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Shaping the Undergraduate Experience

undergraduate research

Brad Putman

Brad Putman arrived on Clemson University’s campus as a freshman from a small town in upstate New York in 1994 and never left. Today Putman serves as associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences. He and his team help undergraduates find the path that suits them best and make the most of their Clemson experience. Putman also plays a leading role in introducing STEM topics to K-12 students across South Carolina and in keeping the college’s graduates connected to their alma mater.

If anyone ever truly did bleed orange, it’s Putman. He has been a Clemson undergraduate, master’s student, Ph.D. scholar, and a professor in the Glenn Department of Civil Engineering. He lives a few minutes from campus with his wife, Janeen, and their two daughters, and they like to spend their Saturdays in the fall cheering on the Tigers football team.

His 26-year, wide-ranging history in the college gives him a perspective few others have. Putman sat down with IDEAS magazine in mid-July 2020 to provide an overview of what the Office of Undergraduate Studies does and how he is responding to some of the biggest themes expected to frame the 2020 academic year, including the COVID-19 situation and a deeper awareness of equity and inclusion issues in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Would you give us an overview of what your office does?

The college’s Office of Undergraduate Studies helps to support the undergraduate experience for all the students, faculty, and staff in the college and runs from K-12 outreach to orientation to helping students find their path and create their experience once they are on campus. Our team supports this experience through PEER & WISE, the RISE Living Learning Community, the college’s global engagement office, the General Engineering Advising Center, curriculum matters, assessment, and other student support and engagement efforts, such as Clemson’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program and the college’s student advisory board.

What makes the college’s undergraduate experience unique?

We get a lot of good reviews from alumni and employers of students for the practical preparation students have when they leave Clemson as alumni and go into the workforce. Faculty and staff are dedicated to ensuring that students get that preparation and to building up their skill sets and mindsets so they can hit the ground running and be problem solvers when they enter the workforce. We also see the impact of the relationships students have built with their peers and faculty and staff. A lot of the relationships continue beyond graduation in their alumni years.

We’re seeing a renewed interest in equity and inclusion in the wake of the death of George Floyd. What is your office’s response?

We want to see everybody succeed, and we want everybody to feel like they belong. Students were accepted to Clemson for a reason. They are among the best of the best, and we want to support them throughout, and we will continue to do that. The University, college, and departments are committed to that. We also want to hear the students’ voices. If there is anything students feel is missing or that they need to succeed, we want to know that. We have the programs, and we have the staff and faculty who are there to listen and then work with the students to make the changes. There will be some things that are going to take a bit of time. When we look at culture as a whole, it’s something that takes some time. But we’ve seen over the last several years things start to change, and we’ll continue to see that into the future, and we’ll see it accelerate. The voice of the students can be powerful, and we are here to listen.

It’s looking like COVID-19 is going to be with us into the fall semester. What is the college doing to keep undergraduates safe and to ensure their learning continues if classes need to go online?

The University is making very careful and thoughtful decisions. We want to look at all the data, talk to the consultants, weigh all the options, and take all the necessary precautions. For example, we’ve decided to require masks in a number of circumstances, including in all the buildings, all the classes, and all University-sponsored events, whether they are on or off-campus. We’re limiting the density of students in classrooms, and we’ve got a well-thought-out procedure to clean classrooms after every single class.

We learned a lot from having to shift to remote instruction and learning in the springtime, and faculty have been preparing over the summer for a robust blended educational experience. There has been a university-wide effort to provide resources to all of our instructors and to look at the best practices. The University has even installed new technology in 400-plus classrooms across the University to stream live to a remote location. We are well prepared for multiple scenarios. For the latest information, visit the University’s main coronavirus website at clemson.edu/coronavirus/.

Brad PutmanBrad Putman
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
putman@clemson.edu