Michigan Tech has been clear on our mission from day one. The state's only public university specifically established to drive industry forward, Tech consistently delivers on our promise to supply the leading-edge technology that industry needs.
Autonomous vehicles for unstructured environments. Next-generation composite materials for deep-space missions. Technologies to recycle and reuse electric vehicle batteries. Computer-aided precision medicine to manage unruptured brain aneurysms.
With a commitment to remain true to our identity and purpose, Michigan Tech has been able to respond to shifting global dynamics, instead of allowing outside forces to shift us. The result? Record-breaking research expenditures, burgeoning enrollment, and a solid reputation as Michigan's flagship technological university.
That keen, unwavering internal awareness of purpose is reflected in how Michigan Tech is regarded by our partners in innovation. Here, Marquette native and MICHauto Executive Director Glenn Stevens Jr. traces a lifetime of experiences with Michigan Tech and describes why the University is uniquely positioned to lead the new industrial age and its transformation of the automotive industry.
Just a couple of years ago I stood on top of Brockway Mountain. Miles and miles in each direction, I could see the splendor of the Upper Peninsula's forests, rivers, and inland lakes as I took in the vast expanse of The Big Lake. Its blue was everywhere, and melded into the colors of the setting sun. In the distance I saw a freighter headed to pick up ore from the Iron Range. Nearby me were six students sitting on the hill, laughing and taking it all in. I said hello, and they asked me where I was from. I told them I had grown up in the UP and now lived and worked in Detroit. I asked if they were students and where they came from. They were Huskies. I recall that one was from Waterford, one from Chicago, and another from Ontonagon. They were studying a wide range of subjects that were classic Michigan Tech: engineering, natural resources, and data science. When I asked if they enjoyed the Copper Country and MTU experience, one of them stood up, opened her arms as if to encompass the entire college and UP experience, and exclaimed, "What's not to love about this place?"
Precisely. My grandfather was from Calumet and a visit to the Copper Country was and is something very special. I remember the first time I saw the snow statues at Winter Carnival. Our Marquette travel hockey team was playing games in Dee Stadium one wintry weekend. We drove around the campus and through the snowbank-lined streets of Houghton. We had a burger at the Library Bar. The next summer, my brother and I spent a week at Michigan Tech Summer Hockey Camp. It was a big deal to stay on campus in the dorms, but nothing compared to the first time I saw the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena. To skate on the same ice as the Huskies, well, that was special. In high school we played many games there against the Houghton Gremlins, Hancock Bulldogs, and Jeffers Jets. I always loved looking at the history of MTU hockey on the arena wall. My high school coach, Jerry Sullivan, was commemorated there as an All-American who helped the Huskies win their first national championship in 1962.
Delivering the Value—and Promise—of a Michigan Tech Education
The pandemic brought into sharp focus the need across industries for suppliers of goods and services to deliver on the promises of their brands. Consumers—particularly members of Gen Z, the oldest of whom are enrolled in or entering college—are no longer swayed by static indicators of prestige, like labels or trademarks. Instead, they want a multifaceted return on their investment, whether that is found in a product's purpose, utility, or the overall experience it delivers. Today's prospective college students value opportunity and access. Stability and security. Experiences that make a difference—within themselves and in the greater community.
Now more than ever, students want the distinct experience Michigan Tech provides. The 2021-22 academic year brought a 23 percent increase in first-year student enrollment over fall 2020 and the largest incoming class the University had seen since 1982. For the 2022-23 academic year, Michigan Tech welcomed 7,073 students to campus—including 1,388 first-years, the second-largest class since 1982—and saw overall enrollment increase by 1 percent.
As the years progressed and I settled into a career in the Detroit area, MTU continued to be a presence in my life. It has always been special to see the Huskies at the Great Lakes Invitational tournament downstate, and like many others, I always look forward to the Huskies Pep Band firing up "In Heaven There Is No Beer." But I also see the signs and presence of Michigan Technological University alumni throughout the signature automotive industry in which I am privileged to work. I see the Husky license plates at the GM Tech Center, in Dearborn at Ford, and in countless supplier and technology companies throughout the state. Tech grads are one of the most important forces behind the history, growth, and innovation of our automotive history—and now the mobility revolution.
A Steadfast Tradition of Service to the State of Michigan
It's easy to understand why MTU holds a special place in the hearts and minds of so many people. The entire history of the Copper Country—and the state of Michigan, for that matter—is deeply intertwined with the University. In the late 1800s, the copper mining industry was in need of transformation. Founded as a training ground for mining engineers, Michigan Tech was charged with promoting "the welfare of the industries of the state." This edict has become more than a pillar of operation—it is now a mission that is core to Michigan's future and to developing technologies worldwide.
There is, indeed, much to celebrate about Michigan Tech's unique history and its continuing commitment to provide the research, programs, and graduates that are so critical to our state's economic viability and competitiveness. More than 135 years after its founding, Michigan Tech is embedded in the transformation of the automotive industry—a transformation centered on next-generation mobility.
