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Demo Duo

Contractor Torrey Johnson ’94 and architect Michael Allen ’99 team up to get the Echo Theater project well underway in Laurens, South Carolina.

Torrey Johnson likes solving problems. It’s how he went from a tinkerer to a full-blown contractor. And it’s how he turned his computer engineering career into an experienced construction business, TFJ Construction.

After graduating from Clemson in 1994 with a degree in computer engineering, Johnson moved into his grandmother’s house in Trenton, South Carolina, with his wife, Jessica Thompson Johnson ’92.

“[The house] had little odds and ends things that needed to be fixed,” Johnson says. “I would watch different shows on TV about construction — this was before YouTube. I would just love working on stuff.”

After assisting his parents in a home addition, Johnson served as the contractor on his own personal home build. That was when the idea of starting his own construction business began to form. After a transition period with his full-time IT manager position at FPL Food, Johnson pursued TFJ Construction full-time in 2008. The company got started doing weatherization and accessibility projects, such as wheelchair ramps. Now, TFJ Construction focuses on small- to medium-sized commercial and high-end residential builds, including demos, story additions, storefronts and exteriors.

These days, Johnson and his company are leading the demolition on the Echo Theater project taking place in Laurens, South Carolina, working in tandem with architect Michael Allen ’99 and his efforts to bring the community center envisioned by Reverend Kennedy and his congregation to life.

“It has been very, very rewarding,” Johnson says. “When people ask me about what I’m working on, this is the first thing I mention. … It’s like a glow I have when I start talking about the project.”

Johnson says the demo phase for the Echo is over 60 percent finished (as of June 2021), much of it requiring manual labor rather than machinery. Due to the height of the building and its interior, the work has as tricky as it has been strenuous.

“At some points, there’s a drop-off of about 15 feet,” he explains. “There’re holes in the floor that we had to put in on purpose and some where it was just rotten.”

With safety the top priority, Johnson has been very hands-on at the Echo, visiting the site often to ensure his workers are wearing the right equipment, like hardhats, safety glasses and close-toed shoes, and using the correct techniques. He’s also had the chance to reconnect with Allen and update him on the project’s progress.

Johnson and Allen first crossed paths during Allen’s days at McMillan, Pazdan and Smith. TFJ Construction had done some work for the architecture firm in the past, and Johnson sent over his teenage son for a day of job shadowing. “When I went to pick up my son, I found out [Allen]was working there,” explains Johnson. “We talked for a bit, and I got his contact information. I found out he was starting his own firm. I never had the opportunity to work directly with him until this project.”

Johnson came across the Echo Theater project through a mutual contact: “When I found out Michael Allen was working on it, I was like, ‘OK, this is something that I’m definitely going to take on.’”

For Johnson, his Clemson connection with Allen has been a highlight of the project so far. In fact, the two belong to the same fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. “In our fraternity, we always support each other in every field of human endeavor,” Johnson says. “[Allen’s] always told me, ‘Anything you need, just give me a call.’

“I’m glad y’all were able to write the piece,” Johnson continues, referring to Clemson World’s Summer 2021 feature “Open To All.” “It’s really good publicity for not only Michael and his company but the project in general. Hopefully, it can help the project raise funds so they can get where they need to be on their fundraising campaign and get the building constructed soon.”

> Read more about fellow alumni, Michael Allen, and the work he is doing at the Echo Theater.

 

 

When In … Little Rock

Welcome to Little Rock! My name is Ray Owens, Class of 2002, and I work for the state of Arkansas, where I oversee the state’s Federal Tobacco Compliance Program.

In Arkansas, you will find acres and acres of parks and forests and endless miles of hiking and biking trails. There is also lots to see and do in the city, including great places to eat and landmarks to explore, and it all comes with Southern hospitality! I am proud to say I am a Little Rock local. Here are my top five recommendations for things to do in the capital:

 

1The Arkansas River Trail
If you like to be outdoors, the 88-mile River Trail is perfect. There is a 15-mile loop that runs through the city and along the banks of the Arkansas River. Also, there are several smaller loops and gardens to enjoy.

Pro Tip: There are three bridges — the Clinton Presidential Bridge, Junction Bridge and Broadway Bridge — that pedestrians can use to cross over the Arkansas River into North Little Rock.

