CLEMSON — The new director of Clemson University’s general engineering department is a career naval officer who has served aboard three nuclear submarines and has done research on how lasers can be used as weapons.

Joe Watkins, who will retire as a captain after 31 years in the Navy, comes to Clemson from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was most recently associate professor and general-engineering program director in the academy’s mechanical engineering department.

Joe Watkins, general engineering director

Joe Watkins, general engineering director

Watkins said he expects to begin his new job at Clemson Aug. 15

“I’m very passionate about educating young men and women about how to think like an engineer,” he said. “This was a great opportunity.”

All students who want to major in engineering at Clemson are admitted to the general engineering program before picking a specific field.

Students take courses that prepare them for the work they will face in upper-level classes and their careers. They also are offered academic advising and career counseling.

Watkins will replace Interim Director Don Beasley.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said Clemson has landed a star faculty member.

“Our general engineering program, through world-class engagement experiences, is the cornerstone to creating the next generation of engineers, a vital need of our state and nation,” he said. “We are truly fortunate to recruit a leader and a top-notch engineer like Capt. Watkins to Clemson.”

Watkins is the founding director of the Naval Academy’s Directed Energy Research Center, where he did his laser research. He said that he may continue the research at Clemson once he’s settled in his new job.

Watkins said that Clemson’s vision for its engineering program attracted him to the university.

“It really excited me,” he said. “The university is committing the necessary resources to make it the best school in the nation in engineering. And that is something we sorely need to meet the technological demands of today’s society: more top-quality graduates in engineering fields.

“I also was very attracted to the family atmosphere. The Clemson Family was a theme that I saw run through the whole interview process.”

Watkins is a veteran of the Navy’s submarine force, serving in three nuclear submarines from 1983 to 2001. His last afloat tour was as executive officer of USS Louisville, SSN 724.

Watkins was qualified as a nuclear engineer and for command.

He was selected for the Permanent Military Professor program in 2000 and began his studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2001. His research was directed by distinguished professors Brij Agrawal and Young Shin and was in the adaptive control of optical-beam jitter.

Watkins was awarded a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering in 2004. He also holds a Master of Science in astronautical engineering, a Bachelor of Science equivalency in electrical engineering and a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Auburn University.

Watkins will move to the Upstate with Teresa, his wife of 32 years. They have two adult children. Joseph is a recent graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Sarah is completing her interpreter training program in American Sign Language.

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