Built by Flint, serving the world: Kettering University celebrates 100 years

FLINT, Michigan — Over the last 100 years Kettering University has gone by different names, including the Flint Institute of Technology and several variations of General Motors Institute and GMI. Throughout that time and regardless of the name, the university has been inherently tied to the city that is its home.

“We were founded at the time as the automotive industry in Flint, by the same people in an incredible era of innovation and creativity. I mean this area at the time was the Silicon Valley of the United States,” University President Robert McMahan says.

The university announced plans to celebrate its centennial with a free community event in partnership with Beats x Beers founder Brandon Corder, a Flint-based music entrepreneur who recently brought Wale to the Capitol Theatre. The event will feature different stages and acts with a national musical artist to be announced at a later date as well as a full slate of other events for all ages.

“Kettering’s partnership and involvement with the Flint community are a major part of the university’s past and future,” McMahan said during the announcement of Kettering’s centennial celebration earlier this month.

Standing at the podium in the main campus hall, McMahan took the audience back in time to the founding of the university on October 20, 1919. “People were flooding into this area, companies were being created, and there were a lot of entrepreneurs,” he said. “We tend to think of these leaders — the Sloans, the Motts, the Chevrolets, the Buicks — we tend to think of them as these grey-haired scions of industry,” he said. “When this university was created, when this industry was created, these were young men and women with crazy ideas doing crazy things — inventing things, testing them out, trying them out, seeing them fail, and going back and doing them again.”

It also gave birth to Kettering’s unique teaching and learning model integrating an intense academic curriculum with applied professional experiences. The university is routinely ranked among the best engineering programs in the nation by U.S. News and World reports. 
“This was a time of rapid of technological change,” said Sue Davies, vice president of University Advancement and External Relations. “Kettering and our educational model was created as a blueprint for how to train the most talented, creative, technical leaders to meet those rapidly changing industry needs.”

Greg Miller, director of Archives and Special Collections, noted that as the birthplace of General Motors, the automaker had 75,000 to 85,000 employees in the cities in the 1950s and 60s. “It really speaks to the impact of what happened here and the brain trust that this university has produced throughout the years including many CEOs and leaders at GM and other industries,” Miller said. 

Well beyond the industry highs and the lows, the university has remained a steadfast community partner, McMahan noted. In recent years, the university has played a critical role in developing the University Avenue Corridor Coalition, bringing businesses to the community, saving Atwood Stadium, building University Square park, and cleaning up blight. 

“Kettering is a great example of how partners engage,” said Tim Herman, CEO of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce. “The campus redevelopment activity strategically connects with other community development projects like the Flint River restoration project and the walkable areas around the University Avenue Corridor.” 

Those projects are key to economic development initiatives in the city — which Flint Mayor Karen Weaver also heralded. 

“From GMI to Kettering, this institution has been a priceless community partner and key integral part to our city’s history — but they will also continue to be actively engaged in our future as our story of the greatest comeback in history. Together we will move Flint forward,” Weaver said. 

Kettering will host its community celebration at Atwood Stadium, a historic stadium preserved and renovated by the university. The free festival runs 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 20, immediately following the Atwood Stadium Races.

The day will include attractions for all ages, including food, games, bounce houses, and a car show featuring muscle, custom and classic cars.

“The centennial marks much more that just a celebration of our past. It offers us the opportunity to look forward at the critical role Kettering can and will play in shaping the future of our community, state and nation,” McMahan said. 

For more information, kettering.edu/celebrating100

Read more articles by Jake Carah.