NORTH CHARLESTON — Galen Helfter sits in front of two giant computer monitors in his corner office on the 14th floor of Cascade Plaza in Akron, Ohio. The 24-year-old looks out over the landscape and manages a basic, yet succinct summary of his surroundings: “I seriously can’t believe this is my office.”

Five students will become the first graduates of The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center May 10.

Five students will become the first graduates of The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center May 10.

Next month, Helfter and four others will become the first graduates of the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center, part of Clemson University’s Restoration Institute innovation campus in North Charleston. Though it won’t become official until May 10, Helfter is already reaping the benefits of a soon-to-be master’s degree in digital production arts (DPA) by landing a job with Allegorithmic, a French-based visual effects company.

“It’s really pretty awesome,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to work in computer graphics, but to just jump right in and not miss a beat is pretty amazing. The best part is: the stuff I learned in school had everything to do with what I’m doing now.”

The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center opened in the fall of 2016 employing dozens of faculty and staff with the shared mission of teaching subjects ranging from electrical engineering to computer science.

“Sixteen months ago we were just opening the doors to this place and now, in what feels like the blink of an eye, we’ve got graduates,” said Randy Collins, Clemson University’s associate vice president in Charleston. “These new Clemson alums will be better prepared to not only help themselves get more out of their careers but to help bolster our national and local economy even further.

“I could not be more proud of this place, these students and the faculty,” he said. “The vision of Clemson and the Zucker family is reaching the next milestone and it’s really exciting.”

A student works in the video production room of the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

A student works in the video production room of the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Currently, the Zucker center offers master’s degrees and doctorates in electrical engineering, computer engineering and mechanical engineering; a Ph.D. in computer science; and a Master of Fine Arts in digital production arts.

Joining Helfner with a master’s in DPA is Garrett McKay. Jason Franz, Charles Fricks and Pedro Luna will receive their master’s degrees in mechanical engineering.

More than five years ago, InterTech Group CEO and philanthropist Anita Zucker and then-Clemson president James F. Barker toyed with the idea of creating a space in the Lowcountry of South Carolina where people could get the quality of a Clemson education without leaving Charleston. Now, its first graduates exit that building with hopes for a brighter future.

“In the Jewish religion we have a word, ‘kvell,’” said Zucker. “I don’t know what the exact translation is, but basically it means you’re swollen with pride. And that’s what I am. I am so filled with pride by being involved philanthropically with Clemson to build a center that was so needed in the Lowcountry.”

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