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There’s a great big hungry world out there and FMU grad Matt Bonds (’98) is doing his best to feed it.
Bonds, who holds double doctorates in Economics and Ecology, has spent the early part of his career working with non-profits in Kenya, Rwanda and now, Madagascar, to solve large problems like hunger and poverty by attacking their root causes.
Bonds is a gifted young man and came across the many talents he brings to that work naturally, but much of his passion for his “mission” was acquired at Francis Marion University. Nurturing professors who cared about their work — and about their students — helped Bonds find meaningful academic projects, and provided him with some role models as well.
“I was very affected by the sense of being around so many people (in the FMU faculty) who seemed to committed to their fields,” says Bonds.
And now he is committed to his.
Peering into the murky, almost impenetrable history of the universe, Dr. Renata Cumbee (‘10) discovered her future.
She took her first peek while working on her undergraduate degree at FMU.
Cumbee is a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where she researches supernova remnants in the Cygnus constellation. She might be somewhere else — somewhere light years away — if not for the special attention she received as a lowly college freshman a decade or so ago. Back then she was just like a lot of students: shy and unsure of her place.
FMU professors helped her find it.
“I had hours of one-on-one time with professors any day that I needed it,” says Cumbee. “For someone who’s not confident in a subject, and not sure if they want to continue with that subject, that can be the biggest benefit. Having someone show you what it means to be a researcher in physics or to study that subject is important.”
Cumbee went on to earn her advanced degrees and now her position at Goddards. She’s learned a lot along the way, but the biggest lesson may be that if you’re going reach for the stars it’s great to have a helping hand.
There was one point in his life where Dr. Baron Davis (‘95) was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life or what he would become.
That was 20 years ago.
Back when he was a student at Francis Marion University.
There’s no question today. The 46-year-old Davis is the superintendent elect of Richland School District 2 in Columbia – one of the largest school districts in the state, a fast-mover in the world of public education with a bright future ahead of him.
Ironically, Davis says he wouldn’t be where he is today without those uncertain times of days gone by. Yes, he was adrift academically at FMU, but he was making progress all the same. If the classroom wasn’t quite his thing, it was evident to Davis and others that – somehow, some way, some day – he was going places.
“I really didn’t have a lot of plans (while in college),” says Davis. “I kind of fluctuated around, here and there. (But) I was provided with a foundation of skills and knowledge that as I progressed through my career has really helped. (And FMU) also provided a great support system… They allowed me to make mistakes and recover from those mistakes.”
Summer is typically down time for most college students.
Kennedy Glasgow, a sophomore at Francis Marion University who’s majoring in Nursing, isn’t a typical college student.
Glasgow (’20) dedicated most of her down time this summer to the “Summer Institute for Smarties” (SYS), an elementary-age tutoring program that she and some friends created in an effort to give back to her hometown of Newberry, S.C.
The SYS program, says Glasgow, is designed to combat summer learning loss, a problem that bedevils students and educators nationwide. Summer learning loss is a well-known phenomenon that refers to the dissipation of retained knowledge after school ends in June. It can lead to a slow start to the nexrt school year, and even to a regression of knowledge.
Students may find themselves woefully under-prepared to begin the new school year, which means valuable instruction time is spent on review and catch-up.
SYS offered a partial remedy for that — and for the general summer lassitude that can plague kids.
“We know how summers can be. There’s not a lot to do,” Glasgow says.
Glasgow has discovered SYS didn’t just help the kids attending it.
“I think it’s helped a lot with developing skills I’ll use in my career,” she says. “I’ve gotten really good at communication, organization and being able to anticipate potential issues. Being able to work one-on-one with people has improved my bedside manner as well.”
Great leaders are born, not made, right?
Sure, but there has to be a place for those leaders-to-be to flex their muscles and try out their budding skills. They need opportunity.
At a great big university, it might be awhile before they hear that knock. Their door, after all, is just one of many.
At a more reasonably sized place – a place like Francis Marion University, for instance – opportunities abound for those who want them.
Take the case of four bright young women who all arrived at FMU at about the same time. Rebecca Cross (’17), Rebekah Davis (’17), Rachel Droze Ankers (’17) and Lauren Owens (’18) all had an interest in journalism (and, as it turns out, a whole lot more). For the past four years all of them have served, at one time or another, as Editor of The Patriot, FMU’s student newspaper.
They’ve helped turn The Patriot into an award-winning journal and they’ve had a blast doing it.
“One of the nice things about working for the newspaper is that it puts you in touch with all kinds of groups and people on campus,” says Davis. “It’s like you’re in every group.”
It really is like that. When not busy cranking out stories and pages, one or more individuals in the Patriot’s four-headed editorial quartet belonged to FMU’s Student Diplomats, FMU Honors, Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, the Baptist College Ministry, worked in the Writing Center, tutored in the Tutoring Center, wrote for the Snow Island Review, traveled overseas and completed internships.
