President James P. Clements greets supporters in Miami Beach.

President James P. Clements greets supporters in Miami Beach.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Standing in front of a packed ballroom at the Fountainebleau resort on Miami Beach, Clemson University’s new president, James P. Clements, lightheartedly broke the ice while introducing himself to the school’s alumni and fans.

“As you can imagine, this is a really tough first assignment for us here in Miami,” he joked as the crowd of more than 200 Tigers fans laughed with him.

Clements used the morning’s brunch talk as an opportunity to thank board members, alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the university who followed the football team to Miami for the Orange Bowl, as well as to tell the crowd about himself and discuss the future of Clemson.

The former faculty member-turned-administrator told them he is a first-generation college student —the youngest of four siblings who now have 11 degrees among them —loves the classroom and research; is a technology geek; is a data guy; and, now, with his daughter, Hannah, beginning spring-semester classes, is a Clemson Dad.

“Hannah chose Clemson for the same reason other students do: Because we provide a great, high-quality education and a great campus experience,” he said.

And why did Clements himself choose Clemson?

“Honestly, I see this as an amazing opportunity because Clemson has such a great national reputation, such great tradition and so much positive momentum,” he said. “As a member of the executive board, as the chair-elect of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and in my work as the chair of the Commission on Leadership with the American Council on Education, I work with a lot of university presidents, chancellors, provosts and other academic leaders. I can tell you without hesitation that Clemson is highly regarded nationally.

“And Clemson’s impact is felt far beyond the state borders,” he said. “In fact, we have a growing footprint right here in the Sunshine State. We have more than 3,000 alumni living within 250 miles of Miami, more than 60 current students who are from the South Florida area and about 200 freshman applications from this area for fall 2014.”

Clements shared his immediate agenda for himself and for the university: Maintain momentum; listen and learn; and find ways to build on Clemson’s core strengths. He also noted that 2014 will be a year of celebrations with the 125th anniversary of Clemson’s founding and the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. That legislation created the national Cooperative Extension network and was co-authored by Frank Lever, a South Carolina congressman and Clemson trustee.

“Clemson’s future is bright,” Clements added. “I look forward to seeing Clemson take its place among the nation’s greatest public research universities.”