College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Clemson University forms new school as globe switches to electric vehicles


The South’s fast rise as a leader in the building of electric vehicles and the batteries to power them is helping drive Clemson University’s decision to form a new school that brings together its mechanical and automotive engineers.

The new School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering puts the departments of mechanical engineering and automotive engineering under one umbrella, better positioning Clemson for innovation and education in a number of areas, including mobility, energy and advanced manufacturing, all cornerstones of the South Carolina economy.

Headshot of Zoran Filipi.
Zoran Filipi is the founding director of the School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering.

The founding director of the new school is Zoran Filipi. He was chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering for nearly seven years before vacating his seat to become founding director of the Virtual Prototyping of Ground Systems (VIPR-GS) Center, a position he still holds.

Filipi will be the top administrator in a strategically important school, with most mechanical engineers located primarily on the main campus in Clemson and most automotive engineers at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in Greenville.

The school, first approved by the Board of Trustees in October 2021, is home to 66 faculty members and has the largest enrollment in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, with about 780 undergraduates and 400 graduate students.

Clemson University President Jim Clements said mechanical and automotive engineering at Clemson are entering a new era.

“The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering will continue to position Clemson University as a national leader in academics and research as well as strengthen key industry partnerships,” Clements said. “The workforce of the future is rapidly changing. Opportunities for students to engage in experiential learning and interdisciplinary research, along with faculty and industry’s need for innovation, entrepreneurship, and discovery will be key to meeting the demands of South Carolina and beyond. Dr. Zoran Filipi, the school’s founding director, is an exceptional leader, and will utilize his expertise and experience in leading the school forward.”

Bringing the mechanical and automotive engineering departments under one umbrella better positions them for collaborative, high-impact research.

Areas of expertise in the new school include autonomy, composite materials, computational modeling and simulation, flow and turbulence, human-robot teams, smart materials, systems integration and vehicle electrification.

Atul Kelkar will continue to serve as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, a position he has held since 2018. Laine Mears, who took over for Filipi in January 2022, is the new chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering.

Angie Leidinger, senior vice president for external affairs and senior advisor to the Board of Trustees, said the school will play a key role in providing South Carolina with the engineering leadership it needs to continue growing its economy.

“The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering positions us for the future as we partner with private companies and state and federal governmental entities to create industry leaders and innovators of tomorrow,” she said. “The auto industry is going through a sea change, and the partnership between these two departments will help us meet evolving needs. I congratulate Dr. Filipi and look forward to working with him in his new role.”

Congratulations for Filipi also came from Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Tony Wagner, executive vice president for finance and operations.

“The future is in interdisciplinary research, and creating the School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering is a strategically important move for Clemson University and the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences,” they wrote in a joint statement. “The new school will position us for academic advancement, including high-impact research and educational programs. We are fortunate to have a gifted leadership team in place, including founding director Zoran Filipi.”

Filipi began work in Clemson’s automotive engineering department in 2012, serving as Timken Endowed Chair in Vehicle System Design. As a researcher and educator, he has worked at the forefront of making the transition from the traditional combustion engine to vehicles that run on near-zero carbon fuels.

He is a leading expert in advanced engine concepts and alternative powertrains, including electric and hydraulic hybrids.

Three individuals wearing masks control a robotic arm with a hand-held device.
The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering is expected to better position Clemson for innovation and education in a number of areas, including advanced manufacturing.

Filipi in 2015 became the second chair in the history of the Department of Automotive Engineering, following its founding chair, Imtiaz Haque. Under Filipi’s leadership the automotive engineering department achieved multi-fold growth in its research enterprise and solidified its world-class reputation for innovation in engineering education and excellence in research.

Filipi was instrumental in forming VIPR-GS, which is part of a research partnership aimed at developing innovative virtual prototyping tools to design the next generation of on- and off-road vehicles, with the U.S. government committing up to $100 million.

He received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Belgrade in 1992 and joined the University of Michigan in 1994.

Filipi is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Automotive Engineers. His honors include the society’s Forest R. McFarland Award and The Institution of Mechanical Engineer’s Donald Julius Groen Award.

Among those throwing their support behind the new school are Kelkar and Mears.

“I look forward to working with Zoran, Laine and the college leadership team to launch the school and make it one of the nation’s best-known and well-respected producers of mechanical and automotive engineers,” Kelkar said. “The importance of our work cannot be overstated. We are creating leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs of the future.”

Mears said the school is well-positioned to build on both departments’ previous successes.

“The school provides a framework to leverage the departments’ complementary talents to achieve greater impact,” Mears said. “I am excited to work with Zoran, Atul and the college to provide South Carolina with the engineering leadership it deserves.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said he offered Filipi his wholehearted congratulations on his new role as the school’s director.

“The School of Mechanical and Automotive Engineering strengthens the college’s position as we pursue new research opportunities and provide students with impactful educational experiences,” Gramopadhye said. The school will be in good hands with Zoran as director and Atul and Laine as department chairs.”

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