New beginnings and a new spark: PC’s New president revitalizes “The Championship Spirit”


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Dr. Matthew vandenBerg sports the traditional Presbyterian College tartan as a packed crowd of well-wishers in Belk Auditorium welcomes him to his now-official role as the 19th president of the Clinton, S.C., school. In the background, from left, are Dr. Joy Smith, vice president for campus life and dean of students, Dr. Kerry Pannell, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and E.G. Lassiter, ‘61, chairman of the board of trustees.

Lauren Andrews and Sharecka Byrd

It only took one bold gesture for Dr. Matthew vandenBerg to put his stamp on the 141-year-old institution he will now lead: a quick change from the formal doctoral robes of his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, to the traditional Presbyterian College tartan and hose. That “vintage vandenBerg” moment signaled his transition to being a Blue Hose and brought the capacity crowd at Belk Auditorium to its feet, roaring with excited laughter and approval, in an Inauguration Day ceremony that was full of emotion and unexpected surprises. 

PC’s youthful president flashed his gleaming smile and wise-cracked for the crowd’s attention, but on that October 22 day, as he and his family were welcomed with open arms by the faculty, staff, students and many honorary guests that were watching in person and via YouTube, he also announced more than $10 million in new initiatives to put PC on the national map. 

“Inaugurations are not celebrations of presidents,” stated vandenBerg, “They’re inflection points of an institution’s trajectory.” 

Inaugurations are not celebrations of presidents, they’re inflection points of an institution’s trajectory.

— President Matt vandenBerg

Delving deep into PC’s past, to a previous time of peril in higher education, vandenBerg  described William Plumer Jacobs II’s challenge in taking on the leadership of the school during the Great Depression. And he focused on the way a vision centered around the motto — “The Championship Spirit” — revived the school’s belief in its core values and helped the community dare to dream that a small, private, liberal arts college could stand out among others. 

Repeating “The Championship Spirit” like a mantra, vandenBerg charged the PC community to rethink its identity and to dare to dream that Presbyterian College could be capable of engaging students not just within the Clinton and Laurens communities—but around the world. 

Moreover, vandenBerg’s speech wasn’t just about inspirational words. He offered a series of concrete initiatives, backed by hefty donations, that were intended to strengthen the school’s financial foundation and raise its profile both locally and nationally.

Reviving 121 Musgrove

The first step in vandenBerg’s audacious plan was the revival of 112 Musgrove Street, a college-owned building that has sat empty for more than a decade. Following discussions with Clinton mayor and PC alum Bob McLean about luring students across the train tracks that carve the town in half, vandenBerg announced that the building will transition to a social hub for students.

“Our fates are intertwined,” said vandenBerg. “Together, we’re one tide that rises and falls together. If we can come together and do some special things, our best days will absolutely be ahead of us.”

Student input will determine the mix of activities in the building, and those will almost certainly include a dining facility open to the public, and a host of other social and intellectual events and activities that will be open to the public.. 

Purchasing the Capitol Theatre

VanderBerg also revealed that PC had purchased the Capitol Theatre, a landmark location just opposite the town square in downtown Laurens County. The president envisioned it as a “performing arts center”—but not just that. Indeed, the president stated the Capitol will reopen next fall as the regional hub for Esports, a global competitive gaming league, and that PC will be partnering with the District 55 (Laurens) and District 56 (Clinton) high schools to make it happen. 

VandenBerg further announced that PC has extended an offer to Tyrelle Appleton to become PC’s first Esports team coach. Appleton, who founded the first collegiate Esports program while winning a $50,000 global Esports streaming competition, has an excellent track record of recruitment, the president said.

New Pathways to Success

VandenBerg also announced a new partnership with Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. In that program, qualified graduating PC students and alumni will receive preferred admissions and guaranteed financial support, including scholarships into all O’Neill’s master’s degree programs. These include master’s degrees in public affairs, public health, environmental affairs and sustainability, and even arts management.

From Service to Social Entrepreneurship

And vandenBerg’s good tidings did not stop here. “Leaning in” to the college motto, “While We Live, We Serve,” he also announced a service entrepreneurship scholarship competition for rising high school seniors. To win the scholarship, students would pitch their ideas for service projects capable of addressing societal problems. The winner would receive a full scholarship to PC as well as up to $10,000 to implement their ideas. 

The Social Service Entrepreneurship Scholarship will be the largest in South Carolina and open to all state students. The projects will be judged by high-profile government officials and leaders in nonprofit sectors. Runners-up may also receive substantial scholarship funding, vandenBerg said.

Reclaiming Presbyterian Roots

We are – and we seek to further cement our status as – the nation’s premier Presbyterian college – the flagship institution for the Presbyterian Church

— President Matt vandenBerg

In a move intended to reconnect the college with its roots in the Presbyterian Church, vandenBerg announced two seven-figure donations that would fund eligible high school students in two categories. A gift by alumni Chad and Pam Prashad, he said, will re-establish the founder’s original vision for PC as a school for youths who began their education at Thornwell Orphanage. The Prashad’s gift, vandenBerg said, will “cement PC’s role and legacy as the nation’s leading college for students affected by foster care.”

The second gift, the president said, would usher in “a truly historic day for PC’s relationship with the Presbyterian Church.”

Rather than running away from the designation of “church school,” vandenBerg said the college would “run back to the church in distinctive fashion, especially in terms of our relationships and common values, including pluralism, hospitality, service, justice, and grace.

“We are – and we seek to further cement our status as – the nation’s premier Presbyterian college – the flagship institution for the Presbyterian Church” with the aid of an anonymous seven-figure donation and the announcement that First Presbyterian Church, Myrtle Beach, would become the first to join the PC Promise scholarship program. Selected students would attend PC tuition-free, though they would be financially responsible for room, board, books, and fees. The expansion, vandenBerg added, will fund the expansion of the PC Promise programs with churches throughout the Southeast.

Three Blockbuster Gifts

Stressing PC’s commitment to “be a welcoming, nurturing, and empowering institution for all,” vandenBerg announced a gift by PC trustee Louise Rogers-Slater honoring her late father, Bill Rogers, and the college’s first tenured African American faculty member, Dr. Booker T. Ingram, professor emeritus of political science. Rogers-Slater’s with a seven-figure gift establishing the Rogers-Ingram Vice President for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion position.

In addition, an anonymous gift has established the Jack and Jane Presseau Chaplaincy, with Rev. Racquel Gill set to fulfill this position. The position was named in honor of Jane Presseau, former head of student services at the James H. Thomason Library and former associate professor of library science, and Rev. Dr. Jack Presseau, founder of Student Volunteer Services and former Cornelson professor of  Christian religion at PC. 

But the final gift made history as the largest single gift in the college’s history. PC’s board chair alum E.G. Lassiter and his wife, Marianne, donated $5 million to an endowment establishing the Marianne and E.G. Lassiter Chaplain and Dean of Spiritual Life position.

“Their latest act of vision, generosity, and faith makes PC’s commitment to the Presbyterian Church nothing short of elite and historic,” he said.

The words could as easily be applied to vandenBerg’s performance. Since joining the college in February he has raised a record $10,250,000 to fund his many plans, projects, programs, and promotions. Under its dynamic new president, “The Championship Spirit” is off to a roaring start.