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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.

 

Surviving Calculus

Boyd Scholars Program gives engineering students a path to success

Beth Stephan works with an engineering studentEighty Clemson freshmen are participating in a program that gives them a chance to ease into the challenging math courses that sometimes derail students’ dreams of becoming engineers.

Boyd Scholars are first-year students in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences who are selected to complete courses during the long summer academic term. The award covers tuition and fees for the seven credit hours required in the summer, along with summer housing and a summer meal plan. Students take an extended curriculum that delays their start in calculus yet keeps them on track to finish their required courses before their sophomore year. The Boyd Scholars Program is made possible through a $1.25 million gift from the Darnall W. and Susan F. Boyd Foundation.

For many students, calculus is a major stumbling block on their path to engineering degrees through no fault of their own.

Beth Stephan, who oversees Boyd Scholars, noted, “Students often arrive on campus underprepared for calculus because their hometown schools didn’t offer programs that could get them ready.

“This money allows us to keep those students at Clemson all summer,” she continued. “They can start in the right math for them, and there are no extra dollars out of pocket to get them caught up. This program has the potential to be truly life changing.”

Brad Putman, the college’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, said Boyd Scholars also play an important role in helping address the state’s STEM workforce shortage: “STEM careers can be the golden key to elevate many students to a better life with rewarding salaries and job security. Too often students struggle with the rigors of college-level STEM education, particularly with calculus. The Boyd Scholars program will help them clear hurdles that might otherwise trip them up.”

Anand Gramopadhye, the college’s dean, said that when he sat down with Darnall Boyd in 2015, they talked about their shared concern for South Carolina’s students and a vision for a better future.

“He understood that an important factor lay within our ability to educate future generations in STEM disciplines,” Gramopadhye said. “The program developed by the college positions our students and the state for success.”

Student researchers developing STEAM workshop model

Graham crackers, marshmallows and toothpicks might not be standard tools for civil engineers, but they’re adequate stand-ins for fourth- and fifth-graders in Clemson College of Education doctoral student Abby Baker’s STEAM workshop. Their objective, using food as construction materials, is to create buildings that can withstand the forces of a gelatin earthquake.

The workshops are part of a Clemson Creative Inquiry project that finds Baker and undergraduate students translating concepts related to science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) to a young audience. The lessons are a valuable extension in the education of Clemson students and the fifth-graders they teach, but Baker is also using them to test a model she hopes will address a growing need for students interested in science and math.

Baker had the perfect venue for a STEAM workshop after she and a small group of community leaders transformed the closed Holly Springs Elementary into Holly Springs Center in 2017. She attended the elementary school as a child and now is the center’s director. 

“It felt like the space should be used,” Baker said. “Its purpose is to do something good for the community, and providing quality science and math education falls right in line with that.”

The project measures how effective a team of education and engineering students can be in increasing interest in STEAM fields among K-12 students. Engineering students bring concepts to the table, while education students act as the filter for the younger audience.

If the sessions aren’t reinforcing concepts fourth- and fifth-graders have already encountered in the classroom, they’re introducing what’s to come. The marshmallow towers on gelatin actually cover two state education standards. In the case of sound waves, students learn how different variables affect properties of sound. They also analyze and interpret data to describe and predict how natural processes affect the Earth’s surface.

Baker hopes to one day use a similar model in the students’ own schools and spread the workshops to other parts of the state.

“For many students from under-resourced schools or areas, the concept of college can be a vague thing, but it gets clearer when someone from Clemson is in front of you making these concepts exciting,” Baker said. “This is just another way Clemson can serve all of those students and let them see that a future in these areas is attainable.”

STEM Trailblazer: Wayne Tolbert ’83

According to Wayne Tolbert, earning an engineering degree was probably the most difficult thing he’s ever done. But then Tolbert doesn’t like to take credit for the strides he took to make sure minority students felt included in campus life during the 1980s, a change that made a positive impact on Clemson students past, present and future.

