GREENVILLE — South Carolina’s automotive industry and Clemson University’s reputation are receiving a double shot of prestige with the news that two automotive engineers are bringing home high-profile awards that recognize their educational achievements.

Robert Prucka and Srikanth Pilla, who both work closely with industry, were selected for the 2017 Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. It was the first time since the award began 54 years ago that Clemson has had two winners in a single year.

Robert Prucka, left, and Srikanth Pilla are helping shine a light on the state's auto industry as winners of the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award.

Robert Prucka (left) and Srikanth Pilla are helping shine a light on the state’s auto industry as winners of the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award.

The award recognizes and honors young educators who prepare individuals to meet the challenges that face society. It comes from SAE International, a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries.

Prucka, an associate professor, leads the Deep Orange 9 vehicle prototyping project and does emissions-reduction research for companies that are members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

“Clemson and the state of South Carolina have put a lot of effort into building a workforce for the auto industry in the state,” he said. “This award is an outcome of that. The award is possible only because they realized the vision of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. I’m just an individual, but the award is for the whole program.”

Pilla, an assistant professor, received a $5.81-million award from the Department of Energy to create a carbon-fiber-reinforced, thermoplastics composites, ultra-lightweight automobile door. He also oversees a lab where software-maker Moldex3D has donated 30 licenses worth $1.65 million.

“It’s an honor to win the Teetor award,” Pilla said. “Students and their development, both in career and life, is my biggest motivation to pursue an academic career. Research and teaching innovations are not separate endeavors. They are interconnected and complement one another. With the support of this program and the guidance of industry, empowered faculty members in academia can truly create an engaging, relevant, rigorous and comprehensive educational program for students.”

Prucka and Pilla are faculty members in the department of automotive engineering at Clemson. Both teach and conduct research at CU-ICAR in Greenville.

Zoran Filipi, chair of automotive eEngineering at Clemson, congratulated Prucka and Pilla.

“The award is an outstanding achievement for each,” he said. “This affirms that they are keeping the academia-to-industry pipeline filled with well-prepared engineers.”

This year’s awards brought Clemson’s grand total to seven in the history of the Teetor program, and all remain on Clemson’s faculty. Past winners include: Fadi Abu-Farha, 2016; Beshah Ayalew, 2014; Laine Mears, 2011; Joshua David Summers, 2009; and John R. Wagner, 2002.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said this year’s two winners underscore that Clemson is attracting and retaining top talent in automotive engineering, an area critical to the state’s economy.

“Both work in collaboration with industry to ensure that students are learning the most relevant skills and will be ready to begin contributing immediately upon graduation,” Gramopadhye said. “Having them both win in a single year helps us shine a light not only on Clemson, but also our close relationship with industry collaborators.”

The award is administered by the Teetor Educational Award Committee and consists of a framed certificate, a trip to a major SAE meeting and two years of SAE membership.

Here’s more about this year’s winners:

Robert Prucka

  • Creating a “next-generation” Rallycross racing vehicle with students
  • Research focuses on control algorithms for advanced internal combustion engines
  • What student Rohit Koli said about Prucka: “He has been instrumental in advancing the reputation and the quality of education at Clemson University in the eight years I have known him. The automotive engineering world is characterized by ambition, innovation and competition. He is among the faculty personnel who have stayed congruent to this path while inspiring creativity and sincerity in students.”

Srikanth Pilla

  • Focuses research on creating lightweight materials, particularly polymers, composites and functional ceramics; and thermoelectrics
  • Directs the automotive engineering department’s largest research group, including nine doctoral students, a visiting scholar, three undergraduates and one research scientist
  • Winner of multiple awards, including SME’s Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer (2016) and SAE’s Forest R. McFarland Award (2017)
  • What student Ting Zheng said about him: “Professor Pilla has an inherent passion for education. He sincerely believes that education is the only means to transform one’s life and thus implements it with great honesty. I am very blessed to have had a teacher like him in my very first semester and advisor subsequently. In fact, he is not only my advisor and mentor but also a guide and philosopher in career and life.”