In 1960, both John Fitzgerald Kennedy and I reached enviable positions of power, he to the presidency of the United States, I to the position of director of bands at Clemson College.
DeAvin Rencher is a fixture at Uptown Barbers in Central. But he’s not a customer or barber. He’s a special education major at Clemson and Call Me MISTER® student who works with kids through the Razor Readers program.
The Call Me MISTER program is sending its students to local barbershops each week to educate school children and their parents on the importance of reading early and often. These weekly sessions are the focus of Razor Readers, a program funded by the United Way of Pickens County that aims to increase children’s access to reading materials and individuals who can serve as educational role models.
Call Me MISTER works to increase the pool of available teachers from more diverse backgrounds, particularly among the lowest-performing elementary schools. The MISTERs play a key role in Razor Readers as role models, according to Amity Buckner, executive director of Pickens County First Steps. “When you realize that a MISTER may be the first African-American male these young learners meet who values education,” she said, “you realize the potential impact of this program.”
Rencher verified Buckner’s statement with his own experience. “I didn’t see an African-American male teacher until high school, and many of these young kids think it’s cool that I’m doing something positive through education.”
Children can read while waiting in line for haircuts or in their free time. Barbers have punch cards for each child that when filled qualify them for a free haircut. Before and during haircuts, MISTERs guide parents through early education tools that will help parents engage with their children and encourage reading at home and school.
“I like to talk to parents first to get their consent and also get them on board, and many of them have really gotten involved,” Rencher said. “We want to use every tool we can to get kids more engaged with reading, and coaching the parents to encourage it just increases the odds we’ll succeed.”
Smiley Garvin, owner and operator of Uptown Barbers, replaced an unused barber chair with a table and chairs for Rencher and the kids. He believes kids who come in and out of the shop are quicker to embrace reading in a setting that isn’t school, home or library.
Levi “T” Robinson owns D’s Diamond Cuts, another participating barbershop, in Easley. He has created flyers for the program that he distributed via local churches and has been thrilled to see kids returning to the shop not for another haircut, but for more books.
Call Me MISTER began at Clemson in 2000. Since then, the program has graduated 203 MISTERs who are now teaching in South Carolina schools and has expanded to include 19 other universities and technical colleges in South Carolina, as well as programs in eight additional states.
Kim Evans’ involvement with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Savannah River Area in Augusta, Ga., began with volunteering five hours a week.
Evans, an accounting major at Clemson, had worked in management accounting in the manufacturing and health care sectors. With the birth of two sons, Jacob and Jared, she wanted to be home more and started a small accounting firm. It was one of her clients, a Boys and Girls Club board member, who recruited her to work with the organization.
“I’ve always been someone who just never sits down — within six months to a year I was probably working for them 30 hours a week,” she says. Within 2½ years, she was part of helping the organization grow from three to eight area clubs serving more than 3,000 youth. By 2011, she was the chief financial officer, managing a $3.5 million budget and overseeing grants and federal funding.
Then the CEO was promoted to the national level, and Evans became interim CEO. It didn’t take the board long to remove “interim” from her title.
It was the Boys and Girls Clubs’ mission to “inspire and enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” that ignited Evans’ passion. “I didn’t have a Boys and Girls Club growing up, so I had no idea about the mission when I started,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in the community and giving back. All the things I wanted to do with my life’s work aligned very quickly with what was happening here.”
This past spring Evans was invited as one of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America CEOs to attend a year-long Harvard
Business School executive education program, studying companies and organizations and the ways CEOs make decisions, and translating that to the nonprofit sector.
“Sometimes in the nonprofit arena we don’t have a product that we sell,” she says. “We have to go out and make the case to individuals and corporations and foundations that we’re worth the investment.”
Back home, Evans’ priority is convincing folks that the mission of helping kids reach their potential is worth an investment. “I focus on building a better community. These kids are the future. This is your future workforce, your kids’ future neighbors. This is worth the investment.”
Duke Energy is continuing to support two Clemson summer programs — one for middle school girls and one for incoming University freshmen — with an $85,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. Both programs are aimed at increasing diversity in the pipeline that carries talent from the classroom to the workplace.
Project WISE is designed to educate middle school girls about opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, at a time of life when peer pressure tends to drive them away. The PEER and WISE Experience offers 50 incoming freshmen a head start on academics and campus life. Both programs, which are based in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, are designed for students from groups who are underrepresented in STEM fields, including women and minorities.
“We know that quality education programs like these are critical to creating the high-tech, diverse workforce we need for the 21st century,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina state president. “Partnering with great institutions like Clemson University helps our communities continue to grow and produce skilled workers who bring new ideas and innovations to our lives.”
