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Building on Our Legacy of Undergraduate Excellence

More than 4,700 Clemson graduates walked across the stage in December and May of this past academic year in a commencement tradition that never gets old. I love looking into the eyes of our new graduates wondering how they will use the amazing foundation their Clemson education has provided. With each hand that I shake on stage, I grow more assured of our graduates’ abilities to achieve their dreams and make a positive difference in the world.

Our students come to Clemson as undergraduates having already set themselves apart from many of their peers in the classroom. Indeed, the average SAT and ACT scores for our applicants last year place Clemson among the very best in public higher education for student quality.

Students are coming to Clemson with better academic credentials, and the pull of the Clemson name has never been stronger among potential applicants. This year we received more than 26,000 applications for 3,600 spots. That’s a 41 percent increase in applications from just five years ago.

Clemson’s popularity has been broad-based. Not only are we doing a better job of attracting elite students from outside South Carolina, Clemson today is educating 3,000 more high-quality in-state students than we did 10 years ago.

The continuously improving academic profile of our accepted students is a reflection of Clemson’s status as a top-tier public research institution as well as our much-deserved reputation for creating a living and learning environment that is second to none.

The students who are choosing to come here are doing so because of our reputation, academic programs, research, real-world learning opportunities and return on investment. They also are attending because of the family-first atmosphere and strong sense of community at Clemson — all of which are reflected in the wide spectrum of national recognition Clemson receives each year. This year, the University was ranked No. 23 among national public universities by U.S. News & World Report. And we just learned that we have been named the top university for career services and ranked in the top 10 in seven other categories in the Princeton Review’s annual national survey of more than 130,000 college students.

Our ClemsonForward strategic plan articulates our strong commitment to undergraduate teaching and individual student success. And once enrolled, our students continue their paths toward great achievements in an environment that is built to foster their growth and to surround them with family that applauds their successes.

This past academic year was a record-setting year for the number of students receiving nationally competitive scholarships or fellowships. In total, 28 students received national honors: four Fulbright Grant winners; two Goldwater Scholarship recipients; eight National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients; 12 Gilman Scholarship winners; one Schwarzman Scholarship recipient; and one Truman Scholarship recipient.

Clemson has a long tradition of offering a world-class undergraduate education to the best and brightest students from South Carolina, across the country and throughout the world. We remain committed to providing the resources and strategic direction necessary to build on our legacy as a “high seminary of learning” so that future generations of students will walk across our commencement stage confident in the knowledge that their Clemson education has prepared them for a lifetime of success.

Four students awarded Fulbright grants

Rachel Lang-Baldé

Before Rachel Lang-Baldé’s first trip to West Africa in 2002, she never knew anyone who had died in childbirth. During her almost four years spent in Guinea as an English teacher and consultant with community health and education nongovernmental organizations, she would come to know many mothers who wouldn’t survive to hold their own child or even hear their first cries.

One of her close friends, a doctor in Guinea named “Mama” Condé, became one of those mothers who died during childbirth. Condé and Lang-Baldé had often talked about doing research that would help shed light on birth outcomes and maternal health in Guinea. Thanks to a Fulbright U.S. student grant, Lang-Baldé is headed to Guinea in January to begin such research. A Ph.D. student in international family and community studies, Lang-Baldé is one of four Clemson students selected to receive the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program grants this year. The grants provide funding to live and study abroad on research projects or to work as English teaching assistants.

The other Fulbright U.S. Student Program recipients from Clemson are:

Amanda Farthing, Danielle Gill and Rachel Lang-Baldé

Amanda Farthing, Danielle Gill and Rachel Lang-Baldé

  • Amanda Farthing, an industrial engineering major. She will spend her Fulbright year in Chile studying the development and optimization of solar energy.
  • Amanda Pridmore ’14 who majored in political science. She currently resides in Arlington, Va., and will spend her Fulbright year in Germany researching the funding and financing of Holocaust memorials.
  • Danielle Gill, a biological sciences major, was awarded an English teaching assistantship in Argentina, but has decided to enter a Ph.D. program in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Amanda Pridmore

Amanda Pridmore

Clemson also has two semifinalists this year: Caroline Hensley, a health science/English double major from Waxhaw, North Carolina, and Kaitlyn Scola, a genetics/microbiology major from Charlotte.

