Zucker gives $5 million for USC aerospace research, training

Anita Zucker is CEO and chairwoman of the North Charleston-based holding company InterTech Group Inc.

Charleston businesswoman and philanthropist Anita Zucker has pledged $5 million to further aerospace research and workforce development at the University of South Carolina.

The gift, which University President Harris Pastides announced today in Columbia, will fund the Zucker Institute for Aerospace Innovation and an endowed professorship in USC’s McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research. That center, named after Lake City native and Challenger astronaut Ronald McNair, was established last year thanks to a separate $5 million pledge from Darla Moore.

Speaking from the North Charleston headquarters of her family-owned holding company, The Intertech Group, Zucker said the gift is a continuation of her and her late husband’s longstanding involvement with the university and in the aerospace field.

“This is an area we’ve always had an interest in,” she said. Zucker noted TIGHITCO, an Intertech company that specializes in composites, plans to open a new factory along Palmetto Commerce Parkway early next year. “Obviously with the construction of our facility in the Charleston area, we’re even more interested.”

TIGHITCO will join aerospace heavyweights like Boeing in North Charleston and Lockheed Martin in Greenville in what is becoming an aerospace cluster in the state and Southeast region.

The USC endowed professorship is already filled: Zafer Gürdal, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, has agreed to serve as technical director of the McNair Center.

A native of Turkey, Gürdal taught at Virginia Tech, specializing in composite materials, before moving to Europe where “he has headed a highly successful effort at Delft University to better align the aerospace program with what students need to succeed, both in academia and industry,” according to a university press release.

“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,” Pastides said in a prepared statement. “Dr. Gürdal is well-known for having a rare combination of native intelligence, common sense, curiosity and interest in research. He has a great capacity for hard work and perhaps most important, the ability to lead and motivate others.”

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Gurdal will help oversee two new online master’s programs, including the state’s first master’s degree in aerospace engineering, starting this spring as well as help develop two more aerospace-related degree programs for next fall, according to the release.

The USC donation is Zucker’s latest major gift to a local educational institution, following a $5 million pledge to Clemson University in June and a $1 million pledge to Trident Technical College last month.

“I’m all about furthering education and opportunity for young people,” Zucker said Thursday.

Read more later on postandcourier.com and in Friday’s newspaper.

Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.