi “T” Robinson owns D’s Diamond Cuts, another participating barbershop, in Easley. He has created flyers for the program that he distributed via local churches and has been thrilled to see kids returning to the shop not for another haircut, but for more books.

Call Me MISTER began at Clemson in 2000. Since then, the program has graduated 203 MISTERs who are now teaching in South Carolina schools and has expanded to include 19 other universities and technical colleges in South Carolina, as well as programs in eight additional states.

A Passion for Service: Kim Gray Evans ’98

A Passion for Service: Kim Gray Evans '98

Kim Evans’ involvement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Savannah River Area in Augusta, Ga., began with volunteering five hours a week.

Evans, an accounting major at Clemson, had worked in management accounting in the manufacturing and health care sectors. With the birth of two sons, Jacob and Jared, she wanted to be home more and started a small accounting firm. It was one of her clients, a Boys and Girls Club board member, who recruited her to work with the organization.

“I’ve always been someone who just never sits down — within six months to a year I was probably working for them 30 hours a week,” she says. Within 2½ years, she was part of helping the organization grow from three to eight area clubs serving more than 3,000 youth. By 2011, she was the chief financial officer, managing a $3.5 million budget and overseeing grants and federal funding.

Then the CEO was promoted to the national level, and Evans became interim CEO. It didn’t take the board long to remove “interim” from her title.

It was the Boys and Girls Clubs’ mission to “inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” that ignited Evans’ passion. “I didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club growing up, so I had no idea about the mission when I started,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in the community and giving back. All the things I wanted to do with my life’s work aligned very quickly with what was happening here.”

This past spring Evans was invited as one of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America CEOs to attend a year-long Harvard
Business School executive education program, studying companies and organizations and the ways CEOs make decisions, and translating that to the nonprofit sector.

“Sometimes in the nonprofit arena we don’t have a product that we sell,” she says. “We have to go out and make the case to individuals and corporations and foundations that we’re worth the investment.”

Back home, Evans’ priority is convincing folks that the mission of helping kids reach their potential is worth an investment. “I focus on building a better community. These kids are the future. This is your future workforce, your kids’ future neighbors. This is worth the investment.”

Keeping the pipeline filled with diverse talent

Duke Energy continues to support two Clemson summer programs for middle school girls and incoming college freshmen interested in the STEM fields.

Duke Energy is continuing to support two Clemson summer programs — one for middle school girls and one for incoming University freshmen — with an $85,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. Both programs are aimed at increasing diversity in the pipeline that carries talent from the classroom to the workplace.

Project WISE is designed to educate middle school girls about opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, at a time of life when peer pressure tends to drive them away. The PEER and WISE Experience offers 50 incoming freshmen a head start on academics and campus life. Both programs, which are based in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, are designed for students from groups who are underrepresented in STEM fields, including women and minorities.

“We know that quality education programs like these are critical to creating the high-tech, diverse workforce we need for the 21st century,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina state president. “Partnering with great institutions like Clemson University helps our communities continue to grow and produce skilled workers who bring new ideas and innovations to our lives.”

About 60 middle school girls attended Project WISE this past summer. This year’s program targeted Title I schools in the Pee Dee, a region where Duke Energy is working to have great impact. Girls attended mini-courses in a range of topics from electrical engineering to computer science, taught by Clemson faculty and staff. Ten undergraduate Clemson students lived in residence halls with the Project WISE girls.

Serita Acker, director of PEER and WISE, said that since Project WISE started in 1997, many of the program’s alumni have come to Clemson, majoring in STEM disciplines. “All of the research shows that middle school is when you start thinking about what you want to do,” Acker said. “What makes us unique is we have all these young women in our college who serve as role models. Students can see what they could be like in the future.”

The PEER and WISE Experience, based on two previous summer programs aimed at helping ease students’ transition to college, had its inaugural three-week session in July. While living on campus, students studied college calculus, physics and chemistry and learned about research, graduate school and success strategies, such as time management. They also met alumni, providing them role models to emulate.

Acker said Duke Energy has long been key to the success of PEER and WISE and thanked the company for its latest contribution. “It not only plants the seed of STEM, it plants the seed of what the future can be when you get a college education,” she said. “Together, we are keeping the pipeline filled with diverse talent.”

Expertise, Heart and Passion: Lisa Bennett ’05

Lisa Bennett '05

Back in the early 2000s, Lisa Bennett was a secondary education major at Clemson who had no way of knowing that one of her coworkers at a video rental store would go on to found one of the most successful educator development organizations in Zambia. Lusungu Sibande was just another employee in the trenches with Bennett, restocking DVDs and keeping a “naughty” list of late video returners.

Lusungu and her sister, Kondi, started A to Zed in 2006 and immediately invited Bennett to travel to Zambia with them. In 2016 Bennett was finally able to join the sisters, offering her abilities as an educator to help teachers in Zambia through professional development workshops. She became an instant believer, making plans to return in summer 2018.