 

2Museums

The Old State House Museum, the oldest surviving capitol building west of the Mississippi River, is my personal favorite. It has been the site of many important events in Arkansas history. Other museums in Little Rock include the Historic Arkansas Museum, Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Military History, Esse Purse Museum, Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, to name a few.

 

3The River Market

In the River Market District, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library is a must-see. Put political affiliations aside, if you must, and visit this amazing collection of artifacts, replicas and digital media dedicated to our 42nd president. The district also hosts the Museum of Discovery and Kilwins, both perfect outings for families. Live music is frequent because of the River Market Pavilions as well as the First Security Amphitheater.

Pro Tip: Park for free in the Clinton Presidential Library lot!

 

4Dining

Little Rock was recently named one of “Five Secret Foodie Cities” by Forbes Travel Guide. Little Rock’s craft brewery scene offers premier establishments, such as Flyway, Diamond Bear, Lost Forty and Stone’s Throw. Our family’s favorite restaurant is Iriana’s Pizza, located in the River Market District. If pizza is not your thing, try a delicious farm-to-table dinner at the Root Café or grab a steak at Samantha’s Taproom.

 

5Rock Region Metro Trolley

The trolley line is only 2.5 miles in length, but it goes through the historic downtown area and the River Market District and crosses the Arkansas River into North Little Rock. From the line, you can also easily walk to Dickey-Stephens Park and see a minor league baseball game. The trolley operators are city historians and will point out many interesting things along the route.

Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for surprise announcements of reduced or free trolley rates.

 

Interested in sharing the best eats and secret spots of your own city with fellow Tigers? Email shutto@clemson.edu for more information.

 

 

Students Win for Inexpensive Eco-friendly Tampon Applicator

Product is touted as cheaper, more comfortable and less wasteful

Inspired by their work with a nonprofit that provides menstrual products for homeless women, a Clemson student and recent graduate took home first place in this year’s Spark Challenge, sponsored by the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. Their product, a reusable tampon applicator, is touted as cheaper and more comfortable to use than its competitors and results in less waste going to landfills.

Claudia Sisk, a senior bioengineering major, and Marissa Jansen, who graduated in May with a health science degree, won $2,500 for their product, Nature’s Gift, which is designed to include an insertion sheath and rod made of hygienic material. It would cost $25 and come in two sizes to accommodate cotton inserts with various levels of absorbency, ranging from light to ultra.

About 7 billion tampons and their applicators are thrown out every year in the United States, and Nature’s Gift would aim to help reduce waste, Sisk and Jansen said. Each device would last about two years, bringing its average monthly cost to about $1.04. The cotton inserts, sold separately, would run another $3.50 a month.

Nature’s Gift customers could expect to spend a grand total of $4.54 a month on menstrual health products, compared to the average monthly cost of $13.25, Sisk and Jansen said. The team is targeting anyone who menstruates, especially young women who are concerned about their ecological footprint.

In the annual Spark Challenge, student teams work with mentors to develop a product and then build a business plan to bring it to market. Each team selected for the competition gets $500 in seed money. Teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.

The idea for Nature’s Gift came out of the Homeless Period Project, a national nonprofit that provides menstrual products. Jansen was a co-founder, and Sisk was a member. Their adviser on Nature’s Gift was professor of bioengineering Sarah Harcum.

Next steps include developing a prototype and applying for a provisional patent, Jansen said. “If we can get it through that hurdle, I think we’ll have a really good shot at taking it further.”

 

 

Building for the Future

Pelhams’ longtime generosity supports Clemson’s School of Architecture and Emerging Scholars

In 1972, Clemson became one of the first architecture programs in the country to establish a satellite center in Europe. Since then, the Fluid Campus™ model with semester-long opportunities for students to study and gain greater understanding of architecture and urban cultures has gained international recognition.

That experience was life-changing for Bill Pelham, who graduated from Clemson in 1977 with a bachelor’s in pre-architecture and in 1981 with a master’s in architecture. In 1978, he spent a semester in Genoa, Italy, studying at Clemson’s Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies, an experience that influenced his worldview and inspired lifelong charitable giving. Pelham describes that time as eye-opening and confidence-building, as he navigated his way through Western Europe to sketch, study and admire what he calls “phenomenal architecture.”

