All in the Family

USC Upstate ties cross generations in many households.

It’s not uncommon for the faculty, staff and students who live, work and study at a university to describe the campus community as a family. In some cases, though, it literally is.

Over the years, USC Upstate has welcomed multiple generations of families to campus: alums whose children attended Upstate, older and younger siblings, even some grandparents and grandchildren. While the university name has changed between some of those generations – from USC Spartanburg to USC Upstate – family members share the same affection for their alma mater. Below is a look at some of those families.

Shayla, '18, and Sharanda Simmons

Shayla and Sharonda Simmons

Student Photo
Shayla Simmons, '18, and her sister Sharanda Simmons enjoy spending time together.

Shayla Simmons, ’18, always thought she’d attend the main University of South Carolina campus in Columbia. Then she toured USC Upstate.

“The staff, the campus, something about it just felt right,” she recalls. “I went back home and told my parents I didn’t want to go to Columbia anymore.”

Simmons had taken some business classes in high school and really enjoyed marketing, so Upstate’s business administration program, which offered a concentration in marketing, was a good fit for her. She also appreciated the real-world experiences her professors shared in class, which helped prepare her for her current job with the corporate offices of Krispy Kreme in Charlotte.

For Sharanda Simmons, a junior majoring in communications and public relations with a minor in women’s and gender studies, seeing the campus during her older sister’s freshman orientation left a lasting impression.

“I loved how green it was,” she recalls. “It was really refreshing compared to the other schools I had visited.”

Sharanda Simmons says she initially planned to stay close to the family’s home in Charleston and attend Charleston Southern. But she loved the idea of being close to her sister, who was living and working in Greenville after graduation.

Shayla Simmons was thrilled. “Because I had such a great experience at Upstate, I was happy to know that she was going somewhere that was familiar, so if she had any questions she could ask me who to contact, or I could introduce her to faculty and staff I know,” she says.

Sharanda Simmons shares her sister’s enthusiasm for Upstate. “I just really love the school,” she says. “It’s so family oriented – everybody is connected, everybody is trying to help each other.”

When she struggled with a math class early on, professor Charles McGill went the extra mile to help her, Sharanda Simmons says. And throughout the pandemic, her professors have offered support, she says.

“The majority of the professors I’ve had want you to pass, they want you to succeed, but the most important thing is, they want you to learn,” she says.

Though the sisters grew up in Charleston, they both loved the more intimate Upstate environment.

“Coming to Upstate, being in Spartanburg, and being on a smaller campus and having that community was great,” says Shayla Simmons.

Connie Gilbert and Brandon Harrison

Connie Gilbert, AA '78, and Brandon Harrison

Brandon Harrison was drawn to his grandmother’s stories about being a nurse, but he was hesitant at first about a nursing career.

“I was interested in it after high school, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure that’s what I wanted to do,” the third-year nursing student says. “The main thing that scared me away from it was I heard about how tough nursing school is, how competitive it is.”

Harrison’s grandmother Connie Gilbert (then Threadgill) already had experience when she entered nursing school at USC Spartanburg. She had been a practical nurse for 12 years, and was a mom to three children, when she decided to return to school and fulfill a goal. She received her associate degree in 1978.

“My mother always encouraged me, because that was her desire, to be a nurse,” Gilbert says.

Harrison joined the Navy when he finished high school, and then worked in real estate. He also got married – his wife, Stephanie, ’18, is the daughter of Donette Stewart, vice chancellor for enrollment services. But all the time, he says, the idea of nursing “just sort of grew on me.” When he told his grandmother he had decided to pursue nursing, she was elated.

“He’s following in my footsteps, and that really makes a grandmother proud,” Gilbert says.

Harrison looks forward to caring for others, something he says has always meant a lot to him. “Just being able to help people whenever they’re vulnerable and having rough moments would be special,” he says.

Gilbert says those were some of her favorite things about being a nurse, too – “communicating with the patients, working with families in difficult situations,” she says.

When Harrison talks to Gilbert, he often shares with her the things he’s learning in school, which he says she’s always excited about. While nursing school has been tough, “As long as the dedication is there, it’s definitely possible,” he says.

Zanzi and Yusef Robinson

Zanzi, '18, and Yusef Robinson, '19

Siblings Zanzi, ’18, and Yusef Robinson, ’19, have practical streaks that shaped their choice of major. But their minors reflect creative interests that remain important to them.

Both siblings majored in business administration with a concentration in accounting, but Zanzi Robinson initially was tempted to pursue her first love, English literature. Even after deciding on business, she took 21 credit hours of English classes.

Yusef Robinson, too, toyed with a different path. A cellist, he seriously considered attending Furman University to pursue music. “It was the opposing forces – the wants and then the needs,” he says. In the end, however, pragmatism won out, and he chose Upstate for its business program.

