Committed to Clemson: Tony Cawthon continually seeks to serve
Tony Cawthon is no stranger to community involvement, a fitting quality since Clemson’s close-knit atmosphere and various opportunities for engagement make strangers hard to find. Throughout his career at Clemson, Cawthon has participated in projects and organizations on campus, within his department and throughout the community that contribute to the university he loves to call home.
Cawthon came to Clemson in 1991 and worked as the director of residential life in university housing before becoming a professor in the Department of Leadership, Counselor Education, Human and Organizational Development in 1997. He works primarily with master’s students in the student affairs program, and his research interests include student affairs competencies, career development, multicultural issues and student development.
Cawthon acquired a penchant for student affairs after making a big leap from the small town where he graduated high school with a class of 110 to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, which hosts approximately 30,000 students.
“The world opened up to me in college, and I was a bit overwhelmed,” he said. “But then I met these great mentors through student affairs, academic advising and student activities who got me involved. I wouldn’t have survived if not for them, and I decided I wanted to be that person for other students.”
In addition to mentoring his own students, Cawthon enjoys teaching them to be effective administrators, counselors and mentors as well. He co-coordinates an annual study abroad trip to the United Kingdom with 10 to 12 of his master’s students. The two-week program, which rotates every two years among England, Scotland and Ireland, allows students to study and compare the higher education system in the United Kingdom to that in the United States. Students evaluate aspects of campus life, such as disability services, student government, residences, and student unions, and examine their relation to corresponding services and departments in U.S. schools.
“They’re doing some things really well that we could learn from,” Cawthon said, “and it’s interesting to see the cultural differences in student behavior and student-teacher interactions.”
Aside from the study abroad program, which he says sparked his interest in international travel, Cawthon has been heavily involved in various boards and organizations at Clemson both within and beyond his department. He served as the chair of faculty in his department for five years and also acted as chair of the college curriculum committee. Following his tenure as chair of faculty, Cawthon sought new ways to involve himself in and support the University, which led him to become faculty representative to the Clemson University Board of Trustees.
“I’ve always been interested in policy, faculty governance and building relationships,” he said, “and I thought I could bring a unique perspective to the table since I’ve been both a faculty and staff member.”
Cawthon’s official duty is to serve as the voice of the faculty to the board of trustees. He will attend each of the board’s quarterly meetings and present on relevant issues of faculty interest, informing board members on topics such as research, service, teaching and professional involvement. He will also attend various committee meetings to gain perspective on different conversations and relationships within the University.
“The first meeting was eye-opening,” Cawthon said. “I was really impressed with the level of commitment by the board to making Clemson students successful. It was at the core of everything they did. I’m excited to see how my role develops.”
Cawthon’s engagement at Clemson complements his community involvement beyond the University. He is past president of the Electric City Theater board in Anderson and is vice president of the board of directors of the Belton Center for the Arts. Cawthon credits his commitment to community endeavors to the influence of his parents, who emphasized civic engagement through leadership roles in boards and organizations while he was growing up.
Aside from his service roles in the community, Cawthon enjoys traveling with his partner and finding new and exciting local attractions that are off the beaten path. While he loves the fast pace and endless adventure of cities like New York, he also appreciates the small-town, close-knit atmosphere that Clemson provides and the impact he is able to make here. This, Cawthon says, is his ultimate service.
“Our program is a small cohort, and I can get to know the students well,” he said. “I appreciate aspects of my job such as the research, but what gets me really excited is being a good teacher because I know it’s a two-way street. If I can create a meaningful exchange in the classroom, I’ll come out of the classroom a better person, teacher and mentor as well.”