“I enjoyed helping teachers address what they may be lacking in classrooms,” Bennett said. “It’s very fulfilling to help them put proven methods into practice, and we can’t wait to go back.” And, she adds, “Lusungu and Kondi made me part of their family and an honorary Zambian citizen.”

Bennett worked with teachers and students in grades 5-9, but her work wasn’t confined to the classroom. A to Zed also tackles service-learning projects, such as helping teachers and students raise and sell crops, the proceeds of which get put back into schools. Members of A to Zed also found time to host a field day for Matthew 25, a local orphanage.

Bennett said the experience made her realize just how much the hardworking people of Zambia accomplish with limited resources. One teacher she observed used a single book and no other reading or writing materials to effectively teach a class of 40 students.

That experience taught Bennett an important lesson about the role of teachers: “In the end, it’s about me and what I have to give, and that’s expertise, heart and passion,” she said. This summer, she’ll take these talents back to teach — and learn — from the educators of Zambia.

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor inspires during Clemson visit

Sonia Sotomayor speaks at Clemson

When Sonia Sotomayor came to Clemson on Sept. 14, President Clements noted that it was the first time a sitting justice of the U.S. Supreme Court had spoken on campus.

But Justice Sotomayor made sure there was very little sitting. She moved through the packed house of more than 900 members of the University community, stopping several times to organize group photos as she candidly answered questions submitted in advance by students.

Vernon Burton, professor of history and director of the Clemson CyberInstitute, introduced Sotomayor as “not only my friend, but a true American hero.” The two have known each other since their days at Princeton University, where Sotomayor was once his research assistant.

Sotomayor spent an hour answering questions while weaving in personal anecdotes, inspiration and advice. Philosophy major Chiodera “ChiChi” Drayton-Smith asked Sotomayor what parts of her journey to becoming a Supreme Court justice were unexpected. Sotomayor responded that every turn was unexpected.

Sotomayor, who has served on the U.S. Supreme Court since 2009, grew up in public housing in the Bronx, New York. As a child, she never dreamed of being a lawyer or a judge, much less a Supreme Court justice. “To dream about something you don’t know is impossible,” she said.

Sotomayor went from the Bronx to Princeton, where she won the university’s highest academic honor. She attended law school at Yale and was editor of its law journal. After graduation, Sotomayor worked in the public and private sector, serving as an assistant district attorney in New York and was a partner at the law firm Pavia & Harcourt.

She was appointed to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, then served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before President Barack Obama nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 2009.

Haley McKay, who is studying women’s leadership and communication and minoring in Spanish, wanted to know Sotomayor’s philosophy on leadership.

“Find the best in people, and appeal to that,” Sotomayor said. “Make people you are working with give you their best. Challenge them to be the best person they can be. Once you do that, they can rise to your expectations.”

Students were clearly taken by Sotomayor’s dynamic talk. “As a Latina, to see someone like me presented on this campus, that’s so important to see,” said Amanda Arroyo, a graduate student in the department of history. “It’s nice to see someone that’s made it so far,” she said.

Sotomayor closed her appearance by talking about the difference between law and justice. William Powell, a student in modern languages, had asked what young people should know about the field of law.

“Let me start with what the law is not. It’s not about moral justice,” Sotomayor said. “One person’s justice is another person’s injustice.” In her field, there must be a steadfast belief in the rule of law, and Sotomayor has faith in the system she’s chosen.

“We’re not God. As judges, you can’t ask us to play God,” she said. “Laws are made by people. They can be changed by people.”

Sotomayor’s visit was sponsored by the President’s Forum on Inclusive Excellence in partnership with the Humanities Advancement board of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.

View the full event:

Broadening the path to higher education

“If you don't have an 'I Am,' someone will have a 'You Are'," said Khalilah Shabazz of Indiana University, demonstrating how men of color are labeled. “Have a clear definition of yourself!”“If you don’t have an ‘I Am,’ someone will have a ‘You Are’,” said Khalilah Shabazz of Indiana University, demonstrating how men of color are labeled. “Have a clear definition of yourself!”

This spring, as most districts were preparing to end the school year, Clemson was focused on helping minority students who too often never make it to graduation day.

Clemson’s inaugural Men of Color National Summit was held in late April at the TD Convention Center in Greenville. The summit’s mission is to close the achievement gap for African-American and Hispanic males, who trail other demographic groups in high school graduation and college enrollment rates. This now-annual event will benefit students and their communities by identifying and promoting strategies that foster success from cradle to career.

Educators, business professionals, advocates and community leaders from 27 states attended. At the heart of the event is the Tiger Alliance — a cohort of 325 ninth through 11th-grade students from the Upstate and I-95 corridor. The 2017-18 Tiger Alliance cohort’s experience at the summit included meeting inspiring role models and attending workshops that emphasized proven, real-life skills.

