Finance and Operations; Office of the President; OUR Clemson

First cohort graduates from new staff developmental program, CU Grow

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The first 24 graduates of Clemson’s Office of Human Resources’ CU Grow program were celebrated during a joyous and sometimes emotional ceremony at the Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Complex August 13. The cohort represented a diverse collection of University professionals hailing from different divisions, colleges and offices, including Alumni Relations, Athletics, academics, Clemson Extension, Redfern Health Center, CCIT and University Facilities, to name a few.

CU Grow is an intensive one-year program, which gave the class plenty of time to get to know each other, making the atmosphere at the event more like a family reunion than a formal ceremony. Laughter and conversation filled the room – with three walls of windows overlooking Lake Hartwell – as the tightknit group of graduates mingled with mentors, friends and each other before the ceremony formally started.

Jaz Hamilton-Allen gets emotional while speaking at the inaugural graduation ceremony for CU Grow.

“The CU Grow cohort was beautifully diverse. We enjoyed working with motivated staff members of all educational levels, titles and pay bands from 23 departments across South Carolina,” said Jaz Hamilton-Allen, founder of CU Grow and organizational development lead for the Office of Human Resources. “The cohort quickly began to trust the process of self-discovery and professional development and welcome the engagement. Ultimately, 24 members became one bonded unit. They supported and encouraged one another in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I am incredibly proud of their individual commitment and collaborative spirit. I have appreciated the opportunity to create and lead such an impactful initiative!”

The ceremony was attended by multiple senior administrators and deans, including President Jim Clements, Vice President and Chief of Staff Max Allen, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Bob Jones, Executive Vice President of Finance and Operations Tony Wagner and Dean of Libraries Christopher Cox.

“I am proud that Clemson has a strong history in offering development programs like this for our staff,” Clements said at the event. “In my work on the board with the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and other national organizations, I have the opportunity to interact with a lot of university leaders from all over the country, and I get to hear about some interesting programs that are going on at other universities. I can tell you that the CU Grow Program that we have here is extremely rare. I am not aware of any other institution that has a staff development program as comprehensive and as rigorous as this one.”

President Jim Clements congratulates associate director of athletic academic services Lindsey Ricketts as she receives her CU Grow graduation certificate.

CU Grow works to raise levels of leadership, engagement and professional growth in its cohort members. It is a one-year program designed to provide a framework that supports the personal and professional growth of Clemson University staff in full-time positions. Participants engage in workshops, training and experiential learning classes emphasizing the development of each participant’s unique skills in and outside their areas of expertise, leaving them more rounded and versatile as University employees. The program’s 150-hour curriculum culminates with a team service project, illustrating a commitment to the University and the welfare of surrounding communities.

This year’s project was with Rebuild Upstate, a nonprofit focusing on repairs and preservations to keep people in their homes. The cohort split into two groups of 12 and did two separate build days. The first group served in Liberty and built a ramp for a resident to get in and out of her house easier and safer. Her kitchen floor was also sinking, so the CU Grow team reinforced it from below the house in the crawl space. The second group served in Easley and built a ramp for safer entry and exit at a home.

Members of the inaugural CU Grow cohort pay tribute to program founder Jaz Hamilton-Allen (right) during their graduation ceremony.

“I’ve designed several professional development programs, and what sets CU Grow apart is its commitment to develop through self-reflection assessments, mentoring opportunities, participating in leadership and governance meetings, giving back to the community and reflective training,” said Chief Human Resources Officer Ale Kennedy. “I also value participants in this program represent diverse skillsets and budget centers.”

Cohort member Deveraux Williams, an information technology support and training manager in University Relations, said he applied to the program because he felt he was at a turning point in his professional career and wanted to acquire the necessary skills to become a leader in his industry.

“I’ll admit it was tough, but I definitely learned about myself and what I’m actually capable of doing,” said Williams, “I learned not to limit my ideas of what I can achieve if I put my mind to it.”

Williams said his biggest takeaway from the program was discovering unique places, activities and even departments most staff would never know about unless they sought them out. He said every Clemson employee should consider the program.

Deveraux Williams, an information technology support and training manager in University Relations and Bindu Rangaraju, CCIT Deputy Director – Operations and Compliance, help plant a tree in the South Carolina Botanical Garden in honor of CU Grow. Williams and Rangaraju were members of the first cohort of CU Grow.

“I would strongly recommend any staff member to apply for this program,” said Williams. “Let me put out this disclaimer: It isn’t easy. It will challenge you mentally, mainly because it is a yearlong program, but if you are looking for an opportunity for development within your own career path, this is the program for you.”

After the ceremony, the graduates reconvened on the other side of campus for one more collaborative project: Planting a Pinckneya bracteata tree in honor of CU Grow in the South Carolina Botanical Garden just to the side of one of the many shady paths winding through the garden woods.

After the occasion, Hamilton-Allen summed up the first year of CU Grow by recalling a quote: 

“Over the past year, I kept an Emerson quote at the top of mind: ‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is none… and leave a trail.’”

Members and administrators of the inaugural CU Grow cohort pose in front of a tree they planted in the South Carolina Botanical Garden in honor of CU Grow after their graduation ceremony.