Celebrating Our Graduates; College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Lea Cook blazes a trail from technical college to the Clemson University graduation stage


Lea Cook was managing a fast-food restaurant in Goose Creek five years ago when she decided she wanted a better work-life balance. She ended up becoming a trailblazer.

When Lea accepts her diploma this week, she will become one of the first members of Clemson University’s SPECTRA Transfer Program to graduate. The program provides scholarships to students who transfer from South Carolina technical colleges to Clemson, where they must major in engineering or computer science to be eligible.

Lea Cook

Lea’s path to the graduation stage started at Trident Technical College in North Charleston. While she was interested in engineering, Lea was concerned her math skills were a little stale, and attending a technical college close to home carried lower risk than giving up her job and moving away for college.

Lea went on to earn an Associate in Science and enrolled in Clemson University, where she majored in computer engineering. She applied to SPECTRA and was accepted into the first cohort.

Lea distinguished herself during her time at Clemson. She was named the 2020-21 Rhodes Most Outstanding Junior in Computer Engineering and was a member of the Women’s Choir and the Clemson chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, the honor society for IEEE.

As a member of the chapter’s executive team, she helped the organization avert a crisis. She and others realized that a large majority of club members were about to graduate and that it would die if they didn’t do something, she said.

“Over the course of this semester and last semester, we recruited and inducted 38 new members,” Lea said. “We doubled the size of the club. Most of them are sophomores and juniors who are continuing.”

Lea said the most influential person to her at Clemson has been her advisor, Dr. Harlan Russell, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and graduate program coordinator.

“He’s helped me look at job offers and talked about different internship opportunities,” Lea said. “He helped me set my career track.”

Lea studied on the main campus as a junior and opted to complete her senior year in North Charleston, home of Clemson’s Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

“Charleston is my hometown,” she said. “My dogs are here, my friends and family are here and I’m close to the beach.”

This week’s crop of graduates includes the first two from the SPECTRA program. Ejhazz Milford, who will receive a Bachelor of Science in computer science joins Lea in the ranks of Clemson alumni.

Their path from technical college to Clemson graduation is one available to many others.

SPECTRA’s administrators said they have scholarship money available and need more students like Lea. The program is open to students who attend any of state”s 16 technical colleges and intend to transfer to Clemson, where they would need to major in engineering or computer science to qualify.

Learn more and apply to SPECTRA here. To learn more about studying in Charleston during your senior year, go here.

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