Carl Zorowski, Reynolds Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) at NC State, passed away on Monday, April 5, 2021.
During a nearly 60-year career in the College of Engineering at NC State, Zorowski has been an influential figure in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the halls of the College’s administration and in the business community. His lifelong love of learning and innovation and his dedication to his students served as a shining example for faculty members in the College.
“Carl’s impact on MAE and on our College was very significant over the five-plus decades that he served as a faculty member and administrative leader at NC State,” said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College. “He was a very warm, generous and caring person who will be missed greatly by those of us in COE who were fortunate to have gotten to know him as a dear colleague and friend.”
In 2015, Zorowski was the inaugural winner of the College’s Faculty Distinguished Service Award.
After earning three degrees in mechanical engineering at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and teaching engineering mechanics and mechanical design there, Zorowski joined the NC State faculty in 1962.
He was an innovator for the College from the start, bringing with him from Pittsburgh his experience with senior design competitions that allowed graduating students a chance to gain real-world experience by designing and building a prototype. He opened the first design project laboratory in Broughton Hall in 1962. That yearning to innovate never left, and years later, he became a leader in the delivery of course materials via CD-ROM and later over the web.
Zorowski served as head of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, as the College’s associate dean for academic affairs and as co-founder and director of the Integrated Manufacturing Systems Engineering Institute (IMSEI), along with work as a consultant to industry. In 1993, he assumed direction of Southeastern University and College Coalition for Engineering Education, a multi-million-dollar National Science Foundation program geared toward revitalizing undergraduate education. Under his leadership, the program had a significant impact on undergraduate engineering education in the Southeast.
While at NC State, Zorowski received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Charles Russ Richards Memorial Award by Pi Tau Sigma and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) (1975), the R.J. Reynolds Award for Excellence from the NC State Engineering Foundation (1989) and the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence from the NC State University Board of Trustees (1999). He was a Fellow of ASME (1987) and the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) (1997).
But his passion was always in the classroom, where his colleagues marveled at his work guiding students to reach their maximum potential as engineers.
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Zorowski co-founded IMSEI in 1983 with Thomas Hodgson, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, in response to a request for proposals for a center from IBM. The company did not choose the proposal, but “they said, ‘well, we’ve done all of this work,’ so they did it anyway,” said Steven Jackson, IMSEI’s current director.
IMSEI offers multi-disciplinary education and practical training opportunities in the theory and practice of integrated manufacturing systems engineering at the master’s level.
Jackson said that at IMSEI, Zorowski was a proponent of having students get real-world experience working with industry.
“He was a mentor and inspiration for me,” Jackson said.
The same was true in a study abroad program in China with Zhejiang University in Hangzhou that Zorowski founded for engineering students in 2007. Students in the program are able to take engineering, international relations and Chinese language courses during a five-week stay. They also work on a design project with Caterpillar, Inc. at one of the company’s manufacturing facilities nearby.
Clifford Griffin, a professor of political science at NC State and now the program’s director, first traveled to China with Zorowski the second year, in 2008.
He said that the program was going well — students were taking classes with NC State faculty members and seeing sites around Hangzhou and in other parts of the country. But Zorowski wanted more of a cultural enrichment experience for the students. What, he wondered, if NC State students could learn and work side-by-side with their engineering student counterparts at Zhejiang?
Sonny Wang, a Hangzhou native who earned his undergraduate engineering degree from Zhejiang and a Ph.D. from NC State, introduced Zorowski to Professor Gu Daqiang, a member of the faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Zhejiang. Working with Daqiang and Wang, whom Zorowski invited to join the program as an assistant, Zorowski added a new element — NC State students and Zhejiang students taking classes together and working together on a design project. This twist makes the Zhejiang program stand out from traditional study-abroad efforts and prepares engineering students to work across cultures, just as they will in a global professional world that demands it.
Griffin and collaborators in the College hope to establish a similar study-abroad program with the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez. Zorowski helped begin the process, which has been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Griffin said that Zorowski worked constantly to improve the program and make it into a more valuable experience for students.
“He was always a calming but reassuring presence, who taught me to see each problem that arose as a solution waiting to be provided,” Griffin said. “He famously said to me, repeatedly, ‘Clifford, we are in the solutions business.’”
Griffin also described Zorowski as a wonderful travel companion.
“He was very serious about his work, but also very serious about the experience,” he remembered.
In retirement, Zorowski was able to spend more time on his twin passions for amateur motorsports and travel with his wife, Louise.
As an emeritus faculty member, he continued to teach graduate and undergraduate courses in mechanical design for assembly, design of strength and endurance and mechanical design engineering.