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You Never Know Who You’re Inspiring: Clements Becomes Distinguished Alumnus

June 1, 2012

This month, Paul Clements, PhD, Associate Clinical Professor in the Division of Graduate Nursing, received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Cumberland County Community College. It is the most prestigious and selective honor that the College awards its graduates; only thirty-seven alumni have been given the award in the College’s history, and Hall of Fame status is revoked from any individual who doesn’t continue to contribute to their field at a level of distinction.

Award recipients are chosen each year by a selection committee steered by CCCC’s sitting president. Alumni who meet the committee’s demanding criteria are then voted upon by the group and, if there isn’t an alumnus or alumna who stands out in a given year, no one receives the award. Of the 120 individuals in the committee's pool of potential recipients this year, two were chosen to receive the award and join the Alumni Hall of Fame: Clements and James A. Rocco, who has served as Chief of Detectives for the Cumberland County Freeholders and as Captain of the Criminal Division of the Vineland Police Department.

“It was a very moving ceremony,” said Clements of the evening when he was inducted into the small group of distinguished alumni. “To be one out of thirty-nine chosen from the total alumni base of 18,000, that just blew my mind.”

Present at the induction were many instructors, colleagues and friends that Clements had not seen for more than twenty years. They shared stories about the beginning of Clements’ career that he himself had forgotten. “It was really emotional,” Clements said. “Tish Gallagher, who taught health assessment, was there. She completely changed the direction of my career and my life.” Even after Clements insisted to Gallagher that he would never consider doing pediatric or geriatric psychology work, Gallagher urged him to take an assignment with children who had witnessed homicides. Working with one particular six year-old, Clements said “I had an epiphany. I’m a natural at this. I got more information about perceptions of healthcare from that six year-old than from any adult victims I had worked with.” As a professor, Clements strictly adheres to his syllabi because he knows that students may make unexpected gains from experiences they initially had no interest in. This is something that he learned from Gallagher’s style of teaching.

Karyn Holt, PhD, who was present at the induction ceremony to support her colleague, said “Start at any level and keep going. A community college is not a ‘nothing step.’ Work your way up. It’s important to recognize student achievement at community colleges. We can’t be elitist because look at where Paul went with his career!” Clements earned his PhD at age 38, before any of his former instructors reached that milestone in their own academic careers.

Clements’ address to the induction audience was framed by an adage he learned from one of his professors at CCCC. He began his speech, saying “Always be mindful. You may not know who’s watching you or who you’re inspiring.” It’s true that Clements is inspiring many people- from Cumberland County to the Philadelphia region and beyond- by his work in forensic nursing and in his career as an online professor. In closing, Clements shared his belief that all of his students should build upon the foundation he has helped them to construct. “Don’t just be proud of yourself for finishing a course,” he said, “Go on and exceed what I have done in my career.” Clements’ attitude is reminiscent of the poem that Dean Donnelly shared at the beginning of this issue. Clements is proud of his achievements while recognizing that his students will pick up where he left off and become the new generation of leaders in the field.