Lecturers Host Monthly Gathering for the Deaf Community

Professors Hurdich and ClementsWhen two Clemson faculty members decided to host a coffee get-together for the local Deaf community in Greenville, little did they know that 300 people would show up.

Starbucks wasn’t prepared either. “They only scheduled one signing barista, and he was swamped,” said Jason Hurdich, a lecturer in the Clemson Department of Languages.

Signing Starbucks-Greenville has become a lively monthly gathering since the first event in January. “People have come from all over South Carolina, plus North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida,” said William “Bo” Clements, also a lecturer in the Department of Languages. “I’m sure there are more than just these states.”

Hurdich and Clements are two of four Deaf faculty members in the American Sign Language program at Clemson.

Clemson is the only four-year public institution in South Carolina that recognizes and offers ASL as world language credit. Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in ASL or minor in the program, which is part of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.

Public coffee chats for the Deaf community are held throughout the nation, but Hurdich and Clements believe the monthly Greenville gathering has immediately catapulted to the largest in the country. “Most Deaf coffee chats across the nation attract between 20-70 people, and we were surprised but glad to see so many members of the community,” Hurdich said by email.

Hurdich and Clements knew the Upstate had a sizable Deaf community, but social opportunities, particularly for those in small towns, are limited. “There are very few opportunities for us to meet,” Hurdich said. “The Deaf community tends to be isolated from mainstreamed settings.”

The two looked around for an appropriate location and found a relatively new Starbucks on Laurens Road. “It was a perfect place with bright light and plenty of tables and chairs,” Clements said.

Starbucks has a particularly strong commitment to the Deaf community, having opened a “Signing Store” last fall in Washington, D.C., where every employee is proficient in ASL, Hurdich said. The Laurens Road Starbucks, meanwhile, regularly schedules up to four signing baristas on Signing Starbucks nights.

Attendance at the monthly meeting has declined somewhat due to the summer holidays, but Hurdich said he expected the numbers to climb back up to 300 in the fall.

At Signing Starbucks get-togethers, ASL chats are not so different from conversations by the hearing community, with topics touching on “work, family, sports, churches and universities,” Clements said.

But members of the Deaf community also share information to help each other navigate the challenges they face, said Hurdich, who earned the nickname “Rockstar” as a prominent ASL interpreter for Gov. Nikki Haley during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“We thrive on sharing information since we miss out on incidental information,” he said. “Think of all the talking that happens throughout the day, and imagine how that information is missing for a Deaf person.

“With the isolation of the Deaf community, having the opportunity together to share topics is important,” Hurdich added. “Most commonly we discuss community happenings, quality of interpreting services, even technology that impacts the Deaf community.”

Often in attendance also are the hearing children of Deaf parents. “It is their opportunity to connect with other children in similar circumstances,” Hurdich said. “[It’s] a great way to share, so it’s wonderful to see that!” 

Making a Global Difference

NibigiraOne of 84 doctoral degree recipients in May, Carmen Nibigira knows the value of focus and persistence.

Nibigira moved to Clemson in 2012 from the small African country of Burundi to pursue her Ph.D. in travel and tourism. It was a difficult decision that took her away from her children, who stayed with family back home while she studied.

Although she had quickly risen in her field, Nibigira was conscious that dynamics in the tourism and hospitality industry were changing and that she had much to learn if she wanted to continue to advance her career.

“My professional background was in hospitality; however, I began to see tourism industry discussions shift to a greater focus on conservation, preservation and community engagement,” Nibigira said. “I had little knowledge at the time about how my journey in Clemson would unfold but had faith that pursuing my education in tourism development, with a focus on policy, was the best decision, regardless of the circumstances.”

Her studies have been interrupted several times — by career opportunities and by political unrest in Burundi. But she persisted, at times working on the degree part time, and completed her degree in May. Nibigira’s faculty adviser, travel and tourism professor Sheila Backman, said this kind of tenacity and focus is typical for Nibigira: “Other graduate students find themselves needing to overcome challenges while they complete their credential, but not like Carmen. Instead of slowing her down, she always manages to navigate through anything that’s thrown her way. And she does it the right way. As a result, her academic and practitioner colleagues have tremendous respect for her and the knowledge, skills and commitment she brings to the table.”

Nibigira started her academic career in the United Kingdom, earning her undergraduate degree in Brighton and her master’s in Birmingham, with experiences in Switzerland and East Africa. She decided to pursue her Ph.D. in North America, in part to learn about tourism from a different cultural perspective. She chose Clemson because of its climate, tourism and parks management program, and faculty’s international reputation.

While she studied, Nibigira also continued her long-standing work to empower women throughout East Africa by creating opportunities for education and mentorship. She has mentored dozens of women during her 20-year career in the travel and hospitality industry and is committed to continuing that.

