As assistant vice president for University Housing & Dining, Kathy Bush Hobgood was worried she wouldn’t be able to fully participate. Worried time just wouldn’t allow her to fully take advantage of all that was being offered.

Such is life when you’re in charge of managing one of Clemson’s largest departments — one charged with housing and feeding a record 7,600 students on campus this past academic year.

Kathy Hobgood during a President's Leadership Institute activity

Hobgood speaks in front of colleagues as part of the 2018–19 President’s Leadership Institute.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Hobgood was tapped last summer as one of 25 members making up the third cohort of the President’s Leadership Institute. The nine-month program is designed to support and develop professional and personal leadership within a diverse and inclusive community of Clemson faculty and staff.

“I didn’t account for how much I would really be able to disconnect,” said Hobgood, who followed in the footsteps of previous PLI graduates from Student Affairs, Kimberly Poole and Jeff Brown. “I knew it would be a sacrifice and an investment to be out of the office so much. You may be technically on campus many of the days, but the PLI leadership team is serious about keeping participants engaged in the moment and locked in. No one is on their laptop or phone, and during breaks we were encouraged to talk with others in the room. The time was always treated as precious — and it really did go so fast!”

Hobgood managed to push work responsibilities to the side and immersed herself in the program, which kicked off in August 2018 with a two-day retreat that began at daybreak and ended at 9 p.m. The retreat effectively served as an icebreaker. Then, the class met once a month for a full day in addition to an overnight trip in February.

“I’m fortunate to work with a great team who always has my back,” she said. “Without them, this level of development and participation would not have been possible.”

2018–19 President's Leadership Institute during its August retreat.

Hobgood (middle row, third from right) and the PLI group began its journey with a two-day retreat in August 2018.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

She learned deep-dive strategies that make up successful leadership. She took part in sessions on managing crises. She heard from university administrators whose experience levels and leadership views vastly differ from one another. She teamed with Carlos Garcia of the Chemistry Department to create a mini-educational session on how to foster a trustworthy environment as a leader.

The group was treated to a tour of Clemson interests in Charleston, including the University Restoration Institute (CURI) and dinner celebrating the university’s first double cornerstone donors. On the same trip in February, they met State Sen. Thomas Alexander and Rep. Gary Clary when they toured the State House in Columbia. During that visit, President Jim Clements and the PLI class were recognized from both the House and Senate floors for their leadership and service to students.

Hobgood learned how the university works on a broader scope by gaining insight into the different divisions and administrative units that make up main campus and beyond. She went to CU-ICAR, Greenville One and the Advanced Materials Research Lab. On campus, they made ice cream at ’55 Exchange, saw the latest progress on the new College of Business and visited the Reeves Operation Complex, the state-of-the-art home to Clemson football. In December, they participated in community service at The Dream Center in Easley and packed snacks for Meals on Wheels of Pickens County.

Kathy Hobgood of University Housing & Dining with President James P. Clements at PLI graduation in May 2019.

Hobgood receives her PLI diploma from President James P. Clements at graduation in May 2019.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

When it came time for graduation earlier this month, the group gathered in the President’s Suite in Memorial Stadium and celebrated a year’s worth of growth. She received a commemorative PLI book that included photos and reflections with each member of the class, a set of PLI branded glassware, a framed diploma and a print of the group from the State House steps.

Each member was also presented with a unique honor based on their experiences with each other. Hobgood earned the Professor Xavier Award as a “mastermind who always has a plan.”

“It was a truly impactful experience,” she said. “The president is very candid with the group. He gave us insight into his perspective by allowing for 30 to 45 minutes each day where we could ask him anything. I had a lot of what I call ‘ah-ha’ moments that helped provide me with a broader perspective on leadership, as well as on what it takes to keep the full enterprise moving forward.”

The class also offered validation into something she’s admittedly struggled with at times, a healthy work-life blend. She was Clemson’s director of residential life when her daughter, Katie, was born. Because her duties have grown exponentially since then — taking over as director for University Housing & Dining in 2015 — she noted in particular the PLI sessions focusing on blending your work with life really resonated.

Members of the President's Leadership Institute on the State House steps in Columbia in February 2019.

Hobgood (second row, right) and the PLI group toured the State House in Columbia during February 2019.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“There is a trick to managing multiple competing priorities — and yourself — in a fashion that maintains sanity,” she said. “No one in this esteemed group could say that we’ve figured it out, that was part of what was so validating!”

Hobgood further reflected on a pep talk the group received from Assistant Athletic Director for Football Player Relations, College Football Hall of Famer Jeff Davis. His direct statement to the group was, “Leadership involves sacrifice. Some of that will be yours, some will be sacrifice that your family or friends might feel — and that’s OK when you talk it through together. There’s always a way when everyone is clear on the goal.”

“It was vocabulary for the conversation I was having in my head, thinking I was doing something wrong or ineptly because there are challenges,” she said. “Challenges such as figuring out how much to work at home, or whether or not to feel bad if I drag Katie into the office with me on a Sunday afternoon. It was good to gain the team and president’s perspective on it and know that I wasn’t alone in that.”

Hobgood began PLI by providing her new classmates with a biographical sketch of who she is, what her responsibilities are, why she was excited to be part of the experience, her greatest accomplishment and some interesting facts about her life. Of note, when the class began, she wrote that she most looked forward to “one day a month to see the bigger picture and learn together with exceptional colleagues and university leadership.”

Sounds like it went perfectly to plan.