Tag Archives: Ford

Pandemic requires colleges and universities to develop a new education norm

Daimeon Stevenson, Jr., an electromechanical maintenance technician student at Gateway Technical College

Ready or not

Derrick McCants doesn’t see the wisdom of reopening classrooms this fall. The 21-year-old has been paying close attention to news related to COVID-19 coming from the media and his school but isn’t convinced that resuming in-person classes so soon is best.

Derrick McCants  headshot, African American male youth, short hair wearing orange hoodie

Derrick McCants Junior at Florida State University, Tallahassee

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable being around mass quantities of people,” said McCants, a junior at Florida State University in Tallahassee. “I just don’t believe we have this pandemic figured out.”

McCants, who is working toward a degree in athletic training, takes social distancing seriously and has been limiting himself to interactions with people who also “do the right things.” Having to be around those who don’t could be a recipe for disaster, he said, especially since students come from so many regions within and outside the United States.

“Some people might not have been social distancing, and it’s tough to get people to wear masks,” McCants said. “We would need to decrease class size. Maybe put two empty seats between people in the class environment.”

These are just the sorts of issues that administrators at many of the 5,300 post-secondary schools in the United States are trying to puzzle out for staff, faculty and their more than 14 million students, with guidance from their states and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, the coronavirus is significantly hampering college and university finances, resulting in planned layoffs and budget cuts at many schools.

Preparing to pivot

In a recent survey of 262 colleges and universities, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) found that nearly 60 percent are considering or have decided to remain completely online this fall.

The California State University system intends to continue with online-only courses for most of its 23 campuses, affecting half a million students. Two other institutions in the state—the University of California, Berkeley and UCLA—may have students returning to some of their 10 campuses.

Michael Wright headshot, white adult, receding hairline, gray at temples of brown hair, wearing dark jacket, blue shirt and tie with Wayne State lapel pin

Michael Wright, vice president of communications and chief of staff, Wayne State University


“The restart is far more complex than the shutdown because there are so many different scenarios,” said Michael Wright, vice president of communications and chief of staff at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. WSU is trying to plan for a variety of unknowns, Wright said, including having far fewer students returning in the fall or more students than expected showing up.

“We know people will be uncomfortable even if the governor says it’s OK to open, and we’ve heard from students who want to get back in the classroom,” Wright said.

Either way, he said, WSU will be back in business come September. “We’re Wayne State Warriors, and we hope to get back on campus.”

Albeit with caution. The school doesn’t want students or faculty to be in lecture halls with large numbers of people, Wright said. “So, we suspect we’ll phase in the return with online and classroom instruction within social distancing guidelines,” he said.

Two white females wearing face masks and latex gloves flank cart filled with books

Wayne State University School of Social Work student Colleen Elsbernd (left) and Joanne Sobeck, School of Social Work Associate Dean for Research, donate disinfected books to the Detroit Medical Center as a “rolling library” for COVID-19 patients. Photo courtesy of Wayne State University

During a recent Zoom luncheon, WSU President Roy Wilson told students and alumni the school created a restart committee with nine subcommittees that are examining housing, dining services, testing recommendations and more. The university will be designating space in residence halls for students needing quarantine.

Understanding the importance of the college experience, Wayne State’s plans to welcome incoming freshmen include virtual small groups that allow students to connect before school reopens.

“We are going to be guided by what’s safe,” Wilson said. “I want to be sure I can look any parent in the eye and say, ‘Your child will be safe.'”

The school is prepared to pivot back to online or remote-only courses should another wave of coronavirus cases arise, Wright said.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, also plans to bring back students. Its fall semester, however, is scheduled to start in early August, two weeks before the semester typically begins. The semester also will end earlier, in case a second surge of coronavirus cases occurs in the late fall, as health officials predict.

Like Wayne State, Notre Dame will alter its plans and go online-only if necessary.