“Education is a great opportunity for young women,” she said. “But it’s not just about education. It’s about the quality of education, equal pay, being able to get a good job and striving to have it all, just not all at once. It took me 15-20 years to work toward my Ph.D., when you factor in my university education and work experience. Once you understand that hard work pays, you become mentally prepared for the challenge.”

Nibigira is now working as a project director for Horwath HTL, an international consulting firm that provides governments and other clients with tourism research, policy and strategy development, and implementation support in East Africa. Recently, she has found a new challenge to pursue after a conversation with one of her sons. “He asked me, ‘Why are you always focused on helping girls? Why not boys?’” she said. His statement caught her off guard and made her think.

“I’m a mother of boys and began to wonder, are we creating the same opportunities for them? We perceive boys as having an advantage, but I’ve started to wonder if that’s really the case,” Nibigira said. “I’m compelled to see how I can start engaging boys in the very near future. We have helped girls and women access education and equal opportunities, and boys are feeling left out.”

“After all, in Africa, we say that it takes a village to raise a child,” she continued. “I feel like it took several countries to raise me. If I can make a difference in any way, I will.”

Students Earn Goldwater, Hollings, Tillman Scholarships

Melissa McCullough

Melissa McCullough

Clemson students are the recipients of premier national undergraduate scholarships this year.

Riley Garvey, a biosystems engineering major from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Caleb Todd, an environmental and natural resources major from Summerville, S.C. are the recipients of the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The award supports two years of full-time study as well as a paid summer internship with the NOAA between the junior and senior year.

Clemson claimed three winners of the 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a national undergraduate award in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Laura McCann, a chemistry major; Erin Mihealsick, a genetics and biochemistry major; and Benjamin Slimmer, a physics major, each will receive one-year scholarships that will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.

Melissa McCullough (left), a Navy veteran and Ph.D. student, is among 60 U.S. service members, veterans and military spouses who have been named to the 11th class of Tillman Scholars. The scholarship is named for Pat Tillman, who left his NFL career to join the U.S. Army and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Honorees are sharing in more than $1.2 million in scholarship funding this year. McCullough is pursuing her Ph.D. in bioengineering while teaching and working full-time as a bioinstrumentation lab manager.

Students interested in applying for these or other major fellowships should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at

Clemson, Duke Energy Partner on Mobile Engineering Lab

Mobile engineering labClemson and Duke Energy are hitting the road this fall behind the wheel of the Explore Mobile Lab, an innovative approach to educating middle school students across the Palmetto State about the critical and growing field of engineering.

The mobile STEM lab, made possible by a $400,000 gift from Duke Energy, was created to educate and engage young scientists and engineers who will be the future workforce for industries that will power communities in the 21st century.

As Duke Energy and other utilities build the smart-thinking grid of the future, having great minds on our team who understand science, technology, engineering and mathematics will be critical to our success,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina state president. “Engineers will lead our efforts to build the smarter energy infrastructure necessary for our state. I cannot think of a better partner than Clemson University to work with on this project, and I know our efforts together are going to raise interest in the field of engineering as a career for young students across our state.”

The Explore Mobile Lab was unveiled at a ceremony in July with leaders from Duke Energy, Clemson and the community alongside seventh- and eighth-grade students participating in the Project WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) summer camp on campus, which also is sponsored by Duke Energy.

The mobile lab will be managed by the University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. Student-focused activities are designed to show students how the math and science they learn in the classroom apply to real life.

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said the lab’s goal is to help fix the “leaky pipeline” between school and industry. The drip tends to start in middle school, when the difficulty level rises and students start taking separate classes. That’s when some students start to peel away from the high-level math and science that are foundational to engineering.

This initiative comes at a time when demand for engineers continues to increase as government and industry work to meet the needs of a growing global population. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of engineering is expected to grow as much as 10 percent in the coming decade.

The Explore Mobile Lab will be making its way to 159 middle schools across the state beginning this fall.

News & Notes

STARS logoSilver star for sustainability efforts

Clemson has earned a STARS Silver rating for its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.

First Forward logoFirst-generation success

Clemson has been recognized as a First Forward Institution by NASPA’s Center for First-Generation Student Success. This designation recognizes universities that have shown a commitment to the success of their first-generation student populations. About 14 percent of Clemson’s undergraduates are first-generation college students, and Clemson’s FIRST Generation Success Program provides these students with a support system as well as tools for success.

Digitizing history

Clemson’s Board of Trustees recently approved a new Ph.D. program in digital history — the nation’s first.

Find out more.

New cybersecurity offerings in Charleston area

In response to growth in Charleston’s technology industry, two Clemson faculty members are relocating to the Charleston area for a year. Engineering professors Harlan Russell and Kelly Caine will take the lead in creating new cybersecurity initiatives at the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center in North Charleston.

