Matt Kelley ’07 started his engineering business in a room above a detached garage with a laptop he had bought on eBay for $500.
Safe water and sanitation are considered basic needs for people all over the world. In most of the United States, we turn on the faucet and expect clean water. We walk down the hall to a bathroom with a toilet, sink and soap. We take those things for granted.
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.”
Paulette Evans’ work as senior project manager with Cone Health landed her on the 2017 list of the Triad Business Journal’s Forty under 40. Since August 2016, she’s led the development of Reinventing Care, a $160 million project that includes a new women’s and children’s facility for a North Carolina hospital system that serves six counties.
“It’s probably the most complex project the hospital has ever tackled,” said Evans. “We are really changing things up for the entire system. It feels good to know in the end that it will be worth it.”
The project, which is geared toward bringing women and children’s services to the main Cone Health campus in Greensboro, means the hospital will be able to accommodate about 6,200 births a year. The project also includes the Wesley Long Hospital and Operative Services with a new 10-room operating suite and a redesigned behavioral health services area.
“One thing that sticks out to me is what we’ll be able to do with robotics in the operating room,” she said about the project. “It’s a collaboration between what a human being and a machine can do. The new technologies that are being used are going to be amazing.”
Tackling an analytical career as an engineer was natural for Evans. Her father was an electrician and her mother taught math for 30 years. “In school science and math were my favorite subjects — all day, every day,” said Evans.
In 10th grade when a career assessment pegged her as being a future engineer or a litigator, the research she compiled gave her an answer of combining her parents’ passions to become an electrical engineer. A full scholarship to Clemson for the class valedictorian solidified her choice of becoming a Tiger over a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.
Evans said looking back at her childhood, she has her parents to thank for the time they spent sharing the daily ins-and-outs of their own careers to set her up for success. “All the things I did growing up, all the conversations we had, they just stuck,” she said. “My dad would come home and debrief with us.
I spent a lot of time with him helping him with cars, and problem solving and trying to understand why things happen the way they happen. It just all pointed in the direction I needed to go.”
Mashrur “Ronnie” Chowdhury envisions a future in which car accidents will be reduced to virtually zero and drivers will travel down some of the state’s busiest roads without stopping for a single traffic light. And he says it could happen in as little as a decade, with the help of the new Center for Connected Multimodal Mobility that will be based out of Clemson, thanks to $1.4 million in startup financing from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Chowdhury, a civil engineering professor who is leading the center, said another $6.4 million in continued funding from the department over the next five years is highly possible.
It’s this type of research that earned Chowdhury the Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievements in Research, presented at the May faculty/staff meeting. Chowdhury is the Eugene Douglas Mays Professor of Transportation and professor of civil engineering, automotive engineering and computer science. The award is administered by the Office of University Research Grants Committee (URGC).
The new center brings together researchers from Clemson, Benedict College, the Citadel, South Carolina State University and the University of South Carolina to focus on improving the mobility of people and goods with a special focus on how the emerging “Internet of Things” applies to transportation.
Chowdhury expects that it will soon be standard for vehicles to wirelessly communicate with each other, pedestrians and infrastructure, such as traffic lights and roadside sensors, making travel safer and more comfortable.
When Kate Gasparro ’14 thinks about her success, she goes back to the first conversation she had with fellow alumnus Bob Hambright ’70.
Gasparro was applying for a leadership award that bears Hambright’s name when he impressed upon her the importance of self-examination, a lesson she took to heart. She went on to win the Norris Medal, the highest honor for an undergraduate at Clemson, and is now a Ph.D. student at Stanford University.
“He’s not just a friend,” she said. “He’s a mentor. The Hambrights have been a constant part of my life. I hope as an alumnus, if I can be as successful as Bob and Susan Hambright, I can come back and be as helpful as they are.”
The relationships the Hambrights have formed with Gasparro and other students illustrate how their hands-on approach has already left its mark as they prepare to have an even deeper impact.
The Blowing Rock, North Carolina, couple recently announced a $249,000 Give Day contribution that comes on top of their previous contribution of $251,000. The two contributions together allow Clemson to create the Hambright Distinguished Professorship in Engineering Leadership.
“If we’re going to make the world a better place, the way to do it is to create more and better leaders,” Bob said. “We want to identify kids who have that potential — identify them early on and help them accelerate their development as leaders.”
John DesJardins, a member of the bioengineering faculty, will hold the professorship and continue the work he began with the Hambrights in 2014. Their contribution gives DesJardins an endowed professorship, one of the most esteemed positions on the faculty.
DesJardins thanked the Hambrights and said they are passionate about leadership.
“They are committed to the idea that all Clemson students should have the opportunity to become better leaders during their time at Clemson, and that we have a duty to provide for them the opportunities to grow as leaders in their disciplines,” he said. “Their commitment to this goal is inspiring, and I am honored to be a part of that process.”
DesJardins is charged with creating awareness of leadership’s importance and identifying and accelerating the development of tomorrow’s leaders. He oversees the Robert B. ’70 and Susan B. Hambright Annual Leadership Program in Engineering. Eight engineering students received awards in 2016, and the program goes into its sixth year in the fall. Each student receives $3,000 for leadership-related programs and a $1,000 merit award.
Gasparro, one of the early awardees, used some of her funds to attend a Dale Carnegie program in New York City. She has remained in touch with the Hambrights while working toward her Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering and a master’s in international policy.
