The COVID-19 pandemic has had effects – both good and bad – for teachers, students and communities alike. That’s the message Capital Rotarians heard on Dec 16 when Dr. Jon Pederson (in photo) was guest speaker at the club’s biweekly Zoom meeting. Pederson is dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Education. He said the coronavirus has spawned problems such as (1) symptoms of “Zoom fatigue” where online classes become a tiresome burden; (2) a cultural divide between people with easy internet access and others with little or none; (3) a loss of social and emotional experiences that children have during in-person classes; and (4) more stress for teachers in a profession that’s been losing its luster in recent years. On the plus side, Pederson sees (1) more creativity in finding new and different ways to engage students in their lessons; (2) more flexibility in meeting the needs of children inside and outside the classroom; (3) increased parent/community involvement in public schools; and (4) a growing recognition that broadband service is critical for not only learning but also economic development in a community. Pederson earned his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction-Science Education, M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and B.S. in Agriculture-Biochemistry and Nutrition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He joined South Carolina’s College of Education as dean in 2016.
Columbia’s Capital Rotary has recognized member Lee Ann Watson for making continuing contributions to the Rotary Foundation’s global humanitarian and educational programs. She was named a Paul Harris Fellow Plus-One at the club’s Zoom meeting Dec. 16. That signifies an initial gift of $1,000 plus another $1,000. Paul Harris Fellow honors are named for the Chicago attorney who founded Rotary International in 1905. Watson joined the Capital club in 2017 and currently serves as membership chair. A Greenville native, she’s the S.C. Human Affairs Commission’s general counsel. She is a graduate of Furman University and the University of South Carolina’s School of Law. She formerly practiced law in Myrtle Beach, where she was a Chicora Rotary member.
Just like CPR can assist a person who’s having a heart attack, mental health first aid is emergency care for those with panic attacks, anxiety, depression or even suicidal thoughts. Given today’s stressful times, emotional well-being is more important than ever, according to counselor Kandy Hirsch (in photo), guest speaker for Capital Rotary’s Nov. 4 Zoom meeting. She said about 1 in 5 persons face a mental health challenge in any given year, but less than half will seek help, primarily because of the stigma associated with psychiatric problems. Mental health first-aiders can offer comfort in an action plan that: (1) approaches and assesses for risk of suicide; (2) listens nonjudgmentally; (3) gives reassurance and information; (4) encourages appropriate professional help; and (5) encourages self-help and other support strategies. Hirsch said the mental health first aid movement began in Australia about 20 years ago and came to the U.S. in 2008. To date, more than 2.5 million people in communities across the country have been trained in the program through a network of 20,000 certified instructors like her. Mental health first aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and can use their strengths to stay well. Hirsch suggested these self-help steps for anyone feeling “on edge” currently:
- Take time to disconnect from technology like social media, TV and the internet.
- Watch your feelings and “name” them to know them better.
- Bring yourself “back to center” by pausing to take one deep breath several times a day.
- Use relaxation and meditation apps.
- Engage in physical activity and movement.
Capital Rotary marked the 2020 observance of World Polio Day on Oct. 24 with a Purple Pinkie Polio Power video – a special online project to promote awareness about polio and about End Polio Now, an ongoing international campaign to eradicate the disease through mass immunization. Clubs in District 7770 were encouraged to produce videos and post them. The district is made up of about 80 clubs and 5,000 Rotarians in 25 eastern counties of the state. Capital Rotary’s video was recorded by club member Sean Powers, narrated by immediate past president Abby Naas and edited by Blake DuBose, who served as president in 2017-2018. The video was scripted by public relations chairman Pete Pillow. It can be viewed on Capital Rotary’s Facebook page. World Polio Day is an annual event that honors the late Dr. Jonas Salk – developer of one of the first successful polio vaccines.
