Two Young Girls Are Helping to Save Clemson’s Tigers in the Wild

September 5, 2019

At first glance, Haley Plumley and Lauren Grubbs may not have a lot in common, other than their age (they’re both 12 years old). They also live in different states – Haley lives in Florida and Lauren in North Carolina – and have different connections to Clemson.

If you look a little deeper, however, you’ll see that they share a similar determination, and a strongly-held belief that despite their age, they have the power to change the world – a belief they’re proving by working to raise awareness of the plight of tigers in the wild.

Lauren Grubbs and Haley Plumley in Clemson last spring.

Lauren Grubbs and Haley Plumley are working to save tigers in the wild (shown here in Clemson last spring).

Lauren and Haley got involved in different ways. Lauren writes letters that get attention. She was learning how to write persuasive letters as part of a 5th grade class project, when she decided to write Clemson University President Jim Clements about the need for the university to lead an effort to save tigers in the wild.

“About 70 kids in Lauren’s school sent persuasive letters to complete the project assignment, but she was the only student who received a personalized response back,” says her mother, Katie Grubbs. “She’s been writing letters ever since. It’s fascinating to see who replies and who doesn’t, and the confidence and influence she’s grown in the process.”

Clements asked Dr. Brett Wright, Director of the Tigers United University Consortium, to respond on his behalf to Lauren’s letter. The Consortium is devoted to tiger conservation and consists of four land-grant, tiger mascot universities working collaboratively on this issue – Clemson University, Auburn University, Louisiana State University and the University of Missouri. Katie says Dr. Wright’s response to Lauren’s letter was written in a way that she could understand and provided useful information about the Consortium, its goals and its work.

Haley, on the other hand, was working on a community service project for school and wanted to find a unique way for a kid to further a cause she could believe in, support and help. Last year, she learned about the Tigers United University Consortium at Clemson through her Dad, who played football for Clemson between 1990-94 and remains an active supporter. Haley overheard her Dad talking about a donation he had made to the consortium and their need for help, and realized she’d found her project.

“Over the last few years, Haley had been asking me how kids can get involved in an issue, and what they can do that would really help,” said Julie Plumley, Haley’s mother. “When she heard about the consortium and that it’s something many people don’t yet know about, she realized she could spread the word and really make a difference.”

Her idea was to create an educational program for elementary-aged children about the need for tiger conservation, including how they can help, so they could share that information with their friends and families and get involved.

Lauren and Haley with students in Clemson's Youth Development in Camp class.

Lauren and Haley, shown with students in Clemson’s Youth Development in Camp class, vetted program and activity ideas in a ‘Shark Tank’ setting.

This idea started to become reality this past spring as a unique learning opportunity for Clemson University’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management students. Associate Professor Gwynn Powell, who teaches a Youth Development in Camp course, saw an opportunity for her students to combine public service with developmental pedagogy.

“Our class was developing activities for elementary school aged children participating in the City of Clemson’s annual spring break day camp,” says Dr. Powell. “The tiger conservation program was a great project, because it challenged them to develop a curriculum that combined academic content with recreational activities.”

Dr. Powell tasked her students with creating potential programs and activities for an elementary school education program to teach tiger conservation to students in grades first through fifth grade. Given their experience with the consortium and its work, Haley and Lauren were asked to vet the class’s ideas in a ‘Shark Tank’ evaluation setting.

Holly Carlisle, one of the students that presented to Haley and Lauren, said the process was a meaningful learning experience, and that the judges provided useful feedback.

“I was really motivated to work hard because our work was for more than a class assignment,” she says. “We tested our work with children, so we know we’re designing something meaningful for them. I hope the program can be used around the world to help children see the importance of tiger conservation.”

Fellow student Caroline Self agrees, and appreciated Haley and Lauren’s (often blunt) feedback.

“Those kids did not cut us any slack!” she says. “It was helpful to hear from them, because this assignment challenged us to target specific activities for specific grades, so we had to really understand the developmental difference in the ages to strike the right balance.”

The program is now being refined with input from elementary school teachers. Haley and Lauren’s schools agreed to pilot the program when it’s ready.

Consortium Director Brett Wright says Haley and Lauren are proving that anyone can have a significant impact on the world, regardless of your age.

“These girls are two of the savviest, most invested and dedicated people I’ve come across,” he says. “They know they can make a difference, and they’re putting in some serious work to spread the message about tiger conservation, and how dire the situation has become.

He says their involvement also gives him hope for the tiger’s future.

“We chant ‘Go Tigers’ on a daily basis, but not many know the truth about the animal we hold so dear – and how close they are to extinction,” he says. “Lauren and Haley are giving us an important tool we can use to raise awareness, and hopefully bring more people to the cause. Without that help, tigers as we know it may become extinct in their lifetime.”


Tigers United Week runs from September 3 to 7 in Clemson. The consortium’s universities are all raising awareness of tiger conservation through through several activities, including a Scarcity Scavenger Hunt with a grand cash prize and an information booth while Clemson tailgates for Saturday’s game, with an opportunity to meet Clemson’s First Lady Beth Clements and her daughter, Grace. The week culminates with a launch of a new, 30-second video about the consortium’s mission during the Clemson home football game on Saturday afternoon. More information about Tigers United Week and its activities can be found on the Tigers United blog.

You can also support Tigers United by texting CUtigers to 41444.