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Viewpoint: Strong research universities carry value across generations in S.C.

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In an extraordinary will written in 1886 and put into effect three years later with state approval of the university that would bear his name, Thomas Green Clemson set out to transform his beloved South Carolina through education. 

His desire to create a “high seminary of learning” on his 814 acres (“more or less”), for the benefit of agriculture and through the teaching of natural sciences, led to the formation of what today has become one of the nation’s top public universities. While Thomas Green Clemson likely could not have envisioned the ways his idea for a university would grow and blossom over the next 130 years, some fundamental truths remain unchanged.

Clemson University President James P. ClementsFirst, agriculture and science, including engineering, remain vitally important to Clemson’s mission and to the future of South Carolina. For example, agribusiness represents a $42 billion industry that employs nearly 100,000 South Carolinians — and is growing. Scientific and engineering-related fields such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences, aerospace and automotive all rank among the state’s fast-growing industries.

Second, Clemson’s commitment to serving the needs and the people of South Carolina remains unwavering. It starts with our commitment to providing a world-class undergraduate education to the sons and daughters of South Carolina, coupled with the cutting-edge research being conducted by our faculty and many graduate students. That commitment extends to our deep and broad ties to the state’s leading employers and to Clemson’s outstanding extension offices that serve residents in every county across South Carolina.

Indeed, service to community, state and nation is the hallmark of land-grant public universities across the nation, which were designated by the federal and state governments starting in the mid-19th century specifically to meet the educational and industry needs of their home states. Clemson, as one of two land-grant universities in South Carolina — and the most highly rated-university in the state — has taken this designation to heart since its founding in 1889.

Today, more than ever, that service mission manifests itself in the large and growing number of public-private partnerships in which Clemson is involved. As the state of South Carolina increasingly works to position itself as a leader in fields such as advanced manufacturing, Clemson has stepped up its game to become the state’s premiere provider of workplace talent and research geared toward meeting the needs of industry.

Consider these examples from just the past two months:

Graduate engineering students in our Deep Orange program at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville, working hand-in-hand with automotive professionals from BMW, unveiled the design of a next-generation Mini Cooper concept car.

The Clemson Energy Innovation Center in Charleston is teaming with MHI Vestas, one of the world’s leaders in offshore wind technologies, to test its largest wind turbine ever.

Sonoco, one of the largest global diversified packaging companies in the world, announced a research partnership with Clemson to develop new technologies and forms of packaging to optimize the fresh food lifecycle — an extension of the partnership that created the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics on Clemson’s main campus.

Clemson has joined with the University of South Carolina and Samsung to form a research consortium dedicated to advanced appliance technologies in support of Samsung’s recent decision to manufacture washing machines in Newberry at a facility expected to employ 1,000 people by 2020.

Clemson announced the creation of its new Center for Advanced Manufacturing, which will become the centerpiece of the university’s ambitious commitment to education, research, innovation and workforce development in support of an industry sector that is vitally important to the future of South Carolina.

These efforts, and many other similar initiatives across the university, showcase the value that strong research universities bring to their home states, the nation and even the world. For our part, Clemson is proud to be celebrating a “decade of excellence” this year, signifying the university’s standing among the nation’s top 25 public universities for 10 straight years as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. In reality, our success today is built on the foundation laid by Thomas Green Clemson, and all those faculty, staff and students who have followed his path.

As we look forward to a 21st century filled with opportunity and promise, Clemson remains more committed than ever to helping create a prosperous South Carolina through education, in the spirit of our visionary founder.

James P. Clements is the president of Clemson University.

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