Kettering University lands $2 million gift to build new innovation center

FLINT, Michigan — A huge $2 million gift will make Kettering University the new home of advanced technology that is nothing short of the stuff once thought of as science fiction.

The donation from Navistar International Corp. will put the university and its students at the forefront of the development of artificial intelligence, vehicles that drive themselves, and mass data systems.

“There is a ripple effect for our future and exciting opportunity for Kettering as a partner for our future success,” said Navistar CEO Troy Clarke, a 1978 Kettering alum who sees the trucking and auto industry in the midst of a paradigm shift. “We have great engineers, but they have experience in the last 10 to 20 years, and we need to invest and be ready for this seismic change that is at our doorstep. In order to focus on tomorrow’s issues and tomorrow's opportunities, we need young minds with tools for the job.”

Half of the donation will create the Navistar International Innovation space inside the planned university Learning Commons, a multi-use student academic area with open spaces to spur collaboration, food services, classrooms and a modern, new library, said Kettering University President Robert McMahan.Of the remaining funds, $750,000 will support new research initiatives and $250,000 will go to scholarships to students in the Chicago area, where the Navistar is located.

“This has impact on multiple levels, but really supports the development of our Learning Commons building as a state-of-the-art center piece of the university where students will come together with staff and industry leaders to work on real-world problems” McMahan said. “And local folks may not realize that we are a cutting-edge research institution. In fact, many of the technologies they use in their cars every day — from power steering to child seats — were developed right here.

“We know through this gift we are going to continue that tradition of innovation.”

Both McMahan and Clarke describe the venture with the analogy of the golden triangle of problem-solving. “When you have the intersection of technology, economics and societal needs, those are the places to invest,” Clarke said. 

Clarke predicts that there will be a dramatic increase in electric and self-driving vehicles by 2025. “Between now and then, 15 to 30 percent of trucks will be electric, so when you think about that timeframe for research for the future, we have immediate needs,” he said.

Kettering University currently has 16 students employed in co-op positions at Navistar, including Edward Houlihan, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. “This partnership and partnerships like it allow you to work with professors and in the co-op with real professionals — especially at Kettering, where if you have an interest in AI, self-drive and machine-learning, you can start experimenting with that technology right from the get-go.”

Read more articles by Jake Carah.

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