Zucker donates $5 million for USC aerospace research

Zucker donates $5 million for USC aerospace research

Anita Zucker, chairwoman and CEO of North Charleston-based The InterTech Group, is donating $5 million to the University of South Carolina to support innovation in aerospace education and workforce development.

Zucker’s gift will endow the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation and the McNair Chair, a new professorship in USC’s McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research, the university said.

The university also announced today that scientist Zafer Gurdal, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, will serve as technical director of the McNair Center.

“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,” said USC President Harris Pastides.

A native of Turkey, Gurdal served about 20 years on the faculty of Virginia Tech developing a research program with expertise in designing and optimizing composite materials.

Since 2004, he has headed an effort at Delft to better align the aerospace program with what students need to succeed, both in academia and industry.

“USC has a number of faculty members who are well recognized for their contributions in aerospace engineering related fields,” Gurdal said. “Unifying those activities under a unique McNair Chair umbrella and spearheading new initiatives with the faculty will be a highly rewarding experience.”

The McNair Center was established in 2011 through a $5 million pledge from USC alumna Darla Moore in honor of Ronald McNair, a fellow Lake City native who died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

“I am truly excited by the announcements today involving the Ron McNair Center,” Moore said. “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.”

The InterTech Group is a privately held company with interests in aerospace, specialty chemicals, leisure/entertainment, real estate, financial services, manufacturing and public-private investments.

The company’s revenues in 2011 were estimated at $3.2 billion, according to

Zucker, whose late husband Jerry Zucker founded the company, is estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.1 billion. She is the only billionaire living in South Carolina, according to the publication.

Zucker, though, may be better known in South Carolina for her philanthropy and work in education. A former elementary school teacher, Zucker presently chairs the College of Charleston board of governors and has served on a number of civic, education and business organizations.

Her family business also owns the Carolina Ice Palace and is co-owner of the city’s professional hockey team, the South Carolina Stingrays.

Pastides also announced that USC has tapped Dallas-based Academic Partnerships to support two new online educational programs that USC is developing for aerospace training.

The programs — including the state of South Carolina’s first master’s degree in aerospace engineering — will come online in the spring.

Gurdal 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, the university said.

“There is no question that aerospace manufacturing is an important and growing industry in South Carolina. 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,” said S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.

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