Posts

A Sterling Partnership

This past year, four large reproductions of historic quilts were installed on the exterior of Greenville’s Sterling Community Center. The original quilts are owned by residents of the historic Sterling neighborhood located adjacent to Greenville’s West End. The quilt on the front of the building is an example of quilts that provided coded information for enslaved persons navigating the Underground Railroad.

The four art pieces were produced by professor of landscape architecture and urban design Tom Schurch, his graduate students, and volunteers from the Upstate Heritage Quilt Trail program, the latest part of a years-long collaboration with the Sterling neighborhood and the Sterling Land Trust. A grant from the Clemson Architectural Foundation funded the work. In addition, Greenville County Parks Recreation and Tourism granted permission for and is completing installation.

The Sterling neighborhood dates to the late 1800s and is anchored by the Sterling Community Center, located on the site of Sterling High School, the first African-American high school in the Upstate. The building was largely destroyed by fire in the 1960s, and the community center is located in the remaining part of the school.

The Sterling Land Trust was formed in 2010 by residents of the neighborhood in collaboration with Sterling High School alumni, such as Mack Lockhart, who had moved back to Greenville after a successful career in Richmond. “I moved back home and looked at this area and saw a need,” he said. “Sterling alumni — we bleed Sterling blue and white – just like Clemson fans.”

James Thompson, another Sterling High alumnus and current president of the trust, agreed. “We tried to step in and reshape the future of that community so that the history won’t die out when we’re gone,” he said. “The role of the trust is to maintain the integrity of affordable housing for people who might not be otherwise able to live in this perimeter of the city.” The trust has partnered with Bon Secours St. Francis, Clemson and “a host of other organizations that have stepped up to help us,” he said.

Deb Long, director of Healthy Community Initiatives at Bon Secours St. Francis, first contacted Schurch in 2015. “Tom and his students have been working with the land trust ever since,” she said. “The land trust is a great group of committed individuals who love the organization and what they can do on behalf of the community. The thing I’m most proud about is that they built their first house, and they have a tenant who needed affordable housing.”

Schurch and his students have worked on a variety of projects in partnership with the trust and the Healthy Community Initiatives, including the quilt artwork, designs for a planned memorial commemorating Sterling High School and drawing up numerous possible plans for neighborhood development — taking into account safety, walkability, street character, common spaces and a sense of shared community — using design to try to encourage a return to the village mentality of the old Sterling neighborhood that was anchored by the high school.

“With respect to the memorial,” said Schurch, “we worked in a partnership. It was not something done from the Clemson end and given to the trust. It was something we worked on together. That project epitomizes how we have worked together over the years with James and Mack and others. They’ve joined us in the studio at Clemson to review work, to work with the students and with me.”

That partnership and getting to know and listen to people “who will inhabit your design” was important for Emily Kelly M ’18. “It’s important to be innovative and push ahead with unconventional and exciting ideas. But the process is best when in parallel with an ongoing dialogue with the community.” She now works for WRT in San Francisco, a firm with a similar approach of using engagement to drive the design process. “Being exposed to this type of community design in school can be crucial for shaping a personal design ethic that carries over into professional life,” she said.

Schurch says that he tries to instill in this professional degree-granting program “that the definition of professionalism is  not just about business ethics, but really addressing the community and being a member of a community and giving to that community in the best way possible. “In a way, it gets back to what it means to be a professional — applying the concept of pro bono — doing things for good. Hopefully that’s a lesson our students are learning.”

 

“That artwork will be there long after we are gone,” said Lockhart. “It’s not something weather is going to tear up, and it’s going to enhance the neighborhood and draw all people of the city there. And it has ties right back to Clemson.”

 

Students like Hannah Slyce, who worked on the project in the fall of 2019, are learning that lesson. “It was really informative and humbling to work with James and Mack who have dedicated their lives to providing affordable, high quality homes for the Sterling community,” she said. “This project really opened my eyes to what it means to do true community design work and gave me an experience I will carry with me into my future career.”

The trust is focused on improving the Sterling neighborhood; completing the quilt projects is one tangible evidence of that. “That artwork will be there long after we are gone,” said Lockhart. “It’s not something weather is going to tear up, and it’s going to enhance the neighborhood and draw all people of the city there. And it has ties right back to Clemson.”

Unmarked Graves Found at Woodland Cemetery

Completed ground-penetrating radar testing of Clemson’s Woodland Cemetery has located more than 600 possible unmarked graves throughout much of the cemetery. Some are at the crest of the hill inside a fenced area, where members of the John C. Calhoun family were buried starting in 1837.

The number of graves coupled with the locations suggest the possibility that some may predate the period when the land was part of Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation from 1830 to 1865. Many of the graves are thought to be those of enslaved people who worked at the plantation and later as sharecroppers and Black laborers, including convicted individuals involved in the construction of Clemson College from 1890 to 1915.

Lawrence Conyers, a published authority on GPR and professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Denver, reviewed the methodologies of the team hired by Clemson to do the survey work and agreed with their interpretations. The University provided additional technical information to Conyers about soil and rock conditions on the site, as well as GPR readings taken recently for comparison at the African American cemetery at Hopewell, a known burial ground from that era approximately a mile away.