Professor, students receive Fulbright awards

Rick St. Peter

Two recent graduates and an assistant professor of theater are teaching and learning in Europe this year, thanks to the Fulbright Program.

Rick St. PeterAssistant professor Richard St. Peter has been named a Fulbright Scholar as a visiting professor at the University of Craiova in Romania. Throughout the 2016-17 academic year he is teaching contemporary American and British theater as well as Shakespeare performance.

St. Peter hopes his time in Romania will blaze a trail for students who want to study abroad. “We want to provide as many opportunities as possible for our students to go abroad during their time at Clemson,” he said. “It just seems like that’s becoming more and more of a priority for universities. The world is getting smaller and smaller. And there is the opportunity for our students to see that the theater is a global marketplace. Ultimately, they’re going to be able to work anywhere.”

Courtney Fink ’16 and Jenna Kohles ’15 are also in Europe for the 2016-17 academic year as part of the Fulbright Student Program.

Courtney Fink

Fink, of Orland Park, Illinois, graduated with a degree in history, a minor in Spanish and a degree in secondary education. She will be a teaching assistant at the Institute of Secondary Education Manuel Fraga Iribarne in Spain. Her main job will be to prepare students for the model U.N. program.

Kohles, of Cary, North Carolina, earned her degree in wildlife and fisheries biology. She will use her Fulbright grant to begin a master’s program in biology with a focus in ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Konstanz and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. Her research will explore the social lives of a common bat species, which will help predict how bat colonies can persist through emerging environmental stresses such as climate change, habitat destruction and disease.

Jenna Kohles

In existence since 1946, the Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. government, is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Rooted: A Botanist in Her World

Botanist, teacher, curator, scholar — Dixie Damrel encourages her students to experience the green world around them.

One step off the asphalt parking lot, Dixie Damrel enters another world.

It is a world of individuals, families, clans and communities. Damrel knows the names of thousands of the inhabitants, their Latin names and their familiar ones. She knows about their sex lives and their histories. And she is delighted to share what she knows.

Last semesBotanist-Dixie Damrel-02ter, I tagged along on one of the weekly field trips to the world she loves. The Whitewater River access is inside the Duke Power Bad Creek property above Lake Jocassee. The students hardly had time to stretch from the van ride before Damrel got going. “Today, we’re going to visit four communities — early successional, pine-oak heath, rocky stream bed and an original acidic cove forest,” says Damrel. “We’ve got a lot to see.”

Dixie Damrel is a botanist, teacher, curator of the Clemson University Herbarium and newly minted Fulbright Scholar. A walk in the woods with Damrel is no ramble. You have to keep up physically and intellectually.

Botany is too important not to pay attention. No matter how you like your ribeye cooked, it started out as grass. Oxygen and energy, food and fuel, the green world is the primary production engine of the planet.

“Look at this,” Damrel instructs, bending a shrub branch for inspection. “Look at the leaves. What do you see?” The students lean in. Some pull another branch closer to see. “What’s different about these leaves? Look at the top. Now look at the underside. What’s different?”

A student takes a shot: “They’re gray.”

“Yes, they’re silvery gray!” Damrel responds. “This is Elaeagnus umbellata — silverberry — a deciduous shrub with green leaves above and silvery ones below.”

The students know not to move yet. There’s more — there’s always more — and sometimes a story.

“Look at the silver side of the leaves. Feel them. What’s different?”

No one offers, and Damrel doesn’t have time to wait them out. There are about three miles to cover, and dark clouds are gathering off in the distance over the lake.

“The leaves have scales. Now look at the berries. What do you see? Feel them.”

Some of the students see where this is going. “The skin is rough, like the leaves.”

“Yes! The berries have scales, too,” says Damrel, picking one of the ripe, red, pea-size berries. “You can taste them if you want.”

Damrel doesn’t allow eating unless she has tried the fruit on the preview trip she takes to scope out an area. Later, we will come to bear huckleberry, which has edible fruit, but she had not tried it. “It scared me,” she said.

But the silverberry is ok. Damrel pops one into her mouth. “How does it taste?” Sweetly tart is the verdict.

“Birds like the fruit and so do bears, and that helps the silverberry reproduce. The birds eat the berry, and the seed is eliminated along with bird poop, which acts as a coating of fertilizer when there’s the right place to grow.”

