Advancing SC workforce

$20M NSF grant will increase advanced material research, workforce development

The University of South Carolina has been preparing students for the workforce for generations. As the state has attracted more high-tech manufacturing operations, the need for more skilled workers has grown rapidly.

The university can now increase its reach to help even more South Carolinians take advantage of these opportunities with a $20 million National Science Foundation grant.

Working with the state’s research universities and other colleges across South Carolina, USC will direct efforts to increase research in advanced materials development and manufacturing and improve the pipeline of diverse and highly skilled workers for these new industries.

“Advanced materials are crucial to industry in every corner of South Carolina,” says South Carolina Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. “Growing our talent pipeline, and ramping up our ability to invent new components that will help companies create faster, lighter, more durable products that consumers want is smart business.”

The five-year Research Infrastructure Improvement Track-1 award comes from the NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. The new initiative — Materials Assembly and Design Excellence in South Carolina or MADE in SC — unites 10 South Carolina institutions of higher education.

“We will build on the impressive network of expertise and infrastructure that already exists in the state, further strengthening our reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse, and growing our materials research and development enterprise to new heights,” says Prakash Nagarkatti, Carolina’s vice president for research, who serves as the principal investigator and project director on the award.

Other universities participating are Clemson, the Medical University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, Furman, USC Beaufort, Winthrop, South Carolina State and Claflin. Florence-Darlington Technical College is also participating as a representative from the state’s technical school system.

“By building capacity in a network of ten colleges and universities throughout South Carolina, our communities will become even more attractive to businesses looking for a new location with sustainable growth potential. It’s a win-win for our people and for our industrial partners,” Hitt says.

In addition to working with companies already doing business in South Carolina — including Boeing, Michelin and BMW — the grant will help attract and create “homegrown” companies in the advanced materials manufacturing arena.

We will build on the impressive network of expertise and infrastructure that already exists in the state, further strengthening our reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse.

Prakash Nagarkatti, the University of South Carolina's vice president for research

“The new award from NSF will do both, supporting existing industries and attracting new ones,” says Clemson’s Rajendra Bordia, the project’s co-principal investigator and scientific director. “It will also position South Carolina to be a leader in advanced materials research and development.”

As part of workforce development, new undergraduate degree programs at USC Beaufort and the College of Charleston, and expanded curricula at Furman, Winthrop, Claflin and USC will create a new pipeline of highly skilled workers. The grant also will provide funding for summer programs to train high school teachers to deliver engaging materials science content to better prepare students for a future in advanced materials and manufacturing.

The research and development component will focus on creating new materials that can be used in products and industry, particularly three types of new materials in high demand: optical and magnetic materials, stimuli-responsive polymers and interactive biomaterials.

This effort will be bolstered by recruitment of 17 new research faculty in key roles at USC, Clemson, MUSC, USC Beaufort and S.C. State.

“I am proud that all of the Palmetto State’s research universities are working together along with other institutions across the state to have such a positive impact on South Carolina’s research capacity and industrial prosperity for years to come,” USC President Harris Pastides says.

The grant will also enable investment in new research infrastructure at these institutions that will be available for use by student and faculty researchers from all South Carolina colleges and universities.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about