Over the last several years, Russian social media trolls have been skilled in peddling misinformation campaigns to divide the American public. That’s the message Capital Rotarians heard from guest speaker Dr. Patrick Warren in their Zoom meeting Oct. 21. Warren (in photo), an economics professor at Clemson University, has been researching state-affiliated propaganda operations. While media trolls often deliberately provoke others online, Warren said Russia’s effort – housed in its Internet Research Agency (IRA) – uses “friendly persuasion” instead. “They don’t start fights, but make friends,” Warren explained. “It causes division by pushing people in a direction they were already leaning.” The IRA’s trolling components include (1) fearmongers – circulating stories of “fake news” events that never happened as if they were real; (2) newsfeeds – hijacking real news media sites but emphasizing violent and divisive stories over those that are positive or uplifting; (3) hashtag gamers – where Twitter users build an audience by creating catchy hashtags and challenging others to come up with pithy comments; (4) right-leaning and left-leaning trolls – where the IRA amplified the volume of irritating tweets from real Americans of both political persuasions, adding more sarcasm and cynicism. The key to combatting IRA disinformation is our commitment to be better social media users. Warren offered a three-fold prescription: (1) be careful about accounts that play to political biases; (2) strengthen democracy by investing in civic, educational and international institutions; and (3) support high standards of truth and fairness for ourselves, for our politicians/policymakers and for media platforms/brands.
Rotarians in eastern South Carolina are invited to take part in a new $1 million campaign supporting the Rotary Foundation – the international service club’s charitable endowment that underwrites programs for world understanding and peace. Members of Capital Rotary got details at their Oct. 7 Zoom meeting from guest speaker Ione Cockrell (in photo), a past president now part of a 21-person team seeking major donations throughout District 7770. Cockrell said the campaign’s aim is new contributions of at least $10,000 per donor, either as a current major gift or as a bequest through estate planning. All donations will be used in Foundation areas of focus including basic education and literacy, peace and conflict prevention/resolution, disease prevention and treatment, water and sanitation, maternal and child health, economic and community development, and supporting the environment. Campaign leaders come from all geographic areas in the district; each has committed personally to a major gift or bequest. The district comprises about 5,000 Rotarians in 80 clubs across half the state. Cockrell said the campaign concludes with a Million-Dollar Dinner planned for May 2021 in Charleston, featuring Rotary International president Holger Knaack of Germany. Cockrell is a certified financial planner who joined Capital Rotary in 1993.
Senior environmental attorney Tom Mullikin of Camden – chair of the Governor’s Floodwater Commission – is leading efforts to help defend South Carolina from the effects of a warming planet. The job includes dealing with rising sea levels, persistent flooding and severe storms coming in from the Atlantic and up from the Gulf Coast, as he explained to Capital Rotarians during their Sept. 23 Zoom meeting. Mullikin (in photo) said debate over climate change has been “hijacked by politics” that breed division, but the Floodwater Commission wants to “occupy the middle ground” via emphasis on solving environmental challenges. Plans have been made to plant 1.8 million trees throughout the state on Earth Day 2021 as an example of local, positive action. “We in South Carolina can’t solve the world’s problems,” Mullikin said. “What we’re going to have to do is solve ours.” Floodwater Commission solutions range from planting more shoreline vegetation to constructing natural and artificial reefs along the coast; from cleaning canals, ditches and rivers to replacing fossil fuel power plants with utility-scale solar. “We’re in the process now of helping to create an electric highway, because BMW and Volvo are making South Carolina manufacturing one of the global leaders in e-vehicles,” Mullikin said, touting moves toward reducing the state’s greenhouse gases footprint. “‘Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive,” he added. “We can be more protective of the environmental and more profitable.” Mullikin graduated from the University of South Carolina with a law degree in 1986. The retired leader of the volunteer South Carolina State Guard, he’s also a “National Geographic Expert” and a Fellow in both the Manhattan-based Explorer’s Club and London’s Royal Geographical Society.