The University of Pittsburgh thinks online classes are the likeliest scenario for its 34,000 students, at least until a coronavirus vaccine becomes likely. Still, the university is looking at other options.

Thankfully for Gateway Technical College in Racine, Wisconsin, about 30 percent of its programs already had an online component. Gateway primarily provides occupational, skills-based programs that emphasize hands-on learning through labs—such as nursing, automotive, aviation, welding, manufacturing and information technology.

When the pandemic hit, the school and its nearly 23,000 students went completely virtual, with online lectures and other virtual components.

White, blonde female stirs blue liquid in labratory

Civil engineering student Elizabeth conducts a fresh water lab experiment at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, prior to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Gateway Technical College

Bryan Albrecht headshot

Bryan Albrecht President, Gateway Technical College

“We always taught aviation courses through flight simulators,” said Gateway President Bryan Albrecht. The school, he noted, already offered virtual welding, law enforcement and health care simulations, among others.

Still, the communication skills gained through in-person learning are critical. “For example, law enforcement professionals need to have communication skills and be able to read body language,” Albrecht said. “Nursing is the same.

“You can do a lot with simulation, but nothing is better than the feel of holding someone’s hand.”

For summer and fall semesters, Gateway Technical faculty are developing a hybrid program that allows classes to stay online as much as possible. There will be two engineering programs, Albrecht said, one completely online and another with a face-to-face component.

Overall, the college plans to decrease the number of students in a lab to 10 from 17. In addition, Gateway is adjusting class schedules so fewer students overall will be on campus at any given time.

Leaders at the University of Kentucky recently asked the public to comment on its reopening plans. Administrators, who are considering requiring face masks in cafeterias and classrooms, say they would shorten the semester if it has a “normal” restart. The university also would adhere to social distancing in classrooms and encourage outdoor classes.

Another plan would involve starting in-person classes a few weeks later and lengthening class times. A hybrid plan would include starting with online classes and transitioning into in-person classes.

Donald Tuski headshot

Donald Tuski President, College for Creative Studies

Then, of course, there’s an online-only plan.

Previously, online learning was a challenge at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies because art students were used to working in studios. However, Tuski said, they’ve adapted and become even more creative about how to present their work.

For instance, students tasked with developing clay models to help brand the new Ford Mustang learned to develop videos and animation instead.

“For an art design student, the quality of their portfolio is the most important thing,” Tuski said. “Since they missed out, we’re allowing some students—even graduating seniors—to come back in the last two weeks of July and part of August to use the studios.”

For Fall, CCS plans to start in-person classes and studio courses on Aug. 31—with appropriate social distancing. On-campus instruction would end on Nov. 25. After Thanksgiving break, students would continue with remote-only learning until the end of the fall term.

“We’ve really tried to figure out what students need to be successful,” Tuski said.

(The Chronicle of Higher Education is compiling a searchable list of college plans.)

Seven male and female students working on clay models with instructor advising

Design students developing clay models at the College of Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, before the pandemic pushed learning online. Photo courtesy of College for Creative Studies

The budget toll

As of this writing, more than 40 million people in the U.S. had filed for unemployment benefits; overall spending continued to fall; and property tax payments, in some states, have been deferred. All of which means impending cuts to state and federal budgets, a drop in donations and decreased enrollment in colleges and universities. Moreover, analysts expect declines in state support as schools look to weather the COVID-19 storm.

In Detroit, CCS provided prorated housing and dining refunds and refunded winter semester resource and graduation fees when the pandemic shut its classrooms. This summer, CCS plans to offer free housing for students living beyond a 50-mile radius as well as workshops.

However, such support—paired with supplying students with the technology they need to learn remotely while enrollment numbers and endowment donations drop—takes its toll.

Among the colleges and universities surveyed, the AACRAO found that fall enrollment for continuing students dropped 44% and fall residence hall renewals fell 32%. Now, colleges and universities, like companies across the country, are announcing layoffs, furloughs and other budget cuts.

