NORTH CHARLESTON — Think of it as the 21st century version of the age-old question: “Which came first, the tech boom or the engineers?”

Architect's rendering of the Zucker Family Graduate Education Center.

The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center

On Friday, Clemson University will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open its brand new $21.5 million Zucker Family Graduate Education Center, a 70,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that will help shape the future of the state’s engineering landscape for generations to come. The distinctive glass and steel building is located at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, joining the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center.

The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center offers master’s degrees and doctorates in electrical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering; a Ph.D. In computer science; and a Master of Fine Arts in digital production arts.

Inside the sun-filled, waterfront facility, students will gather in dozens of naturally lit classrooms, all of which offer real-time video conferencing with Clemson’s main campus, varied meeting spaces and a variety of public and private collaboration spaces.

The center also features a video production room, green-screen/motion capture room, virtual reality simulator, a 35-person theater for screening student work or movies and an expansive rooftop garden that will allow students to work in the fresh air.

“This gorgeous new facility is the latest example of Clemson’s ongoing commitment to Charleston and the state of South Carolina, and we are deeply indebted to the Zucker family for their incredible generosity,” said Clemson President James P. Clements. “Our engineering students are preparing to tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing our country, and this facility will contribute significantly to the world-class Clemson education they are receiving.”

Randy Collins, executive director of academic initiatives in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Science, said the Lowcountry of South Carolina, long-known for its tourism and beautiful beaches, is now becoming a hotbed for aerospace and automotive industries.

Zucker Center for Graduate Education interior“Nobody is sitting still,” Collins said. “Businesses are opening. Industry is expanding. There’s a critical need for high-quality graduate education, particularly in the engineering and computing disciplines. We’ve heard over and over the value of personalized interaction with faculty and fellow students. That’s not something you can get online.”

Inside, the Zucker center features glass walls, giant monitors as far as the eye can see and reclaimed wood beams from the dilapidated World War I-era warehouse that sat on the property before ground was broken for the center last year.

Currently, 39 students are enrolled in the various programs. In the next five years, the program could grow to 200 students, 12 faculty, 40 researchers and staff.

Zucker Center interiorThe center is open to industry representatives looking to engage with faculty, students and researchers. General Electric, Savannah River National Laboratory and Choate Construction already have committed to leasing office space there.

Johan Enslin, director of the center, said, “We are excited to be able to offer these new programs that are focused on things like sustainable energy and creating a smarter power grid. And to have industry partners on-site is such a huge advantage, not only to the faculty but to the students as well.”

Long-time supporters of Clemson University Anita Zucker and Jonathan Zucker helped fund the center that bears their family’s name.

“It turned out to be absolutely stunning,” Anita Zucker said. “The architecture, the interior designs, the furnishings … everything is spectacular. I particularly like hearing about what’s going to be done there.

“It’s going to fulfill our family’s vision of being able to repair the world. And by that I mean giving people the opportunity to change their lives with the education Clemson will offer.”

The opening event, open to the public, will feature students, faculty, the Clemson University Tiger Band and the Clemson Tiger. It will take place at 10 a.m. Friday. The Zucker Family Graduate Education Center is located on the Clemson University Restoration Institute campus, 1250 Supply St., North Charleston. The opening ceremony will be streamed live on ClemsonTV.