College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences; Graduate School

Mechanical engineer Deon Wallace, Jr. draws inspiration from ‘Star Wars’ as he pursues a Ph.D.


Deon Wallace remembers watching the original 1977 “Star Wars” movie and playing his older brother’s “Knights of the Old Republic” Xbox game when he was young. They proved to be sparks of inspiration that years later would lead him to Clemson University to study mechanical engineering.

“That was my first experience of looking at something and thinking, ‘Wow, this is really cool,'” Deon said. “When I looked into it more, I realized that engineers were heavily involved in the process of making rockets that go into space. Plus, I always liked math and science anyway, so I figured why not apply?”

Deon Wallace, far left, and his friends from Clemson Rocket Engineering take a moment to show their Clemson pride in the New Mexico desert.

Apply he did, and if academics were the movies, the Force would be strong with this one.

Deon received a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Clemson in May and is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the same discipline.

He started literally reaching for the heavens as an undergraduate. Deon was a member of the Clemson Rocket Engineering club for three years, including two as flight dynamics lead, and he had the chance to see a rocket he helped create blast off from the New Mexico desert in an annual competition.

As a Ph.D. student, Deon is focusing on thermal protective systems, which could help spacecraft and hypersonic aircraft withstand intense heat.

Deon was encouraged to go for a Ph.D. and apply for the Bridge to Doctorate program by Dr. Oliver Myers, associate dean of inclusion and equity in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

Deon Wallace and the members of Clemson Rocket Engineering pose with their rocket.

Deon is in the program’s first cohort of 12 students. The program began this semester and provides financial and peer support to its participants.

Dr. Myers, also a mechanical engineer and “Star Wars” fan, serves as Deon’s Ph.D. advisor.

Deon was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and moved to Columbia when he was 6 years old. He is the son of Deon Wallace, Sr. and Sonia Manning and the third of five siblings– Jarrion Wallace, Camden Cooper, Bre’Al Wallace, Darius Wallace and Seniya Wallace.

After graduation, Deon would like to work for a national lab or go into academia. He is also interested in starting a business based on his work with thermal protective systems.

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