CCS announced it would lay off 25 staff members. In Ohio, Bowling Green State University, which is projecting a $29 million budget deficit this year, announced it would lay off 102 members of its staff and 17 faculty members. Ohio University is eliminating 140 unionized positions, terminating 53 faculty jobs and laying off 94 administrators.

While Albrecht and Gateway Technical College appreciate the federal funds received as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, he said school administrators are monitoring Gateway’s current and possible future financial situation.

“We are seeing a current dip in enrollment,” Albrecht said. “Families are uncertain. Their jobs are in jeopardy, and there’s this awkwardness from the state of the pandemic.”

Despite the possible cuts, Albrecht said, Gateway’s role as an occupational-skills educator gives it an advantage. The high rate of unemployment means people will seek employable skills.

“High unemployment means high enrollment. We serve those most in need,” Albrecht said. And because Gateway trains those considered essential workers, the school also is essential.

“It’s a whole supply chain system,” Albrecht said. “If any part breaks down, it affects the next generation of workers.”

The lengthy list of universities suffering from the financial consequences of COVID-19 also includes well-endowed universities. The University of Michigan projects a loss of $400 million to $1 billion this year, and Johns Hopkins University reports that 1,200 employees have been unable to work because of stay-at-home orders.

Harvard University is also taking blows.

“Although we entered this crisis in a position of relative financial strength, our resources are already stretched,” Harvard President Larry Bacow, Provost Alan Garber and Executive Vice President Katie Lapp wrote in a recent letter. “If we are to preserve our core mission of teaching and scholarship, we face difficult, even painful, decisions in the days ahead. “We must look for more cost-efficient ways to deliver our essential services.

Dean for Research, donate books that were collected and disinfected to the Detroit Medical Center as a “rolling library” for COVID-19 patients.

“Because of the recent declines in the markets, the endowment, while still large, is not as large as it was previously. As it shrinks, it has less capacity to support our existing operations, especially as other shortfalls in revenue sources loom.”

The ending of the announcement thanks the Harvard community for its flexibility—something many academic leaders and students agree is a necessity.

While McCants doesn’t feel comfortable returning to the classroom at Florida State, he said he will adapt and do what he must to graduate.

“I would probably do online classes in the fall, just as they have us doing now,” he said. “But if some of my classes, like labs, require me to go in, I’ll go. I just hope they have fewer people.”

(This story was originally published by the Ford Motor Company Fund.)

Generating growth opportunities for women-owned businesses

I’m an introvert by nature and occasionally cringe when a client asks me to cover a live event. Yet, never has there been a time when I didn’t come out more informed and grateful for the experience. After all, it’s the innate knowledge junkie that drove me into a career as a writer.

The scenario wasn’t much different when the Ford Motor Company Fund asked me to attend EmpowerHER, a challenge program created to help develop the next generation of women leaders, where I discovered 12 women-run companies seeking to solve social problems. Each company competed for more than $25,000 in cash and business-service support and three of the impressive startups won:


  • Every Two Minutes is developing technology that could help prevent sexual assault;
  • Motor City STEAM is working to bridge the gap between STEM education and the arts; and
  • SignOn is creating jobs for the deaf community while helping homebound students learn.

No one can put a cap on the drive and innovation of women on a mission.

How Michigan is winning the race in connected technology

Do more in less time. Arrive at destinations quicker and safer. Improve work-life balance. These wants have fueled thousands of years of invention and progress, including the advent of the horse-drawn carriage, automobile, rocket ship and Internet.

Today’s mobility innovations have experts predicting solutions with near-future technology previously seen only in science fiction. Consider:

  • Safer roads that adjust based on vehicle communications and traffic patterns, dramatically reducing the number of auto-related fatalities;
  • Pods that deliver a person from one destination to another; and
  • Integrated technologies that would predict when a household will run out of certain supplies and replenish them before homeowners even know they’re needed.

