The University of South Carolina announced Thursday it has received a new $5 million gift for its aerospace education center. The donation came from billionaire Anita Zucker, a Charleston resident who is the CEO of InterTech Group. Forbes magazine lists Zucker as the richest person living in South Carolina.
The gift comes 19 months after another South Carolina millionaire, Darla Moore, pledged $5 million to jumpstart the McNair Center for Aerospace Research and Innovation. The center is named after the late Ronald McNair, a South Carolina native who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
“It’s only fitting that two women from South Carolina, both from humble beginnings, have joined in a great vision for the aerospace industry here,” USC President Harris Pastides said in a ceremony showcasing the new center.
Pastides said a much of the money will go towards four new degree programs that will also be offered online. The school will begin offering two Master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and engineering management next spring. The school will then offer both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in systems design starting in fall 2013.
The rest will be used as matching funds to attract more faculty and to endow the new Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation, which will be a professorship in the program.
The new center will be led by Zafer Gürdal. Gürdal is a Turkish researcher who spent 20 years at Virginia Tech and recently worked as the Aerospace Structures Chair with Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Gürdal said he was excited to serve as the center’s first technical director.
“I have no illusion that building a world-class center is an easy task,” he said Thursday, “It will require resources over and beyond the ones we currently have and will require hard work by, not just one person, but a team of talented people.”
The center has already been involved with research that would benefit Boeing— specifically, the new Dreamliners built in North Charleston that are made out of a composite material instead of aluminum. USC researchers have been working to improve how the material handles the conditions found in high-altitude flights.