College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

Two Clemson staff members graduate from land-grant university leadership program


WASHINGTON D.C. – Cory Tanner and Dara Park, a staff member with Clemson Cooperative Extension and a faculty member in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, respectively, graduated Feb. 20 from LEAD21, a distinguished national leadership-development program which runs a full year. Tanner and Park were among 90 graduates of Class 15.

Dara Park, second from the left, and Cory Tanner, third from the left, graduated from LEAD21 in February.

LEAD21 is dedicated to training leaders at land-grant universities and their strategic partners in nine leadership competencies and to implementing leadership development plans to enhance personal leadership practice after graduation. The program includes sessions which implement different strategies for honing core competencies in communication, collaboration, conflict management, and innovation.

Class 15’s first session focused on self-assessment of individual personality traits and leadership styles. Members took personality assessments and consulted peer groups to identify their development plans in preparation for the rest of the year. The second session prioritized learning to cooperate and communicate among teams. The final session focused on public leadership, policy development, and federal legislation, with the intent of coaching members on how to manage change.

In between sessions, the team performed exercises which tested their individual skills and how each member processes information. One exercise assessed how individual members concentrate during meetings, such as whether they focus more on decision making or data gathering. The experiences more readily showed them where their strengths and weaknesses lie in team settings.

Tanner, director of Clemson Extension’s Horticulture Program Team, joined Class 15 to refine his prioritization, delegation, and conflict management skills. He noted that soft skills are often excluded from academic trainings.

“In academia we get a lot of training within our discipline… but we rarely receive training in leadership and organizational management. I think it is critical for everyone to discover their own leadership style and learn how to put it into practice, regardless of position. That’s what this program did for me,” he said.

Tanner hopes to use the LEAD21 training to build stronger relationships with and between his team members through better communication and stronger devotion to the individual.

Dara Park, a Clemson associate professor of agronomy and member of three Extension teams—the Agronomic Crops Program Team, the Horticulture Program Team, and the Water Resources Program Team—joined LEAD21 to learn how to be strategic in developing a team and delegate projects based on team members’ strengths.

“The assessments we did made me recognize that I am organized and great at identifying solutions and at execution. Before LEAD21 this is what I thought were my biggest challenges. What it did uncover was that I take on too many tasks, and that I feel I had to do it on my own,” she said.

In addition to learning how to be a better mentor to her grad students, a more productive member of committees, and to lead more effectively, Park learned how to prioritize and delegate work through team accountability.

“The greatest benchmarks we found were in each other,” she said. “On day one, you are assigned a peer group. I call this group my ‘LEAD21 Family.’ We held each other accountable for producing high-quality work related to the program that was required outside the in-person sessions, as well as other work related to our jobs. We saw in each other different qualities that we all could benefit from having.”

Like Tanner, Park is also learning how to manage change outside the class. As the professor of three courses and four lab sections, she has had to quickly adjust to an online environment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she credits LEAD21 for helping prepare her to successfully adapt to new, unforeseen changes as this one.



LEAD21 class 16 has been announced and is set to begin in June. Class 17 will be accepting applications from Sept. 28 through Nov. 15, 2020. More information about their application process can be found on their website.

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