Applying big data to decision-making

Clemson is introducing a new master’s degree for working professionals interested in focusing on analyzing and applying big data to strategic decision-making.

Find out more about the online Master of Science in data science and analytics.

New scholarships available for transfer students

Students who transfer to Clemson from South Carolina technical colleges are now eligible for scholarships as part of a program backed by nearly $5 million from the National Science Foundation. The plan calls for more than 300 transfer students who plan to pursue bachelor’s degrees in engineering or computing to receive $3 million in need-based scholarships over the five-year life of the grant. The rest of the funding will pay for programs to support those transfer students as well as follow-up research on results.

More information at

Graduate calls on Clemson for help on massive set

Jesus Christ Superstar setMike East’s Charleston-based company, TTS Studios, was contracted to create the Jesus Christ Superstar set for the musical’s 50th anniversary U.S. tour, beginning in September. Plans called for another company to build the set for the earlier London production. At almost the 11th hour, the producers asked East to build the set for the London performances — by late May, at least three months earlier than planned.

The new timeline created a challenge: The large spaces in Charleston that could be used to construct a theater set were occupied with productions for the city’s annual Spoleto Festival.

A 2007 performing arts alumnus, East called his former colleagues at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts on the spur of the moment. Luckily, the Brooks Center was not being used during the last two weeks of May. Six Clemson students and two performing arts professors worked with six employees from TTS Studios to build the 32-foot-high set, one of the largest projects in the three-year history of the company.

The structure, designed by veteran set designers Tom Scutt and David Arsenault and which East describes as “post-apocalyptic,” has the appearance of an industrial steel grid — with a fallen steel cross in the center of the stage. The beams are actually aluminum covered by plywood.

On May 30, East’s massive set was disassembled and loaded into four tractor-trailers, driven to the Port of Charleston and shipped to London to be reassembled at the famed Barbican Centre.

The purpose of completely building the set only to disassemble it before it was shipped to London was “to make sure it’s going to work, that it’s safe,” East said. “It’s an abnormally high set.”

The set will return to the United States in the fall for a two-year national tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that journeys to major cities such as Philadelphia, Cleveland and Miami, and also swings by Greenville’s Peace Center for a week of performances in August 2020.

Sellout Crowd for Third Men of Color Summit

Freeman Hrabowski at Men of Color Summit 2019The 2019 Clemson University Men of Color National Summit opened with college professor, political commentator and TV personality Melissa Harris-Perry challenging the standing-room-only crowd of attendees to question the way we measure, define and reward achievement.

She encouraged attendees to think about “the stories we tell about the challenges facing our community, what questions we can use to challenge those stories and how these questions help us create more socially just outcomes.”

Held in May, this was the third year of the conference dedicated to help create college and career pathways for male students of color. The conference brought together 2,000 experts, educators, thought leaders and students from across the nation to share ideas, discuss what works and doesn’t work, and to consider what hasn’t yet been tried.

Attendees also chose from more than 45 breakout sessions covering topics such as “Seven Steps to Make Adversity Your Advantage” and “My Destiny Is Great. Now How Do I Get There?”

“The summit is an especially powerful experience for the students who attend because they are able to see for themselves how many people support their success,” said Julio Hernandez, chief of staff and associate director for Hispanic outreach in Clemson’s Division of Inclusion and Equity. “When resources are made available to these young men and they receive mentoring, their professional and personal growth is limitless.”

Clemson President Jim Clements introduced the 400 members of Tiger Alliance, a college access program designed for South Carolina African American and Hispanic males in grades nine through 12, and the 200 participants of Clemson’s Emerging Scholars program, which focuses on students from South Carolina’s I-95 corridor.

“I know we need to work harder to close the achievement gap that exists in this county,” Clements said, describing the work Clemson is doing to ensure all students excel. “I truly believe in the life-changing, transformational powers of education, and that education is a path to a better life not just for an individual but for society as a whole.”

In addition to Harris-Perry, speakers included Ronald Estrada of Univision Communications, author and leadership consultant Anton J. Gunn, University of Maryland-Baltimore County president Freeman Hrabowski, Joy Thomas Moore of JWS Media Consulting, UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada.

Canada was introduced by his son, Clemson student Geoffrey Canada Jr. Canada challenged the high school students in attendance to stand up for what they believe in, never give up and prepare for the moment that could shape their lives.

“Nothing in this life happens without courageous people standing up and doing the right thing,” he said.  “And part of what you’re going through right now as young men is not just getting a decent education and getting into college but to figure out what do you stand for.”

The 2020 Men of Color National Summit will take place March 34 at the Greenville Convention Center.