Tracy Free ’08 and Ty ’07 Woodard are part of a 4,500-acre family farm in Darlington, South Carolina. They’ve taken just 1 percent of the cotton crop and turned it into a growing brand of blankets and throws.
A new South Carolina license plate lets state residents have a personalized Clemson University license plate while also supporting student scholarships. This new option is a continuation of the program that Clemson has hosted with SCDMV since 1991.
A portion of the proceeds supports the scholarship programs through the Alumni Association. Since its inception, the license plate has generated nearly $900,000 to support scholarships and alumni programming.
Clemson alumni and friends turned the State House orange on March 1 for “Clemson at the State House.”
For information about how you can be a member of the Clemson Advocates Program, a grassroots volunteer advocacy group that seeks to engage, inform and encourage alumni and friends to communicate with members of the South Carolina General Assembly and other elected officials regarding issues of importance to Clemson and higher education, go to clemson.edu/alumni and click on “Get Involved.”
Listen to the MISTERs sing “One MISTER”:
Providing positive role models in classrooms and communities
TEACHING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL was not the future that Daniel Spencer ’09 envisioned as a high school senior in Swansea, South Carolina. With two brothers having dropped out of high school (one of whom served prison time) and parents who didn’t go to college, postsecondary education wasn’t even on his radar — even though he was in the top 10 percent of his graduating class.
Fortunately, he decided at the last minute to apply to Coastal Carolina University and chose elementary education as his major.
“I didn’t have a clue,” Spencer said. “I thought, ‘Well, I passed elementary school. I should be able to teach it!’”
When Spencer’s English professor learned about his major, he told him about Call Me MISTER®, a program started at Clemson to encourage and place African-American male teachers in South Carolina’s public elementary school classrooms. He advised Spencer to transfer to Clemson to be a part of the program. The rest, he says, is history.
“From the first day, Call Me MISTER changed what I thought would be easy into a lifetime challenge of working with people and shaping the lives of youth,” Spencer said.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
This was a challenge observed 15 years ago by Clemson University as well as Benedict College, Claflin University and Morris College, three historically black institutions in the state.
“We found that there were more black men in jail than were sleeping in the dormitories of the colleges in our state,” said Roy Jones, Call Me MISTER director and a faculty member at Clemson’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education. “There were more black men in prisons than were teaching in our state, especially in elementary education. That we saw as a problem.”
And, Jones added, in a state that is one-third African-American and where young black males were being expelled, referred to discipline and dropping out of school at higher rates than any gender or ethnic group, fewer than one percent of the state’s teaching workforce were African-American males.
Leaders at the four institutions saw a connection between those figures. They determined that if you could increase the number of African-American males in the classroom, perhaps there would be more avenues for understanding and tackling the challenges that confront young black boys during their formative years.
“We got together and said, ‘We can do something about this,’” Jones said.
And Call Me MISTER was born.
Clemson — along with Benedict, Claflin and Morris — started Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) in 2000. Clemson provided fundraising and program support, while the remaining three colleges carried out the program on their campuses.
Housed in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education at Clemson, Call Me MISTER combines teacher education with co-curricular programs such as retreats, seminars, academic support, mentoring, a summer institute, internships and volunteer opportunities. Participants, known as MISTERs, also live and study together as cohorts and receive tuition assistance through loan forgiveness programs as well as help with job placement.
Since its inception, the program has grown to 19 colleges/universities in South Carolina, including Clemson and Coastal Carolina. That number also includes several two-year community and technical colleges, a move made to provide greater opportunity and access to the program.
As a result of these efforts, there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of African-American males teaching in South Carolina’s public elementary schools. Of the 150 students who have completed the Call Me MISTER program in the Palmetto State, 100 percent of them remain in the education field.
Understanding that the issue is not South Carolina’s alone — that nationally, the number of male teachers is at a 40-year low, and that African-American males comprise less than 2 percent of the teaching workforce — Call Me MISTER has expanded to include 13 colleges in Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia and the District of Columbia. Including graduates and current students, approximately 425 participants are in the program nationwide.
IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
Since the program’s inception, Call Me MISTER leaders have found that its purpose is being fulfilled: more African-American males are entering elementary classrooms and more African-American children — especially boys — are seeing them as positive role models.