“We are seeing the realization of artificial intelligence taking over tasks that are really human driven. That’s going to be pushed forward at the leading edge by the automotive industry,” said John Verboncoeur, associate dean for research at Michigan State University. “We’re going to see it in your kitchen and in your laundry room and in every stage of your life.”

What happens when 15 government, business and academic leaders come together in one room to talk car-sharing and connectivity? A powerful snapshot of the state of mobility in Michigan. Planet M, a brand created by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and leading automotive thought leaders to position the state as the epicenter for mobility, and Crain Content Studio, the custom publishing division of Crain’s Detroit Business, gathered these experts for a roundtable discussion at Crain Communications in Detroit on April 28, 2017. Crain’s Publisher Ron Fournier moderated the conversation.

Roundtable participants:

  • Anya Babbitt
  • William Buller
  • Laurel Champion
  • Mark de la Vergne
  • Carrie Morton
  • Jessica Robinson
  • Ted Serbinski
  • Colin Goldsmith
  • Craig Hoff
  • Kevin Kerrigan
  • Peter Kosak
  • Kirk Steudle
  • Nicole Stevenson
  • Glenn Stevens
  • John Verboncoeur
Sponsored by Planet M and originally published on Crain's Detroit.

IHS Automotive, an online source for engineers, estimates that between now and 2035, nearly 76 million vehicles with some level of autonomy will be sold globally. Michigan accounts for nearly $60 billion of the $3 trillion global auto industry. Yet, experts say if approached correctly, the state, also known for its mounting number of high-tech hubs, may find itself at the epicenter of a $10 trillion mobility industry.

Keeping this potential at the forefront, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., through Planet M, is supporting various elements in mobility technology, such as robotics in manufacturing and other outgrowths of this artificial intelligence capability.

“The economic opportunity and necessity for Michigan to play in that personal mobility and shared-use economy is absolutely essential to our future,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto, an economic development initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

The key to Michigan’s future success? Those in the mobility space must acquire an understanding of societal and legal ramifications, properly build upon Michigan’s automotive history to create a far-reaching mobility ecosystem and continue to grow the state’s highly skilled talent base. Moreover, experts agree collaboration is essential — not just between Michigan automotive and tech companies but with public and private entities inside and outside of the state.

Defining mobility

It’s easy to limit the definition of mobility to autonomous — self-driving and driverless — vehicles. But the word, and the industry, have far broader implications for businesses, humans, vehicles and other commodities and services.

Ted Serbinski, managing director at Techstars Mobility, a Detroit-based venture capital business incubator, puts it bluntly — and broadly: “Mobility is the movement of people and goods.”

In other words, major auto companies and suppliers can’t just manufacture a car and claim to play in the mobility space. Serbinski explained that the automotive industry needs to shift its focus from just building physical devices to, in some cases, changing business models to offer a variety of services.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, for instance, have been partnering with organizations to broaden services they provide customers.


Michigan is at an advantage to succeeding in the mobility industry based on the state’s proximity to OEMs, collective experience and strong educational institutions. Experts recognize continuing to grow Michigan’s talent pipeline is a crucial element.  Here’s what they had to say.

  • Ford has been developing electric bikes that, in conjunction with an Apple Watch app, provide bicyclists with weather or fitness data.
  • Ford also has Carr-E, a four-wheeled pedestrian-assisted device you can stand on and use to move around or that can carry packages and follow the transmitter you carry as you walk.
  • GM is developing predictive technology that tells a driver when his or her car needs maintenance before it breaks down.
  • GM also partnered with ride-sharing service Lyft to launch a car-sharing service, called Maven.

Peter Kosak, executive director for urban mobility at GM, said mobility is about access and options and leveraging technology — whether it’s app-based or autonomous.

“(But) if we don’t solve the problem of people wanting to commute together, we’ll continue to be crushed by morning and evening commutes. And if people don’t knock out the friction through psychology or technology then that problem isn’t going to be solved,” Kosak said.

