The United States is now more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been, but that diversity is not yet reflected in the sciences. In 2017, traditionally underrepresented minorities — African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders — accounted for nearly a third of the U.S. population, yet only about 17 percent were employed as scientists and engineers in the country. Several years ago, Meredith Morris, an associate professor of genetics and biochemistry who teaches molecular biochemistry at Clemson, began to notice that racial and ethnic gap reflected in her classes.
That dark period occurred in 2014, after Whitehead and his family — his wife, Kelly, and their three children — moved to Clemson. Faith is important to the Whiteheads, but the family couldn’t find a church that could accommodate the needs of their two sons, who have autism and don’t speak.
“We all suffered when we didn’t have a community to belong to,” Whitehead said. “We knew from experience that it’s a difficult search. We just weren’t ready yet to take the inevitable ‘walks of shame’ to retrieve our children from a church nursery because they were having a meltdown.”
Whitehead began to turn his academic eye on what his family was going through. By viewing his family’s struggles as a sociologist would — on a macro scale — he emerged with findings that revealed an unseen population and tragically underexplored issues in faith communities. Whitehead’s yearslong examination of national data found that children whose disabilities affect social interaction are the most likely to be deterred from worship.
“I hoped my research could serve as a wake-up call to religious communities,” Whitehead said. “In many ways, this population is unseen because they never show up, or when they do, they have a negative experience and never return.”
The likelihood of children with chronic health conditions never attending religious services is 14 percent higher than that of those without conditions, while physical conditions alone have almost no effect on attendance, Whitehead discovered.
The difference becomes more pronounced in disabilities that affect social interaction. One in 4 children with developmental delays, learning disabilities, anxiety or conduct disorder never attend church. That ratio becomes 1 in 3 for children with autism, depression, speech problems or brain injury. Citing prior research, Whitehead notes that 1 in 3 parents of children with disabilities changed their places of worship because they felt the child wasn’t sufficiently included.
Whitehead’s findings related to attrition in church attendance confirmed a hypothesis and helped him put his own experiences into perspective. After publications in national journals and an article in The Washington Post, he hopes his research can aid congregations in serving growing numbers of children with disabilities.
The Whiteheads found a church near Clemson that has been open to their needs. Their sons have a “buddy” during church whom they’ve grown comfortable with, and Whitehead looks forward to working with the church to fold their sons more completely into worship activities.
“If congregations rarely have children with chronic health conditions who show up to worship, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be prepared,” Whitehead said. “Having a system in place goes a long way toward preventing a religious community from becoming yet another bureaucracy that families have to navigate. Instead, these communities can become places of rest and refuge.”
Burgett, an assistant professor in the Department of Construction Science and Management, has received grants totaling $94,000 to develop protocols for using small remote-controlled helicopters in bridge inspections.
“We can fly the drone all around the bridge, high and low, and be able to see any deficiencies,” Burgett said.
Burgett, who holds an endowed professorship in the department, is the lead investigator in the project. Other investigators are Dennis Bausman, a construction science and management professor who also holds an endowed faculty chair; and Gurcan Comert, an associate professor at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.
Burgett and Bausman share another distinction. Both have been recognized with one of the highest honors at Clemson University, the Alumni Master Teacher Award: Burgett in 2018, Bausman in 2002.
Burgett and his team are leading a small group of Clemson students who are studying the use of drones not only in bridge inspections but in land surveying as well.
“We can survey hundreds of acres in a few hours,” he said. “Traditionally, that would take weeks.”
The drone project, titled “Viability of Using Unmanned Aircraft Systems In Transportation Infrastructure Asset,” is funded by two grants. The South Carolina Department of Transportation contributed $50,000; while a $44,000 grant was provided by The Center for Connectivity and Multimodal Mobility, an initiative of the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering at Clemson University. The money will be used for equipment and researcher salaries.
“There may be a half dozen states studying drone technology for these purposes, but we’re on the leading edge,” Burgett said.
Drones can reach some parts of a bridge that are difficult for humans to inspect.
“If the bridge is low enough, inspectors can get underneath it and put their hands on it, but a lot of bridges are taller or located over bodies of water,” Burgett said.