Columbia’s greenway parks trace their heritage back to a 1905 beautification plan and still provide scenic vistas for hospitality, outreach, education and recreation. That’s according to Karen Kustafik (shown in LinkedIn photo), assistant superintendent of the city’s 31 Park Rangers and Capital Rotary’s Sept. 9 guest speaker. The Rangers oversee eight parks that have opened since 1983 and are looking forward to adding new facilities in the Bull Street area (2020) and a Saluda Riverwalk and Boyd Island bird sanctuary (2021). Riverfront parks recall a bygone era when waterways were key for commerce, moving produce and raw goods from the Upstate and Midlands down to Charleston and back. Today, Kustafik said, parks remain “really good things to have in flood plains because rivers will rise. In a changing climate, rivers seem to rise a little bit more frequently, so the banks of green spaces along waterways help keep us more resilient.” Insect life thrives in wild places, becoming what Kustafik called “building blocks for the rest of life – these insects are critically important” in the natural food chain and as pollinators for plant reproduction. She also praised the sense of quiet reflection that parks provide. “Yes, we live in an urban area, but if you get a good 10- or 15-minute walk in, you can find solitude and a place to reflect,” Kustafik observed. “We have some gorgeous spots where everybody can find peace.” This has been true even during the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted, when local parks remained busy in March and April despite being officially shut down.
Agriculture in South Carolina is big business – a $46.2 billion economic impact, 247,000 jobs and over 24,000 farms – but there’s still room to grow (no pun intended). That’s what Capital Rotarians heard Aug. 26 from guest speaker Jack Shuler (in photo from SCNOW), director of agribusiness development for the Palmetto State. Crops and poultry make up about 55% of farming’s impact, with 45% coming from forestry operations. The equine industry, including areas around Camden, Aiken and near Tryon, NC, gives nearly a $2 billion per year boost. Trade wars hurt farmers over the past two years, Shuler said, and the COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains, moved markets from an institutional base (restaurants/food processors) to consumer based (more cooking and eating at home), plus poses labor problems (especially among migrant workers). Still, Shuler sees a promising future for South Carolina farming, forecasting billions more in economic impact by 2035. Advances in technology and robotics (such as driverless tractors and harvesters) offer a labor solution, but require more technical skills and worker training in rural areas. Controlled environments like greenhouses and aquaculture may reduce dependence on weather conditions. Shuler said locating another poultry facility in the state is feasible and would be “a huge economic engine” for any rural county, bringing an additional 1,200 jobs. “A lot of our fresh food now is trucked from California and Mexico,” Shuler said. “We need to look at how we can bring those types of crops to be grown, marketed and processed in South Carolina.” The state’s East Coast location – halfway between Virginia and Florida – makes it ideal for food preparation and shipping within a day. Shuler retired in 2011 and joined the SC Agriculture Department staff after a 38-year career in farm credit operations. A Clemson University graduate, he also has a Master’s Degree in Business and completed the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.
The coronavirus impact on South Carolina’s economic development is a mixed bag of good news, bad news and future unknowns, according to Megan Anderson (in photo), a global business project manager for Maxis Advisors and Capital Rotary’s Aug. 12 guest speaker. Despite the disease, Anderson says business prognosticators are “fairly positive” about job growth, increased capital and additional investment by both foreign and domestic firms. Good news includes: (1) companies aren’t “timid or worried” about the “new normal” of living with COVID-19; (2) firms have done their preliminary work and are ready to “pull the trigger whenever they feel it’s a safe time” for “rapid release of investment”; (3) emerging markets are likely in fields such as personal protective equipment and sanitation products; (4) pandemic-related job losses could be offset by these new industries’ need for workers; and (5) South Carolina has an inventory of available buildings and land for business sites. Bad news incudes: (1) stress caused by tax breaks or financial incentives tied to performance measures that companies now can’t meet; (2) a negative overseas perception of Americans as people who “can’t follow the rules” for face masks and social distancing; and (3) worries about worker safety and managing staff furloughs. Unknown economic factors include: (1) how working remotely will impact the need for and cost-effectiveness of buildings/offices; and (2) the future sustainability of new technologies and “the COVID-19 lifestyle” caused by the pandemic’s duration. Before joining Maxis Advisors, Anderson was a manager at the SC Department of Commerce. She has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in international business from the University of South Carolina.