The summit enjoyed strong support from the Upstate, including presenting sponsors, the city of Greenville and Greenville County. The nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show” broadcast live from the summit.

In addition to 30 breakout session speakers, high-profile keynotes included Tavis Smiley, host of the PBS talk show “Tavis Smiley” and PRI’s “The Tavis Smiley Show”; John Quiñones, journalist and host of the ABC newsmagazine “What Would You Do?”; Desmond Howard, Heisman Trophy winner and ESPN college football analyst; Roy Jones, executive director of Clemson’s Call Me MISTER® program; Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; and David J. Johns, former executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans.

With the support of Clemson President James P. Clements, the event was spearheaded by Lee A. Gill, Clemson’s chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president for inclusive excellence. Gill gives the lion’s share of the credit to co-chairs Chuck Knepfle, associate vice president for enrollment management, and Julio Hernandez, associate director for Hispanic outreach, as well as a host of dedicated staff and volunteers.

A 20-year higher education veteran, Gill came to Clemson in 2016 from the University of Akron, where he had led the Black Male Summit for nine years. He hailed the first Clemson summit as a huge success.

“The Clemson summit exceeded my wildest dreams,” Gill said. “It took us nine years at Akron to reach the 2000-person level. In our first year here, to attract some 1,700 people was just outstanding. From the very start, the city of Greenville, the County of Greenville and the superintendents of the school districts understood the importance and possibilities for this event. Their support went beyond anything I ever imagined.” Gill added, “The Tiger Alliance is where the rubber meets the road. This is where our emphasis will be from now into 2018 and for years to come.”

Click here for information and updates.

Confirmed keynotes for the 2018 summit include Roland Martin, Michael Eric Dyson and Marc Lamont Hill.

Gantt Scholars recognized

In 1963, when Harvey Gantt entered Clemson, he was the first African-American student to do so. Twenty-five years later, the Clemson Black Alumni Council established a scholarship to honor him and to recruit and retain African-American students, with special preference to South Carolina residents and entering freshmen. In February, Harvey and Lucinda Gantt were on campus for a reception to recognize the Harvey B. Gantt Scholars. Senior management major Tre Worthy thanked Gantt for his inspiring leadership. The Gantt Scholars gave Gantt a framed photo of him receiving his diploma in 1965 with the inscription of “Because of you, we can.”

More photos from the reception recognizing the Harvey B. Gantt Scholars.

Whipped goodness: Washica “Shica” Hagood Little ’96

Clemson alumna Shica LittleShica Hagood Little saw her waistline expand as she was drinking multiple cups of sugar-and-cream-filled cups of coffee while teaching and working on her Ph.D. in education leadership at Grand Canyon University. But Little wasn’t ready to cut coffee from her routine. Something had to give. That’s when she got in her kitchen and started from scratch.

She bought cream, butter, spices and vanilla and blended it with a hand blender. “It came out horribly,” she said. “It didn’t perform the way it should and didn’t taste the way it should,” she said. “So I started researching.”

More than 2,000 batches later, she’s the proud creator of “Dr. Shica’s Healthy Surprises,” which includes “Incredi-Whip,” a coffee creamer, fruit dip and whipped cream in one. “Initially the product was called “Coffee Whip,” but once I started working with a couple of the stores and buyers, I decided it should be not only for coffee drinkers, but for everyone,” she said. The product doesn’t include artificial colors or flavors, high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan or gluten. With many of the ingredients that were going into her 1,000-calorie cup of coffee gone, Little said she was able to drop about 40 pounds using her product instead.

The next step was to bring Incredi-Whip to the masses. Little saw an audition for “Hatched” on the CW network, where entrepreneurs pitch their brands to business moguls. Her pitch was a success, and she partnered with investors Mark Koops, “Hatched” TV executive producer, and Freddy Cameron, retail expert and host of season 1 “Hatched,” to bring her product to Walmart, Sam’s Club and Kroger. “What that show did for me is amazing,” she said. “They have consumers come in and try your product so you have real-time feedback, and they tell you what you have to do to get on shelves.”

Little has gone on to appear on another show called “MVP: Most Valuable Partner” on Verizon’s Go90 television, where she earned the endorsement of basketball star Kevin Durant and his mother, as well as three other sports stars on the series. Little’s research showed Durant’s mother was an avid coffee drinker, and he was going to 7-Eleven every night to get her a coffee.

Little knew she had her hook. “I didn’t know if any of them wanted to work with me, but they all worked with me.” Little said she always dreamed of being “somebody” and going to California to lead her life. In October she was able to make her dream a reality and work full time for her brand that’s helped her rub elbows with industry titans and earn superstar endorsements.
— Julia Sellers