The Class of ’39 Award for Excellence

Dr. Terry Tritt and ALR

"This award, endowed by the Great Class of 1939 is presented annually to one distinguished member of the faculty whose outstanding contributions for a five-year period have been judged by her/his peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, university and community, state or nation. The recipient also becomes an honorary member of the class and provided a monetary award equal to the value of $5,000 in 1989 dollars - approximately $10,000 today. Recipients are recognized at one of the December graduation ceremonies and in a January ceremony at the ’39 Bell Tower in the Carillon Gardens.

The Great Class of 1939 established the Award for Excellence in 1989 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the class. The Great Class of 1939, itself characterized by remarkable service to Clemson University, the community, the state, and the nation, created this award to recognize and hopefully inspire faculty service above and beyond expectations.

A call for nominations is sent from the Faculty Senate Office to all faculty early ine the fall semester. For more details, refer to the Class of ’39 Award guidelines. The nomination form must be completed and submitted out by the deadline outlined in this year's announcement to be considered by the review committee. The Faculty Senate President, in consultation with the Senate Advisory Committee appoints a Review Committee of five voting members to include two of the most recent winners, with the newest winner serving as chair. The Provost serves as an ex-officio, non-voting member.

Award Winners



2021- Rhondda Robinson Thomas

Dr. Rhondda Robinson Thomas, Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature, earned her Ph.D. in Literature at the University of Maryland. She completed her Master of Arts degree in Literature at the University of New Hampshire and Master of Science degree in journalism from the University of Georgia as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in communication-media/journalism from Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University). She researches, teaches, and publishes about 18th- and 19th-century African American literature and culture with a focus on the construction of identity in African American narratives and the literatures of American slavery. Dr. Thomas is editor of volume 1 of the African American Literature in Transition, 1750-1800, which examines how social, political, and economic transitions coupled with conceptions of race, the impacts of revolution, and the effects of religion shaped the trajectory of authors’ lives and the production of their literature, to be released by Cambridge University Press in March 2022, and her essays have appeared in distinguished humanities journals, including American Literary History, African American Review, and Biography as well as in A History of African American Autobiography by Cambridge University Press and the Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative by Oxford University Press.  

She also develops interdisciplinary public humanities projects that provide opportunities for various publics to research, document, and engage with topics like heritage, traditions, race, and history that help us to better understand the complexities of the human experience. After she began working at Clemson in 2007 and learned that the history of slavery and enslaved people was not included in the tours of the Fort Hill Plantation house, she began researching the story. As a sixth-generation South Carolinian, the descendant of both enslaved African Americans and white enslavers, Dr. Thomas was keenly interested in learning more about this history. Her search led to the development of the Call My Name interdisciplinary public humanities project that documents the history of African American enslaved persons, sharecroppers, convict laborers, wage workers, musicians, students, faculty, administrators, and staff who have contributed to Clemson history through a traveling museum exhibits, digital archive, play production, videos, social media posts, programs and events, and publications, all designed to provide the public with multiple ways to engage with and learn from this history. She has expanded the impact of her work through collaborations with community and campus partners, including the Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum and Lunney Museum in Seneca, the Clemson Area African American Museum, the Pendleton Foundation for Black History and Culture, Clemson’s Humanities Hub, and the Call My Name Student Advisory Board. In March 2020, her Call My Name Project received the Preserving Our Places in History Project Award for South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. In November 2020, she published Call My Name, Clemson: Documenting the Black Experience in an American University Community in the Humanities and Public Life Series at the University of Iowa Press, which received an honorable mention award from the National Council on Public History in 2021. Most recently, she was appointed Coordinator of Research and Community Engagement for the Woodland Cemetery Historic Preservation Project that seeks to document and share the full story of the recently recovered 667 unmarked graves on the site and ensure the cemetery’s perpetual care.

Dr. Thomas has received several grants to support her public humanities projects from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Whiting Foundation, South Carolina Humanities, and the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University as well as from the Office of the Provost, Division of Inclusion and Equity, College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities, and gifts from the Clemson Foundation. She was selected as Clemson University’s Senior Researcher of the Year in 2021, and she received the Holman Research Award for outstanding achievement from the Department of English in 2020 and the Clemson University Research, Scholarship and Artistic Achievement Award in 2019. Her hobbies include traveling, vegan cooking, sewing, and hiking.


