University of South Carolina

Into orbit

USC advances its reach into the aerospace industry with a new chair, a $5 million donation and new advanced degrees

By Liz White,, 803-777-2848

Bailey Oedewaldt is fascinated by the stars. She’s drawn to the endless possibilities for what could be out there and what humanity can do to reach that unknown.

The University of South Carolina is taking a giant step to provide students like Oedewaldt, a junior at the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, with limitless possibilities, expanding its role in the aerospace industry and strengthening the mission of the McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research.

The center, named for astronaut and S.C. native Ronald E. McNair, will help “the youth of South Carolina who will be able to dream, to study, to intern, and best of all take jobs in the aerospace economy, an economy that we believe will be big in South Carolina,” Pastides says.

Zafer GurdalThe university welcomes Zafer Gürdal, a renowned researcher in the design and optimization of composite materials and structures, as the McNair Chair and the technical director of the McNair Center.

“He is well-known for having a rare combination of native intelligence, common sense, curiosity and interest in research,” Pastides says. “He has a great capacity for hard work and perhaps most important, the ability to lead and motivate others.”  

Gürdal comes to the university from Delft University in the Netherlands where he led the aerospace engineering faculty in an effort to better align the program with what students needed to succeed, both inside and outside of the academy.

“The opportunity that we have here now is something that comes once in a lifetime,” Gürdal says. “It’s a brand new center that will be shaped and that advances research areas that I have been working on. It’s an opportunity that I wouldn’t want to miss.” 

These advancements come with the help of two noted South Carolina businesswomen. Darla Moore’s investment in 2011 established the McNair Center, but a $5 million donation from philanthropist Anita Zucker establishes the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation and endows Gürdal’s chair.

Zucker, a leader in philanthropic support of education and communities in South Carolina, has a passion for supporting education, Pastides says.

“The growth of South Carolina’s economy, especially in high-tech fields, is dependent on the development of a highly educated workforce,” Zucker says.

The university will further its impact on the aerospace industry by creating two new master’s degree programs that will come online this spring, including the state’s first master’s degree in aerospace engineering.

In his leadership role at the McNair Center, Gürdal will help oversee these programs as well as foster the development of two more aerospace-related degree programs expected to begin enrolling students next fall.

“As we teach more of our state’s youth about the innovation needs and the jobs available in aerospace, our state’s economic growth will have No Limits,” Pastides says. 

Lawmakers and other university scholars praise the president’s vision for USC. Sen. Lindsey Graham believes the expansion will mean “the sky’s the limit” for USC students.

“The McNair Center serves as a living legacy for every precocious child who says ‘why not?’  and those who look into space and dream of what is beyond our earthly barriers,” says Rep. Jim Clyburn. “Ron McNair will continue to inspire the students who learn here, the researchers who innovate here, and the future leaders who are molded here.”

Ken Reifsnider, director of the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell Program, says these advancements are important because they make aerospace a part of the university’s banner.

“We have many of the pieces here -- for this technology and this science education -- but we’ve never really taken the time or had the resources to put them together,” he says.

In a video message Charles Bolden, administrator for NASA and S.C. native, applauds USC’s new program because it will allow young S.C. students to stay in the state, study at a top school and receive an advanced degree.

One young student agrees.  

“I’m very, very excited that we’re going to have an aerospace program in the state,” says Oedewaldt, from Rock Hill, S.C. “It opens up a lot of possibilities that probably weren’t open before.” 

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Posted: 10/25/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 10/25/12 @ 6:32 PM | Permalink