Collins Aerospace, a division of United Technologies, is on campus a lot these days. With a five-year Master Research Agreement at the College of Engineering, the company is pursuing research partnerships with U-M faculty in a variety of departments.
While faculty connections are central to these discussions, U-M students are not overlooked.
George Halow in the Aerospace Engineering department makes sure of it.
Halow was brought to the College of Engineering by forward-thinking Aerospace department chair Tony Waas. His role as a professor of practice after a career in engineering at Ford Motor Company is to help engineering students see the big picture in terms of career applicability and preparation. He wants them to think about organizational fit, business practices that matter to engineering projects, and how to manage technological developments within the structure of an organization.
He’s getting friends to help with this message, and Juan deBedout at Collins was all too happy to oblige. Juan, Vice President of Enterprise Engineering, made a detour after a week-long trip to Europe to engage the class. He spoke to a standing room of undergraduate students in Aerospace 285 to give them an overview of the pathway from mechanical engineering undergrad through PhD into a career in aerospace technology.
A Creative Approach
Juan’s presentation was a part of the “Commercial Aviation” component of the course where, a couple of days earlier, George spoke to the students about the complex and critical value chain in aerospace. Juan’s presentation, entitled “Aerospace – Beyond the Airframers”, picked up on this theme and went deep into the importance of the supply base in general, and the exciting products and technologies created by Collins specifically.
This orchestrated tie is not a typical engineering classroom experience. This kind of anecdotal education fills a much-needed academic space for U-M students, leaving them with new ideas for their futures and questions they hadn’t considered.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with the education of such bright and energetic future leaders. When I came to U-M, my first request from Tony was to infuse leadership, culture, and communication into Aero 285. We’ve completely revamped the course, providing pedagogy and lectures on things ranging from aircraft to spacecraft, business ethics, communication, sustainability and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion),” Halow describes.
Based on student experience, it’s working.
Emilia Stehouwer, a sophomore in the class commented, “The lecture by Juan deBedout was inspiring. I think his lecture will make me a better engineer by opening my eyes to the development and testing of commercial aircraft and their systems and encouraging me to contribute to the new trends in the industry.”
She noted deBedout’s emphasis on the future of aero: “The commercial flight industry is trending towards electrification, connectivity, and autonomy of aircraft and flight. There is a lot of innovation happening here and it is very interesting to watch the improvements that come out of all the testing.”
Josh Thomas, another student in the class, made particular note of the structure of the industry. “Suppliers play a significant role in technological progress in the aerospace enterprise, and the vast majority of aircraft parts are manufactured by a series of suppliers. I understand now that I don’t have to be a part of a “big-name company” to make a significant impact in my industry.”
deBedout fulfilled Halow’s mission: he got students to think bigger and focus on continually evolving throughout their careers.
U-M student Morgan Serra shared, “While it may seem beneficial to master every software program or take the highest levels of math, the industry is always changing. The software I am learning my freshman year might not be applicable next decade when I am in the workforce.
“Instead, I now plan on focusing my time developing strong teamwork skills, learning how to be a leader, and improving my communication skills because these are multigenerational assets. Additionally, I know I want to have a minor, but I am undecided on the subject. Thinking about competing for the future, Juan inspired me to consider a sustainability minor as the demands for environmentally friendly designs become increasingly more prominent.”
Juan walked away committed to supporting similar engagements in the future: “I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share with the Aero 285 students how Collins Aerospace is an integral partner from noise to tail with all key airframers, as well as our perspective on the emerging technology landscape in the aerospace industry. I was impressed with the engagement and questions from the class, both during and after the lecture, and appreciate how important exposing students to the diversity of the industrial landscape is in shaping their career thoughts and ambitions.”
This class is a great example of how much lectures like deBedout’s resonate with U-M students. Says Halow, “Student feedback has been profoundly positive, and as such we are now in the process of expanding the number of credits and course offerings. Through this, we will further deepen our ties with industry, government, and academia to supplement the classroom education with real-world experiences.”
Engaging our corporate partners to share their unique perspectives with U-M students benefits both companies like Collins and the students in the class. Halow concludes,“Our goal is to give students the engineering background to excel in their careers and a foundation for leadership in an organization. Leveraging the experience from industry leaders like Juan helps us do this in ways that we couldn’t without this partnership.”