After more than three decades of service to Clemson University, first as a “trailblazer” in governmental affairs and now as director of its agricultural research outpost in Columbia, Kathy Coleman has been recognized for bringing positive visibility to South Carolina’s primary land-grant institution throughout the state, the nation and the world.
Coleman is the 2023 recipient of the Rowland P. Alston, Sr., ’42 Award for Excellence in Public Relations, established to recognize outstanding Clemson faculty or staff who, through programs and activities related to agriculture and/or natural resources, have provided the university with such visibility. The award is made possible by an endowment established by Rowland Alston, retired Extension agent and former host of the public television program “Making It Grow,” in memory of his father.
“I’m very honored and humbled to receive this award,” Coleman said. “I love working for Clemson and being an advocate for agriculture in South Carolina. I love what I do, and I believe in the work that is done by Clemson, as a land-grant institution, for the people of this state. Growing up in 4-H and being a part of Clemson has taught me the value of public service, which has helped me tremendously in my profession as well as in my role on Saluda School Board of Trustees. It’s a privilege to get to do something you enjoy every day.”
A Clemson University graduate in Agricultural Economics, Coleman returned to her alma mater after earning her Ph.D. from Texas A&M and has been with Clemson for over 37 years, with 29 of those years spent working in Governmental Affairs.
The primary goal of Clemson University’s Office of Governmental Affairs is to develop and foster relationships with local, state, and federal officials to benefit its students, faculty and staff. Not only does this office develop the University’s legislative agenda; it is responsible for advancing the important work being done at Clemson to encourage investment in programs and initiatives positively impacting our state and nation.
Some of the major accomplishments in facilities that Coleman has helped Clemson gain funding for are the T. Ed Garrison Arena, Biosystems Research Complex, Edisto Research and Education Center (REC), Livestock Poultry Health Facilities, Greenwood Genetics Center, Sandhill REC, Life Sciences Building, Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, remodeling Pee Dee REC and many others.
Coleman’s hard work was also needed to secure funding for new programs such as Agricultural Education State Staff, Precision Agriculture (Edisto REC), Advanced Plant Technology (Pee Dee REC) and Agribusiness (Sandhill REC).
“These are just a few of her accomplishments while serving us in Columbia. … Today, when she walks the halls of the South Carolina State House, everyone knows and respects Dr. Coleman,” Dobbins said. “She built her reputation over 30 years on simple principles — hard work, honesty, being passionate, persistent, knowledgeable, taking time to learn folks’ needs and wants, being approachable and friendly to everyone.”
After nearly 30 years in Governmental Affairs, Coleman was tasked with a new initiative for Clemson Public Service and Agriculture (PSA) to lead and build an Agribusiness Team at Sandhill REC, where she was named director.
As director of the REC, Coleman oversees the operational and programmatic functions of the Center — one of six located across South Carolina that are collectively known as the Clemson Experiment Station — and serves as Agribusiness Program Team assistant director.
And when charged with rebuilding the Clemson Extension Agribusiness Team and developing a center at Sandhill REC for the initiative, Coleman shifted gears from lobbyist to REC director without missing a beat.
“She, as always, accepted the challenge head on and started building a fantastic team. … Of course, nothing comes easy for her: As soon as she was named, we had the 1,000-year flood, followed by drought, two hurricanes, low commodity and livestock prices and industrial hemp. Again, she never blinked. Her team hit the ground assisting the farmers to help them out of financial hardships,” Dobbins said.
A member and chairperson of the Saluda County School Board for 25 years, Coleman is also a former President of the S.C. School Boards Association. Coleman, who also farms at home with beef cows, hay and timber, has served as a staff volunteer for Palmetto Girls State for over 20 years, continues to work with Extension Advocacy groups and serves as the Clemson liaison for several agriculture organizations in the state.
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