Dr. John Wheeler, Furman University
MADE in SC Workforce Development

Dr. John Wheeler, Professor of Chemistry and Associate Provost for Integrative Science at Furman University is a MADE in SC co-PI, Furman University institutional Director, and the Director of Workforce Development.  Since 2008, Wheeler has served as the inaugural director of Furman’s Office of Integrative Research in the Sciences, and is a former recipient (2015) of the South Carolina Governor’s Award for Excellence in Research at a Predominantly Undergraduate Institution. He served as Interim Director for the SC EPSCoR State Office from September 2015 - December 2016, and has served on the State EPSCoR Committee since 2013.

The Workforce Development Plan of MADE in SC engages a diverse group of South Carolina institutions that bring complementary approaches and expertise to the project through strategic faculty hiring, student training, and development program across the broad spectrum of the MADE in SC institutions. To satisfy the growing need for a qualified, well-trained materials workforce into the next decades and improve STEM career preparation for SC students from all backgrounds, MADE in SC makes significant contributions by adding new curricula extending from high school to graduate programs, coupled with high capacity research and training opportunities that emphasize diversity. The initiative will further impact the vocational/manufacturing community through the training devices developed at Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SiMT), a subsidiary of FDTC.

While the institutions conduct their own workforce development activities, Dr. Wheeler coordinates the activities of a team composed of Dr. Maria Gelabert of Winthrop University, Dr. Derrick Swinton of Claflin University, and Dr. John Kaup of Furman University that ensures the goals of the MADE in SC are met in the areas of new faculty hiring, undergraduate student research, diversity, curriculum development and teacher training. After three years of the MADE in SC project, the institutions have achieved and sometimes exceeded the pre-set goals of all these areas. Dr. Wheeler also coordinates the activities of the MiSC’s Industry Engagement and Advisory Board (IEAB).

At the institutional level, Furman has remained very active in undergraduate research training since the beginning of the project. During the first three years, Furman MiSC faculty have engaged 30 MADE in SC undergraduate research fellows across all three Thrust areas and the MCC, including visiting students from Benedict College in 2018 and 2019. In addition, a total of 19 high school teachers have been supported through the RET program administered by Kaup (Furman) including 4 in Summer 2020, even with the reduced access to labs caused by COVID restrictions.

To date, six Furman faculty have been actively involved in student mentoring in the MCC (Shields, new addition June 2020) and Thrusts 1 (Anderson, Wagenknecht), 2 (Goess, Petty) and 3 (Hanks, Thrust Leader). The scientific progress from high-level engagement with undergraduate colleagues has resulted in 5 publications in the most recent reporting period, including two student co-authors on a cover article in Organometallics (Wagenknecht), and 28 regional, national and international scientific presentations delivered by both faculty and undergraduates. MADE in SC faculty at Furman have also enjoyed significant competitive success in recent NSF proposal submissions, including three funded MRI awards (computational cluster, Shields, PI; NMR; flow cytometer, Hanks, co-PI; Hanks, co-PI); three funded NSF RUIs (Anderson, Shields, Petty); and a Track-2 NSF S-STEM award (Wheeler and Kaup).

In response to the need to develop increased undergraduate focus on the MGI curriculum, three Furman courses were revised this past year to incorporate enhanced lecture content covering photosensitizers and optoelectronics, new computational models and new lectures (6) in the field of materials chemistry. In addition, Prof. Cynthia Burrows (University of Utah) and Prof. Hanno zur Loye (UofSC) served as the invited speakers in Chemistry’s Southern Lectureship series, drawing over 100 students, faculty and members of the public for a plenary address as well as departmental seminars.

November 2020