Bob received a mechanical engineering degree from Clemson in 1970 and an MBA from Winthrop University in 1974. One day during his career, it dawned on him it was a good idea to hire people smarter than he was, he said. As a leader, his job was to create an environment where people could work together toward a compelling vision. “If we could tap the collective wisdom of the group, nobody could stop us,” Bob said. “That was just an aha moment for me. From then on, I just wanted to learn as much as I could about leadership.”
Bob retired in 2010 as chief executive officer of the Southeast division of Balfour Beatty Construction Co. The company set up an endowment for the Hambrights focused on creating more and better leaders. “We wanted to be part of the process,” Bob said. “I think that’s the only way you can get the impact you want. It’s been a lot of fun.”
One hiccup in the beginning was that students had trouble spending the money because their schedules were already jam packed. That’s when the Hambrights began working with DesJardins, who helped organize the leadership program and held the forerunner to the endowed professorship, the Hambright Professorship.
Susan Hambright said that DesJardins understands the couple’s vision. “He can see in students that kernel of leadership ability, that light that some kids have, and they just don’t know what to do with it,” she said. “Hopefully, with what we’re doing, he can grow more leaders than before.”
How can we keep food fresh with less energy during cold storage and transportation? What’s the best way to manage water supplies during extreme drought? How can we get personalized medications to patients faster?
Seven Clemson researchers will tackle these questions, and others, thanks to competitive awards from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program totaling more than $2.7 million. CAREER awards are investments in some of the country’s most promising young researchers, providing a boost to their careers and to the quest for answers.
Clemson has experienced increasing success in winning CAREER awards. There currently are 31 active projects funded by CAREER awards; 30 University faculty members have received awards since 2010, including seven each in 2016 and 2017.
“These CAREER awards from the National Science Foundation are a testament to the talent, dedication and ingenuity of Clemson’s faculty,” said Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research. “Not only are these faculty working to solve some of society’s most pressing problems, they are providing the highest quality education to our undergraduate and graduate students.”
The 2017 CAREER Award winners are:
Luiz Jacobsohn (pictured above), assistant professor of materials science and engineering. Jacobsohn’s quest is for the most effective material for use in radiation scintillators, which detect radiation in a number of applications, from medical imaging to national security.
Sophie Jörg, assistant professor of digital production arts. Jörg works to make the virtual world more realistic. With the NSF grant, she will develop and refine the complex and subtle movements of hands and fingers.
Amin Khademi, assistant professor of industrial engineering. Khademi is tackling the complex and complicated process of bringing pharmaceuticals and other products to market and to patients, by developing new mathematical methods for carrying out clinical trials.
Ashok Mishra, assistant professor of civil engineering. As a water resource engineer, Mishra is creating mathematical models to characterize extreme drought events that can improve water security in a changing environment.
Simona Onori, assistant professor of automotive engineering. Onori, a control engineer, is helping make the world a cleaner place. Her research involves multiscale modeling to develop advanced controls that will mitigate emissions in new-generation vehicles.
Marissa Shuffler, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology. Porter received a rare award for behavioral research. Her work focuses on improving the ways teamwork and leadership are taught in organizations.
Sapna Sarupria, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Sarupria is designing new materials for keeping things on ice. She’s using high-throughput screening to efficiently discover new materials that either inhibit or promote ice formation.
Brent Beason first traveled to Slater Mill on a sales call with his father in 2000. In 2016, with the mill facing closure, Beason returned to purchase it, saving 57 jobs and creating new ones. His company is one of many breathing new life into the textile industry by sharpening its focus on advanced materials.
Ensuring the health, safety and well being of others via the roads you drive or the buildings you enter isn’t just a day job for Jason and Hesha Nesbitt Gamble, but a desire they’ve each pursued since teenagers. The couple are stand-out licensed professional engineers who found their route to Clemson by way of high school internships, which also set into motion a path to each other.
As an exam development engineer for National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) in Seneca, Jason is one of only five people in the country commissioned with managing the creation of 25 national licensing exams that examinees take to become licensed in 17 different engineering disciplines. Jason is tasked with managing four of those 25 exams. Hesha serves as county engineer for Greenville where she oversees 77 employees as well as the engineering and maintenance of all county roads, approximately 1,760 miles serving 450,000 residents.
“We take that job very seriously,” said Hesha. “If there’s a problem, we need to fix it. Greenville is my community so of course I want the best for my community.”
“I’ve never had a job that didn’t affect people in some way,” chimed in Jason. “What I do now at NCEES affects the future of the profession and affects what (engineering) is going to be for the next generation.”
Even beyond technical skills, the pair says honing soft skills like communication and public speaking prepares their teams to execute a project efficiently. “You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you can’t effectively communicate or explain something, you’re not going to be successful,” said Jason. “It’s about knowing how to interact with people. I’ve worked with Ph.D.’s to someone with only a third-grade education, but we all had to work together in order to get a job done.”
Those so-called “soft skills” were picked up in Clemson classrooms, where the two met each other through study groups for upper-level undergraduate courses. The couple praise their time at Clemson for making them effective engineers today. They especially credit the PEER program for many of their successes.
“We bring engineers and experts from all over the country to do a job, and to be able to relate to each of them individually and not just professionally, just to be able to hold a conversation, Clemson was where I learned to do that,” said Jason. “I have no doubt it makes me better at my job to be able to relate to people and just work with them regardless of where they’re from.” Jason and Hesha, despite their busy careers, find the time to be “All In” raising their five-year-old son, Justus.