The first two of several degree programs that will be offered at the new Zucker Family Graduate Education Center in North Charleston have been announced.
Clemson University will offer a doctorate in computer science and a master’s degree in digital production arts at the $21.5 million facility when it opens in the fall of 2016.
Eileen Kraemer, director of Clemson’s School of Computing, said the first two degree programs are just the beginning.
“The digital production arts (degree) will probably be the first out of the gate, but by the fall of 2016, we hope to have a presence for all of the programs,” Kraemer said, referring to all of Clemson’s graduate-level engineering programs.
Students can begin applying for the Lowcountry programs beginning this fall, and Kraemer said the goal is to have a 10-student starting class for the digital production arts degree, which would eventually scale up to about 70. An additional 200 students are expected over time for the graduate engineering programs.
Two professors are already scheduled to move from the Clemson area to Charleston to teach classes for the degrees, including Robert Geist, who is the interim director of the digital production arts program.
Geist has taught at Clemson for more than 30 years and was credited in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for his visual effects work. He also co-founded the digital production arts program at Clemson, which prepares students to do animation, visual effects and electronic gaming work.
“Our graduates go to lots of the studios, of course, and gaming companies,” he said. “They go to DreamWorks, and they go to Pixar and Disney. They go to Industrial Light & Magic, which is Lucasfilms, as well.”
Since the program started in 1999, more than 150 alumni of the program have garnered film credits in movies including Frozen, The Croods and How to Train Your Dragon 2, according to the university.
Creating “everything that’s fake” in a movie — most of the water in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic was created by a university alumnus, for example — doesn’t come cheap for studios, according to Geist.
“I’m sure those who are out there for a few years are making over $100,000. I would imagine the starting salaries are in the 80s somewhere,” he said.
The new center, which is expected to be 70,000 square feet, is under construction near the Clemson University Restoration Institute on the former naval shipyard in North Charleston.
On top of the $21.5 million building price tag, Nikolaos Rigas, executive director of the institute, said it will take several million dollars more to get the programs up and running.
“I think there will probably be in the order of another $5 million to $10 million invested in equipment, startup packages to get professors here, hiring and things like that invested just in the educational programs themselves,” Rigas said. “Obviously those professors then bring in more money to set up their labs.”
Students can expect to pay the same tuition at the North Charleston campus as they would if they were pursuing the same program at the Clemson campus, Rigas said.