“There were approximately 300 American-American students on campus at that time. There were a couple of older native African students in the ceramic engineering program, but I didn’t have anyone like me in my classes,” remembers Tolbert.

During his junior year, Tolbert joined 23 other students to found the Clemson University chapter of the Society of Black Engineers (CUSBE). Tolbert was elected president.

“I remember going to the national convention in Atlanta and seeing other [African-American] engineering students and thinking, ‘There are others going through the same thing!’”

Tolbert continued to bring awareness to minorities in the workplace through his work as a systems engineer on Department of Defense military contracts. Last year, Tolbert received the Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award at the 2017 Black Engineer of the Year Awards Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference. The award is given on behalf of Career Communications Group’s U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine, the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Tolbert was nominated by his employer, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The award recognizes engineers who, among their many talents, possess the ingenuity to open career doors for others.

“It’s pretty amazing to be honored with this award. I believe I received it in part because I’m able to get along with a variety of personalities,” Tolbert says. “I think it goes back to my days at Clemson being the CUSBE president and a part of many other organizations on campus. There’s something in me that strives to pull people together to succeed; I think they [the awards committee] appreciated that, especially since the typical impression of an engineer is someone buried away in a cubicle or laboratory.”

Tolbert admits it’s cliché, but the advice he shares with others from his time in college and beyond is to never give up: “There’s a reason you are here on this earth. Find it and don’t stop doing it until you’ve blazed your own trail.”

Passing it on: Emily Wallace encourages the next generation of underrepresented students

 

Nov. 20, 2015 - Emily and Jack Wallace of Cary NC. Endowing a scholarship for underserved students in stem fields being interviewed at Riggs Hall

Emily Wallace ’72 has been breaking down barriers and cutting new paths since she was a student at Clemson, and now she is helping the next generation follow in her footsteps. Wallace and her husband, Jack, have established an endowed scholarship through the College of Engineering and Science. The scholarship targets groups who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math.

“As a manager in technology, it’s hard to find women in technical backgrounds,” Wallace says. “But it’s not just women. It can be hard to find men, too. I’m trying to encourage more students in technical backgrounds.”

Wallace serves as senior director of the Knowledge Management Center at SAS, a software development company based out of Cary, North Carolina, that employs 15,000 worldwide. Emily and Jack Wallace were among the first 100 employees when they began working at the company 34 years ago.

The husband-and-wife team returned to campus in November for Legacy Day and to see the Tigers play Wake Forest in the last home football game of the season. Their itinerary included a meeting with Serita Acker, the program director for Women In Science and Engineering (WISE). The program offers support to female engineering and science majors, ranging from mentoring and networking to test banks and tutoring.

“I’m a strong believer in the WISE program,” Wallace says. “I love Serita. I wish we had the program when I was here.”

While at Clemson, Wallace became the first female director of the student radio station, WSBF. As a female math major, she was in a distinct minority. The experience helped prepare her for what was to come. “It gave me a lot of independence,” she says. “Being among a minority of female students helped me develop a thicker skin and to deal with people who did not see my viewpoint.”

Tigers football head coach Dabo Swinney and his wife, Kathleen, helped inspire the Wallaces to give back. “I was so impressed with what they are doing for the community and academic programs, it made me feel like I should do more,” Emily says.

While on campus, the Wallaces also toured the Watt Family Innovation Center, a state-of-the-art building designed to link students and industry. “I was blown away,” Emily says. “I want to come back as a student.”

 

Comporium Inc. partners with Watt Family Innovation Center

The Watt Family Innovation Center

The Watt Family Innovation Center

An innovative South Carolina-based telecommunications company is partnering with the new Watt Family Innovation Center to transform student lives and campus academics. Comporium Inc. has pledged $3 million in financial support and in-kind products and services to the Watt Center and will be a Founding Innovation Partner in the new facility that fosters collaborative research activities, product use and demonstration, and philanthropic support.

