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Clemson Women Making a Difference

When Clemson was founded in 1889, it was an all-male military school. It wasn’t until 1955 that the first full-time degree-seeking female undergraduate students enrolled for classes. Since that time, the women of Clemson have been crucial to our success as we have moved up the ranks to be a nationally ranked university that values the contributions of all Tigers.

This issue of Clemson World features four outstanding Clemson women: Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, NASA launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, environmentalist Maria Whitehead, and graduate student and researcher Kylie Smith. They are all making an impact on our world, and they all wear their identities as Clemson alumni proudly. Their successes make us proud to call them fellow Tigers.

Their stories also have relevant messages for all of us, regardless of our gender, race, religion or national origin. I invite you to read about how Nikki Haley has not let other people define who she is, how Charlie Blackwell-Thompson has combined a dream with hard work and a plan, how Maria Whitehead’s passion for birds has fueled her drive for conservation and how Kylie Smith’s research revealed her gift for mentoring others.

I have always appreciated and admired strong women, my mother being at the top of my list.

When I was growing up, she always told me to be a good person and to make a difference. That advice has guided my life. The four women in this issue have followed that same mantra as well, and the world is a better place because of their contributions and achievements.

So now, I’ll give you the same advice my mother gave me: Be a good person, and go make a difference in the world.

Hambrights dedicate time and treasure to teaching leadership skills

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.”

Developing leaders by nurturing intellect, courage and service

Ten exceptional students walked across the stage at Commencement this year, sporting medallions hanging on orange ribbons identifying them as Chapman Scholars. They were selected as freshmen for their leadership potential and offered the opportunity to be a part of the Thomas F. Chapman Leadership Scholars Program, designed to enrich their academic preparation beyond the classroom and curriculum. The three-year program also supports the college’s mission to develop leadership abilities in its students.

The program is based, in part, on a leadership theme developed by former Equifax CEO and board chair Thomas F. Chapman ’65 that uses the analogy of The Wizard of Oz characters — the scarecrow, lion and tin man — to communicate the traits of leadership. Chapman characterized
the 10 graduating scholars as “very, very special. This is a culmination of three years of getting to know these young people, watching them grow, develop, learn and hopefully position themselves down the road to make the world a better place.”

A reception was held prior to graduation honoring the Chapman Scholars and recognizing Thomas Chapman’s generosity.

The Will to Lead Executive Committee, 2014-2016

WTL_Revised_LogoPhilip H. Prince ’49, HD ’95, Honorary Chair

E. Smyth McKissick III ’79, Chair

Kelly C. Davies ’86, Co-Vice Chair

Richard “Rich” Davies ’86, Co-Vice Chair

James F. Barker ’70

Marcia Barker HA ’01

James E. Bostic Jr. ’69, Ph.D. ’72

Jan E. Childress

James P. Clements

James P. Creel Sr. ’60

Carolyn Creel ’61

Bill Hendrix ’63, M ’68

Robert “Bobby” McCormick ’72, M ’74

Mark Mitchell M ’83, Ph.D. ’87

Michael Dean Perry ’05

Betty Sheppard Poe HA ’10

Mark S. Richardson ’83

Kenneth L. Smith ’81

Joseph J. Turner Jr. ’71, M ’77

My Freshman Year

Many people have asked me what I learned during my “freshman year” at Clemson.

Most of what I learned confirmed what I already knew. Our University has world-class faculty, dedicated staff, smart students, loyal alumni, great traditions, a proud history and unlimited potential.

In 2014, the rest of the country caught on to this truth as Clemson rose to the rank of No. 20 among national public universities in the U.S. News Guide to America’s Best Colleges. This recognition was based on the hard work done by thousands of people and the visionary leadership of President Emeritus Jim Barker that put a singular focus on improving the quality of undergraduate education.

We did it, and we should be very proud. But we know that Top 20 is not a destination. This is not a moment to kick off our shoes, sit back and relax.

Now the question is: With Top 20 as a starting point and a launching pad, where can Clemson go from here?

This question will be asked often this spring as a review of the current strategic planning gets underway, led by our new provost, Robert Jones, and co-chaired by Brett Dalton and Ellen Granberg.

If you are not familiar with his qualifications for the job, let me introduce Bob to you. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in forestry and forest management from Clemson. It was here that he met his wife Jeri, also a Clemson graduate. Both hold doctorates — his in forest ecology and hers in veterinary medicine.

Bob is not only provost, but also Clemson’s first executive vice president for academic affairs. That means he will provide leadership for our undergraduate and graduate programs, academic support programs, research and public service activities.

His previous experience at Georgia, Auburn, Virginia Tech and West Virginia included leadership of very successful strategic planning efforts. They were inclusive, “bottom-up” efforts that succeeded because they had broad participation and a big vision.

At a November 19 Town Meeting in Tillman Hall — which was well attended and live-streamed to online viewers through ClemsonTV — I asked the campus to think 10, 15, even 50 years into the future. Bob and I challenged all of us to seek not only undergraduate excellence, but excellence in graduate education and research. To meet that challenge, we will be guided by four key words that we hear over and over when people talk about Clemson:

  • Quality. This has been Clemson’s mantra and rallying cry for many years, and we must continue our push for academic excellence.
  • Impact. Thomas Green Clemson founded this University to have a positive impact — on our community and our economy.
  • Distinction. Where can we be the best? What will bring us distinction? We must focus our limited resources on building areas of strength.
  • Differentiation. What sets us apart from other universities? Let’s look for the niche areas to develop where Clemson’s unique strengths match society’s need for answers and innovation.

We need to look over the horizon to what might be future opportunities to serve humanity, drive economic growth and distinguish Clemson from other research universities. And we need to do this in a way that does not de-emphasize or diminish our unshakable commitment to undergraduate excellence.

Will it be hard? Yes. Can we do it? Yes.

But it will require the best thinking and the best efforts of every constituent, every stakeholder and every member of the Clemson family. That includes you, our fantastic alumni. I invite you to be part of this process of reflection, goal-setting and planning. Visit our website at clemson.edu/strategic-plan and join the conversation.

In 2015, our focus is solidly on the future. By this time next year, we will be well on our way to building a new vision for Clemson in 2025 and beyond.

I am excited about our future!

Go Tigers!
James P. Clements
President