A Clemson University graduate who returned to his alma mater as a faculty member and has helped launch rising graduate students into the globe’s finest institutions of higher learning is the new associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
O. Thompson Mefford takes the helm from Brad Putman, who is leaving after 28 years as a Clemson student, faculty member and administrator to become the Garman Dean of the College of Engineering at Bucknell University.
The promotion puts Mefford on the leadership team of Clemson’s largest college, with nearly 7,000 students, including 5,512 undergraduates, and $54.4 million in research expenditures, making it the largest provider of engineering and computing talent in South Carolina. As associate dean, Mefford will play a key role in molding their educational and enrichment experiences.
Mefford said many excellent programs help shape the undergraduate experience, ranging from PEER & WISE to the Honors College, and that he will focus on coordinating them to reach a larger group of students and provide a meaningful education for all.
Those efforts will be key in recruiting students and retaining them once enrolled, he said.
“Our college is in a very unique situation due to our large research portfolio and all the different programs we have available for undergraduates,” Mefford said. “My vision is to build on what we have, amplifying undergraduate student engagement.”
Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, thanked Putman for his dedication and passion and said Mefford is well positioned for success.
“Dr. Mefford’s enthusiasm for helping students and eagerness to reach across departments, colleges and institutions will serve him well as associate dean,” Jones said. “I offer him my congratulations, and I look forward to working with him in his new role.”
Several students Mefford has advised have received some of higher education’s biggest honors, including the Goldwater Scholarship, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Two of his former students are pursuing doctoral degrees at the University of Cambridge.
“I probably learned more from them than they learned from me,” Mefford said. “I try to keep projects student-driven. They control the directionality of the project, and that forces me to say, ‘OK, if we’re going in that direction I’ve got to learn this.'”
Mefford, who grew up in northern Alabama, was recruited to attend Clemson when he was a high school student. He received a Bachelor of Science in polymer and textile chemistry in 2003.
“I think quite often about where I am today because of the college, and I want to return that to the students,” Mefford said. “I can share that perspective of having been a Clemson student and relate to their concerns.”
Mefford went to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for a Ph.D. in macromolecular science and engineering.
He was working as a postdoctoral researcher in 2008 in Ohio State University’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry when he took the opportunity to return to his alma mater as assistant professor of materials science and engineering. He rose to associate professor in 2014.
Mefford has won several honors of his own. The college he is now helping lead named him Outstanding Young Alumnus in 2015 and a year later honored him with the Murray Stokely Award for excellence in teaching engineering.
Mefford recently completed a year as president of Clemson’s Faculty Senate, positioning him to work closely with associate deans in colleges across the University. He previously served three years as faculty representative to the Board of Trustees.
Developing partnerships with other colleges will be critical to success, Mefford said.
“It’s amazing what a conversation can accomplish versus acting in an isolated silo,” he said. “I look at the other associate deans I will be working with in this new role, and I think, ‘This is the power team.’ I’m really excited about working with them.”
Mefford has been the faculty advisor for the Clemson student chapter of the Materials Research Society since 2008. He was a Dixon Fellows senior fellow from 2012-18.
He has also helped develop learning materials for the Emag!ne outreach program, provided lessons for science teachers across the state, organized recruitment efforts for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and served as an interviewer for the National Scholars and Breakthrough Scholars programs.
In addition, Mefford served as chair of the curriculum committee for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and was on curriculum committees for the Honors College and the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the college, thanked Putman for his many years of service to the college and University. He also thanked members of the search committee, including its chair, Martine LaBerge, for conducting an impressive search that identified outstanding candidates to become the new associate dean.
“Thompson is passionate about the well-being and success of his students, and he brings rich experience in collaborating across the University for maximum impact,” Gramopadhye said. “I congratulate him on this well-deserved promotion and welcome him to the college’s core leadership team.”
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