Serving as a Bridge to Graduate Education in the Lowcountry

 

The Lowcountry Graduate Center (LGC) was created to answer the community’s call for graduate education that develops the knowledge-based workforce needed by industries powering Charleston’s economy.

LGC fulfills this mission in myriad ways, often by providing local remote access to courses taught elsewhere.

Another meaningful way the LGC fills the gaps in graduate education is by serving as a bridge for colleges and universities while they establish their own, local programs. One recent case in point: the first graduating class in mechanical engineering at the new Zucker Family Graduate Education Center at the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI).

As one of only two research institutions in South Carolina to offer master’s degrees in engineering, it was important for Clemson to establish a foothold in the Lowcountry as soon as possible.  With the Zucker Center under construction, the Lowcountry Graduate Center stepped in and provided the first year of instruction at its North Charleston facility.

“The LGC was instrumental in Clemson’s expansion of our graduate engineering program into the Lowcountry. Without them, we would not be able to do what we’re doing today,” said Randy Collins, an engineering professor and associate vice president for Clemson’s programs in Charleston.

In fact, he says, Clemson learned how to use distance education technology to serve Lowcountry students through their affiliation with the LGC.

The relationship was a boon to the dozen or so students in the program as well, who took classes remotely at the LGC two weeks out of three. Every third week, Clemson professors came down to North Charleston and broadcast back to Clemson.

“The facility was great and the format of having a professor in person every few weeks made it feel like weren’t just trying to keep up with students on the main campus,” said Tyler Fricks. Fricks graduated with his master’s in 2018 and is continuing his studies for a Ph.D. “The staff was really helpful, even if it meant finding the right Clemson person.”

After the first year, the program transitioned to CURI, providing homegrown talent for essential employers like Boeing, Mercedes, and Cummins, where Fricks works as a combustion development engineer.

“Part of our role is to facilitate access to education – even if it’s temporary,” said Dr. Nancy Muller, associate dean, and director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center. Muller envisions the LGC helping to jumpstart future Clemson offerings.

CURI’s Collins says Clemson recognizes the benefits of such an arrangement.  For example, he says, they have already been approved to offer courses towards a degree in materials science and engineering, which dovetails with the needs of the increasing number of employers using advanced manufacturing.

“We heard loud and clear from the industry that they valued the in-person experience. You can get an online education from a wide variety of institutions, but the differentiator was in-person experience,” he said.