Four Clemson Programs Team up Over Summer to Show South Carolina School Kids the Power of Higher Education

A group of children running down stairs outdoors.
Clemson University

Four landmark Clemson University programs with a rich history of revealing the power of higher education to underrepresented South Carolina high school students are teaming up to intensify their outreach over the summer.

“The Summer Collab” is a collaboration between Emerging Scholars, Tiger Alliance, Clemson Career Workshop and the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program. It is the first time the four programs have joined together to execute a common mission, a serendipitous side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the global pandemic uprooted our normalcy, our programs have missed our familial and hands-on approach to engagement,” said Jason Combs, associate director of the Emerging Scholars program. “Regardless of the pandemic, we remain dedicated to supporting the students we serve through their life journey. Our connection to students is something we all enjoy and were adamant on continuing virtually.”

The Summer Collab was created to keep a presence in students’ lives and to continue working towards accomplishing the mission of each respective program, Combs said.

“We aren’t able to physically engage with them as we have in the past, but it is our duty to find innovative ways to build programming. Each respective program has a mission to support our students through their holistic development. A pandemic doesn’t mean we neglect that mission.”

Each of the participating programs typically bring groups of young people to Clemson every summer to experience the stimulating, vibrant culture of a college campus. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that impossible, so the Summer Collab will be a series of virtual events. With the four programs working together, there could potentially be more than 600 participants.

“This past year and a half has been like something out of a movie. The pandemic has thrown the world into chaos and our youth have been stuck right in the middle of it,” said Rushawnda Olden, director of the 4-H Pinckney Leadership Program. “After a year of virtual learning, I knew we needed to take this summer’s programming to the next level, and to do that, collaboration would be key. Through this collaboration youth will have access to subjects and topics typically covered by the individual programs, and they’ll have the opportunity to network with students from across the state and country.”

As leaders of the programs began to work through the logistics of their vision, they realized their programs always have had similar goals, so it was easy to set goals for Summer Collab. Those goals include developing students as leaders in their schools and communities; preparing them for college and career fields through exploration and academic enrichment activities; developing an understanding of social justice and how to be advocates, allies or activists; and exposing students to the majors and opportunities available to them at Clemson. Students will get an opportunity to learn more about the University and its colleges, while also discovering how they could fit into the Clemson community.

“We hope to hit all of those goals all while building community within our individual programs and having fun along the way,” said Sara Hanks, director of Emerging Scholars.

Hanks said the collaboration between the four programs happened almost naturally.

Hanks said that collaboration between the four programs happened almost naturally, once the group started thinking about programs that were offered to similar populations.

Participating students will have two weeks of engaging hands-on workshops, said Olden. Planned programming includes seminars and classes, student panels and evening sessions that are more social where kids can hang out on Zoom and get to know each other. Combs said it’s important the experience isn’t a burden to its students.

“We don’t want to just throw sessions and assignments at them for the sake of keeping them busy,” he said. “We hope they are able to connect with students across programs and build relationships with their session presenters. We want them to know our programs are going to continue loving and supporting them even in the midst of a global pandemic.”

The mutual respect among the leaders of the four programs is readily apparent. Hanks said she’s thrilled to be working with the team at College of Preparation and Outreach, which houses Emerging Scholars, Tiger Alliance and the Clemson Career Workshop, but she’s particularly excited to extend the family to include the Pinckney Leadership Team.

“They have been working with students for so long in the world of leadership development and civic engagement, and I really think their expertise in that area will help our students grow so much,” said Hanks. “We all serve high school students across the state and joining forces just makes us even stronger and able to offer more content for our students.”

Combs echoed Hanks’ sentiment, noting that college access work is collaborative in nature.

“Our programs would not be as successful as they are if we were siloed in the work that we do,” he said. “The amazing leadership behind this collab is working hard to expose students to as many resources as possible. With Clemson’s Career Workshop, Emerging Scholars, The Pinckney Leadership Program and Tiger Alliance collaborating we are showing our students the importance of reaching out to others to accomplish goals. We are excited to continue fostering the community this team has built amongst our programs.”

The first Summer Collab sessions were hosted on June 22 – 24 and had nearly 300 participants daily who represented 35 of the 46 counties in South Carolina and several who were out-of-state.

Olden shared a feedback comment from an 11th grade student from Berkley County:

“Thank you very much for giving us all these opportunities, even when we have to do it virtually, it is still an enjoyment to be a part of, and I’m looking forward to more possible opportunities on the Clemson campus in the future. Thank you guys again!”

The next sessions will be July 13 – 15.

Visit the Clemson University website for additional information.

Written by Clemson University.