Over two decades, Clemson’s Emerging Scholars program has sought better outcomes through educational outreach, one student at a time.

Success should not be determined by your zip code. Margaret Gilmore, superintendent of schools for the Allendale County School District, has known this since the first time she stood at the front of a South Carolina classroom four decades ago.

“Success is the opportunities that you wake up and take advantage of,” says Gilmore, who was named South Carolina Superintendent of the Year in 2021.

In her 39 years of educating some of South Carolina’s most economically disadvantaged students, she explains that one program has outpaced all the rest in giving more of young people more opportunities to attend college. More students are taking dual-enrollment classes that allow her high school students to take college classes before they graduate. More are earning college credits before they even leave the 12th grade. More are taking Advanced Placement courses that put them on a track to pursue a college degree.

The effort she credits with so many of her students’ successes, including increased high school graduation rates and more college-bound graduates, is the Emerging Scholars program, founded at Clemson in 2002 to improve access to higher education along the I-95 corridor between Columbia and South Carolina’s coast. In this rural part of the state, economic disparities prevent students from having as much access to quality public education as other communities across the state.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program’s founding. More notably, it is an opportunity to celebrate the success stories it represents for hundreds of South Carolina families. Through Emerging Scholars, students are prepared for life after high school, and college beyond that, through school-year workshops, campus visits to about two dozen public and private colleges statewide, summer academic camps hosted on Clemson’s campus, and ongoing mentorship and work with experienced counselors and academic advisers.

The result, Gilmore explains of her small town, which has fewer than 3,000 and is located in the lower part of the state along I-95: “We are not the Corridor of Shame anymore. We’re the Corridor of Opportunities now because of access. For a rural community where people normally don’t have access to opportunities, that’s a game changer.”

Regardless of geography or finances of family history, students are taught that they are important and that their work and their contributions matter. These are some of those students.

A group of high school Emerging Scholar students pose for the camera inside a Clemson University academic building.
Emerging Scholars students gather in Brackett Hall at the end of their summer program, July 15, 2022. The mission of the program is to establish a desire to attend college among students and families from the state’s rural areas on the I-95 corridor. The program brings cohorts of students to campus each summer to experience a university atmosphere while attending workshops focusing on academic enrichment, developing leadership skills and increasing college preparedness.

Meet Katelyn Rose, a Clemson sophomore biological sciences major from Estill who went through the program as a high school student and is now a mentor for Emerging Scholars attending Clemson on an Emerging Scholars scholarship.

“The Emerging Scholars experience helped pull me outside my comfort zone. As someone who has gone through the program and is now a mentor, it’s like looking at myself. Making connections with the students is the best part. We all come from the same areas, so we all relate to each other. The idea of everyone growing together, forming bonds and connecting with each other and sharing experiences throughout the past couple weeks has been great.

“Being a mentor is the most fulfilling. The experiences they share with me — when a student is acting out in class — if you sit down and talk to them you can understand why they’re acting out. Everybody goes through different stuff.

I would like to see more students from my school apply. If more of them come, they can get the scholarship like I did to come here.”

Emerging Scholars mentor and Clemson student Katelyn Rose smiles outside a Clemson University classroom.
Katelyn Rose

Meet Tamir Manning, 17, from Dillon, a new Emerging Scholars school where he is a rising high school senior

“A lot of kids just hop into something and don’t really get the experience. I really feel like (Emerging Scholars) helped my life by getting a taste of college.

“I wanted to go to college, but I was a little shaky at what I wanted to major in. I used to always go to the barbershop and argue about sports. One day my barber told me that ‘God told me to tell you this: You should be like a sports commentator and start your own podcast.’ When I came here, I found out the name of the major: sports communications. I think I’m going to run with that.

I also want to come to school here, so I feel like things just worked out. Everybody that gets this opportunity should not pass up on it. A lot of people don’t get these opportunities. It’s a really good program, and it really helps.”

Emerging Scholar Tamir Manning stands in a Clemson University atrium.
Tamir Manning

Meet Taylor Polite, 16, Allendale, who has had three brothers go through the program, Jerome, Justin and Jalyn.

“I know how it feels to feel like you don’t have anyone. This program, it is worth going to. Getting up every morning had me tired, but it was fun, and I made a lot of friends.

“I feel like the kids who were freshman should take the opportunity to apply and see if they can get it. It kind of prepares us for college a lot. I liked the pre-law class. When I got here, I really found out what I want to major in — psychology and criminal justice. I’d like to be a therapist working in a correctional facility. I always wanted to major in psychology. I like being able to help people out.”

Emerging Scholar Taylor Polite smiles from a Clemson University lab.
Taylor Polite

Meet Marte Simmons, 17, a rising senior from Marlborough County High School.

“My favorite part has been getting to know everybody and making myself feel like home in a different environment. I want to major in criminal justice with a minor in communications or athletic leadership. A minor that I can turn into a master’s degree.

From getting to know more people to expanding my vocabulary — it’s an amazing experience. I thought this was going to be a boring summer school class. I didn’t think we were going to do anything but work, but we actually socialized so much to the point you got to make friends and collaborate in different things.

A great experience was the giant swing at the Youth Learning Institute. We got to have a movie night, game night, bowling — socializing is a very big part of it. We had debates and everything. They bring you out of your shell here. I would recommend Emerging Scholars to everyone. It’s a 10-out-of-10 experience.”

Emerging Scholar Marte Simmons smiles from a Clemson atrium.
Marte Simmons

Meet William Mitchell a Secondary Math Education and Mathematical Sciences graduate, ’21,  from Estill, and Emerging Scholars Mentor.

“My parents have five children. It’s a lot of us, and all of us were going to college at the same time. So, with my (Emerging Scholars) scholarship, it just helped them so much. It helped me so much, too, because it released a worry of ‘What am I going to do? What scholarships am I going to apply for?’

“I am proud to be a testament that where you come from is not a determining factor of who you are. I am so proud to say that because of Emerging Scholars, because of all the resources, all the opportunities that it gave, that I am here.”

The Emerging Scholars program, founded at Clemson in 2002, celebrated its 20th anniversary by recognizing the committed educators, donors and families who have contributed to its success in providing access to educational opportunity in rural parts of South Carolina.

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