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Clemson creates nation’s first bachelor’s degree in automotive engineering

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Clemson University’s president caught the room’s attention at the 12th annual SC Automotive Summit with a special announcement on Thursday.

President James Clements said the university will offer a Bachelor of Science in Automotive Engineering program — the first undergraduate degree of its kind in the nation, he said. The first batch of students will begin the program this fall.

“This is our response to what the mobility industry wants 20 years from now,” said Srikanth Pilla, Clemson University Jenkins Endowed Professor of Automotive Engineering.

The Southeast region is a “hotbed” for engineers and auto original equipment manufacturers.

A 2020 report from McKinsey & Company highlights 10 “clusters” of technology shaping the future of the industry:

  • E-Hailing
  • Semiconductors
  • Autonomous vehicle sensors
  • AI, computing and connectivity
  • Electric vehicles and charging
  • Batteries
  • AV software and mapping
  • Telematics and intelligent traffic
  • Back-end/cybersecurity
  • HMI and voice recognition

Clemson built its new program around those 10 clusters, Pilla said.

The automotive industry in South Carolina employs more than 72,000 workers and accounts for a $27 billion annual economic impact, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce. The state’s industry has quadrupled over the past 20 years, and this program taps into a supply of domestic students ready to impact the industry, said Pilla.

“We are trying to build a workforce that can get to work on day one of the job after graduation,” he added.

Clemson responded to the needs of the auto industry by creating a graduate-level automotive engineering program in the mid-2000s. The university graduated the nation’s first Ph.D. student in automotive engineering in 2009 and the nation’s first female Ph.D. in automotive engineering in 2012. Lessons learned from the M.S. and Ph.D. programs will assist in launching the country’s first true B.S. in Automotive Engineering in, said Pilla.

The program’s structure — a true multidisciplinary systems integration degree — will focus on how elements of automotive, mechanical, electrical, materials science, computer science, human factors and more work together. The applications and skillsets are valuable across multiple sectors, not just the automotive industry, he said. The program will consist of 124 credit hours. Currently, 95% of Clemson’s M.S. and Ph.D. graduates in automotive engineering are working in the industry.

So, upon graduation, students can venture into industries other than the auto industry if they choose, based on the hands-on skills they will acquire from the completion of the program, Pilla said.

The first two years of the program will take place 100% on Clemson’s main campus, then students will get a mix of experiences and classes on both the main campus and CU-ICAR — the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville. A unique senior capstone will top off the program — seniors can work as part of the world-renowned Deep Orange program, working alongside M.S. students to build a one-of-a-kind vehicle prototype. The Deep Orange product development process starts with strategy and ideation of the prototype, then the concept layout, systems integration, prototype build, and final testing. Students also will also have an opportunity to work on research under faculty members in state-of-the-art lab space or research centers at CU-ICAR.

Deep Orange was previously available only to graduate students, Clements said. Now, it will be integrated into this undergraduate curriculum, which will further elevate Clemson and CU-ICAR as a world-class automotive engineering campus, he said.

“This is a huge step in expanding the pipeline of talent that the automotive industry needs, and we were uniquely positioned through our location, in the heart of the Southeastern automotive engineering industry, to meet the demands of the industry and for the future,” Clements said. “Once again, we are stepping up to fulfill our great mission to give back to the state of South Carolina and create a path for economic prosperity for our communities.”

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