2020- Delphine Dean

Dr. Delphine Dean earned her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is currently the Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor of Bioengineering at Clemson University. Her lab leads a wide range of studies focused on understanding mechanics and interactions of biological systems across length scales. Her expertise is in nano- to micro-scale characterization of biological tissues including experimental techniques such as atomic force microscopy and mathematical modeling such as finite element analysis. In addition to the basic science work in the lab, Dr. Dean woks on several applied translational design projects primarily aimed at enabling healthcare in low-resource areas here in the US and abroad in Tanzania and India. She is the recipient of the 2011 Phil and Mary Bradley Award for Mentoring in Creative Inquiry for her work in mentoring undergraduates at Clemson, where she currently mentors over 50 undergraduate students in creative inquiry research and design teams. These student teams work on a variety of projects from understanding the effect of ionizing radiation on tissue to developing medical technology for the developing world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Dean set up Clemson’s first high complexity clinical diagnostics (CLIA) lab on campus to run all of the universities COVID-19 screening tests. The lab runs tests for all of Clemson’s COVID-19 surveillance testing as well as testing for the community.


2019- Mary Beth Kurz

Associate Professor, Industrial Engineering, Clemson University Dr. Mary Beth Kurz is an Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering & Associate Department Chair for the Department of Industrial Engineering. Dr. Kurz earned both a Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Systems Engineering from the University of Arizona. Additionally, she completed her Doctor of Philosophy in Systems and Industrial Engineering at the University of Arizona. During her studies at the University of Arizona, she interned with IBM in Tucson Arizona and San Jose California in various functional areas over six years. Her doctoral studies were funded by the GAANN program and the Department of Energy Integrated Manufacturing and Processing Pre-doctoral Fellowship.

Her research focuses on tactical decision-making in assembly systems, focusing on production planning and control topics, such as sequencing, line balancing and configuration management, for customizable products. Her research methods include the development of heuristics and meta-heuristics to find solutions for these problems as well as investigating the impact of meta-heuristic design on performance. Her projects in this area have been funded by industry such as Samsung, Milliken and BMW and her expertise is utilized in her role as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Manufacturing Systems.

On campus, Dr. Kurz recently served as Faculty Senate President and established the Committee on Committees, which helps manage university-wide committees and interdisciplinary cocommittees. Nearly every department will interface with her in the next two years, in her role as Faculty Manual Consultant, as they revise department bylaws and tenure, promotion and reappointment documents to include the upcoming rank of Principal Lecturer.


2018 - Lisa C. Benson

Dr. Lisa Benson is a Professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education (ESED), and was the first faculty member hired in ESED when it was founded in 2006. She has a joint appointment in the Department of Bioengineering. In 2017, she was selected as the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Engineering Education, the flagship research journal of the American Society of Engineering Education. She earned a B.S. in Bioengineering (1978) from the University of Vermont, after which she worked as a product development engineer. She later earned M.S. (1986) and Ph.D. (2002) degrees in Bioengineering from Clemson University. 

The focus of Dr. Benson’s research is on student motivation and learning in engineering. Her current projects examine student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes about becoming engineers and scientists, and the relationships between these attributes and the academic choices students make. Other projects in the Benson group focus on students’ engineering identity, researcher identity and epistemic beliefs, and on their development of skills related to problem solving and self-regulated learning. These projects grew out of Dr. Benson’s NSF CAREER award, “Student Motivation and Learning in Engineering,” which she was awarded in 2011. Dr. Benson has been principal investigator on multiple research grants amounting to nearly $1,400,000, and has collaborated on other grants totaling nearly $750,000. She has published over 25 refereed journal articles, primarily in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education research journals. She has been actively involved in STEM education and social sciences conferences and workshops, including the National Association of Research in Science Teaching, American Society of Engineering Education, European Society of Engineering Education, European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction, and American Educational Research Association. She has published and presented over 80 peer-reviewed conference papers and over 30 workshops, several of which have won best paper and best workshop awards. Her most rewarding scholarly work has resulted from interactions with graduate students across multiple disciplines in STEM and the social sciences. She has served as major advisor to 13 doctoral students, 9 of whom have graduated and established successful faculty careers. She helped establish and facilitate the Certificate in Engineering and Science Education and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Preparation Workshop series at Clemson, through which she has mentored dozens of graduate students in STEM disciplines. Her interest in helping students communicate their research effectively lead to her establishing Science As Art, an exhibit for Clemson students, staff and faculty, and secondary school students across South Carolina, to create and share visual art based on their work in STEM. Hundreds of entries have been exhibited on campus, online and at Artisphere, a regional arts festival in Greenville, SC.