That process is time-consuming and it can create traffic congestion. Plus, bridge inspecting can be a dangerous job.
“You take down a lane of traffic and you’re suspending people over the water,” Burgett said. “The snooper truck is like a carnival ride and it bounces all over the place. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
Bridges are required to be inspected at least once every four years. Some older bridges, however, are inspected more often.
A drone can cut down on labor and costs.
“With a drone, we capture a whole lot of images and we stitch them all together with software, and we can create a 3-D model on our computer,” Burgett said. “Our hope is that we can send this model to the bridge inspectors in Columbia and they can say, ‘Huh, this looks pretty good. Maybe we can wait until next year for the inspection.’”
The project’s primary tool is a small helicopter with four propellers (also known as a quad copter or unmanned aerial system) about 2 feet by 2 feet, and 1.5 feet tall.
Dynamic new field
Using drones for research and commercial purposes is a relatively new but expanding field.
“This world has exploded,” Burgett said. “In August 2016, the skies opened wide for drones. Before that, the FAA rules had not caught up with drones. It was very difficult to fly a drone for commercial purposes. You could do it as a hobby, but if it was for research or commercial purposes, you had to get special authorization. It took months and lots of red tape.”
Burgett cautioned that drones would not completely replace the work of human inspectors, but they could reduce the human workload and speed up the process.
Clemson had more than 350 verified student veterans on campus during the 2018-19 academic year. They now have a new place to call home in Vickery Hall. At the Student Veteran Center, dedicated in November, veterans can connect with each other and access resources to assist them through their Clemson transition. Previously, the Student Veteran Center occupied a much smaller space in Tillman Hall.
The new center includes a lounge, a full kitchen, couches, lockers and a multimedia setup featuring a 65-inch “smart” TV and a video game console. Adjacent to it is a quiet space featuring seven workstations and three desktop computers.
Brennan Beck, assistant director for military and veteran engagement in student affairs, has already seen positive effects of the center in its first months of operation.
“Even with Clemson’s rich military history and growing veteran support programs, the first and often loudest statement of our friendliness to incoming and prospective veterans has been the physical space of the Student Veteran Center,” Beck said. “Now, we can proudly show our veterans that they are important to Clemson University with our larger, improved center.”
Over the last several years, Charleston has experienced repeated flooding — a problem exacerbated by rising sea levels. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that the city will experience almost 180 days of tidal flooding annually by the year 2045.
In the spring term, 52 students and eight professors from Clemson, Ain Shams University of Egypt, and Huazhong Agricultural University of China tackled urban design, architecture and landscape architecture issues related to flooding and sea level rise on the east and west sides of the Charleston Peninsula. Working with the city of Charleston and its planners, they are creating design proposals that account for the effects of rising sea levels in the city.
The group is part of the first World Design Studio, a partnership of the three universities to address pressing environmental and cultural issues through design. While the universities have participated in joint design projects in the past, leaders from the three institutions met at Clemson in February to formalize their work together. A platform for international, multidisciplinary collaboration, the World Design Studio will allow architecture and landscape architecture students from the three institutions to sign up for a semester-long studio with projects across the three continents. The plan also envisions collaboration with disciplines such as transportation, robotics and environmental engineering.
“Through this partnership, our students will be able to go beyond what they thought possible while truly making an impact on the communities we work in,” said Hala Nassar, a landscape architecture professor at Clemson. “We are specifically focusing on areas in the peninsula that experience frequent flooding and road closures in conditions of heavy rain and tidal surge. We are eager to see what solutions the students create this semester and hope it can be used by other coastal towns along the East Coast.”
Nassar and colleague Robert Hewitt have spearheaded Clemson’s efforts with Ain Shams and Huazhong.
“Since we began working with Ain Shams University in 2007, we have been able to transform landscapes at some of the world’s most recognizable locations, like the city of Luxor and the pyramids of Giza Plateau,” said Hewitt, associate professor of landscape architecture; Huazhong joined the partnership in 2016. “We hope to continue building off these successes and incorporate new partners in the coming years to preserve, modify and strengthen existing locations for future generations.”