And grow it does, says Damrel. “It’s an invasive species brought to the U.S. to use as a wind break and erosion control.”

BEYOND SEEING FORESTS AS WALLS OF GREEN

Botanist2I hear “look, look, look” over and over again, as Damrel imprints her legacy of “see for yourself and learn by looking” on her students. We stop at a sawtooth oak. It’s another invasive species, where good intentions to provide wildlife food were undone by unintentional consequences. Deer and other browsers will only eat the bitter acorns if no other food is available. No one checked with the animals.

There are quick stops at the sourwood — “it makes the best honey in the world,” Dixie declares. We admire the goldenrod flowers. “What kind of flowers are they?” Composite. Goldenrod gets a bad rap, says Damrel. It doesn’t cause hay fever because its pollen is too heavy and sticky to be windborne. Ragweed is the culprit.

Then, dog fennel sets off a story.

“Dog fennel is from the genus Eupatorium, part of the aster family. There was a king with a similar name. The king decided to eat small amounts of poison to build up tolerance to poison. He was an enemy of the Romans, and when they advanced on him, he attempted to poison himself, but it wouldn’t work. So finally he had to ask his friends to stab him, and they did.”

The king’s name was Eupator Dionysias, another name for Mithridates VI of Pontius, for whom the plant was named.

Damrel’s students listen, and I wonder what they think of all this. Is it simply a case of politely listening to a slightly eccentric elder?

“I love this class,” says Dan Blanchard, horticulture major. Every student I asked used the words “passionate” and “smart” to describe this spare, spry woman in worn jeans who wears her honey-brown hair in long braids that tangle in the cord holding her “nerd eye” — a magnifying loupe. She is the kind of teacher you remember for life and hope your kids find.

Botanist-Dixie Damrel-03Thunder cuts the field trip short. We don’t make it to the old trees, survivors of European pioneers, colonials, settlers and capitalists. We quick-step back to the parking lot. Plant identification and plant lore have filled the afternoon. Rattlesnake orchids have astonishing sex lives involving moths. Buffalo nut is a member of the sandalwood family — “You’ve smelled sandalwood incense if you’ve ever been in a head shop” (students snicker). Yellowroot lives by streams, but it keeps from being washed away and stabilizes the banks because it is anchored in place by rhizomes, and its flexible stems bend but don’t break during flooding.

Over the course of the semester, students will learn and be quizzed about the names and key characteristics of 130 plants. “If I can get them to look more closely, beyond seeing forests as walls of green and groundcovers as carpets of green, they will see the world differently and ask questions,” says Damrel.

MARKERS OF ENVIRONMENTAL AND EVOLUTIONARY CHANGE

Damrel reckons she can identify and name 2,000 plants. “But I can’t remember my phone number,” she laughs. A couple of thousand seem like a lot of plants. How many plants are there in the world?

It should be a Google-able answer. Botanists have been collecting, naming and studying plants for centuries, but all they have is a best guess.

Botanist7Their estimates range from 200,000 to 400,000, maybe more. Oddly, there are a lot more plant names than plant species. The problem is synonomy. Botanists think they have found a new species and name it, but many of these are synonyms — same plant named by someone else.

One international project has compiled the Plant List that contains 298,900 documented species, 477,601 synonyms and 263,925 still-to-be vetted names.

How do botanists figure out what they have collected? Often, it’s not enough to see a photo and read the description. Seeing the plant in person makes a difference between “looks a lot like” and certainty. But botanists cannot always travel to the corners of the world to see similar species; nor can they travel back in time if a species is extinct. Yet, there is a way for them to see beyond their range in space and time. There are herbaria.

An herbarium is a research archive of expertly dried and mounted plant specimens that identify and document a particular plant collected by botanists, students — anyone with an interest in plants — in a particular place and time. The specimens are arranged in special cabinets so that they can be removed and consulted by researchers. The largest herbaria have more-than-million-specimen collections started in the 1700s.

There are about 100,000 specimens in the Clemson herbarium housed in the Bob and Betsy Campbell Museum of Natural History. The oldest specimen dates to the 1860s and was collected by Henry William Ravenel, a South Carolina planter and botanist, who lived from 1814 to 1887.