About 60 middle school girls attended Project WISE this past summer. This year’s program targeted Title I schools in the Pee Dee, a region where Duke Energy is working to have great impact. Girls attended mini-courses in a range of topics from electrical engineering to computer science, taught by Clemson faculty and staff. Ten undergraduate Clemson students lived in residence halls with the Project WISE girls.
Serita Acker, director of PEER and WISE, said that since Project WISE started in 1997, many of the program’s alumni have come to Clemson, majoring in STEM disciplines. “All of the research shows that middle school is when you start thinking about what you want to do,” Acker said. “What makes us unique is we have all these young women in our college who serve as role models. Students can see what they could be like in the future.”
The PEER and WISE Experience, based on two previous summer programs aimed at helping ease students’ transition to college, had its inaugural three-week session in July. While living on campus, students studied college calculus, physics and chemistry and learned about research, graduate school and success strategies, such as time management. They also met alumni, providing them role models to emulate.
Acker said Duke Energy has long been key to the success of PEER and WISE and thanked the company for its latest contribution. “It not only plants the seed of STEM, it plants the seed of what the future can be when you get a college education,” she said. “Together, we are keeping the pipeline filled with diverse talent.”
Back in the early 2000s, Lisa Bennett was a secondary education major at Clemson who had no way of knowing that one of her coworkers at a video rental store would go on to found one of the most successful educator development organizations in Zambia. Lusungu Sibande was just another employee in the trenches with Bennett, restocking DVDs and keeping a “naughty” list of late video returners.
Lusungu and her sister, Kondi, started A to Zed in 2006 and immediately invited Bennett to travel to Zambia with them. In 2016 Bennett was finally able to join the sisters, offering her abilities as an educator to help teachers in Zambia through professional development workshops. She became an instant believer, making plans to return in summer 2018.“I enjoyed helping teachers address what they may be lacking in classrooms,” Bennett said. “It’s very fulfilling to help them put proven methods into practice, and we can’t wait to go back.” And, she adds, “Lusungu and Kondi made me part of their family and an honorary Zambian citizen.”
Bennett worked with teachers and students in grades 5-9, but her work wasn’t confined to the classroom. A to Zed also tackles service-learning projects, such as helping teachers and students raise and sell crops, the proceeds of which get put back into schools. Members of A to Zed also found time to host a field day for Matthew 25, a local orphanage.
Bennett said the experience made her realize just how much the hardworking people of Zambia accomplish with limited resources. One teacher she observed used a single book and no other reading or writing materials to effectively teach a class of 40 students.
That experience taught Bennett an important lesson about the role of teachers: “In the end, it’s about me and what I have to give, and that’s expertise, heart and passion,” she said. This summer, she’ll take these talents back to teach — and learn — from the educators of Zambia.
When Sonia Sotomayor came to Clemson on Sept. 14, President Clements noted that it was the first time a sitting justice of the U.S. Supreme Court had spoken on campus.
But Justice Sotomayor made sure there was very little sitting. She moved through the packed house of more than 900 members of the University community, stopping several times to organize group photos as she candidly answered questions submitted in advance by students.
Vernon Burton, professor of history and director of the Clemson CyberInstitute, introduced Sotomayor as “not only my friend, but a true American hero.” The two have known each other since their days at Princeton University, where Sotomayor was once his research assistant.
Sotomayor spent an hour answering questions while weaving in personal anecdotes, inspiration and advice. Philosophy major Chiodera “ChiChi” Drayton-Smith asked Sotomayor what parts of her journey to becoming a Supreme Court justice were unexpected. Sotomayor responded that every turn was unexpected.
Sotomayor, who has served on the U.S. Supreme Court since 2009, grew up in public housing in the Bronx, New York. As a child, she never dreamed of being a lawyer or a judge, much less a Supreme Court justice. “To dream about something you don’t know is impossible,” she said.
Sotomayor went from the Bronx to Princeton, where she won the university’s highest academic honor. She attended law school at Yale and was editor of its law journal. After graduation, Sotomayor worked in the public and private sector, serving as an assistant district attorney in New York and was a partner at the law firm Pavia & Harcourt.
She was appointed to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, then served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before President Barack Obama nominated her as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 2009.
Haley McKay, who is studying women’s leadership and communication and minoring in Spanish, wanted to know Sotomayor’s philosophy on leadership.“Find the best in people, and appeal to that,” Sotomayor said. “Make people you are working with give you their best. Challenge them to be the best person they can be. Once you do that, they can rise to your expectations.”
