What’s next?

It’s a vital question, and one that Clemson faculty, staff and students have tackled over the past year. The answer is ClemsonForward, a strategic plan that represents the ideas, ambitions and hopes of the Clemson community.

In his letter to the Board of Trustees, President Jim Clements calls ClemsonForward “at once visionary and practical, challenging and attainable, bold and Solid Orange.”

As Clemson implements the strategic plan, the focus will fall on four key foundations that will prepare the University for greatness for many years to come. Specific goals and tactics will guide each of those four areas. They are research, engagement, the academic core and the living environment.


Whether people realize it or not, academic research affects our lives every day. Companies run more smoothly, crops are more productive and people live longer.

“Through sustained research and scholarly activities, we improve how we address questions and issues we face in society and generate important tools — some practical, some enhancing quality of life, some leading to the discovery of new knowledge, and some that push us to redefine our priorities,” said Amy Lawton-Rauh, who is the Faculty Senate Research Committee chair, served on the Phase 2 Research Prioritization Committee, and is an associate professor in the Department of Genetics and Biochemistry.

Through ClemsonForward, the vision is to create a world-class research environment, promote a culture of discovery by raising research expectations and rewards for research excellence, refocus the research mission on six innovation clusters, and increase sponsored program research expenditures.

“Research offers the opportunity to teach students to be critical thinkers and develop new solutions to broader challenges,” said Nikolaos Rigas, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute. “It’s important for students and the university because through research you’re addressing challenges and problems — you start being part of the solution, part of the equation that is shaping the future.”

Clemson’s innovation campuses across the state are part of that equation.

“These campuses take the University’s mission and capabilities and bring them into regions of the state where there’s a lot of economic momentum under way,” said Rigas, who served on the Phase 2 Research Prioritization Committee. “By doing this, the innovation campuses help the University and students be part of the economic growth that is occurring throughout the state. Also, being closer to what’s happening in the state helps us better understand what problems or challenges are out there, which in turn allows us to help formulate solutions through research.”


The 2020 Road Map focused heavily on student engagement, and ClemsonForward will build on those successes as well as embed engagement more deeply into the undergraduate curriculum.

“Problem-based engagement involves challenging students with real world problems, it’s the idea of collaboration between faculty member and student instead of the traditional teacher/learner role,” said Denise Anderson, Presidential Fellow and professor of parks, recreation and tourism management. “Students learn best getting their hands dirty — literally and figuratively — by being an active participant.”

Through ClemsonForward, the vision is to foster evidence-based academic engagement, build a global engagement infrastructure and enhance engagement opportunities outside the classroom.

“Having engagement opportunities in addition to classroom experiences allows students to say, ‘I’ve heard this in class, but now that I’ve experienced it myself, I can see what the professor is talking about,’ ” said Anderson, who chaired the Phase 2 committee, Undergraduate Education: Problem-based Learning and Degree Flexibility.

As the workplace gets more and more globalized, it’s more important than ever for students to understand different cultures and customs.

“Global learning allows us to help students see a broader picture,” said June Pilcher, Alumni Distinguished Professor in Psychology. “It allows us to recognize the distances and similarities across our very diverse world. It also gives us an opportunity to look at social issues, look at civic responsibility, look at the economic challenges out there and become more aware of them.”

Global learning can be as simple as engaging in campus cultural events or it can embrace spending a semester or a year studying abroad, immersed in another culture.

“It’s our obligation as an institution of higher education to help our students see beyond Upstate South Carolina,” said Pilcher, who chaired the Phase 2 Global Engagement Committee. “It’s our obligation in terms of how we can provide awareness of what’s out there — that broad diversity. Just becoming aware is step one. Then we ask, ‘How do we generate the best social and economic decisions?’ ”

Academic Core

Clemson’s reputation for quality is grounded in its academic core. ClemsonForward takes these strengths and builds on them.

Clemson students work at a whiteboard in a classroom on campus.

Image Credit: Clemson University

“You can absolutely have equally strong graduate and undergraduate programs at the same time,” said Julia Frugoli, genetics and biochemistry professor. “They tend to be synergistic — a good undergraduate program feeds into the graduate program. Having both graduate and undergraduate students around, working together, raises the level of undergraduate inquiry. Frugoli chaired the Phase 2 Committee, Nationally Prominent Graduate Education and Role of the Graduate School.

Through ClemsonForward, the vision is to offer undergraduate Grand Challenge minors, revise General Education, professionalize academic advising and increase high-quality, nationally prominent graduate programs.

“Our committee talked about flexible degrees and this idea of problem-based learning. It’s such an important piece to engagement and just preparing students for what comes next — that’s what life is, personally and professionally,” Anderson said. “A ‘problem’ doesn’t just have to be a negative thing; it is just something that has to be figured out.”

Ultimately, it’s about preparing students to make a very real difference in the world around them.

“The Clemson impact isn’t just ‘What did we do for South Carolina?’ It’s ‘What did we do for the world — for the future?’ Students earning graduate degrees are passionate about a single subject or issue. They want to know and learn and try new things — these new discoveries keep the world moving forward.”


At Clemson, we talk a lot about the Clemson Family, and it’s the core of our exceptional University experience. And the living component of ClemsonFoward is simply built on the foundation already in place.

“ClemsonForward is a strong step in the direction of building a community and climate of diversity, inclusion and respect,” said Oliver Myers, mechanical engineering associate professor. Once all faculty, staff and students take hold of the vision and buy into the model, we will be able to create the environment very organically.”

The strategic plan’s vision for the living component is to increase diversity; nurture a climate of diversity, inclusion and respect; and advance workplace quality of life and reward top performance.

“It’s really important to show that Clemson is a nurturing environment for all people,” said Myers, who chaired the Phase 2 Climate Committee. “We’re a land-grant institution which mandates that we serve and educate the population of the entire state of South Carolina. With a diverse faculty, Clemson University ensures that all students feel welcome and see that people of diverse backgrounds achieve higher degrees. Much to the disbelief of many students, we were students once, too.”

The University’s most valuable resource is its people.

“You want to take care of your people, and you want Clemson to be a good place to work,” said Angela Nixon, Public Affairs public information director. “The more we can do to help families, to retain and reward our top people, the better. I’m glad that these are things that are being addressed in the strategic plan because it shows that Clemson does value its employees.” Nixon chaired the Phase 2 committee, Recruiting and Retaining Top Staff.

ClemsonForward is a plan built by the campus community — its faculty, its staff, its students — and it’s designed to take Clemson to the next level in the four areas addressed above.

While fruit is already being seen from these efforts, there is more to be done. The plan calls for the University to play — and win — at the highest level.

“When I sat on the committee, one thing we talked about was the importance of being a Carnegie designated Research 1 University,” Frugoli said. “In the months since, we’ve achieved that; we’ve crossed that line. It’s a good sign that even before we implement things, we’re moving in the right direction. We aren’t turning the ship around; the ship is already going in the right direction — now, let’s steer better.”