Bill and Laura Pelham recently became Clemson’s newest Academic Cornerstone partners when they awarded the School of Architecture a gift of $3 million. With this donation, Bill and Laura Pelham hope to provide more experiences like his for talented architecture students.

The Pelhams have generously given back to Clemson and the School of Architecture over the years. Gifts totaling $2.8 million have been given through the Jean T. and Heyward G. Pelham Foundation to support the School of Architecture, the Clemson Architectural Foundation and other initiatives since 2007. This new gift supports two endowments established earlier, one for the director of the School of Architecture and one for the Foundation, providing unrestricted funding in perpetuity.

“I am so grateful to Bill and Laura Pelham for their generosity and their visionary leadership that will enable more students to pursue careers in architecture,” said President Jim Clements. “This gift will pave the way for students who may not have had the opportunity to study architecture otherwise. I believe that the best mix of the best minds produces the best outcomes, and Bill and Laura are helping us bring more of those top minds to our School of Architecture.”

Other projects supported through this gift include strengthening Clemson’s relationship with the Fine Arts Center in Greenville. Funding will provide need-based scholarships for talented students who attend the Fine Arts Center’s architectural program: “Art of Architecture.” These highly qualified graduates might not otherwise be able to pursue architectural studies while remaining in the state.

Additionally, the Pelhams’ gift will support an endowment for Emerging Scholars, establishing the architecture track for this program. The Emerging Scholars Program exposes students from the rural areas along the I-95 corridor in South Carolina to higher education, concentrating on academic preparation, leadership skills and the college application process. Students can stay on Clemson’s campus several times throughout the program, and program leaders work with students in their schools and community. Whether the students attend Clemson or not, the end goal is that they will graduate and pursue education beyond high school.

Pelham explains the motivation behind these focus areas: “I noticed in my freshman year that there were students who had chosen their majors and their university, but they had absolutely no idea what they were going to be studying. A lot of them transferred after the first semester because of that. The Fine Arts Center’s architecture program avoids that issue by exposing students to many aspects of an architectural education while in high school. And Emerging Scholars is a way of making students aware of other possibilities. There are few architects on the I-95 corridor, so it is a great way to give them insight into the profession. They can see that an undergraduate architecture degree is pretty good training for just about any profession.”

Clemson has always valued the impact a strong student experience can provide. It was life-changing for Bill Pelham, who along with Laura, has made giving back to others a priority. Now that same opportunity will be available for others to take forward and build upon.

 

 

Natural Killers: Using the Body’s Cells to Target Breast Cancer

Study lays groundwork for possible new immunotherapy for the world’s most commonly diagnosed cancer

It sounds like a plot from a Quentin Tarantino movie — something sets off natural killers and sends them on a killing spree.

But instead of characters in a movie, these natural killers are part of the human immune system, and their targets are breast cancer tumor cells. The triggers are fusion proteins developed by Clemson University researchers that link the two together.

“The idea is to use this bifunctional protein to bridge the natural killer cells and breast cancer tumor cells,” said Yanzhang (Charlie) Wei, a professor in the College of Science’s Department of Biological Sciences. “If the two cells are brought close enough together through this receptor ligand connection, the natural killer cells can release what I call killing machinery to have the tumor cells killed.”

It’s a novel approach to developing breast cancer-specific immunotherapy and could lead to new treatment options for the world’s most common cancer. About 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lives. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S.

Immunotherapy harnesses the power of the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

“Very simply, cancer is uncontrolled cell growth. Some cells will become abnormal and have the potential to become cancer,” Wei said. “The immune system can recognize these abnormal cells and destroy them before they become cancer cells. Unfortunately for those who develop cancer, the immune system is not working very well because of gene mutations and environmental factors.”

Most breast cancer targeting therapies target one of three receptors: estrogen, progesterone or epidermal growth factor. However, up to 20 percent of breast cancers do not express these receptors. Wei and his researchers targeted prolactin receptors. Prolactin is a natural hormone in the body and plays a role in breast growth and milk production. More than 90 percent of breast cancer cells express prolactin receptors, including triple-negative breast cancer cells.

