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Feeding the World

 

Postdoctoral award winner focuses on increasing yield of food crops

 

Rohit Kumar wants to help feed the world.

“My interest is to serve society by contributing to sustainable food security for the growing world population,” said College of Science postdoctoral fellow Rohit Kumar, who works in the laboratory of Rajandeep Sekhon, an associate professor of genetics and biochemistry.

Kumar’s overall research focuses on understanding complex traits that underlie nutritional value and stress tolerance to develop climate-resistant crop plants.

At Clemson, his research has focused on regulatory systems that govern senescence — the process of biological aging — and stalk lodging in corn, which refers to stalk breakage below the corn ear. Lodging reduces the U.S. corn crop by as much as 25 percent annually.

Sekhon said Kumar’s work could help improve yields for a wide range of annual crops, including corn, soybeans, rice and wheat. “These crops only survive for one season, and even then, their lifespan is limited,” Sekhon said. “During that lifespan, the most important thing the plants do for us is convert solar energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis, which is what basically sustains us. Our big idea is that if we can delay senescence, that can lead to the production of more chemical energy for human consumption.”

Since he came to Clemson in 2018, Kumar has authored or co-authored five peer-reviewed publications in various scholarly journals, including The Plant Cell and Plant, Cell & Environment. The Clemson University Postdoctoral Association named Kumar its 2021 Distinguished Postdoctoral Award for his efforts to understand how to extend the productive life of food crops.

In addition to his research, Kumar frequently serves as a reviewer of international journals and a judge in student-oriented competitions, including the Three-Minute Thesis program and the University’s Undergraduate Science Symposium.

“Dr. Kumar is an outstanding young scientist with a steady upward trajectory,” Sekhon said.

 

 

Providing a Place to Call Home

 

Habitat Homecoming build provides experience and changes lives

 

Matthew Grant walked on to the Habitat for Humanity build site as a management major his freshman year to fulfill service hours for a course. He had no idea he was stepping into a life change.

“I came out to a workday and loved it,” he recalled. “All we were doing was putting in vinyl flooring, but it was really cool to me to actually be doing work on an actual house that a family was going to be living in.”

As his involvement progressed, his passion for the work inspired a new career path. “I realized I could just wake up every day and do this the rest of my life,” he said. When he returned to Clemson as a sophomore, he switched his major to construction science and management. Now a senior and advocacy chair for Clemson’s 29th Habitat for Humanity Homecoming build, Grant’s enthusiasm is just as strong as it was three years ago.

Grant’s story highlights the special relationship between the project and the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management. On September 30, 2021, Michael ’86 and Robyn Nieri — namesakes of the department and owners of Great Southern Homes—strengthened the relationship further with a gift of $50,000 to Pickens County Habitat for Humanity. State Farm also donated $20,000 to the Clemson chapter. These gifts made the Homecoming build possible as well as another new Habitat Home to be built in 2022.

 

“I love to share what we all love about construction, and beyond that, getting to use construction to serve people.”

 

Approximately 60 CSM majors have contributed to this year’s build, according to Addison Dicks, a senior CSM major serving as project coordinator. Five CSM majors are part of the chapter’s leadership team.

Dicks stays on top of a myriad of tasks as diverse as recruiting volunteers, acquiring in-kind donations for materials, applying for permits, arranging security and even driving 200 miles to Summerville to pick up lumber. “Balancing it all between classes and trying to manage it has been a challenge, but it’s a good challenge,” he said.

According to Endowed Professor Dennis Bausman, the hands-on work experience creates an ideal learning opportunity. “We’re preparing young men and women not necessarily to hammer nails, but also to manage the process,” Bausman said. “But you’re a better manager if you have some feeling or experience of actually having gone through it. The lessons they are learning while they are out there working and managing the effort, I think, are invaluable.”

For some students, the building process and interacting with the families for whom the homes are built have shaped their lives and future plans.

“It definitely opens your eyes to a new perspective,” Dicks said. “I’m not going to speak for everybody, but a majority of the people who are blessed enough to come to college have probably come from a good life. When we grew up, we had a great roof over our head, and it’s very easy to take that for granted.”

In Grant’s case, the Habitat builds have had a direct impact on his career choice. He plans to work in construction for a nonprofit such as Habitat for Humanity after graduation. Until then, he will continue spreading the gospel of construction science to his classmates.

“I love to share what we all love about construction, and beyond that, getting to use construction to serve people,” he said.

