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Tom Hallman: Retired USCA chancellor found his calling and a home in Aiken

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Dr. Tom Hallman likes to say his career path to being named USC Aiken’s third chancellor rivals a famous movie character.

“I’ve had more jobs than Forrest Gump,” said Hallman, who retired as Distinguished Chancellor Emeritus in June 2012 after about 30 years at the university.

After graduating from The Citadel, Hallman, who grew up in the Charleston area, served in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg. He thought he might become a lawyer and then a Methodist minister. He even had a place reserved at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta when he got out to the Army, but his life took a turn toward education when he took a job teaching instead at his alma mater, Chicora High School, in North Charleston.

“As a political science major, naturally, I taught physics, chemistry and science,” Hallman said and laughed. “I actually was going to teach civics and some history, but the guy who taught chemistry and physics resigned during the summer.

“The principal looked at my transcript and saw that I had taken a course in physics and had two semesters of chemistry, so I became the physics teacher. I was, at best, a day ahead of my physics students. It was a challenging experience.”

While teaching, Hallman also was an assistant football coach and coached the junior varsity basketball team during his second year.

After two years, Hallman left teaching and started an advertising and public relations firm, Hallman II, with his brother, Bill, who had been the sports information director at The Citadel.

Higher education

After about two years with the firm, Hallman found this way back to education, heading up the Work Education Council at the College of Charleston for three years. The council’s mission was to help students from kindergarten to higher education transition from school to work.

“It was a community effort, trying to bring business and industry together with education to develop ways to better manage this transition and to make sure that we were delivering on employers’ needs and helping employers understand what the realities of education were,” Hallman said. “I learned a great deal in that job.”

After another three years, Hallman took a position to lead the School Advisory Councils, a program created by the South Carolina State Legislature to improve education at the local level, and moved to Columbia.

In the position, Hallman worked jointly with the dean of the College of Education at the University of South Carolina and the associate vice president for continuing education and regional campuses, Dr. Robert Alexander. When Alexander became USCA’s second chancellor about a year later, he asked Hallman if he would be interested in coming to Aiken, and he arrived on campus in November 1983.

“I think that title was assistant to the chancellor for external relations,” Hallman said. “At that time, Bob (Dr. Alexander) was interested in making sure that people related to the university. So I went to Aiken Chamber breakfasts and North Augusta Chamber breakfasts.

“I was sort of, for a while there, a visible representative for USC Aiken for places that might not have seen somebody in person in those settings. That gave me a wide range of opportunities to be engaged in the community. It was just a wonderful experience.”

But true to his work history, Hallman quickly began to take on new duties at USCA, and his titles changed.

During the next 17 years, Hallman headed up capital projects, externally funded grants and contracts and enrollment services.

“I would stand up at the first faculty meeting of the year and say my new title is this and my new number is this, and this is what you should be calling me about,” Hallman said.

Achievements as chancellor

When Alexander retired, Hallman, with his varied experience, became USCA’s interim chancellor in January 2000 and was appointed chancellor on July 1, 2000.

Hallman cited the achievements of USCA’s faculty, administrators and students over his own in making his more than 10 years as chancellor a success.

“Grant activity went way up,” Hallman said of his faculty. “People were doing internationally recognized work.”

Garreit Smith, a microbiology professor, pioneered the identification of the diseases of coral reefs and their causes. He received the 2012 South Carolina Governor's Award for Excellence in Research at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution from then Gov. Nikki Haley.

“He was doing work with coral reefs before anyone was doing it on a large scale,” Hallman said.

Several USCA professors received the Carolina Trustee Professorship, the highest honor of the USC Board of Trustees.

Jeff Priest helped make the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center, which focuses on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, a magnet for area teachers and students.

“Schoolteachers from all over and home-schooled folks can come in and check out a plastic box that has everything they need to know to teach multiplication or a biology topic. They check it out, use it, bring it back, and we replace the expendables,” Hallman said. “It’s an example of what a comprehensive university ought to be about. I loved giving tours, and I would end up at the Ruth Patrick Center.”

Hallman called the Office of Advancement’s fundraising efforts while he was chancellor “very successful.” Private giving grew by 300 percent from 2006 to 2007, the largest amount in USCA’s history at the time, according to a news release announcing Hallman’s retirement in September 2011.

“I was smart enough to promote Dr. Deidre Martin into a different role, and she just blossomed,” he said. “It became her cup of tea, and she did an outstanding job.”

Martin started her career at USCA as the campus’ public information officer but was promoted to vice chancellor of university advancement, focusing on fundraising and developing relationships with donors.

“I subscribe to the theory that you ought to be hiring people smarter than you are, and I think, in large measure, I was able to do that,” Hallman said.

Students excelled, too, with a record number of them receiving Magellan Scholars funding. The university-wide program, administered by the Office of Undergraduate Research on the Columbia campus, awards $3,000 to students for research, scholarly or creative projects in collaboration with a faculty mentor.

“The faculty were taking an interest in student research,” Hallman said. “The faculty really were engaged with students.”

Convocation Center opens

Hallman also oversaw the completion of several major building projects.

The university dedicated the 1,000-seat Roberto Hernandez Baseball Stadium, named for the former USCA baseball player and major leaguer, in 2003, and the 4,000-seat Convocation Center opened in 2007.

Other options for student athletics and recreation completed while Hallman was chancellor included the Pacer Path for track and field events, a new student walking path and disc golf course and the renovated Student Activities Center in the heart of campus.

The Pacer Commons and Pacer Crossings housing complexes also opened, expanding options for students to live on campus.

Under Hallman’s leadership, USCA implemented three new degree programs, the Bachelor of Arts in music education, the Bachelor of Arts in special education and the Master of Education in education technology.

While Hallman was chancellor, USCA maintained its solid reputation as a regional university of excellence. “U.S. News & World Report’s” college guide ranked the university as the No. 1 public baccalaureate college in the South eight times during the 2000s.

Retirement

After retiring, Hallman started a consulting company, Pacer Performance.

“I’ve done some interesting work with different groups on strategic planning, meeting facilitation, just trying to think through what a group is trying to do and what’s the best way for them to get from here to there, helping them understand what history they’ve come from and how does that shape where they go from here,” he said.

He recently worked with the Aiken Municipal Development Commission, which is “responsible for advising Aiken City Council of existing blighted and/or conservation areas in whole or in part within the city limits of Aiken,” according to its website.

Hallman also chaired the search for a new pastor at Aiken's First Baptist Church.

“That was a pretty demanding job that lasted about a year,” he said. “It sort of continued over into a committee that will do some interesting things with church development and pastor development.”

He has served on the Salvation Army Advisory Board more than 25 years and is a member of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce and has helped with its monthly First Friday Means Business breakfast program.

“We made a couple of trips to Europe with the Chamber of Commerce group and were prepared to go again when the pandemic shut everything down,” Hallman said.

Hallman said he hopes he and his wife Susan, who was a nurse practitioner at USCA’s Student Health Center before retiring, can visit family and friends when travel is safe again.

Hallman and Susan have a son and a daughter. David works for a whiskey distillery in Houston, and Caroline is a digital marketing manager in Charleston.

Hallman said that when he came to USCA he expected his job to be “one more step on the way,” lasting as his other jobs had two or three years.

“I had no idea that, almost 40 years later, I would still be here, but this is home,” he said. “It was a wonderful place to work. I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed the students. I could not have anticipated that I would end up at the same place this many years later, but USC Aiken is a great place. Aiken is a great community.”


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