Kathy Bush Hobgood likes to think her superhero strength is the practice of unrelenting positivity. The ability to view things with goodwill. The anti-catastrophic approach that if something goes awry, the sky is not falling.
It’s a mindset that has informed her professional and personal viewpoints for years — a mentality that has undoubtedly been challenged over the course of the past year in particular.
“It’s been 14 months since I’ve seen my Mama,” explained Hobgood, assistant vice president for student auxiliary services at Clemson University. “In my adult life, that’s never happened. She normally comes (to South Carolina) three times a year, for two or three weeks at a time. It’s one of many things that’s been hard.”
Hobgood — who holds responsibility for providing comprehensive direction for all University Housing & Dining operations — traces her roots to the Midwest. She grew up in Chicago, an only child to blue-collar parents who worked factory jobs to earn the family living. Her mother worked on the assembly line at Rock-Ola Jukebox Co., while her father was a union machinist for J.J. Tourek — a job he learned during five years of service in the United States Army.
Hobgood’s parents retired to Goshen, Indiana in 2002. Her father passed away eight years later, but her mother remains a pivotal figure.
“She has always been an inspiration in my life and someone who keeps me grounded,” said Hobgood, a first-generation college student. “My mom has always said that she worked ‘jobs’ as an investment in me, so that I could have a ‘career.’”
Her mother hasn’t visited during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a year of ongoing adjustments, it’s merely the latest challenge Hobgood has had to face, both personally and professionally.
A year ago, last March, Hobgood was working remotely under the same roof as her husband, Brian. Their daughter, Katie — who turns 10 on March 9 — was doing work for her third-grade class from their dining room table.
“Like so many families, we had to figure out how to make it work,” she admitted. “How could Brian and I trade off so we weren’t always telling Katie to go DO something else? We had to find a way to take better care of each other and not just be people passing by each other during trips to the kitchen for coffee.”
Life continued that way through the end of Katie’s school year in June. At the same time, Clemson’s plans for a unique Fall semester were being developed and Hobgood and her team were an integral piece of the puzzle.
Housing, feeding and caring for the better part of 7,000 residential students in the midst of the current higher education landscape has proven to be the biggest obstacle she’s encountered in a remarkable career dedicated to the profession.
“There’s nothing like a crisis to remind you that the simple things are what’s most important,” she said. “We know how to do what we’ve always done for our students … we’ve just had to find different ways of doing those things.”
What’s helped Hobgood manage the challenges of the past year — in addition to her team of more than 1,000 employees working tirelessly to create a healthy environment for students — is her commitment to authenticity. As an early professional she made a promise to herself to never pretend to know answers when she didn’t.
“There have been times where the best thing I could give people was to tell them I was struggling, too,” said Hobgood, a member of the 2019 President’s Leadership Institute cohort. “Candor and transparency have been important, and the ability to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’m here for you and we’ll figure it out together.’”
To that end, she draws inspiration from others. She keeps in touch with mentors, such as Lisa Diekow, the first professional supervisor to pour into and invest in her abilities. She treasures a close relationship with Connie Carson, now vice president for Student Affairs at nearby Furman University. The two met as housing colleagues and Hobgood often looks to her for “objective feedback” on a number of topics.
She’s constantly amazed by her staff and teammates who “bring their hearts to work every day.” Staff who share the same vision for a student-centered department aimed at providing a rich residential experience, even during these unprecedented times.
The past year has also provided Hobgood stronger relationships with campus partners, who have all been part of the University’s ongoing response to the pandemic.
“In thinking about the spirit of International Women’s Day, I’m inspired by the great women I get to work with from across campus,” she said. “When I think of everything I’ve learned from and how much we’ve been supported by Sarah Custer, Lesslie Pekarek, Ale Kennedy, Lee Currington, Lisa Knox and Tracy Arwood — staff I’ve worked with before but never to the depth we’ve seen during COVID — they’re part of my team of ‘go-to’ people now.”
Hobgood was honored in March by the Association of College and University Housing Professionals – International (ACUHO-I) as the 2021 recipient of the Carmen L. Vance Herstory Award. The award is presented to an outstanding woman professional who has served the housing profession and assisted in supporting and creating opportunities for other woman leaders.
“Celebrating our members’ accomplishments and achievements is not only important for the field, but also is one of the most important things we do at ACUHO-I,” said Executive Director Mary DeNiro, whose organization serves 17,000 housing professionals across the globe. “We congratulate Kathy for all that she does to make campus home and to create impactful living and learning environments for students.”
When Hobgood reflects on her 15 years at Clemson — she was formerly the director of residential life before assuming leadership of University Housing & Dining in 2015 — she cites the establishment of Core Campus and Douthit Hills as important reminders of her work. But more than that, she hopes her legacy is one defined by work ethic and investment in and compassion for people, especially Clemson students.
“Higher education has been stressed by the pandemic in many areas but none more than housing and dining,” said Executive Vice President for Finance and Operations Tony Wagner. “Kathy has navigated Clemson Home through this crisis with great skill and leadership. She has built an amazing team and also been a great teammate. Kathy embodies Clemson’s values!”
In the midst of arguably the most difficult chapter of her professional career, Hobgood has relied on the same values instilled by her mother all those years ago.