“It is wonderful to have another South Carolina-based company on board as a Founding Innovation Partner for this incredible facility,” said President Clements. “Comporium is a world-class leader in telecommunications, and I am grateful for their support.”

Headquartered in Rock Hill, Comporium Inc. is a diversified telecommunications company that embraces innovation to provide voice, video, data, wireless and security products and services. Clemson’s faculty, staff and students historically have collaborated and partnered with Comporium in academic and research areas related to a wide spectrum of interest and business operations. This new relationship centers on a multi-faceted engagement that includes philanthropic support of students, faculty, equipment and operations in the new center.

“Comporium sees a great value in educating students in real-world collaboration to take a technologically advanced idea to the development of a practical application,” said Comporium President and CEO Bryant Barnes ’76. “We believe that the center’s role in fostering entrepreneurship and leadership with an emphasis in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) will serve the citizens of South Carolina. The Watt Center enables the connectivity of the Technology Incubator at Knowledge Park in Rock Hill and others to this network.”

Charles Watt, executive director of the Watt Center, said, “We are excited that Comporium has joined our elite level of Founding Innovation Partners. It is an outstanding family-owned company with corporate operations in Rock Hill.

“Since its original chartering in 1894, it has embraced delivery of innovative products and services that are provided in its telephones, data centers and connected security systems. The company has received numerous national, state, county and local awards for excellence in the telecommunications industry and for its contributions to academic and community activities in South Carolina.”

The Comporium gift is part of the $1 billion Will to Lead for Clemson capital campaign.

For more about the Watt Family Innovation Center, see the feature story in this CW Spring 2016.

Mentoring on a Mission: Serita Acker M ’99

Environmental portrait of Serita Acker in the Fluor Daniel Building. Also a group photo with her WISE mentors.

Environmental portrait of Serita Acker in the Fluor Daniel Building. Also a group photo with her WISE mentors.

Mentoring others, especially those who may not realize their potential, has been a lifelong passion for Serita Acker. Those who know her weren’t surprised that she received the 2015 Calder D. Ehrmann Outstanding Individual Award at the 11th Annual Upstate Diversity Leadership Awards dinner. The dinner is hosted by the Richard W. Riley Institute® of Government, Politics and Public Leadership at Furman University and the Greenville Chamber, with support from other Upstate chambers. The event recognizes those who have shown leadership in promoting diversity in the Upstate. Acker was nominated by colleagues but was completely surprised by the honor.

“It was such a great honor to receive it. Calder recently passed, and this award is in his honor and the work he has done. It was very exciting for me. It was such a complete surprise,” said Acker.

Acker is in her 16th year as director of Clemson’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which provides support and resources for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Additionally, Acker oversees WISE-sponsored camps and programs to introduce elementary, middle school and high school girls to careers in STEM.

Acker’s outreach in the community is not limited to helping young women. She has worked with the University’s Staff Development Program that trains staff members for professional and personal growth. She has also served as a board member for the Rape Crisis Center to develop initiatives that assist survivors.

In addition, Acker was named one of 10 U.S. individuals selected as a mentor for the 2014-2016 MentorLinks cohort, a program of the American Association of Community Colleges and National Science Foundation that advances technological education. She travels to Texas State Technical College to assist the school in programs that encourage and support Latina women in automotive technology. Acker was also honored by Women of Color magazine with the 2014 College-Level Promotion of Education award. Acker said her Clemson studies were the perfect preparation.

“My Clemson degree in human resource development has done exactly what it was supposed to do. The degree is about training people and helping them develop. My Clemson experience as a student has helped me as a staff member. I love that my journey has been ‘in these hills’ and preparing students for great careers.”
Recently Acker received certification as a Global Career Development Facilitator, where she’ll focus on educating people about STEM career opportunities.

“I like to be that person who bridges the gap between the community and the University,” Acker said. “I want to educate people, encourage people and help them fulfill their dreams.”