Office of the President

2019 President’s Leadership Institute: Meet the staff


The fourth cohort of the President’s Leadership Institute began this month, with 25 faculty and staff members participating in the prestigious nine-month leadership development program.

Introduced by President Jim Clements in 2016, each year’s PLI exposes Clemson’s faculty and staff to all aspects of the University’s operations, presents opportunities to interact with senior leaders and allows them to participate in activities designed to build leadership skills, broaden their perspectives, create invaluable networks and prepare them to pursue additional roles at Clemson.

Nominated by vice presidents and deans, the participants are at various stages in their careers, from entry-level to mid-level employees. Participants learn about Clemson, higher education, business and government and receive education and training to hone and develop skills needed for leadership success.

Last week we met the eleven faculty members participating in this year’s PLI. Now let’s meet the 14 staff members:


Abbie Abbott works in Clemson’s Office of Information and Security Privacy. She earned an MBA in business analytics from Clemson in 2019. As the director of Healthcare Information Security, Abbott’s priority is building secure environments for Medicaid and Medicare contract that dispersed over $6.9 billion in claims and processed health care coverage for more than 1.2 million South Carolina citizens in 2018. “My takeaway from the initial two-day retreat is the dedication from the highest levels of the University to make Clemson the best that it can be, and I hope to be a part of that future,” she said. “I’m looking forward to interfacing more with the rest of the cohort, learning about different areas of the University, and soaking up the guidance from Clemson’s top leadership.”

A police officer stands in front of his vehicle, blue sky and clouds in the background
Clemson police officer Christopher Harrington is excited to grow in his leadership journey through participation in the 2019 PLI.

Clemson police officer Christopher Harrington said he was “humbled and honored” when he learned he was selected to participate. “I am most excited to grow in my leadership journey with such great colleagues and develop new relationships that will help better serve our community,” he said. Harrington has served with Clemson’s police department for 14 years at various levels. He earned a Bachelor of Science from Clemson in 2004 and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration.

Elliot Charles has served Clemson University as Associate Athletic Director for Compliance Services since 2017. Entering his third year, Charles oversees Compliance Services for all 19 sport programs and is designated as the Director of Compliance for all matters related to athletic compliance. “I was honored to be selected to participate in the President’s Leadership Institute,” he said. “I was excited for the opportunity to assess my personal leadership strategy in a shared experience with other emerging leaders on campus. I hope that I will gain a broad-based vantage point of University operations and finish the program with the ability to share my PLI experience with colleagues.”

Jessica Owens is an assistant director in the Academic Success Center. She says she experienced a rush of emotions – from excitement to nervousness and gratitude – when she learned she would be part of the ’19-’20 PLI cohort. “I am honored to spend the next ten months building community through this program to expand my knowledge of Clemson and potential as a leader,” she said. Owens earned a Ph.D. in educational leadership with a focus in higher education at Clemson this year.

Julio Hernandez serves as the chief of staff and director for Hispanic outreach for the Division of Inclusion and Equity. Hernandez provides executive-level counsel and analysis to the chief diversity officer regarding decisions to be made or problems to be resolved. In addition, he provides leadership and support to the entire university on inclusion and equity matters regarding recruiting, retaining, advancing, and fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for Hispanic/Latinx students, staff and faculty.

Katie Miller is the director of academic initiatives in the Office of the Provost. She works closely with the provost and his leadership team on major institutional priorities and initiatives for ClemsonForward, the University’s strategic plan. Miller earned a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of South Carolina, Aiken in 2010 and is currently pursuing an MBA at Clemson.

A formal photo of an African-American woman, wearing a light grey jacket and maroon red shirt
Londan Means-Charley looks forward to gaining greater insight into the intricate structure of the University.

Director of Academic Advising in Biological Sciences Londan Means-Charley is passionate about helping students reach their full potential while pursuing their academic and professional goals. She says she was “absolutely thrilled” when she found out that she was selected to the PLI, and that she looks forward to gaining greater insight into the intricate structure of the University, enhancing her leadership skills, and actively engaging with a diverse group of leaders across campus. Means-Charley is a 2013 and 2018 Clemson University alumna and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in educational leadership.

