Teirra Holloman: Engineered to Blossom

June 4, 2018

Rudyard Kipling once said, “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade,” and Clemson graduate and Virginia Tech PhD student, Teirra Holloman knows firsthand what it takes to make beautiful gardens grow. Whether it’s being a tutor and a mentor, presenting at conferences, or just painting with friends, Teirra discusses how her time at Clemson University inspired her to blossom.

Hi Teirra. Could you tell me a little about your experience at Clemson?
TH: It was pretty cool when I came to Clemson. I changed my major two times, so when I found industrial engineering, it definitely felt like home.  One of the first classes that I took was a group project based course, and I was in a group with maybe five other people.  One of the girls whom I met in that class ended up being my friend for my entire time at Clemson, and we’re still friends to this day. She works for Amazon, and I visited her in Ohio last summer. At Clemson, I was able to build a community, and because of having that community within industrial engineering, all of us were able to go through the process together. I also had my community in PEER WISE (Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention (PEER) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). We did a lot of outreach for students in the surrounding communities and across South Carolina, and I was able to become a tutor and mentor. As a minority in STEM, it was a space that I needed that I could get to, contrary to other large classes where only five students may have looked like me.

Teirra Holloman

How did being at Clemson prepare you for Virginia Tech?
TH: When I describe Virginia Tech to people, I say it’s just like Clemson but just on a larger scale, so it wasn’t a drastic change for me.  The population is the same, and the city of Blacksburg is pretty small, so as far as the overall experience, I was equipped to move out of state. Additionally, Clemson gave me some great relationships that I could leverage at Virginia Tech.  I knew there was a Clemson network here that I could rely on.  My adviser that I am currently working under is a Clemson alumni.

When did you start attending Virginia Tech, and what’s your area of study?
TH: I came here in August 2017, and I am a PhD student in Engineering Education.

OK, so what’s that? [Laughter]
TH: It’s really broad. It’s all-encompassing when you think about what it takes to educate engineers. There are facets of the field where, at the minimum, people design engineering courses to be effective as well as assess or evaluate these courses.  But it’s so much broader as far as the research goes. There is diversity and inclusion interest research in engineering, but there are others who may look at identity development in engineering. Some look at motivations of students in engineering. Some are actually breaking down the curriculum to see if we are equipping engineers the way we should, while some others work with student support, and some become ‘program directors’ or  work for research labs. There are also some who go back into industry and help determine better ways to train engineers on site.

Teirra presenting her research at the Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity (CoNECD) Conference

Let’s back things up for a second. Tell me a little about yourself. Are you from South Carolina?
TH: Born and raised. I’m from Bishopville, SC. It’s between Columbia and Florence. Bishopville has a population of around 3000 people, so it’s pretty small.

Even though the city is so small, there has to be something interesting about Bishopville.
TH: Well, we have a cotton festival every year that we look forward to, but the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden is pretty big. Pearl Fryar grew up in North Carolina, but has been a resident of Bishopville for many years. He is a Black man who started trimming the plants and trees in his garden into different shapes; then he bought the land across from his house and designed those too. He does the yards for his neighbors and everything.  His garden is a tourist attraction now, and it’s really beautiful.

WOW, that is fascinating!  I may have to take a trip to Bishopville to see that.  Now, I know about Pearl Fryar’s thing, but what’s your thing?  What do you like to do for fun?
TH: Well, I don’t have any official hobbies. I love hair and makeup, and I love going to sip and paints to de-stress.  I’m starting a collection of my own paintings in my room.

Trees and shrubs in Pearl Fryar's topiary garden. Photo courtesy of
Oh, so you’re into hair and make-up. Are you a vlogger?
TH:  No, I’m not, but I’m very in the know about who the hair and makeup vloggers are and who does what.

Wrapping things up, what would you say to someone about coming to Clemson for the industrial engineering department?
TH:  It’s kind of hard to know what to say because people can’t all be lumped into the same bowl. So if the person were coming from my hometown, I’d tell that person to leverage PEER WISE.  Coming from a predominately Black high school to a PWI (Predominately White Institution) was a bit of a culture shock.  PEER WISE felt familiar in a big unfamiliar place. But at the end of the day, I would tell someone from my hometown, and anyone in general, to make sure they leverage the faculty they encounter. From my experiences with the faculty, they always had my best interests in mind. So if I were ever struggling, I knew I could go to office hours and get the help I needed, even from my department head, (Dr. Cole Smith). I’d also tell them to do their best in whichever way is most effective.  There are internal and external resources that they can and should use. Lastly, I would tell them that in spite of some not so great moments that may happen along the way, they can still be great.

If you’d like to learn more about the faculty, staff, and students in the Department of Industrial Engineering at Clemson, you may do so by using the contact information below.
Dr. Cole Smith (Chair), Department of Industrial Engineering
100-B Freeman Hall, Clemson University
Clemson, SC 29634-0920
Phone:  (864) 656-4716
Fax:  (864) 656-0795

Baltimore native, Geveryl Robinson, is an educator, author, and former columnist for the Savannah Morning News. Her columns and musings have been mentioned or featured in The Washington PostThe New York Times, the Dallas Morning NewsMore magazine, the Knoxville News SentinelFOX News, the Shorty Award winning Historically Black PodcastThe Huffington, the Black Panther Syllabus, and many other online and print publications. She currently teaches English at Clemson University. Email Geveryl at