“There’s no doubt about what it means for so many kids to see an African-American male in a position of authority where he is also nurturing, where he is also loving and where he is also mentoring,” said Winston Holton, who leads Clemson’s Call Me MISTER cohort. “Our MISTERs are filling an important void.”
But the program is doing something more — it is exacting a powerful personal influence that transcends race, gender and socioeconomics.
“I believe that Call Me MISTER is making up the difference between what’s not happening in our homes, schools and communities and what needs to happen — and that is the fostering of healthy relationships,” Holton said.
“We don’t have healthy relationships across too many lines,” Holton continued. “You see this playing out every day in schools and playgrounds across South Carolina — and in teacher’s lounges, in businesses, in families, in neighborhoods, everywhere.”
From day one, Call Me MISTER encourages — even requires — its students to pursue healthy relationships, Holton said. Through an intentional yet organic process, MISTERs learn to understand and articulate their life stories and hear each other’s stories with empathy and understanding — and this skill makes all the difference when they enter the classroom and community as teachers.
“The result is that MISTERs have the capacity to empathize with their students, parents, fellow teachers and community members just as they, themselves, have experienced empathy,” Holton said. “They are able to see through the differences, even the maladies, and really see another’s humanity. That’s how learning happens and how students, schools and communities are elevated.”
“It’s all about relationships,” Holton summarized.
I CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Countless young people have been influenced by their relationships with Daniel Spencer, including his niece and nephew, the children of his formerly incarcerated brother.
“I was trying to help raise them, and I realized through Call Me MISTER that I wasn’t teaching them; I was just telling them what to do,” Spencer said. “Listening to the MISTERs and learning from them taught me that I can do things differently — and that I can make a difference.”
Spencer’s niece and nephew, now ages 15 and 16, live with him in Seneca — happily adjusted and involved in school and community activities.
Spencer is also making a difference in his classroom at Blue Ridge Elementary, a Title 1 school with a high percentage of children from low-income families. He meets with each child individually and sets goals for the year, based not only on test scores but also the child’s own aspirations. And he holds them accountable to those goals, meeting with them throughout the year.
“I get to know all the kids and strive to meet everyone where they are,” Spencer said. “But I’ve gotten past the ‘I’m here for them to like me’ thing because at the end of the day, I know that they are going to love me — because they respect me, and they know I believe in them.”
What results from this exchange of respect, caring and expectation is academic progress. “The kids are exceeding their own expectations, which translates into authentic learning,” Spencer said.
SPIRIT OF HOPE FOR CHANGE
It is clear that authentic learning is needed for South Carolina’s children. The Palmetto State ranks 43rd in education, according to the 2014 Kids Count Profile, with 72 percent of South Carolina’s fourth graders lacking proficiency in reading, and 69 percent of eighth graders identified as below proficiency in math. Twenty-eight percent of high school students aren’t graduating on time, if at all.
The same report ranks South Carolina 44th in economic well-being and child health — both factors that affect children’s performance in school.
The statistics grow more dire in underserved schools and communities, where employment and other opportunities have increasingly diminished, says Roy Jones.
With these factors in mind, Jones and his colleagues focus on recruiting MISTERs from underserved areas and encouraging them to return to their communities or others with similar challenges.
“Call Me MISTER teachers are at the cutting edge of a new crusade — to ensure quality education in underserved areas by creating a pool of talented teachers who are fiercely loyal to their schools and communities,” Jones said. “Such teachers embody the spirit of hope for change.”
I WANT TO SEE THESE KIDS GROW UP
“Fiercely loyal” could be used to describe Daniel Spencer. Since he started his career at Blue Ridge, he has been offered many opportunities to teach in other school districts, but he is dedicated to remaining at the school and in the community where he has served as a volunteer since his days as a Clemson student.
“The first kids I mentored when they were in the fourth grade are now in the 11th grade,” he said. “I want to see these kids grow up.”
In addition to teaching, Spencer coaches high school basketball and middle school football in Seneca, attends his students’ extracurricular activities, holds free basketball clinics and workouts at Blue Ridge during the summer, and takes students to events such as Clemson’s spring football scrimmage, which many of them have never attended even though they live less than 10 miles away. When he greets former students or players in the grocery store or at school events, they avoid him if their grades aren’t up to par, because they know he’ll ask. “I love being there and talking to the kids because the more they see positive people and consistently have positive people talking to them, the better they are going to do,” he said.
