A Clemson University professor who is helping prepare the workforce for an industry that has brought more than 9,000 jobs to South Carolina in seven years is the newest Composites Educator of the Year.

Srikanth Pilla, the Jenkins Endowed Professor of Automotive Engineering and founding director of the Clemson Composites Center, plans to pick up his award this month at the ANTEC conference in Detroit. The award comes from the Composites Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers.

Srikanth Pilla

Srikanth Pilla

Pilla’s specialty, composite materials, are developed to have advantages over more conventional materials. For example, some are lighter yet stronger than steel, reducing the weight of cars and airplanes to improve fuel efficiency.

The advanced materials industry, which includes composite materials, brought 9,300 jobs and $4.3 billion in capital investment to the state from 2011-18, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Pilla is the second Clemson University professor in four years to be named Composites Educator of the Year. Amod Ogale, the Dow Chemical Professor of Chemical Engineering, received the award in 2016.

Pilla has won several awards since arriving at Clemson five years ago, but he said his latest stands out.

“It is great to be listed alongside the people I’ve always admired,” Pilla said. “This award is very special to me. It is a testimony to the fulfillment of what a professor is supposed to do– educational training.”

Pilla’s peers credit him with ensuring that his classroom teaching remains relevant to real-world industry needs. He has also excelled in composites research and is passionate about sustainability.

Pilla has established several new graduate courses and an undergraduate Creative Inquiry course. The courses have included case studies, industry guest lecturers and field trips to show how classroom lessons relate to the real world.

Pilla has also organized symposia that emphasize science writing to enrich students’ communication skills.

Further, he adapted a semester-long course into one more suitable for corporate learning and used it to train groups of employees from BMW.

Pilla’s efforts also extend to educating and mentoring students at the K-12 level. In one program, Pilla brought together K-12, undergraduate and graduate students to develop autonomous, lightweight boats.

The Composites Educator of the Year award recognizes “someone in the educational field (high school, university, or college-level) who has made a significant contribution to the training of students in the composites area,” according to the Society of Plastics Engineers.

Zoran Filipi, chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering, said it is a well-deserved honor for Pilla.

“The award is a testament to Dr. Pilla’s excellence in teaching and mentoring,” Filipi said. “He is committed to growing the workforce to support advanced manufacturing in South Carolina and beyond. I offer Dr. Pilla my heartfelt congratulations.”