“We might have done that somewhere else,” says Cross, “but I doubt it. The opportunity is here if you want it.”
After graduating from Francis Marion, Kathleen Kennebeck had a plan for her future.
No real surprise there. She’s been putting that plan into practice since she was a freshman honors student at FMU.
Kennebeck (’16) has developed her skills a photographer by working weddings and assorted freelance assignments since her first year in college. This has allowed her to take one of her passions and turn it into a real business.
That might not have happened, says Kennebeck, if not for a freshman Honors class with Dr. Kay Lawrimore. That class changed her thinking about photography, turning it from hobby to profession.
“Being a photographer, marketing is such a huge part of what you do, so as a new student Dr. Lawrimore (who teaches Marketing in FMU’s School of Business) really helped me and took me under her wing,” she says. “It really helped with my understanding of how to manage a business.”
Kennebeck is now the owner of her own small business. She travels extensively, shooting for various media outlets, photographing weddings and more.
The azteca ant of South America and the Cecropia tree get along just fine.
The tree tolerates a nest of ants living inside its trunk, and the ants, in appreciation, rush to defend the tree whenever it’s attacked.
The relationship may seem improbable, but Aaron Robinson (’17) has seen it with his own eyes at Francis Marion University’s Wildsumaco Research Station in the wilds of the Ecuadorian Andes.
“These big hairy caterpillars were starting the eat the leaves (of the tree) and here came the ants, charging up the trunk,” says Robinson. “It’s fascinating to watch. They (the ants and the tree) are tight.”
Inspired by his trip to Wildsumaco, and his four-year journey through the wilds of the FMU Biology Department, Robinson is now headed towards a career in entomology. Next stop: a summer internship with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, then, graduate school at Towson State University, whose Biodiversity Center hosts one of the largest collection of insect specimens on the East Coast.
Opportunities like Wildsumaco, and professors who served as both guides and role models, made all the difference, Robinson says.
“I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t been at FMU,” he says. “It was a great relationship.”
Everybody needs to be tight with someone.
The first time Briana Burgins set foot on the campus of Francis Marion, she knew she was in the right place.
It was the week after spring commencement, so there weren’t many people around.
It was quiet.
It was peaceful.
It was home.
“That may sound like a funny thing to say, but that’s the way it felt,” says Burgins (’18). “I had this feeling right away. Maybe it was the way it looked. Maybe it was the people… I felt comfortable. I could see myself there, being successful.”
Three years later Burgins’ feeling has turned to reality. The rising senior from High Point, N.C. is a Dean’s List student majoring in Biology with collaterals in both Chemistry and Spanish. She’s a Patriot Mentor in FMU’s new Center for Academic Success and Achievement, a star on the women’s basketball team, and a young woman who is very much at home.
In life, there are many ways to get from point a to point b. The same can be said of a career in the military. There are multitudes of ways to go from civilian to an officer in the field.
Jeffrey Tucker took one of the more difficult approaches, but one that he knows has paid off.
As one of the top cadets in Francis Marion University’s ROTC program, Tucker was commissioned as an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army after graduating. Quite the rare accomplishment.
For four years, Tucker lived his life dedicated to his goal of graduating college and becoming an active-duty officer in the U.S. Army. Pushing himself physically with morning runs at 5 a.m., and mentally, eventually graduating as one of the top students in his class.
It wasn’t easy, but with the help of FMU, Tucker took his dream of becoming an officer in the U.S. Army and made it a reality. For those following in his footsteps, the path has been cleared. It’s a matter of deciding to go from point a to point b.
It’s uncommon at most universities for undergraduate students to participate in high-level research.
It’s even rarer for that lowliest of undergrads, the freshman, to partake in real research, much less be allowed to design a study and present their findings at international conference.
But, that’s just what happened to Devin Kellis (‘17) while he was at Francis Marion University. During his first year on campus Kellis, a double major in Psychology and Biology, devised a project looking into spatial recognition, and with the help of his professors, was able to have his work accepted for presentation at national conferences in Chicago and Boston.
“If you have a real interest in research,” Kellis says, “FMU definitely offers you the ability to design interesting and useful studies.”
Kellis says his FMU experiences enhanced his interest in his chosen field and propelled him to graduate school. He hopes to one day teach at a university or perform research on a full-time basis.
Special forces soldier.
Overseas deployment in the thick of the action.
Some honest-to-goodness war wounds.
Back home, finally, but with life still moving fast. Marriage, kids, back to college …
… and then there is the whole Acting/Hollywood thing. A bit part in Army Wives, and then some consulting stuff. Stunt man, stunt coach, more parts, produce a film and another bit part, but this one a bit of something big: Netflix’s House of Cards.
It’s been a whirlwind for Christian Brunetti (’17) but he made it through, thanks to a constant: friends and faculty at FMU.
“I guess it could have happened somewhere else,” says Brunetti, “but this place (FMU) is pretty special. You do feel like you’re part of a family … or maybe it’s better than that. Everyone always wants to help.”