University of South Carolina and Clemson Awarded New Center of Economic Excellence

August 31, 2007

Columbia, SC – August 31, 2007 — The review board that oversees the state’s Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEE) Program has approved state funding for a new Center of Economic Excellence. The CoEE Program grants awards to the state’s three research universities (Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina) to create Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEEs), along with associated endowed professorships, in technology-based fields that are likely to enhance the state’s knowledge economy.

The newly approved SeniorSMART™ CoEE is a collaboration between the University of South Carolina (USC) and Clemson University, with Health Sciences South Carolina (HSSC) contributing as a major non-state matching partner.  The new CoEE will focus on multidisciplinary research to foster independence for senior citizens. The Center’s research will fall under three major themes: SHARP BRAIN (helping seniors maintain intellectual activity); SMART WHEELS (promoting independent mobility outside the home for seniors); and SMART HOME (helping seniors maintain independent mobility inside the home). In total, the SeniorSMART™ CoEE received a $5 million award, which must be matched dollar-for-dollar by private, federal or municipal funds.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, South Carolina’s senior (over-65) population is projected to grow by 133% between 2000 and 2030. As the Baby Boomers age, such a profound demographic shift will stress the state’s physical and financial infrastructure. Unless society devises new ways to promote independence for older adults, the health care system and nursing homes will soon be hard pressed to accommodate the 80-and-over population.

Dr. Paul Eleazer, professor of Internal Medicine at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, will serve as the Principal Investigator of the project, and will work with Dr. Dennis Poole, dean of the USC College of Social Work; Dr. William Logan, Director of Geriatrics at the Greenville Hospital System; Dr. Victor Hirth, USC/Palmetto Geriatrics; Dr. Johnell Brooks, Clemson University; Drs. Harriett Williams and James Laditka, USC Arnold School of Public Health; and Judy Baskins, RN, Palmetto Health/USC. 

Dr. Eleazer said, “Researchers at the SeniorSMART™ CoEE will take advantage of the University of South Carolina’s engineering, social work and medical schools and will work to develop new ways of retrofitting residences so that the elderly can stay in their own homes longer and enjoy a better quality of life. In addition, they will conduct research at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) to develop cars that help older adults retain their ability to drive safely as they continue to age.” 

The CoEE will primarily be housed at the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus, with additional research taking place at Clemson and the Greenville Hospital System. Health Sciences South Carolina has already announced that it will provide a portion of the required non-state match.

The SeniorSMART™ CoEE will support three endowed chairs: two at USC, one in Community and Social Support and the other in Memory and Brain Function; and one at Clemson with a research emphasis on driving ability and physical functioning in older adults.

“South Carolina has an excellent opportunity to become nationally competitive in the area of smart mobility,” said Harris Pastides, Vice President for Research & Health Sciences at South Carolina. “The SeniorSMART™ CoEE leverages core competencies at our state’s research universities to help us become a leader in this high-growth industry.”

“This Center will address a critical problem for the nation and especially for South Carolina and our surging retiree population,” said CoEE Review Board Chair Paula Harper Bethea. “As increasing numbers of people reach their senior years of life, it’s essential to provide ways for them to maintain their independence as long as possible. The approval of this Center is an important step in taking care of our aging population.”

“The SeniorSMART™ Center will capitalize on and enrich some of the major research strengths in South Carolina, especially in automotive design and gerontology,” said Chris Przirembel, Clemson Vice President for Research and Economic Development. “We believe that the outcome of this Center’s research will be commercial products and services that can offer significant benefit to South Carolina citizens.”

The S.C. Centers of Economic Excellence Program was established by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2002, with $200 million designated from the South Carolina Education Lottery Account to fund the program through 2010. The legislation authorizes the state’s three public research institutions (Clemson, MUSC and USC) to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina’s economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded between $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with federal, private or municipal funds. The program also supports CoEE endowed chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence. By investing in talent and technology, the CoEE Program is designed to help fuel the state’s knowledge economy, resulting in higher paying jobs and an improved standard of living in South Carolina.

To receive funding for a CoEE, the research universities submit proposals that undergo a three-tier review process. Each proposal is first subjected to a technical review by field experts. After studying the technical review scores, the CoEE Review Board decides which proposals qualify for evaluation by an onsite review panel. This external review panel is composed mainly of senior research officials from Association of American University institutions. The review panel visits each university, hears presentations on each proposal and interviews investigators and other university personnel. The review panel submits a final report, with recommendations for funding, to the CoEE Review Board. The Review Board then votes on which new Centers of Economic Excellence to fund.

HSSC, a public-private partnership of Clemson University, Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, Palmetto Health, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, and the University of South Carolina, works to advance health science education and research