GM Foundation continues longtime support of FIRST, Kettering

Oct 3, 2013

The Connie and Jim John Recreation Center at Kettering University was packed with hundreds of high school students from around Michigan competing in the annual Kettering Kickoff FIRST Robotics competition on Sept. 21.

Students sitting in the bleachers who, as a part of teams or as individuals, have been impacted by General Motors’ longtime support of FIRST and other initiatives that enhance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs were asked to come down to the FIRST playing field for a photo. By the time students finished making their way to the field, the once-packed bleachers in the recreation center were nearly empty.

Students sitting in the bleachers who, as a part of teams or as individuals, have been impacted by General Motors’ longtime support of FIRST and other initiatives that enhance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs were asked to come down to the FIRST playing field for a photo.

The GM Foundation continued its support of FIRST and a variety of other Kettering programs at the event. Gerald Johnson ’85, GM North America Manufacturing vice president and Kettering’s key executive at GM, gave a signal and the robot from the Kettering-backed Metal Muscle FIRST team, transported a check for $110,000 to Kettering University President Robert K. McMahan.

“The GM Foundation has been instrumental in their support of a variety of Kettering University initiatives, including FIRST,” said Kettering University President Robert K. McMahan. “GM’s support of students in these programs that promote STEM education is truly inspirational. It opens new doors and gives new opportunities to students of all different backgrounds and introduces them to STEM concepts.”

This year’s GM Foundation grant will support several exciting programs, including some new initiatives.

As part of its commitment to promoting diversity in STEM fields, part of the grant will help Kettering Allies, the University’s LGBTQ student club, launch an oSTEM chapter. oStem -- Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math ( -- is a national society “educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQA communities in the STEM fields.” The mission of the organization fits with GM’s goal to foster more diversity in the industry. Three colleges – University of Michigan, Western Michigan and Michigan Tech – have established oSTEM chapters in Michigan. Albion College, Lawrence Tech and Michigan State University are currently in the process of forming chapters.

Other programs that help provide more opportunities to minorities that will continue to receive support from this year’s GM Foundation grant are Academically Interested Minds (AIM) and Lives Improve Through Engineering (LITE). GM has been a longtime supporter of both programs.

“It’s exciting for the GM Foundation to be able to support programs like FIRST, AIM, LITE and the many other programs Kettering has in place to help produce the next generation of industry leaders,” Johnson said. “We believe in innovation at GM. It’s great to be able to support programs that help prepare young people for those roles.”

The grant will also support another important GM initiative – finding more engineers capable of working with plastics. The grant will help Kettering University faculty member Mark Richardson, who is currently working with the GM, Ford, Chrysler and AutoDesk to create a new minor to fill the rapidly growing need for plastics engineers in the auto industry. He’s helping develop curriculum that supports an interdisciplinary minor in plastics between the Industrial and Mechanical Engineering Departments. It is in direct response to a need for a pipeline of qualified plastics engineers.

Another new initiative this year’s grant will help is supporting the Kettering University Robotics Team (KURT). KURT team members, Kettering students, design, build and program a robot to compete in the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC). The IGVC “offers a design experience that is at the very cutting edge of engineering education. It is multidisciplinary, theory-based, hands-on, team implemented, outcome assessed and based on product realization. It encompasses the very latest technologies impacting industrial development and taps subjects of high interest to students.” As a result, students who join KURT gain experience using the latest in technology, managing large projects and collaborating in a team-oriented environment in order to solve problems. The team will allow the many Kettering students who participate in FIRST during high school to continue developing skills in robotics at the college level.

“Industry needs talented young people like you,” Johnson told students at the Kettering Kickoff. “We need great young leaders with a wide variety of skills to help take this country and this world forward.”

Other programs the grant will help support:

  • Kettering Awareness Program. This program introduces high schools with significant populations of students of color, in close proximity to co-op partners, to Kettering University, by connecting with high school guidance counselors.
  • Computer Engineering Summer Day Camp. This is a Kettering-founded pre-college program that will expand. The Computer Engineering Summer Day Camp V2.0 is a weeklong day camp for students in the 11th and 12th grades designed to meet the growing demand of student interest in computer engineering.
  • SAE. Kettering University has four SAE competition teams -- Formula, Aero, Clean Snow and Baja. SAE programs enable students to utilize hands-on problem solving engineering skills by developing and building competitive student SAE design series vehicles.
  • ACT Prep Course and FIRST Robotics Center (FCC). The ACT Preparatory Program was created and designed specifically for FIRST participants based on a need for talented students to improve their ACT scores in order to attend elite STEM schools. ACT Preparatory classes will be offered to all students who are part of the Mid-Michigan Robotics Alliance (MMRA), members of urban FIRST Robotics teams housed in the FCC and members of Kettering’s FIRST Robotics team, Metal Muscle.

These Kettering initiatives all fit the GM Foundation’s mission to fuel the imaginations and ambitions of today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders through scholarship and outreach programs. The support of the GM Foundation allows Kettering to continue exposing students from diverse backgrounds to the endless possibilities of STEM careers.