The commute problem is one that’s driving Anya Babbitt, who moved her ride-sharing company, SPLT, from New York City to Detroit in 2015 to be part of Serbinski’s Techstars accelerator. SPLT is working with OEMs and municipalities to learn how it can complement other transportation options, such as van pools and bus lines. “For people to feel confident with other mobility options, we need to have an alignment of multiple services so that individuals can feel, for instance, that they can leave the car behind,” Babbitt said.

To Kevin Kerrigan, senior vice president of the MEDC’s automotive office, mobility means, simply, freedom.

“It’s something that allows us to look beyond where we are now and look for those opportunities,” Kerrigan said. Those opportunities could be in autonomous desks that tell users when they need to stand up and walk around. Or, they could be something larger.

Kirk Steudle, the state’s Director of Transportation, said he had a conversation last month about autonomous ships. “Thinking about that changes the whole business equation,” he said. Read more about those opportunities.

Test tracks and towns

Deploying safe, driverless vehicles is impossible without “infrastructure maturity, technology readiness and regulation,” reports Harvard Business Review in an analysis of the industry this spring.

Carrie Morton is confident such deployment is possible. Morton, deputy director of Mcity, a 23-acre mini community at the University of Michigan crafted for driverless car technology, said Michigan is positioned to research and test many of the collective questions that need to be answered before mobility technologies are fully implemented.

“It is a unique opportunity to learn a lot more than just about the technology, but about the challenges in deployment,” she said. “For instance: OK, now I want to put an autonomous vehicle on the road. How do I work with the Secretary of State to do that? How do I work with the U.S. Department of Transportation? What needs to be in place? I think we’re really starting to exercise the new (autonomous vehicle) laws.”

Because of bills passed late last year, Michigan should be able to operate autonomous ride-sharing services and sell driverless cars in the near future. The first step, though, is testing. While the U.S. Department of Transportation has designated 10 testing sites for self-driving vehicles, the largest deployment of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology in the country resides in Michigan.


We asked participants to set a scene for the future of mobility.  Here’s how they imagine it will be.

In addition to Mcity, the state is home to the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, where Ford once built the B-24 bomber and GM manufactured transmissions.

Steudle said Michigan jumped in the waters of V2I technology when it was still an idea. “About three weeks after that bridge collapse (in Minnesota in 2007), we were talking about this thing called connected vehicles. So, we put a challenge out to our ITS team and said, ‘Let’s see if we can have the Mackinac Bridge instrumented (with communications technology) before the Labor Day Bridge Walk.’ That was three weeks later. It was temporary, but we did it,” he said.

The same communication mechanisms Michigan used then are what the state is using today in vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V) and V2I, Steudle pointed out. Since 2007, Michigan has developed 155 roadside units spread across the state, most of them in Southeast Michigan. For some of it, the state worked in collaboration with the U.S. DOT and CAMP, a consortium of automakers, to do the research. The goal is to instrument 350 miles in Southeast Michigan alone.

To do this, he said, they asked a variety of questions: “Can we make this intersection talk to a car? Can we make the Ford and the GM talk together?”

Once the answer becomes yes — once cars automatically maintain safe distances from one another, alert drivers when they aren’t paying attention, notify them of pedestrians they may not see or warn them of slick road conditions — then experts say the technology will save lives.

“Roughly 1,021 people died on Michigan roads last year. One life is unacceptable. We have to reverse that. Ultimately this technology is about saving lives,” said Glenn Stevens, executive director of MICHauto.

According to Steudle and Morton, traffic fatalities could drop 90 percent when autonomous vehicles deploy on Michigan roads.

Understanding that mobility isn’t just about cars, Mcity created a tech lab where the entrepreneurial community can vet technologies in an environment they wouldn’t get anywhere else in the world. The environment includes all the players in the sector — insurance companies, auto OEMs and Tier 1’s — and allows the innovators to “play in the sandbox” and learn.