THE INTANGIBLE ‘MORE’
What is it about Call Me MISTER that inspires such dedication and selflessness? If you talk to anyone associated with the program, you’ll find that it’s because it’s more than a program — it’s a lifestyle, a way of being.
The intangible “more” begins with the name of the program. The brainchild of Call Me MISTER founding director Tom Parks, the name is not only an acronym but also a tribute to a famous line by Virgil Tibbs (played by Sidney Poitier) in the 1967 movie “In the Heat of the Night.”
While investigating a murder investigation in a small Mississippi town, Tibbs, an African-American detective from Philadelphia, is asked by the racist sheriff what people in his hometown police force call him. With dignity and assertiveness, Tibbs responds, “They call me ‘Mister Tibbs!’”
It is a line that inspires, even demands, respect.
Respect is a cornerstone of Call Me MISTER, one that is seen as MISTERs receive the program’s signature black blazer upon graduation — and in the way MISTERs refer to each other as “Mister” in formal Call Me MISTER settings.
“Ultimately, our hope is for each MISTER to be self-assured and know himself, and to appreciate and understand the value of building relationships across traditional lines,” Holton said.
Other Call Me MISTER foundational concepts include ambassadorship, stewardship, personal growth and teacher efficacy. “And all of these things together pour into the most important tenet, servant-leadership,” which Holton describes as “living for more than yourself.”
Perhaps no one embodies servant-leadership more than Jeff Davis, former field director for Call Me MISTER, current assistant athletic director of football player relations, and 2001 recipient of Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life award.
All MISTERs continue to be challenged each time they recite the vision statement Davis penned, which includes the line, “A title is only important if one’s character and integrity dictate its use.”
The single MISTER who rises to that challenge most valiantly receives the Jeff Davis Spirit Award, one of the most coveted honors bestowed annually upon a MISTER.
According to Clemson junior Michael Miller, a MISTER from Orangeburg and 2014 recipient of the Jeff Davis Spirit Award, servant-leadership has been the key to his Call Me MISTER education.
“My viewpoint about education has changed from ‘What can I tell you or dictate to you?’ to ‘What can I do for you?’” he said.
“I want to be an educator rather than a teacher,” he continued. “A teacher delivers content, and that is important. The word ‘educator’ comes from the Latin word educe, which means to draw from within. That’s what I try to do with my students — to pull out what is already within them. Call Me MISTER has taught me how to do that.”
Melanie Kieve is the public information director for the College of Health, Education, and Human Development and the Eugene T. Moore School of Education.
To learn more about Call Me MISTER director Roy Jones, click here.
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 semester, 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
I 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.
Thunder 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.
Their 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 herbarium 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.”
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.
Writing Sisters: It’s a Family Affair
These Clemson sisters have blazed a trail in the publishing world. Together they have published more than 35 children’s novels and won numerous awards, including the S.C. Children’s Choice Award. Their names are known and loved by children all over the state of S.C., across the country and even around the world with books translated into Japanese and Korean.
Their first novel for adults, The Shepherd’s Song, has been published by Howard Books of Simon & Schuster. It follows the incredible journey of one piece of paper —a copy of Psalm 23 — as it travels around the world, linking lives and hearts with its simple but beautiful message, and forever changing the lives of those who read it.
Whether it’s children’s or adult’s books, Betsy and Laurie do their research. In the past they’ve visited the Lewis and Clark trail, ridden dozens of roller coasters and gone SCUBA diving. The Shepherd’s Song involved a trip to a sheep farm to see first hand the life of a shepherd and the sheep.
Betsy and Laurie were born into a writing family with deep Clemson roots, beginning with grandfather, Edward H. Byars ’18. Their father, Edward F. Byars ’46, M ’54, wrote engineering textbooks and books about aviation; their mother, Betsy Byars, was a distinguished children’s author and the winner of numerous book awards, including a National Book Award, a Newbery and others. Two siblings, Nan Byars ’78 and Guy Byars ’80, are writers in their own fields.
Clemson laid a strong foundation for writing — for these two sisters and for their whole Tiger family!
Betsy and her husband live in Atlanta and have two grown sons. Laurie and her husband, Michael ’72, live in Augusta and have three grown children.
The Shepherd’s Song is available at Amazon.com.