The economy-shaping crossroads where sustainability and digitalization meet Industry 4.0 are impacting the planet at a pace never before witnessed, requiring a kind of calmly focused tenacity that is pragmatic and purposeful. As Michigan Tech President Rick Koubek stated, the forces currently at work "will impact our entire societal fabric and our planet." Tech's steady, forward-looking course continues to propel big ideas, anticipate what's next, and drive toward ambitious goals like a Husky with their eyes on the puck.
Sustainability and digitalization—the two distinct forces that are transforming Michigan and our industries—are precisely where Michigan Tech is poised to contribute, providing game-changing technological advancement and the skilled, problem-solving workforce to make it happen. The University made a significant commitment to the future when it established the College of Computing in 2019. Computing[MTU] creates a pathway for students, research, and applied technology to help solve the complex problems of mobility in the cyber age. By 2030, 50 percent of a vehicle's cost will be in its electronics, and the average car or truck will utilize over 300 million lines of code. Safety hardware and software continue to proliferate in our transportation systems, and growth in subscription services means that the vehicle is truly digitally enabled and our transportation becomes more an app on wheels. More than 1,000 people lose their lives on Michigan roads annually, and such technology can help us prevent these tragedies.
"MTU's mechanical and electrical engineering firepower have never been more important."
But perhaps even more critical to Michigan's land, water, and people is the University's commitment to being a sustainability leader. In the automotive industry, electrification is not only upon us, it is the dominant force for investment in technology and talent. Somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of all new vehicles in the United States will be fully battery-electric-driven by 2030. Other propulsion technologies like hydrogen fuel cells continue to find their way into the mobility market. The intersection of the energy economy and mobility sector is here, bringing more sustainable energy options than ever before.
Michigan Tech is committed to advancing new technology and sustainability solutions—in its work on campus at the Keweenaw Research Center and Great Lakes Research Center, in the Grand Traverse region with the Freshwater Research and Innovation Center, and in Ann Arbor at the Michigan Tech Research Institute. These impressive footprints strongly position the University and its talent throughout the state.
The mobility industry provides an annual economic contribution to the state of Michigan of over $300 billion. It is our signature industry.
Globally, the automotive industry is roughly a $3 trillion industry. The global mobility industry—with its expansion into connected, electrified, automated, and shared technology—offers a market opportunity of $7 trillion. It is imperative that Michigan, its industries, corporate citizens, and in particular its higher education institutions seize this opportunity.
"Yes, we did put the world on wheels. But we must make sure that we lead in the mobility transformation as well."
As the future of a digitally driven and ecologically friendly industry continues to take shape, Michigan Tech will also play a key role in fostering new companies in the expanding outdoor recreation technology industry. Michigan Tech and institutions like it sit at the very intersection of the state's natural resources, advanced manufacturing, mobility, and outdoor technology innovation.
Education and Community to Meet the Needs of New Generations
To say that our world has changed is the ultimate understatement. The consumption of information has been transformative, technological advancements are breathtaking, and today's kids and young adults learn differently. The needs, values, and interests of current and prospective college students are far different than in the past. One thing remains constant: the experience of human interaction. Michigan Tech provides a human-centered foundation for the future with nine institutional initiatives that prepare our most important asset—our people—for an ever-changing world where both disruption and infinite possibilities are the norm.
I know Michigan Tech is ready to meet the challenge, because I know Michigan Tech. It has been a part of my life for many years. When you grow up in the Upper Peninsula and you play hockey, it just is. When you work with the people of our automotive and transportation industry, it is a given that you will connect with, learn from, and collaborate with Huskies. They are everywhere. I have great friends and colleagues who attended Tech and others who work to support its mission. It is tremendously encouraging to see that research, endowments, and diverse enrollment are steadily growing. Our state's future will be enabled by and driven by people. Like many regions of the globe, we too face many challenges. Michigan's population must be stabilized in order for it to grow. Our state's ability to attract and retain people who invest and build lives in our communities is essential. The digitalization of our economy and the planet's demand for sustainability mean that our citizens must have the skills to thrive in this constant change. Huskies are moving our state forward and leading the future.
About the Author
Stevens has more than 30 years of management, strategy, and operations experience across the automotive, steel, specialty chemicals, and capital equipment industries. For the past 14 years, his career has been focused on serving membership-based organizations, communities, and economic development across Michigan.
Prior to joining the chamber to build MICHauto, Stevens served as senior vice president of membership and sales with the Original Equipment Suppliers Association. He has also held leadership positions with Blue Water Automotive Systems, Kolene Corp., and National Steel Corp. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and an executive MBA from Michigan State University.
Douglas Parks: Portrait of an Industry Leader
One of many Michigan Tech alumni working in the automotive industry, Doug Parks graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1984 and began his career at General Motors. Now GM's executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, Parks was previously:
- Vice president for autonomous and electric vehicle programs from 2016 to 2019
- Vice president of product programs from 2012 to 2016
- Executive director and group vehicle line executive of electric cars (including the Chevy Volt) from 2011 to 2012
- Chief engineer–small cars (including the Chevy Cobalt, Pontiac Pursuit, and Saturn ION and VUE) from 2004 to 2010
- Engineering group manager from 1995 to 2004
Parks also spent three years in Germany as the global vehicle chief engineer for GM's compact vehicles.
