COLUMBIA — A $5 million gift from a Charleston businesswoman will help air and space education in the state and puts an internationally recognized scientist at the helm of the University of South Carolina aerospace research center, the college’s president announced Thursday.
Anita Zucker’s donation establishes the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation at the center named for Ronald McNair, the Lake City native and astronaut who died in the space shuttle Challenger explosion of 1986, said university President Harris Pastides.
The McNair Center was established last year whenr USC benefactor, former trustee and Lake City native Darla Moore provided a $5 million pledge toward its creation.
Zucker is the CEO of the InterTech Group, founded by her husband Jerry. The scientist and inventor was a self-made billionaire who died of cancer in 2008. The couple has given millions to a wide range of charities and educational endeavors over the years.
Pastides announced that Dr. Zafer Gurdal of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands will direct the center and hold a new professorship dedicated to aerospace education.
“Anita’s generosity and shared vision that South Carolina can advance the future of air and space flight has enabled us to recruit a world-renowned expert to lead our efforts,” Pastides said.
He described Gurdal as having “a rare combination of native intelligence, common sense, curiosity and interest in research” and being is a leader who is a “brilliant addition” to the university’s team of scientists.
Gurdal is a native of Turkey. Prior to his work in the Netherlands, he spent nearly 20 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech and built an internationally recognized research program with an expertise in designing and optimizing composite materials. His work in the Netherlands focused on aligning its aerospace program with what students needed to succeed in academia and industry, the university said in a statement.
Pastides also announced two new online master’s degree programs that will be offered through the center. One will be the state’s first master’s degree in aerospace engineering, the university said.
In a statement, Moore said she was excited by the announcements.
“These are great first steps in building the Ron McNair Center into a permanent, world-class aerospace research and catalytic center for nurturing, growing and supporting the aerospace cluster in South Carolina,” Moore said in the statement.
South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said the development helps make aerospace manufacturing a growing industry in the state.
“Add to that a rich research and innovation climate with programs like the one the University of South Carolina is launching at the McNair Center, and you have the perfect formula for success,” Hitt said.
In June, Clemson University announced that a Zucker Family Graduate Education Center was being built in North Charleston with a $5 million gift from the family. The center supports students, faculty and representatives of business while they use research developed at the institute and adapt it to the marketplace.