American Center for Mobility

Part of the test track at the American Center for Mobility.

“Nowhere else in the country do we have this capability, where you can start from the very beginning and graduate right through into your verification and validation environment where they can support the full ecosystem as we move toward putting these technologies into commercialization,” Morton said.

Mcity and ACM complement one another, said Laurel Champion, ACM’s COO. “We are able to provide the very early stages of research, and there’s the ability, by the end of this year, to come to our site and to be able to test and really work on product development.”

Autonomous vehicles and mobility aren’t just an auto manufacturer issue. William Buller said the military is also interested in the technology. Keweenaw Research Center, a research center supported by external corporate and governmental agency funding in Houghton, Mich., provides an unstructured environment, customizable with ice grooming machines to make the surface road-like for the military and automotive companies.

If that’s not enough, Kettering University in Flint is also putting in a 3-acre road course test track. “It’s designed to be a general-purpose facility, not a dedicated autonomous vehicle facility. But we have Tier 1 corporate partners that are down in Auburn Hills that go out in the parking lot to do tests. We’re 30 minutes up the road. We can certainly do better than a test in the parking lot,” said Craig Hoff, engineering professor and dean of the College of Engineering at Kettering University.

Kerrigan said that while the state is the epicenter of integration of vehicle technology and the proving of vehicle technology, he doesn’t think it’s smart to go it alone. He said collaborating with Silicon Valley is a necessity. “I think a lot of the IT companies in Silicon Valley are really realizing how difficult it is to build a vehicle and how difficult it is to get one on the road and keep it there and bring out the next model, and how much money it takes to do that.”

Nicole Stevenson, vice president for Flex, agreed. “Everybody has the same goals we’re working toward. It’s not really about Detroit vs. Silicon Valley or Detroit vs. Israel or other tech hubs. We’re all trying to work together and get the best for mobility and to solve the issues.”

Ensuring mobility benefits everyone

Industry leaders recognize mobility is about more than business competition and cool technology. It’s about creating access and equality.

Mark de la Vergne, the city of Detroit’s Chief Mobility Officer, noted that mobility technology, particularly when it comes to autonomous vehicles, poses a significant challenge to Detroit because its size likely will make it a complex environment with regards to testing and deployment and because different demographics and populations use technology differently.

“There are lots of things that we need to learn: How different populations use different types of services, different types of technologies,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in this city right now don’t have a phone or don’t have internet access. We’re looking at making sure this is not just something that works for young white kids who haven’t even graduated high school.

“It’s about engagement. If I go to the east side of this city and talk about autonomous vehicles, they’re just going to ask me why the bus isn’t coming. There’s a huge spectrum, and we can’t simply expect that we can drop new things into places, all sorts of places. This question isn’t just in the city. This is suburbs and rural also that are going to need to be figured out. These aren’t just technology solutions. There’s a huge social element.”

Jessica Robinson, director of City Solutions at Ford Motor Co., is working with communities across the country to help answer such questions. “The work that I do is directly with cities, and they very much want to see simplicity when this already complex technology, particularly when it comes to autonomy, comes to their cities.” Her goal is to help create solutions to potential barriers.

“As things evolve, there will be more opportunities to work together in pilot projects and how you as a city work on some problems of integrating mass transit, for example,” said Kosak. “I think one area that certainly everyone is working together on now is getting the right ground rules that make the environment conducive to progress.”

Ten years ago, personal mobility and shared-use economy were terms used only in labs and innovators’ garages. Today, economists are predicting spending in the $1.6 trillion range in the industry by 2020.

Kerrigan urged Michigan’s business leaders to stay in the lead of mobility technology.

Stevens concurred. “We are positioned, if we have the talent and if we build the ecosystem properly to have an economic opportunity and a societal opportunity and an opportunity to save lives. And frankly all of us are working on those things together.”

For more about mobility in Michigan, visit PlanetM.com.