Community, Engagement, Belonging and Access; Graduate School

Three outstanding Clemson Family members receive 2023 MLK Award for Excellence in Service


Three women hold glass awards and smile at the camera
Natasha Croom, Lisa Jackson and Briana Bowen hold their MLK Awards for Excellence in Service.
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A scholar who has dedicated her life to diversity and inclusion in and out of the classroom. An associate director who has become her students’ most-trusted shoulder to lean on. And a student intern whose generosity and dedication to improving student voter engagement earned the respect of her classmates, professors and community leaders. These are the three recipients of the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Excellence in Service.

The awards, presented annually by the President’s Office and the Division of Inclusion and Equity, recognize an employee, a student and a community member who have shown excellence in their service to Clemson and the surrounding community; their advocacy for social or environmental justice; and their service above and beyond their direct employment. This year, in the absence of nominations for a community member, so the committee voted to give two employee awards.

Natasha Croom, the Graduate School associate dean for academic and student affairs, received one of the employee awards for serving the Clemson campus and the nation through leadership roles in the College of Education, the Graduate School, the University and through her area of scholarship.

Three people stand on a stage, two on stage right and the other behind a podium on stage left.
Natasha Croom stands with President Jim Clements as her award citation is read.

In his letter nominating Croom, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School John Lopes detailed Croom’s impressive record of service.

“I cannot think of a more deserving colleague for the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Excellence in Service,” wrote Lopes.  “[Her] research and personal life are centered around the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.  She is a recognized expert on Critical Race Theory; intersectional identity development in college; access, equity, and success for womyn of color and other minoritized communities in post-secondary environments.  She currently serves on the editorial boards of Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and Journal of College Student Development.  Dr. Croom is a model and an inspiration for all of us.”

Lisa Jackson, associate director of PEER (Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention) in Clemson’s PEER & WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program, received the other employee award for her tireless contributions to underserved and minority students. She is so beloved by Clemson’s PEER &WISE community that she is known as “Mama Lisa,” said Serita Acker, Director of the PEER & WISE.

Jim Clements hugs Lisa Jackson as her award citation is read.
President Jim Clements embraces Lisa Jackson as her award citation is read.

“Her intuitive understanding of the needs of underrepresented college students impresses us all,” said Acker. “Year after year, her services go above and beyond her line of duty, engaging a deep sense of belonging in our students of color in the College of Engineering Computing and Applied Sciences. ” ‘Mama Lisa’ is the students’ go-to person to celebrate triumphs or to discuss strategies for rebounding after setbacks. All day, her office bursts with students talking, eating lunch and soaking up quality time with a member of the Clemson Family. Lisa creates an environment where all students feel safe, welcomed and cared for.”

Jackson also supervises 15 PEER student mentors who, in return, support first-year underrepresented students. She also organizes the PEER & WISE summer bridge programs, and recently completed her MBA. She is a role model to students who watch her balance work, school and family.

Student Briana Bowen, a junior studying political science, started working on nonpartisan voter engagement as a UPIC intern for the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement. Through Clemson Votes, a group started in 2018, Bowen worked tirelessly to advance the three pillars of student voter engagement on campus: voter registration, voter education and voter turnout. She did this by creating and launching plans and initiatives to improve student voter engagement across a wide swath of the student body, organizing activities, coordinating with community members, running voter registration drives, creating a “make your vote plan” tool for students, meeting with Clemson City Council and writing a grant proposal.

Her efforts have made a huge impact, Bridget Trogden, associate dean in the division of undergraduate studies said in Bowen’s nomination letter, which she co-wrote with Kate Radford, director for leadership education and development for the Center for Student Leadership and Engagement.

A woman steps onto a stage toward a man in a suit and shakes his hand.
President Jim Clements welcomes Briana Bowen to the stage to receive her award.

“In the time that Bri has worked with us, Clemson University has earned the designation of Voter Friendly Campus from NASPA, we are on the Washington Monthly America’s Best Colleges for Student Voting List and, as of last month, we earned a designation for Most Engaged Campus for College Student Voting from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.”

Bowen has gone above and beyond through leading and orchestrating activities that are not part of her internship hours, Trogden and Radford wrote, including volunteering to serve at an exhibit table for the Men of Color National Summit and at the student involvement fairs held during Orientation events.

“In my 20 years as an educator, I have seen few students with the same leadership and drive to make the world a more just place,” said Trogden.

The recipient of the student award will receive a $500 cash stipend. Other winners are able to direct a grant of $500 to the campus or community organization of their choice. Each winner also receives a personal plaque and is recognized on a permanent plaque showing past winners displayed in the Division of Inclusion and Equity offices.