Since 2002, Clemson University’s Emerging Scholars Program has been transforming the lives of students in Bamberg, Allendale and Hampton County, S.C. Unlike students educated in other parts of the state, those who are born in this corridor aren’t always provided with the same amount of resources. However, Clemson’s Emerging Scholars Program is opening their eyes and giving them hope.
Emerging Scholars works with 150 students each year from five high schools with limited resources. Students enter the program the summer before their sophomore year. During this time, they take classes at Clemson, learn about the college application process and build leadership skills. Later in the program, students take part in workshops and tour colleges and universities across the state.
Clemson alumna and Allendale County native, Lisa Ballenger Minnick ’76, currently resides in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. As speaker chair of the East Cooper Breakfast Rotary Club, Minnick is responsible for scheduling speakers for the club’s meetings. Not long after hearing about the Emerging Scholars Program, Lisa extended an invitation to Amber Lange, director of the program. “I read a little about it, and it sounded like a good program. I needed a good speaker so I invited her to come down,” said Minnick.
It was when Lange mentioned Allendale that Minnick knew this meeting was meant to be. “When she started talking about Allendale County, I was shocked. Afterwards I went up and talked to her. I wouldn’t let her go. I said, ‘What can we do?’ Here we had the opportunity to help. Finally there was something!” she said.
Lange frequently gives presentations about the program to clubs and other groups, but this time was different. “I couldn’t believe it because I never meet anyone from Allendale County when I’m doing these talks. Unfortunately, a lot of people who hear my presentations have never even been to these areas,” said Lange.
Not only has Minnick developed a great friendship with Lange, but she has also taken the time to get to know other students from her hometown. Jason Combs, also an Allendale County native, graduated from the program, and after receiving his Bachelor of Arts from Clemson in 2013, he accepted a position working alongside Lange as assistant director of the program.
“Everyone who is involved is very passionate and that includes our donors. Lisa went from knowing nothing about the program to being continuously involved. She serves on career panels and gives our students advice on their futures. We need people who are from these areas to come back to talk to our students and tell them their story,” he said.
Jasmine Fields graduated from Clemson in 2016 and like Combs, is a graduate of the program. Math was the Allendale native’s favorite subject in high school, and she was excited when she found out through the program that she could pursue math as a major. In addition to her major, the program also influenced another important decision she had to make. “The Emerging Scholars Program is pretty much my savior. It helped me pick the college that I wanted to go to. I visited other schools and nothing else seemed to amount to Clemson,” said Fields.
Fields enjoys going back to Allendale to talk with the students. “No one in Allendale plans for what happens after high school, and it’s because they have no idea what there is, and I think the biggest issue is a lot of the people who do become successful never come back. They never talk to the students and say to them, ‘I grew up the same way you did, and you can do this too.’ I feel like that is the biggest impact that anyone who donates can make. It doesn’t have to be money. It can be talking to the students and making sure they know there is a life outside of high school and a life outside Allendale,” said Fields.
Over 400 students have graduated from Clemson’s Emerging Scholars Program. Many high schools in these three areas have a 30-40% dropout rate, but 100% of the students who participate in Emerging Scholars graduate while 90% continue on to college or the military. “We’re really proud of our numbers and students. We hope to grow and take more kids in every year,” said Lange. “With support from people like Lisa we expect to do just that.”
Minnick looks forward to continuing to support the program. “I was very lucky. I got to go to college. I got to go to Clemson. I want every student to have the opportunity to go to college and be successful,” she said.