Graduate School

Textbook Case: Attracting and Retaining Clemson’s Next Generation Employees


This May, more than 3,000 students will walk across the stage to shake President Clements’ hand and receive their diploma. Among those graduating are several faculty and staff members who have received a tuition-free education, a benefit afforded the University’s faculty and staff through its Employee Tuition Assistance Program or ETAP. A recent graduate who benefited from ETAP to pay for her MBA while working at Clemson is Lisa Gagnon, Clemson’s Director, Workforce Benefits and Well-being in the Office of Human Resources.

Clemson president standing on the steps of the capital.
Lisa Gagnon (right) and members of the President’s Leadership Institute visiting the state capital.

A number of other Clemson professionals share a similar experience to Gagnon’s. The fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters saw a record 254 Clemson faculty and staff utilizing the tuition-free benefit to advance their careers while working at Clemson. Also similar to the Gagnons, many new employees moved a considerable distance before starting their positions at the University. In fact, to match the scale of Clemson’s expanded brand, Clemson’s recruitment team is casting a wider net, going after talent not just in the region but all over the globe. Of all the hires made at the University in 2018, 42 percent were from regions outside of the Upstate of South Carolina.

Gagnon admits it was challenging at first to consider such a drastic move for her and her husband who were recruited to the University from Washington State. Gagnon’s husband is an assistant professor in the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management Department, and both professionals didn’t know how long they would stay.

“When we arrived, we thought it would be a three to four-year project for Ryan to teach while obtaining his doctorate degree. We did not anticipate Clemson welcoming us like they did, but we’ve been part of the Clemson Family since we arrived. As it turns out, Clemson is a good fit for both of us, and we don’t have plans on leaving,” says Gagnon.

Despite Clemson’s steady growth, Lisa notes that Clemson “has a small town feel which I appreciated.” Another surprise for the Gagnons was that they were able to continue having the easy access to an active outdoor life that they had thoroughly enjoyed when they had Washington State’s mountains and rivers available.

“Ryan has summited most of the West Coast mountains, and while there are no high peaks here, we have an abundance of trails and rivers to explore. Ryan and I have enjoyed hiking and camping sections of the Appalachian Trail, and Clemson’s Experimental Forest is right on our doorstep.”

Hikers with a dog.
Gagnon, husband Ryan and their dog, Avy, enjoying the Appalachian Trail.

When not playing hard, Gagnon works hard. While she was working on her Clemson-paid MBA, she was making a name for herself in the Office of Human Resources as a leader among the team of benefits counselors. Within her first two years at Clemson, she was promoted to benefits manager, leading a team of counselors. Soon after, Gagnon became director of benefits while investigating an array of additional value-added benefits that Clemson’s employees could use—all under the umbrella of wellness. One such program, the Financial Literacy Series, is in such high demand that it has been expanded with a greater number of offerings each year.

“The University does a good job communicating the value each person brings and how we all contribute to the success of Clemson. Being able to see the linkages of what I do to the big picture makes me want to come to work every day and make an even bigger impact,” says Gagnon.

“Having the opportunity to have a career doing what I love and learning that Clemson would pay for my MBA through ETAP sealed the deal for my husband and I to move here. Not only did Clemson pay for my advanced degree, but I am also planning to have the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program pay approximately 60 percent of my undergraduate student debt. This benefit is one that I can utilize after working for the state for 10 years. It’s easy to see why Clemson is a good fit.”

In addition to leading Clemson’s Benefits and Well-Being team and graduating with her MBA, Gagnon is also about to graduate from Clemson’s unique President’s Leadership Institute (PLI), a nine-month leadership development program led by the President’s Office. Clemson’s chief human resources officer, Emily Watrous, says “Last year I nominated Lisa for the PLI program because of her high performance and her untapped, long-term career potential. Since Lisa’s arrival to Clemson in 2014, she has exemplified a level of commitment and leadership to the University that serves not only as a model for HR professionals, but for all university leaders. Lisa uses innovative problem solving and steadfast devotion to increase employee engagement through beneficial products and services.” When Gagnon was asked what she enjoyed most about the leadership program, she said, “the President’s Leadership Institute broadened my thinking, taught me how to maximize the phenomenal talent on our campus, and helped me appreciate this great university even more.”

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