Michelle Cato works as works as the director of talent and organizational development (T&OD). She joined Clemson in May of 2016. Prior to this role, she was the director for business process excellence and training at Roche, a multinational healthcare company. Cato earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from East Carolina University and a master’s degree in human resource development from Clemson. Michelle is a certified senior professional in human resources and a Lean Six Sigma black belt. “I am very excited about the opportunity to learn more about the vision of our University leaders and how they engage others at the university and state level to make improvements to our local and state economy and residents,” said Cato. “Also, I am thrilled to discover how I can use the practical skills that will help me build better and more robust development opportunities for our staff and faculty.”

Formal headshot of Tara Romanella, right shoulder to camera and grey background
Tara Romanella

Tara Romanella has worked in the communications industry for more than a decade. As the Director of Strategic Communications for External Affairs and Development in Clemson’s University Relations, she develops and implements strategies to heighten awareness for the University’s governmental, partnership, and alumni and development initiatives. Her career in communications began at Fifteen Minutes in Los Angeles, a public relations firm founded by industry veteran Howard Bragman. As a publicist in the brands division, she worked on national media campaigns and communication strategies for a number of brand personalities and lifestyle clients, including Iron Chef Cat Cora, Gaea, Cuties Clementines, W Hollywood Residence, NutriBullet and several New York Times best-selling authors.

Lisa Knox is the director of strategy and operations for Clemson’s Finance and Operations Division. She has been with Clemson for nine years, with a focus on process improvement and campus-wide expansion of the Lean Initiative. As director of strategy and operations, Knox strives to help Clemson become the best administrative and operational team in American higher education by driving quality, efficiency, and relevance to support Clemson’s drive to preeminence.

“I’m really honored to be included with this group, and I am excited for this opportunity to build strong relationships with my colleagues,” said Rock McCaskill, Clemson’s associate registrar for operations. “I hope to gain a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities they face in their positions, and I want to better understand their decisions and processes in order to be able to better support each of them in their respective roles.” McCaskill currently teaches Registrar 101 and Registrar 201 for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. He earned his B.S. degree and his M.P.A. degree from Clemson.

Blake Lanford is district extension director for Clemson Extension’s Coastal District that includes Berkeley, Charleston, Clarendon, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties. He said it’s an understatement to say that he’s honored to be selected to the PLI. I look forward to professional development on a personal level and to building a more fundamental understanding of the diverse elements that make our University system so great. In addition, I’m excited to build relationships that carry our public service and outreach message from a multitude of places throughout South Carolina back to main campus.” Lanford attended Clemson University for his undergraduate (2000) and graduate (2003) degrees

Formal chest-up photo of a man in a light blue button-down shirt, mottled grey background
Jim Grieger hopes to learn about Clemson’s goals and challenges from his colleagues and President Clements.

Jim Grieger became the first director of the Office of Research Safety at Clemson University in 2013. Before that he worked as an OSHA compliance officer for the North Carolina Department of Labor, manager of Health, Safety and Regulatory Compliance for The Pelton & Crane Company. From 1990-2013, he served as associate director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at Cornell University. “I feel honored for the opportunity to participate in PLI,” he said. “I hope to learn more from President Clements and my colleagues about Clemson and its goals and challenges so I can better prepare myself and my department to be a valued partner and service provider.”

Sarah Wilbanks is the assistant director of the Department of Plant Industry, a division of Clemson University’s Regulatory Services. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education from Clemson, a Master of Science in agricultural communications and leadership from the University of Georgia, and a Ph.D. in animal science from Clemson.Being located off-campus and with duties covering the whole state, I am excited to learn about the inter-workings of the University,” she said. “After the first meeting of the PLI last week, I have felt so empowered, and look forward to collaborating with other cohort members to learn and grow as Clemson leaders.”

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