Looking and comparing, researchers look for changes in biodiversity and plants coping with stresses. Drought and heat linked to climate change can trigger plants to adapt, giving rise to new species. Other times, plants disappear because of land-use change or from invasive plant populations crowding out the natives.

FROM DRAWERS AND SHELVES TO AN ONLINE DATABASE

Research demands are leading to new ways of looking at plants. High-definition digital images and the Internet provide extraordinary detail and accessibility for research. Clemson is part of the digitization initiative.

The herbaBotanist8rium is set to launch a four-year project to make digital images of its collection. The herbarium is included in a National Science Foundation grant that aims to build a digital inventory highlighting the Southeastern United States. Clemson’s specimen records will be part of a three-million plant dataset from 107 herbaria in 13 Southeastern states that will enable large-scale research in a region that has been a biodiversity hot spot for 100 million years, say botanists. The digital database will help researchers examine the effects of climate change, identify vulnerable species and help conserve regional biodiversity.

Clemson joins the University of South Carolina’s A.C. Moore Herbarium to coordinate digitizing plant collections statewide. Seven other colleges and universities are participating, including: Converse, Francis Marion, Furman, Newberry, Winthrop, USC Salkehatchie and USC Upstate. “I’m very proud that South Carolina has one of the largest numbers of herbaria participating of any state in the Southeast,” says Damrel.

The digitization will make collections at Clemson and at other institutions accessible via the Internet. The digitized data will eventually be publicly available through the iDigBio (Integrated Digitized Biocollections) specimen portal.

“There are specimens that have been around for 100-200 years, but they are in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere, and it’s hard to know where everything is and how to get the data you need,” iDigBio Director Larry Page said. “If it’s online, you can touch a button and find in seconds what might have taken you a lifetime to know was there.”

FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE

The work will start this summer, after Damrel returns from a field trip halfway around the world.

Damrel is one of 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2014-2015. The grant enables her to work and conduct botanical research in tropical Southeast Asia. She will lecture and research at the Sarawak Biodiversity Center and the Forestry Research Institute in Malaysia throughout the spring 2015 academic year.

“Ecologically, Malaysia is a fascinating place and a real treasure house of plant biodiversity,” Damrel says. “It holds some truly ancient ecosystems and has what some say are the oldest undisturbed equatorial tropical rainforests on earth. It is also facing some serious environmental challenges as there are new economic and social pressures connected with how the land should be used.”

Damrel will be working with the Sarawak Center’s Traditional Knowledge Program. It’s a project to gather plants and preserve oral histories and folk wisdom about plants used for cooking and healing. “I will be joining ethnobotanists who visit tribal peoples living in remote parts of the Sarawak highlands. We’ll use powerboats to go upriver and visit communities to gather plants and ask the people about how they use them.”

This is not Damrel’s first trip to the region. She accompanied her husband, David Damrel, an associate professor of comparative religion at USC Upstate, during his Fulbright award to Indonesia in 2008.

“In Java I realized how important it is for Americans — and our Clemson community and campus particularly — to take on a more global perspective,” Damrel says. “Living and working overseas you get to see the dimensions of a problem — environmental degradation, for example — in ways that you cannot fully appreciate from a classroom back home. In the same way, firsthand experiences with different peoples, cultures and world-views will help you grow in unexpected ways both as a person and as a scientist.”

Looking, looking, always looking.

Click to read Damrel's blog.

Click to read Damrel’s blog.

I remember

I remember

This past year, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Psychology June Pilcher spent six months in Austria as a Fulbright-Freud Scholar, researching, teaching, training and traveling. It was a marvelous experience for her, and one that she pursued in part because of another Fulbright award almost 30 years ago. Clemson World asked her to share her reflections.

I remember opening the small packet from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (German Academic Exchange Service) with a letter dated 1st March 1984 that began with, “We are pleased to inform you…” That was about as far as I read, at least in those first few minutes. I went back to my apartment, sat in an old rocker, and listened to “The Grand Illusion” by Styx, thinking that this whole thing could be a mistake, an illusion.

I had worked hard for seven years to finish my undergraduate degree; I enlisted in the Navy to support myself, and then I worked full time in an emergency room during my last two years as an undergraduate. Was I really fortunate enough to be going to Freiburg and then Munich, Germany, for a year on a PAID scholarship just to be a student?

