By Shamira McCray
Charleston Regional Business Journal
The Lowcountry Graduate Center in North Charleston was created about 16 years ago, at a time when people were starting to realize the region was on the cusp of a revolution.
Dr. Nancy Muller, director of the graduate center, said the Lowcountry had long been just a tourist center and was thought of as a genteel coastal community. Suddenly, though, the region was on the brink of being transformed into an area of advanced manufacturing and high technology. Companies were beginning to look at the Charleston area as a place for headquarters or major expansion.
During that time, Muller said, people like former local politicians Arthur Ravenel and Harry Hallman said there needed to be a place for graduate education and advanced study. They thought the region would have to supply the workforce for the advanced manufacturing and high-tech jobs that were coming.
“And if we experience the kind of population growth that we expect, we’re going to have to have smart, well-educated people to make sure that our, our community as a whole, stays healthy, and all of our natural resources are protected and safeguarded,” Muller said.
Since the very beginning, Muller said, the center has remained true to its core mission of enabling the development and build-out of the workforce and identifying talent gaps that exist and are anticipated.
The Lowcountry Graduate Center, located on Paramount Drive in North Charleston, provides Charleston-area residents with graduate-level academic programs from the following schools: College of Charleston, The Citadel, Medical University of South Carolina, University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Anderson University, and South Carolina State University. Degree and certificate programs are offered.
The state-funded graduate center provides institutions with a portal, Muller said. The target audience is working professionals who already have a baccalaureate degree and are seeking graduate-level education to help advance careers and fill the anticipated talent gap in the local workforce.
“And so we work with institutions to match up these so-called anticipated talent gaps by identifying programs that would fit,” Muller said.
The Citadel’s Master of Science in project management has been an anchor program at the Lowcountry Graduate Center over the years.
“Project management has been identified as one of the top five skills that show up in virtually every job description that’s floated by industry today,” Muller said. “So it’s a very cross-cutting skill set.”
Dr. David Greenberg, program director for The Citadel’s Master of Science in project management, said 100% of the students who are enrolled in the program are working adults who either want to move up in their organization or branch into a different field. He said the Lowcountry Graduate Center really facilitates adults advancing themselves and getting a graduate degree that could lead to a good job in the area.
“It’s just a very nice facility,” Greenberg said. “It’s modern. It’s got up-to-date classrooms, the latest technology, and it really enhances the learning opportunities for our students.”
The Master of Social Work offered by the University of South Carolina is another anchor program at the Lowcountry Graduate Center. What makes the program so relevant and great for the center is that it fits the definition of safeguarding the community’s well-being, Muller said.
“So, social workers now have a variety of opportunities and demand for their knowledge and their skillsets across multiple settings,” Muller said.
Social workers can work in hospitals, mental health facilities, schools, and human services agencies, and in other places. In addition to the health care industry, Muller said social workers can also work with vulnerable populations, like people who are homeless and those who are in lower socioeconomic ranks.
Dr. Margriet de Zeeuw Wright, the Charleston site coordinator for the University of South Carolina’s Master of Social Work, said students complete the program part-time over three years. Students could complete the program full-time in Columbia.
Some of the social work students at the Lowcountry Graduate Center already work in the field, but getting a master’s could help them advance and seek promotion, Wright said.
“There’re other students who come like out of nowhere and have no background in social work or psychology or human development, and they feel some kind of a calling towards doing a master’s in social work,” Wright said.
If it weren’t for the University of South Carolina’s partnership with the Lowcountry Graduate Center, the school would not be able to offer the Master of Social Work program in Charleston, Wright said.
Other programs offered at the center include engineering management, business administration, educational leadership, public administration and more.
Students who are enrolled in classes at the graduate center can take advantage of resources such as an on-site library and an online platform for job openings.
At any point in time, the Lowcountry Graduate Center could be serving 100 or more students, Muller said. And in a semester, those students could be taking two to three courses in between their jobs. In the last 10 years, the center has facilitated the completion of studies for 1,565 graduates.