As vice president for advanced driver assistance, autonomous, and electric vehicle programs, Parks led the team that developed GM's all-new electric vehicle (EV) architecture—the Ultium EV Platform—and increased the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV's range to 259 miles per full charge through improvements in battery chemistry. He also led the autonomous vehicle engineering team that produced three self-driving test vehicle generations in approximately 16 months.
Parks oversaw the engineering team behind the Cruise AV, a fully autonomous vehicle based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV, currently being used by Cruise for driverless ride hail and delivery services in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Austin. He also launched Super Cruise, the industry's first true hands-free advanced driver assistance system, in 2017.
Parks oversees the team responsible for the development of the Cruise Origin, one of the first purpose-built fully autonomous vehicles to go into production without driver controls and with all the hardware necessary to operate safely on its own. The Cruise Origin will go into production later this year.
Parks earned a master's degree from the University of Michigan in 1988, and lives in Milford, Michigan, with his wife, Christine. They have three children.
APS LABS Leads Automotive Innovation
Michigan Tech's Advanced Power Systems Laboratories (APS LABS) is a multidisciplinary collaborative that fosters research efforts in the development of clean, efficient, sustainable power-systems technologies.
"There are several disruptors occurring simultaneously in the automotive industry, including energy sources and carriers, safety systems, automated and connected technologies, and new models for use and ownership," says Jeff Naber, APS LABS director and the Richard and Elizabeth Henes Endowed Professor in Energy Systems. "These provide challenges and opportunities in many fields for decades to come. It's an exciting area for research and development for Tech and our students. It's no longer just mechanical engineering; there is a larger group of departments and faculty getting involved across Tech."
APS LABS facilities and equipment enable leading-edge research in combustion, engine measurement and exhaust systems, emissions, biomass, power transmission, energy, and rail-related issues.
"Safe, clean, reliable, affordable power and transportation impacts everything we do and is critically important to all our communities, especially those disadvantaged," says Naber.
Innovating Autonomy at the Ends of the Earth
Next door to the APS LABS you'll find the winter test track and military vehicle proving grounds at Michigan Tech's Keweenaw Research Center (KRC). KRC is a PlanetM testing facility partner, and Tech engineering teams work extensively with military and industry partners to vet new vehicle technologies designed for off-road and dangerous conditions. This kind of engineering is what Jeremy Bos, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, calls "autonomy at the ends of the Earth."
The research has global impact. Bos points to data from the World Health Organization that, of the 1.3 million car crashes each year, 93 percent of them are caused by human error. Autonomous and connected vehicles may be able to mitigate up to 80 percent of those crashes. Bos says that can happen when vehicles talk to each other—and also to light posts, traffic signals, bikers via cell phones, and other roadside units. This connected world is known as vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology.
"To have ubiquitous autonomous vehicles, V2X is necessary," says Bos. "If an autonomous vehicle needs to assess a traffic light, it's easier if the signal says what it is and when it will change. It minimizes risk."
Pushing connected and autonomous vehicle technology to the limits will improve the everyday uses of vehicles. The ultimate goal of all autonomous tech is safety, explains Aurenice Oliveira, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who studies the communication systems that power vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) and V2X technology.
"Connected vehicle safety applications reduce crashes by enabling drivers to have more awareness of hazards and situations they may not be able to see," Oliveira says. "Moreover, connected vehicle technologies also have the potential to optimize traffic, reduce congested areas, and promote reduced fuel consumption."
Partnering for Freshwater Research Innovation
Michigan Tech is one of five organizations working to develop a Freshwater Research and Innovation Center in Traverse City, Michigan. The new center will be located on West Grand Traverse Bay on the current site of the Discovery Center & Pier—another project partner, alongside Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), 20Fathoms, and Traverse Connect.
The center will establish the Grand Traverse region as a hub for applied freshwater innovation, offering research, education, commercialization, start-up incubation, and acceleration programs. Phase 1 of center development is currently underway.
Transforming the Outdoor Recreation Industry
Technologies like wearables, outdoor gaming apps, adaptive recreational technologies and equipment, and sophisticated mapping are transforming the outdoor recreation industry, which contributes $10.8 million in added value to Michigan's economy, including almost 10,000 jobs, according to the US Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis. In total, outdoor recreation accounted for 1.8 percent of the US gross domestic product in 2021, with $689 billion in gross output and 4.3 million jobs. From studies that help maintain forest health and wildlife populations, to autonomous underwater vehicles that show us what's on the bottom of the Great Lakes, Michigan Tech's reputation and technology leadership in this industry continues to expand.
"Students at Tech combine their passion for engineering and the great outdoors in ways only Huskies can: they design and develop clean and quiet snowmobiles, innovative skis and snowboards, new products for the bicycle industry, and more."
Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.