 

 

Clemson Rolls Out Executive Leadership Ph.D. Program

The Department of Management in the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business is launching a three-year, AACSB-accredited Executive Leadership Ph.D. program that will allow candidates to earn their Ph.D. while working in full-time careers. Inaugural applicants participated in a research boot camp in October and will begin the program in July of 2022.

 

“This new offering will take a deep dive into leadership that will allow participants to pursue a research agenda in academia or significantly expand their skill set for growth in the business world.”

 

“This new offering will take a deep dive into leadership that will allow participants to pursue a research agenda in academia or significantly expand their skill set for growth in the business world,” said Kristin Scott, professor of management and director of the program. “Graduates will be qualified for faculty positions or be armed with advanced research techniques they can utilize in transforming organizations.”

The Executive Leadership Ph.D. program is offered in a hybrid format with virtual class meetings and three-day residencies three times per semester (nine per year) and is designed to be completed in three years over nine semesters while attending Fall, Spring and Summer terms. “Candidates will experience a small and selective cohort that will create a high-touch program,” Scott said. “In addition to lasered-in focus on leadership, the program will provide them with deep analytical skills. Clemson’s world-class management faculty will be joined by global scholars who will be guest faculty throughout the three-year program.”

Applications for the program are now being accepted. Applicants will need to have a master’s degree and successful leadership experience of preferably a decade or more.

 

Teaming Up to Disinfect Airplanes

Two land-grant universities in states where Boeing has a large footprint, South Carolina and Washington, have launched a partnership designed to help prepare students for aerospace careers.

Clemson and Washington State University Everett formed Cougars and Tigers Together (CATTs) as a joint initiative. Clemson students traveled to Washington in the fall and toured Boeing and other advanced manufacturing companies. The two groups, which include engineering, business, marketing and communications students, are working together to design autonomous cabin disinfection systems for airplanes. WSU Everett students will travel to Clemson this spring, and the team will present a final report to Boeing.

 

[Clemson and Washington State University Everett], which include engineering, business, marketing and communications students, are working together to design autonomous cabin disinfection systems for airplanes.

 

Boeing, which is providing financial support to each school to fund student travel and project expenses, is a large employer of Clemson and WSU Everett graduates.

“Providing students with opportunities to address real-world challenges through experiential learning is at the core of a Clemson education,” said Clemson provost Bob Jones. “The knowledge and experience these students will gain from the ability to directly interface with Boeing highlight the benefits of industry partnerships in higher education.”

 

 

180 mph, Zero Driver

 

Clemson students engineer first-ever high-speed autonomous Indy race car

 

Engineering a driverless vehicle is hard enough. Designing it to exceed 180 mph and race alongside nine identical cars safely is nearly impossible. That’s exactly what 40 Clemson students, 38 partners and an army of visionary innovators did to put on the world’s first high-speed autonomous vehicle race. Clemson’s project represents one of the most advanced self-driving challenges ever attempted and one of the first university-designed vehicles to go into commercial production.

Self-driving technology is transforming the mobility industry. Companies pour millions into R&D efforts, hire specialized engineers and log millions of road miles in the race for advanced capabilities and untapped business opportunities. Driverless motorsports push the limits, achieving unprecedented speed, synchronicity, reliability and redundancy. These “edge cases” can save lives through safer and smarter cars.

This daunting challenge demanded world-class automotive expertise, facilities and resources to pull it off in just 18 months. Now in its 14th year, Clemson’s Deep Orange program pairs automotive engineering graduate students with equipment manufacturers to develop targeted prototypes. The process starts with a carefully crafted grand challenge, followed by curating an appropriately skilled student team, defining project scope and design parameters, assembling an ecosystem of industry partners, and hitting milestones for engineering, fabrication and validation.

Students not only developed complicated autonomous systems but also engineered novel hardware and advanced propulsion packages, integrated first-ever race control procedures, and fit everything into a tightly constrained aerodynamic package.

At 180 mph, Clemson’s race car covers the length of a football field in 1.2 seconds. The sensor suite — including six cameras, four radars, three long-distance LiDARs and two high-precision GPSes — can fill a 1TB hard drive in 20 minutes. For scale, the Hubble Space Telescope generates 10TB of data per year.

In March 2021, students tested their designs during a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In May, they unveiled their finished self-driving race car at the Indy 500. And in October, the team celebrated as 10 identical copies of their design sped around the 2.5-mile oval track.

“We say it all the time, but the ideal outcome of Deep Orange is highly capable students,” said Chris Paredis, BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration and Deep Orange program director. “This was an incredibly challenging project, but if our experience tells us anything, it’s that these learning experiences have a tremendous impact on their success after they leave Clemson.”