University of South Carolina

New director takes helm at McNair Center

By Steven Powell,, 803-777-1923

The next big thing in aerospace may just originate from USC – at least if Zafer Gürdal has anything to do with it.

Gürdal is an engineer with a lifelong interest in pushing boundaries. Growing up in Turkey, he crafted a model rocket out of the hollow tube of a mechanical pencil, using shavings from match heads as the fuel that carried his creation airborne.

Gürdal comes to USC as the technical director of the McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research. 

“Dr. Gürdal is a brilliant addition to USC’s stellar team of scientists,” USC President Harris Pastides said.

Aerospace research was a natural fit for someone always wanting to be on the cutting edge. After earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Turkey, he took his first trip on a plane to come to America to study aerospace engineering.

As the McNair Chair, Gürdal will unify aerospace research, teaching and outreach efforts at USC, cementing the university’s leadership in the state and setting the course to develop a world-class facility.

An internationally renowned researcher with expertise in designing and optimizing composite materials, Gürdal has mentored nearly 50 master’s and doctoral students, helping shepherd them into leadership roles in government, academia and industry. 

In a second major announcement, Pastides said Gürdal and the McNair Center will benefit from the generosity of South Carolina businesswoman Anita Zucker. Her $5 million pledge will establish the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation. 

Zucker and her family are leaders in philanthropic support of education and communities in South Carolina. As a former elementary school teacher, she knows the importance of an educated world.

In his role, Gürdal will help oversee USC’s two new master’s programs, including the state’s first master’s degree in aerospace engineering, coming online this spring. He will also foster the development of two more degree programs anticipated to come online in the fall. 

Gürdal most recently spearheaded a highly successful 8-year effort at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, leading the aerospace structures program in an effort to better align it with what students needed to succeed, both inside and outside the academy. 

“It took time and some hard work early on at Delft, but we really got our educational and research program headed in the right direction,” Gürdal said. “The position at USC is very attractive – there’s so much opportunity here.”

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Posted: 10/25/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/07/12 @ 12:31 PM | Permalink