A different world

I applied for the Fulbright student award in the fall of 1983, my last year at the University of Southern Mississippi. My knowledge of academic grants and awards was nonexistent; I didn’t even know what a Fulbright was. I was what Clemson calls a FIRST. My father finished sixth grade, but he was big enough to work the family farm so he didn’t return to school. My mother finished eighth grade but then had to go to work as a live-in housekeeper. I am a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation (in fact, only) Ph.D. in my family. The only reason I knew about the Fulbright was because my German professor, Dr. William Odom, told me I should apply for it. I wonder if he ever knew what a turning point getting that Fulbright award became in my life.

I remember that year in Europe. In Freiburg, I took an immersion course in German at the Goethe Institute, then moved to Munich and lived in student housing at the Olympic Village (from the 1972 Olympics). At the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, I worked on projects on sleep and biological rhythms and was fortunate to establish a long-term relationship with Dr. Hartmut Schulz. He was generous with his time and advice and helped me begin my scientific career. I sat in on undergraduate and graduate classes at the University of Munich and tried to understand as much as I could. And, of course, I traveled. I experienced life in Europe, and I loved it!

A continuing illusion

I remember the feeling of an illusion even after my Fulbright year. It was only after completing my Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and starting to work in academia that the feeling slowly faded. I gradually became more comfortable in my academic surroundings. And I became ever more devoted to helping students, much as my professors had helped me – a total greenhorn to the academic world – understand what it takes to succeed.

Before long, I realized that I wanted to become a Fulbright Scholar, to travel again to Europe, but this time to work with international students and offer them the chance to work with a professor from a different culture and scientific background.

It wasn’t until the spring and summer of 2010 that I didn’t have research funding that precluded a prolonged trip. I made the decision in a flash — I would apply for a sabbatical and for a Fulbright Scholar award. This time, being a little more aware of academic grants and awards, I knew that it would be competitive. I applied to work in the Social, Cognitive, Affective, Neuroscience Unit (SCAN) and teach at the University of Vienna. But instead of being awarded a Fulbright to work exclusively at the university, I received the Fulbright-Freud Scholar Award, which allowed me to work at the university and the Sigmund Freud Museum.

International collaboration

My experience as a Fulbright Scholar is something I will always remember. I lived in Vienna for about six months. I taught a seminar on human brain and behavior (in English) to about 40 students where we read and discussed a science-based popular press book and scientific articles. Our classes were oriented around presentations, discussions and projects. The students gave their presentations and contributed to discussions in English. And much like my students at Clemson, they were concerned about the amount of work needed to complete the course, but they did the work and did a great job! I was impressed with their effort, and I truly loved getting to know them and watching them learn.

I also started several research projects while in Vienna that are ongoing, so my Creative Inquiry and graduate students at Clemson also benefit by working on research projects with an international team. Maybe some of them will decide to go to Vienna in the future to experience Europe and the opportunity to collaborate with an international research team.

Paying it forward

A Fulbright in Vienna was even more attractive to me since the headquarters of my traditional martial art group, Karatedo Doshinkan, is located there, as well as the home of our grand master, Hanshi 10.Dan Nobuo Ichikawa. I have been training in and teaching Doshinkan for more than 25 years and have frequently visited Vienna for a week or two in the summer to train. Getting the Fulbright allowed me to train with our grand master for more than six months.

The Fulbright award gave me a fantastic opportunity to give back in so many ways. I could give back to the international students and research collaborators as a way to help “pay forward” for the opportunity I had as a student in Munich. I could also give back to my martial art group by contributing to the training, the positive atmosphere and the growing knowledge base of our martial art.

It was a memorable six months in Vienna. I traveled around Europe for research presentations and to train with some of the dojos in my martial art group. In Vienna, I listened to horse carriages pass below my apartment windows on their way home in the evenings, watched the 400-plus varieties of roses bloom in the Volksgarten, attended the Summer Night Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic at Schoenbrunn Palace, and experienced the 4th of July reception (with fireworks) at the American ambassador’s residence.

I expected my time in Vienna to be productive and a fantastic experience. What surprises me is how much of it I am bringing back to Clemson with me. I feel a renewed desire to help students succeed, to watch them learn and admire their effort, to better see their college education from their perspective, to remember that they are here to learn in the classroom and in research but to also learn outside of the classroom, much like I did on my Fulbright adventures.