GPR work in late July initially revealed the possible locations of more than 200 unmarked graves in Woodland Cemetery believed to date back more than a century. Subsequent testing in other areas of the cemetery located additional possible grave sites primarily on the western, northwestern and northern slopes, as well as many in an area to the south and southeast previously identified as the “Site of Unknown Burials” and where the school installed fencing.

Clemson has installed additional signage at the cemetery, closed the area to vehicle traffic and restricted public access hours.

Rhondda Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson whose research and teaching focuses on early African American literature and culture, is working with the local African American community. She formed a Community Engagement Board with members representing the Clemson/Central, Anderson, Pendleton and Seneca areas to help guide Clemson in the preservation and memorialization of the site. She also is working with the local community to identify family members who may have ancestors buried in the unmarked graves.

University historian Paul Anderson leads the research work. His team’s findings are published to a website Clemson created to document the University’s role in Woodland Cemetery and give voice to the African Americans who are buried there. 

 

New Endowed Chair to Focus on Aging, Cognition

Older adults have become the fastest-growing demographic in the nation, and changes in health care and technology are required to meet the needs of this diverse group. But Lesley A. Ross, Clemson’s new SmartLIFE Endowed Chair in Aging and Cognition, says scholarship and research in the area of older adults can’t just be about a number. 

“Longevity is easy to quantify, but older adults don’t focus as much on age as they do on quality of life,” Ross said. “My research, and the work of this position, focuses on keeping older adults happy and independent as long as possible while fighting the negative stereotypes associated with aging.” 

The new endowed chair has been created specifically to research aging and its effects on issues related to brain function. Ross, who comes to Clemson from Penn State, will be a tenured faculty member in the Department of Psychology and will work collaboratively across the University on research related to aging and cognition. She will serve as associate director for the Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging. SmartState centers were formed in 2002 as one of a series of legislative acts intended to accelerate South Carolina’s knowledge economy transformation.

Wastewater Provides Early Warning System

As universities all over the country began scrambling to figure out what campus life would be like in a year of COVID-19, several Clemson professors got busy on parts of that puzzle that related to their own research.

One of those professors was David Freedman, chair of the University’s Department of Envionmental Engineering and Earth Sciences. In the spring of 2020, Freedman began testing coronavirus levels in wastewater on the University’s main campus and in the surrounding community to provide an early warning system that shows how fast the virus is spreading.

Freedman likened the tests to the “canary in the coal mine” that can help administrators make informed decisions about what they need to do to protect the public’s health even before COVID-19 case counts start to rise. In addition to campus, his testing covers the city of Clemson and the town of Pendleton, both home to many University students, faculty and staff.

 

Studies have shown that the virus starts showing up in wastewater as much as one to two weeks before clinical symptoms are reported.

 

Clemson City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on June 24 that mandated face coverings after Freedman found surprisingly high virus levels at the city’s Cochran Road wastewater treatment plant. The ordinance cited “elevated levels of virus in the community similar to levels in other cities in which an outbreak of the virus was about to occur or was well underway.”

Previous studies first done in Europe have shown that the virus starts showing up in wastewater as much as one to two weeks before clinical symptoms are reported, said Freedman.

“Even before people are coughing and getting a fever, they’ll start shedding the virus in their feces, and that will show up in the wastewater,” Freedman said. Once or twice a week, Freedman collects wastewater samples from one campus plant and two municipal plants and sends them to a lab in Tennessee. Results from the testing are posted on both the city and the University websites.

App Helps Forensic Teams Determine Time of Death

Katherine Weisensee, chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice, has collaborated on a smartphone app to help forensic teams determine times of death. Dubbed geoFOR, the app allows coroners and forensic teams to enter observations when human remains are recovered and then upload photos along with information, such as clothing, location, insect access, scavengers, apparent trauma and decomposition stage. The goal, Weisensee said, is to capture as much information on body decomposition as possible across a variety of geographic areas.

The app automatically factors in information from numerous geographical and environmental databases in order to start building a database on how these specific variables observed on the body overlap with geography and environmental factors.

Ideally, after years of use, the app will have captured enough data on body decomposition from a large enough collection of locations globally to provide a near-instant estimate of time of death. The app is currently being beta tested by multiple South Carolina coroners.

Weisensee is no stranger to the study of human decomposition. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of Tennessee, and she spent a significant amount of time studying body decomposition on the campus’s body farm. She is also often consulted by law enforcement agencies who find corpses well past the final stage of skeletonization.

Her insights into the condition of skeletons have been instrumental for law enforcement in determining time and cause of death in bodies that have long since decomposed. She said the first question across all these consultations is usually related to time of death, so she’s motivated to get this application in the hands of law enforcement, humanitarian agencies and members of the general public with a strong stomach in order to start answering that question automatically.

“It’s exciting to see just how geospatial information meets forensic science, and how all of this information can be combined to finally start quickly answering a question that has eluded people for so long,” Weisensee said.