MichAuto > Blog > Media Coverage > Driving Force

Driving Force

March 14, 2023

Glenn Stevens Jr., Executive Director of MichAuto and Vice President of Automotive and Mobility Initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber, penned a piece for Michigan Technological University’s 2023 Tech Magazine. Stevens 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.

Read the full piece below.

2023 Tech Magazine, Michigan Technological University
Glenn Stevens Jr. 

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.

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.