November 19, 2015
The Zucker center is under construction at the Clemson University Restoration Institute and will include state-of-the-art classrooms, conference rooms and space for industry.
Classrooms with cutting-edge technology will connect the Zucker center to Clemson’s main campus. High-resolution cameras will have motion sensors, so if a student raises a hand, the camera will pan to where the action is.
The announcement helps round out what Clemson has planned for the former naval complex in North Charleston. The university previously announced that its Charleston-area offerings would include a master’s degree program in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. program in computer science.
Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the advanced degree programs will be the only ones of their kind in the Lowcountry.
“Most of the programs target working professionals who need advanced degrees to further their careers in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive, defense and energy,” he said. “The quick rise of advanced manufacturing in the Lowcountry has created a growing need for these programs. We’re pleased to help fill the need by providing students with a high-quality education in a new, state-of-the-art facility.”
Randy Collins, executive director of academic initiatives in the College of Engineering and Science, said that an area long known for its beaches, tourism and retirees now has fast-growing aerospace and automotive industries.
“Nobody is sitting still,” Collins said. “Businesses are opening. Industry is expanding. There’s a critical need for high-quality graduate education, particularly in the engineering and computing disciplines. We’ve heard over and over the value of personalized interaction with faculty and fellow students. That’s not something you can get online.”
Melur “Ram” Ramasubramanian, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the opportunity to earn advanced degrees in Charleston area will fuel the economic growth, helping industry attract top-notch employees.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for Clemson to bring high-quality graduate education to the Charleston area and be a significant contributor to economic development,” he said. “We’re excited to be a selling point to come to Charleston.”
Clemson’s expansion is in the heart of the Charleston-North Charleston metro area, the 17th-fastest growing metro area in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The fourth fastest, Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, lies just to the north. The 13th fastest, Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, is immediately to the south.
Growing need for electrical engineers
Dan Noneaker, chairman of the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said several Charleston-area employers are in need of electrical engineers with advanced degrees.
They include the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, or SPAWAR, and the area’s defense contractors. Further, electrical utilities have told him they face a wave of retirements over the next five years.
“They’re going to need manpower,” Noneaker said. “A lot of advanced technical work requires advanced preparation.”
Noneaker expects that Charleston-based electrical engineering students will earn their master’s degrees with a combination of classes taught in person at the Zucker center and classes taught from Clemson, and transmitted live to the Zucker center.
All five graduate degrees offered in electrical and computer engineering will eventually be available to students through courses sited at the Clemson University Restoration Institute, although they will emerge at differing rates, Noneaker said.
Students will also be able to take some courses from local partners, including graduate engineering courses through The Citadel.
The other program announced today is a multidisciplinary Master of Systems Engineering with tracks in cyberphysical security, power and energy systems, and manufacturing composites. The program is coordinated out of the office of the dean of the College of Engineering and Science.
While most of the programs are at the master’s level, more opportunities for research and Ph.D. degrees will come as Clemson ramps up operations in the Lowcountry, officials said.
“We will have an opportunity to develop new research capabilities based on the unique facilities we have located there,” Noneaker said.
Those facilities include the Duke Energy eGRID and a wind turbine drivetrain testing and research facility. They form the cornerstone of the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center and are the largest such facilities in the world.
Nikolaos Rigas, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute, said the facilities represent $110 million in public and private investment.
“Because of our cutting-edge facilities, we can offer research opportunities that are available here and only here,” Rigas said. “As the Zucker center grows, so will our research portfolio.”
Collins, who developed the precursor to the eGRID and was an investigator on the eGRID project, added: “The work we do Charleston is not only helping generate and distribute energy more reliably and sustainably, but is also giving students an unparalleled research experience. The sky’s the limit as we move forward.”
Building an industry
Clemson announced in May that Digital Production Arts will be among the first programs available at the Zucker center and that program co-founder Robert Geist, who has a credit in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” will be among the first professors based out of Charleston.
University officials have provided more detail, saying they hope to capitalize on the “Silicon Harbor” tech sector to create a video game industry.
Victor Zordan, the new director of Digital Production Arts, said the IT startups already doing business in the Charleston area provide one of the key ingredients. Clemson will provide the other– experts who design games and develop content.
“If we can build talent in that area, then we can build industry,” Zordan said. “This is going to be good for South Carolina. This is going to build jobs and businesses in Charleston. We’re putting everything together in the right place to have growth.”
Students in the program work toward a Master of Fine Arts. Digital Production Arts has been Clemson’s pipeline to Hollywood since 1999, preparing students for the animation, visual-effects and electronic-game industries. More than 150 alumni have garnered credits in films ranging from “How to Train Your Dragon” to the upcoming “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
As Clemson beefs up its video-game offerings, students will continue to learn the skills they need to create animation and visual effects for TV and movies, Zordan said.
He expects the number of master’s students in the program to more than triple from about 30 to 100. About two-thirds of them will be based out of Charleston in three years, Zordan said.
“It’s a tech environment, it’s an arts environment, and it’s a city,” he said. “Going to Charleston will ignite our plans to build an industry.”
Mechanical engineering offerings to grow
Clemson has been offering a master’s program in mechanical engineering in the Charleston area since January at the Lowcountry Graduate Center. Those classes will move to the Zucker center when it opens, Ramasubramanian said.
Offerings are expected to expand from one class per semester to two starting in fall 2016. Classes are held at night and run three hours, targeting working professionals.
Courses are offered in a “hybrid mode,” Ramasubramanian said. Instructors teach from Clemson two out of every three weeks, while students in Charleston tune in remotely from a state-of-the-art distance-learning classroom. Every third week instructors go to Charleston to teach in person and hold office hours, and Clemson-based students tune in remotely.
“It’s an identical program to what students on the main campus get, including an opportunity to interact faculty and get involved with research,” Ramasubramanian said.
Collins said employers value the advantage of a technical degree with a research focus.
“Through personal interaction with the faculty, Clemson’s graduate programs offer the opportunity to work on a research project that leads to a thesis – one that could focus on solving a real problem the student is encountering at the workplace,” he said.
New opportunities for computer science degrees
Clemson will also offer a Ph.D. program in computer science at the Zucker center. Eileen Kraemer, the C. Tycho Howle Director of the School of Computing, said rapid growth in advanced manufacturing and the Charleston-area tech sector is driving up the demand for advanced computing degrees.
“We are excited to provide a high-quality Ph.D. program in an area where there is a fast-growing need,” she said. “Charleston-based students will receive the same degree as those on the campus in Clemson. It’s a win for the students, it’s a win for Clemson, it’s a win for industry, and it’s a win for the economic development of the state.”