Dr. Benson is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), European Society of Engineering Education (SEFI), American Educational Research Association (AERA), National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Sigma Xi, National Society of Professional Engineers, and Tau Beta Pi. Her hobbies include travelling the world with her husband, cooking for family and friends, and playing the bells in the Clemson Memorial Carillon.

Terry Tritt

2017 – Terry M. Tritt

Prof. Terry M. Tritt is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Physics at Clemson University. This is one of 18 such positions supported by the Clemson University Alumni Association and awarded to faculty who exemplify the highest qualities of service to the university and the students while also exhibiting international standing in their field of research.  Prof. Tritt is a graduate of Clemson University obtaining his BA in 1980 and Ph.D. in 1985.  He then served as a National Research Council Fellow at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC (1985-1989) and then as a Research Physicist at NRL from 1989 until 1996 before joining the faculty at Clemson University in Aug. of 1996.  The focus of his current research centers on materials for thermoelectric (TE) refrigeration and power generation applications. His primary research expertise lies in electrical and thermal transport properties and phenomena (a special focus in measurement and characterization techniques) in new and novel materials, especially thermal conductivity.  His recent activities are focused on the synthesis and characterization of TE nanomaterials and nanocomposites & investigation and characterization of their TE material’s parameters, especially thermal conductivity. Prof. Tritt has served as a symposium organizer of four Materials Research Society Symposia on Thermoelectrics Materials (MRS Volumes 478545, 626 and 1044). He has served as an author and lead editor of a MRS Bulletin Theme (March 2006) on Thermoelectric Materials and Devices. He edited a three-volume set on “Recent Trends in Thermoelectric Materials Research” (Academic Press-2000) and has also edited a book by Kluwer Press in 2005 on Thermal Conductivity.  He has served several terms as a member of the Executive Board of the International Thermoelectrics Society (ITS) (1999-2008 and 2010 to present) and served as chairman and host of the 24th ITC-2005 at Clemson in June of 2005.   He holds four patents. He was elected as an Academy Fellow and Vice President of the International Thermoelectrics Academy. In 2008 he was selected as the SCAS Governor’s Research Professor of the Year and the Clemson University Alumni Award For Outstanding Achievement In Research. In Spring 2009 he served as one of four Materials Research Society’s Meeting Chairs for the annual MRS Spring Meeting in San Francisco that hosted over 5000 scientists from all over the world.  He recently served as a guest editor for a Focused Issue of the Journal of Materials Research on Advances in Thermoelectric Materials (August, 2011 and Sept. 2015).  He is now a Principal Editor for the Journal of Materials Research. In 2012, he was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He has written over 200 refereed journal publications, over ten review articles and regularly gives invited presentations (> 150) at national and international meetings as well as many university seminars.  His hobbies include: golf, bluegrass guitar and mandolin (he has cut 5 CDs), target shooting, hunting and fishing, along with enjoying thoroughly his five granddaughters and new grandson.

Other award winners include: Antonis Katsiyannis (2016), June J. Pilcher (2015), Catherine Mobley (2014), John Ballato (2013), Windsor Westbrook Sherrill  (2012), Richard Figliola (2011), Melanie M. Cooper (2010), Webb M. Smathers (2009), William (Bill) Pennington (2008), Alma Bennet (2007), Donald M. McKale (2006), Ben Sill (2005), Art Young (2004), Kinly Sturkie (2003), A.P (Hap) Wheeler (2002), Jerry Waldvogel (2001), Chip Egan (2000), Judy Melton (1999), Larry Bauer (1998), Chalmers Butler (1997), Larry LaForge (1996), Fran McGuire (1995), Cecil Huey (1994), Budd Bodine (1993), Ray Turner (1992), John Idol (1991), Joel Brawley (1990), and Dixie Goswami (1989).