College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences

Engineers remember professor who helped found Department of Industrial Engineering


A former Clemson University professor who died at 84 years old is being remembered by his colleagues for playing a central role in creating the Department of Industrial Engineering and supporting students even after his retirement.

James Alan Chisman died March 25 at Clemson Downs, according to his obituary.

James A. Chisman poses with the "Voltswagon" he created in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo.
James A. Chisman poses with the “Voltswagon” he created in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo.

He was a prolific author of not only textbooks and academic articles but also a children’s book, travel memoir and a musical song-and-dance review that was professionally performed in Ireland.

Chisman’s widow, Jeanne Oehler Chisman, said that many of his friends called him a Renaissance man.

“He loved music and musicals,” she said. “He was into antiques. He loved to play tennis and to ski. He was not a braggart– he was modest– and he had many, many friends who loved him. He loved Clemson and was very proud of things he did there.”

News of his death sent ripples of sadness through the Department of Industrial Engineering, from which he retired in 1992 as professor emeritus. He had played a central role in restarting the department in 1983.

“We owe a lot to Jim for the work he did in making the department a reality,” said Bill Ferrell, the Fluor Professor of Industrial Engineering and associate dean of the graduate school. “His perseverance and determination were key in laying the foundation for our success today.”

The department now has more than 700 students and 21 faculty members.

An award named for Chisman is presented annually to a graduating senior in industrial engineering in recognition of all-around excellence.

Chisman took great pride in attending the events where the award was given, Ferrell said. A plaque hanging in Freeman Hall lists one student a year going back to 1985.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said that news of Chisman’s death came with great sadness.

“Dr. Chisman made an impact not only on Clemson University engineering, but more importantly on the countless individuals who learned from him and benefited from his generosity,” said Gramopadhye, who was industrial engineering chair before becoming dean. “On behalf of the college, we wish for comfort and strength for his family and loved ones.”

Chisman was a professor at Clemson for 30 years, according to his obituary. While at Clemson, he served as director of the Systems Engineering and Engineering Technology programs and started the Engineering Technology Department, the obituary states.

After the oil embargo of 1973, Chisman turned his attention to finding new ways of tapping renewable resources and improving the efficiency of technology, according to the 1989 book, “Clemson University College of Engineering– One Hundred Years of Progress” by Laura L. Benjamin.

He “outfitted a donated mobile home with a solar space and water heating system and a windmill-driven electric generator” and moved it around the country on a trailer to test it in different climates, she wrote.

Chisman also converted a Volkswagen to electrical power, Benjamin wrote.

“The Beetle’s metamorphosis into a ‘Voltswagon’ cost around $1,600 and added 200 pounds to the vehicle’s weight,” she wrote. “Its range at 35 mph was 50 miles.”

Chisman went on sabbatical in 1980 to teach in Boston University’s Overseas MBA Program and was a Fulbright Fellow to Ireland in 1987, the obituary states.

Daniel Noneaker, chair of the Holcombe Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said that he wished for peace for Chisman’s family and friends.

“I offer my condolences for their loss,” Noneaker said. “His leadership and pioneering research helped set high standards to which we continue to aspire.”

Chisman published two textbooks in simulation modeling, a biography of an Irish poet, 39 technical articles and 17 general interest articles, according to his obituary. A musical song and dance review based on Victor Herbert’s life that he wrote was performed by a choral group in Cork, Ireland in 1987, the obituary states

Chisman also wrote a children’s book and travel memoir based on some of the experiences he had in visiting 78 countries, according to the obituary.

Scott Mason, acting chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, offered his condolences to Chisman’s family.

“Dr. Chisman’s family and friends have my deepest, sincerest sympathy,” Mason said. “I hope that the love and support from his Clemson Family will bring them peace in this difficult time. His legacy here will live on.”

In addition to his wife, Chisman is survived by four step-children, according to his obituary.

The family will receive friends from 5-7 p.m. March 30 at The McDougald Funeral Home, 2211 N. Main St. in Anderson. The funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. March 31 at St. John’s United Methodist Church with Rev. Dr. Sinclair Lewis and Rev. Dr. Kitty Holtzclaw officiating. Burial will be in Woodland Cemetery in Clemson.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Anderson Area Parkinson’s Support Group, 113 Creek Walk Drive, Anderson, SC 29625, or Helping Hands of Clemson Inc., PO Box 561, Clemson, SC 29633.

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