College of Education

Catching up with alumni: Briana Yancey


The Clemson University College of Education offers numerous graduate programs, and its Master of Human Resource Development is among them. Although at first glance the program may seem like a departure from graduate degrees geared toward teacher or administrator preparation, the program still revolves around education through the training and development of adult learners across a variety of organizational settings.

Briana Yancey, an equal employment specialist at the VA Augusta Health Care System in Augusta, Georgia, has experience in both areas of education. She began her career as a teaching fellow in North Carolina with aspirations to be a high school teacher before finding her way to the Army National Guard and a human resources roles within it. She now uses lessons learned from her master’s program to effectively educate and consult with veterans, employers and coworkers to ensure equal employment for veterans and address issues related to equal employment as they arise.

We met with Yancey to discuss her role, how an online graduate degree from Clemson University still made her feel connected to campus and colleagues, and how learning to focus education and training on adults has allowed her to excel in her role.

What does an equal employment specialist do, and what is a typical workday for you?

An equal employment specialist deals with complaint processing as well as more proactive measures such as the training and development of employees in regard to nondiscrimination. A typical workday for me would involve a huddle at the beginning of the day to sync with team members. We might have a mediation session that’s taking place that day for an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint. We sometimes have employees walk in with questions about the EEO complaint process. We also might receive phone calls from supervisors inquiring about the EEO program. Sometimes we perform new employee orientation as well. It can kind of feel like a “choose your own adventure” job based on what comes up during that day.

So why is this role important for the population that you serve?

The role of equal employment specialist is important because we are the person that is hands on with the employee who is experiencing alleged discrimination. We are the primary advisor to supervisors who have questions about employees who are concerned about discrimination. We also advise the agency head in regard to discrimination to make sure we’ve got our boxes checked and that we are doing everything that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires of the agency.

Why pursue a master’s degree in human resource development?

I pursued a master’s degree in human resource development because I was already a human resources officer in the South Carolina National Guard, and I saw an opportunity in the equal employment specialist position to be able to improve the agency as well as the employees of the agency with the knowledge that I would glean from getting that master’s degree. What I appreciate about the Master of Human Resource Development is a lot of the coursework dealt with the strategic level. I learned how to influence an entire organization for the better because human resources touches every aspect of an employee’s lifecycle.

I really appreciate being able to take that higher-level view and make sure that equal employment opportunity in particular is nested into the organization’s goals. Diversity, equity and inclusion is critical, especially today in the goals of my workplace. I feel that the degree program can apply to more or less any job because the focus is on developing the organization as well as the people within it. It can really apply to a variety of industries.

Considering this program is housed in the College of Education, when do you feel like an educator in your job?

My career in academia began as an educator. I was actually a North Carolina teaching fellow, and my original goal was to teach high school. I think that role has changed in some ways to teaching adults, but I believe that the Master of Human Resource Development prepared me to teach adults because that kind of teaching is different.

The intrinsic motivation that you need to teach adults is a lot different from being in a traditional classroom with school-age children. I find myself on a day-to-day basis teaching employees in my role as an equal employment specialist. Training and development are big parts of what we do.

We teach new employee orientation. We teach other training classes such as civility or harassment prevention. We are in a position to teach and educate adults on a regular basis.

How did an online program like the MHRD program make you feel connected?

I believe that the master’s program did a great job of being able to sync students together via virtual means. I never really felt like I lost out because I was not able to report to campus every day. As a working adult, that would have caused a lot of strain. I appreciated the convenience of being able to connect in a virtual space with my classmates in that program. As an alumni, I continue to support the university. There are local chapters of Clemson alumni that meet, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything by being in a virtual program.

What advice would you give to prospective graduate students who might be on the fence about the program?

I would tell prospective graduate students to just take the leap and remain open minded. I wasn’t entirely sure of everything we would learn in the program, but I knew it would be good. The program is one of the foremost programs in the country for human resource development. That’s what I found in my research. I believe that if you come in with an open mind and ready to learn, you’ll succeed in the program.

Are there any faculty members who stood out to you during your time in the program?

The professors that stood out the most to me in the program were Angie Carter and Cynthia Sims. When I was doing research for the program, I did look at photos of the faculty and I saw myself reflected in the program. That was important to me. I definitely felt like there was diversity among the faculty as opposed to maybe some other institutions that I considered.

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