Still, the siblings continued to explore their other interests. Both are native Spanish speakers, and while at Upstate, Yusef Robinson earned a minor in translation and interpreting. Some of his favorite memories involve the experiences he had putting his skills to use. For spring break one year, he did a study trip to Costa Rica through the business school, acting as a secondary interpreter for the group.

“It was good because I was able to see entrepreneurship firsthand from people who really didn’t have anything and were able to start businesses from the ground up,” he says.

Zanzi Robinson, an avid traveler, did a summer study abroad program in Peru, where she taught English to adults. She also spent two weeks in Germany and Spain as a trip assistant for a business school student trip.

“I’ve always loved travel,” she says. “It’s the culture, I love food, I really like language.”

While Zanzi Robinson says she “wasn’t much for business” when she started at Upstate, she found she liked the thought process involved with accounting. Her instructor, Michael Wooten, encouraged her to consider a concentration in the subject, which she says proved to be great advice. “It was a puzzle, it was fun,” she says.

Also a revelation was how valuable her English minor was in her career. All the research papers she’d written came in handy when she was looking into account issues. “I have been able to apply those skills, those techniques I learned, into resolving problems,” she says

Yusef Robinson says he benefited both personally and professionally from his experiences at Upstate. There were the classes, which introduced him to the skills and functions he uses in his job now as accounting manager for the ETV Endowment. Career fairs at the school helped him polish his interviewing techniques and get more comfortable in stressful situations.

But equally important are the interpersonal skills he’s learned from engaging with professors, which he says have helped him become more independent. “Even though I wasn’t technically a professional at that moment, seeing how they interacted, and also them interacting with me as if I were on the same level, helped me navigate workplace dynamics better.”

The Cheshier family

Bob, '86, Meg, '87, and Sam Cheshier, '18

The Cheshiers are not only an Upstate family, they are a family of educators as well.

Meg, ’87, and Bob Cheshier, ’86, met at USC Upstate back when it was USC Spartanburg. Meg Cheshier was the first in her family to attend college, and chose USC Spartanburg because it was close to home and she could easily commute. Bob Cheshier, on the other hand, moved clear across the country, from Seattle, Washington, so he could play soccer on the university’s inaugural team.

“My dad said I either have to work my way through college or I have to get a scholarship,” Bob Cheshier recalls. “My coach found USC Spartanburg,”

Meg Cheshier already had a good idea of what she wanted to study in college. During high school, she’d assisted teachers in elementary school classrooms, and really enjoyed the experience. “I felt like I’d always been drawn to kids, from volunteering at church and vacation bible school. I liked kids,” she says.

For Bob Cheshier, the discovery was a process. Initially a business major, he found his calling with physical education after he helped lead some youth soccer camps.

Although Bob Cheshier was in mostly upper-level classes by the time his future wife started at the university, the two became friends. Meg Cheshier recalls he was one of the “very big men on campus back then” because of his success on the soccer pitch – for 11 years, he held the campus record for all-time leading scorer, and his record for assists went unbroken for 17 years.

The couple, who married in 1989, have more than 60 years of teaching experience between them. Meg Cheshier worked for many years in Spartanburg District 3, but for the last four years has been the assistant principal at McCracken Middle School in District 7. Bob Cheshier is a longtime physical education teacher at Monarch Elementary School in Union County.

Both Cheshiers love being educators, despite the challenges. “I still have students that I keep up with,” says Meg Cheshier. “Anybody can come into a class and teach, but to me, it’s a gift to be able to meet these young people and build a whole child. It’s not just educating them, it’s getting to know them and shaping them and encouraging them.”

Bob Cheshier enjoys the energy and enthusiasm of his young students. “They’re a joy, they don’t see any negativity, they’re excited and positive,” he says. “You know you have some kind of meaning in their lives, and you’re helping them in a positive way.”

Nevertheless, the couple says they were not enthusiastic at first when their older son Sam, ’18, told them he had switched his major from nursing to education. They worried he didn’t fully understand the kind of sacrifices that would be involved, even after seeing how his own parents had struggled.

But Sam Cheshier was certain he was making the right choice. “I just looked at it from the perspective of overall happiness,” he says. “Were my parents content? Were they happy? And they were.”

The Cheshiers’ younger son, Max, is nearing completion of his degree at USC Upstate, but after taking a few education classes, he decided the family profession wasn’t for him, says Meg Cheshier. And that’s OK, she says, since you have to love education if you’re going to be committed.

Sam Cheshier definitely does. He teaches 10th-grade physical science and chemistry at Chapman High School, where, he says, “I have a hundred victories a day.”

“Whether it’s small, like just getting a kid to understand a simple concept, or I’m getting my whole class to participate, it is very rewarding – not just education-wise, but building relationships with these kids and having a direct impact,” he says.

“Whenever a kid comes back and says, ‘Man, Mr. Cheshier, I loved your class,’ I honestly can’t put into words how great it feels.”