Students were clearly taken by Sotomayor’s dynamic talk. “As a Latina, to see someone like me presented on this campus, that’s so important to see,” said Amanda Arroyo, a graduate student in the department of history. “It’s nice to see someone that’s made it so far,” she said.
Sotomayor closed her appearance by talking about the difference between law and justice. William Powell, a student in modern languages, had asked what young people should know about the field of law.
“Let me start with what the law is not. It’s not about moral justice,” Sotomayor said. “One person’s justice is another person’s injustice.” In her field, there must be a steadfast belief in the rule of law, and Sotomayor has faith in the system she’s chosen.
“We’re not God. As judges, you can’t ask us to play God,” she said. “Laws are made by people. They can be changed by people.”
Sotomayor’s visit was sponsored by the President’s Forum on Inclusive Excellence in partnership with the Humanities Advancement board of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.
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The Young Alumni Council recognized 10 young alumni as “Roaring 10” recipients due to their impact in business, leadership, community, education and philanthropic endeavors. The 2017 Roaring 10 are:
Suzanne Pickens Alvarez ’11, senior account executive on the client services team at Luquire George Andrews agency in Charlotte. She has raised funds for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, volunteered for the Shepherd Center Society and created an endowment to benefit Clemson Student Affairs. She serves on advisory boards for Greek life and student affairs at Clemson, as well as supporting Clemson’s Tiger Brotherhood and Blue Key.
Elizabeth Armstrong Boylan ’08, government and public affairs manager for North America at Solvay. She has volunteered with the Junior League of Houston, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Former Texas Rangers Association. She was president of the Houston Clemson Club for four years and has supported a number of initiatives in Clemson’s political science department.
Kevin Joseph Fitzsimmons ’08, captain and weapons company commander for 2nd Battalion 6th Marines. Deployed twice to Afghanistan, he was selected as the top lieutenant in the battalion, awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon. He has volunteered for the Marine Corps Marathon and supports the Clemson chapter of Sigma Nu.
Adam Thomas Haldeman ’09, Tetramer Technologies, where he has led the development of more than 100 new advanced polymer materials. He co-founded H2 Home Help LLC and serves as an elder at his church. He has mentored Clemson students through internships, co-ops and undergraduate research. He serves on the Undergraduate Curriculum Advisory Board for the materials science and engineering department and has collaborated on research with the Center for Advanced Fibers and Films.
John Mark Hendrick III ’08, director of governmental affairs for the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce. A captain in the S.C. State Guard, Hendrick serves on the national council for the American Israel Public Affairs Commission and on the board of the Coastline Women’s Center. He is a past member of Clemson’s Young Alumni Council and participates in the Second Century Society in Columbia.
Steven McMillian Hughes ’17, founder and director of program development for Know Money Inc. He has partnered with Transitions South Carolina to help homeless clients and is the founding curator of the Columbia hub of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum. At Clemson, Hughes has worked with Emerging Scholars, Omega Psi Phi fraternity and the Career Workshop. He has also helped establish an endowment to create scholarships for minority students at Clemson.
Kevin Michael McKenzie ’97, M ’01, Ed.D. ’10, vice president and chief information security officer of Dollar Tree Stores Inc. McKenzie serves on the Strategic Advisory Board for the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals and as a deacon in his church. McKenzie has collaborated on numerous federal research grant proposals with Clemson faculty. He currently serves on Tidewater Community College Technology Advisory Board.
Connelly-Anne Bartle Ragley ’05, M ’08, government relations associate at Denny Public Affairs. She is involved with the Junior League of Columbia and serves on the board for Senior Resources Inc. Ragley has mentored students in Clemson’s College of Business and at the University of South Carolina while participating in Columbia College’s Institute for Leadership and Professional Excellence. She has served as an at-large member of the Young Alumni Council and sponsored Clemson’s 2016 Fall Band Party.
Joseph Cyrus Semsar ’09, deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He began his career with Teach for America, where he helped bring NBC to his school for a $3 million renovation. A Coca-Cola Scholar, he stays involved with the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation through coaching scholars and training at the Leadership Development Institute. He served as president of Clemson’s Young Alumni Council and currently serves on the Alumni Association board.
Mark Nicholas Ziats ’07, resident physician in the University of Michigan Health System. He has published more than 20 journal articles and started a biotechnology consulting firm. He co-founded Autism Explained, which produces a podcast to educate a lay audience about autism. A volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, he has served on Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences’ Alumni Board and mentors students in the Calhoun Honors College and through Tiger Ties.
Coral reefs in the Florida Keys, Caribbean and throughout the world are in dramatic decline. Kylie Smith, a graduate student from Clemson, has made it her mission to help restore one of the ocean’s most endangered species.