One part of the bifunctional protein is a mutated form of prolactin that still binds to the prolactin receptor but blocks signal transduction that would promote tumor growth. The other part is a protein that binds to the prolactin receptor and activates the natural killer cells.

Wei is now seeking funding for an animal model study to confirm the results. If successful, it could move to human clinical trials.

One big question is whether the bifunctional protein will bring natural killer cells to healthy cells in the body that also express prolactin receptors and kill them, too, causing severe side effects.

“It is my dream that someday we can create a group of these bifunctional proteins that could be used for other cancers by shifting the target molecule,” Wei said.

 

 

Blazing the Trail

When Emily Peek Wallace ’72 arrived at Clemson as a math major in the fall of 1968, she was often the sole woman in her technical courses. Her strength and determination served her well academically and later as a successful businesswoman. Today, she is regarded as a pioneer in the software industry through her leadership role at Statistical Analysis System Institute.

Since graduating with a B.S. in mathematics, Wallace — a first-generation college graduate — has generously given back to the University, not only through donations and service on boards but also as a mentor and presenter to students. Now, she is giving a new gift of $1.25 million to establish the Emily Peek Wallace ’72 Endowed Directorship for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Creating endowed faculty positions allows Clemson to recruit and retain top talent. As the first endowed faculty position at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in the College of Science, it provides support for the director and assists initiatives throughout the school. This is the largest gift ever given to the College of Science since its inception in 2016.

“I wanted to do something to help the faculty,” says Wallace. “Everybody has had to shift their teaching and learning methods due to COVID-19, and the faculty has additional challenges to make sure students are not getting behind and that they’re learning what they need to be learning. I wanted to provide encouragement and funding to help them and add additional resources to help students stay current.”

The gift includes tutoring assistance for students who may be struggling academically or who may have fallen behind due to unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, it aims to help establish business connections and internships for students who wish to enter the job force instead of going into academic research, and it makes training with current statistical software and other resources available for students regardless of their future tracks.

In the current academic year, 25 students are benefiting from the Wallace scholarships.

Wallace has dedicated much of her life to creating innovative opportunities for underrepresented scientists. In 2014, she established the Emily Peek Wallace ’72 Scholarship Endowment for S.T.E.M., which provides financial assistance for underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In addition to establishing the two endowments, she serves on the Clemson University Foundation Board of Directors and as a founding member of the Order of the Oak.

 

Jack McKenzie’s Solid Orange Legacy

Legacy Day at Clemson, a time to pause and celebrate the philanthropy that founded the University, feels like one of those traditions that has deep historical roots. You may not know that the celebration began not too long ago thanks to the efforts of an alumnus and longtime Clemson employee.

Jack McKenzie ’76 has led a life of service since he first set foot on Clemson’s campus as a student in 1972. His involvement in the Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity was key to his development. Through his APO experience, McKenzie’s love for leadership, giving back and serving Clemson was born. But it was during his 40 years in a variety of roles as an employee that he became a Clemson legend.

Serving as the University’s internal communications manager, McKenzie began the practice of using strategic communications to promote the University. He continued to serve in leadership roles in Development and Alumni Relations. His work celebrating the legacy of our founders culminated in the establishment of Clemson traditions, including the Legacy Day celebration, the Fort Hill Legacy Society and the Clemson Legacy Society. Throughout his storied career, McKenzie’s love of Clemson has shined through.

McKenzie has continued his dedication to the University in retirement by establishing the Alpha Phi Gamma Lambda Chapter Endowment for Service Excellence. He says, “The endowment is a step toward ensuring that APO doesn’t have to spend time focusing on its own funding and can simply focus on providing leadership and friendship opportunities for students.” Additionally, in honor of McKenzie’s four decades of service to Clemson, gifts from friends and family helped establish the Alpha Phi Omega Jack A. McKenzie ’76 Leadership Endowment in 2016. This endowment provides travel grant-in-aid to students attending conferences on leadership or professional development.

Endowments ensure that leadership like McKenzie’s will continue into the next generation. It is fitting that the originator of Legacy Day at Clemson has established a solid orange legacy of his own through many years of dedication and hard work on behalf of our University.

 

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