A Partnership for Success: U-M and GM Offer Customized Master’s Programs to GM Employees

ISD and GM Technical Education Program award ceremony. From left: Panos Papalambros, ISD Chair; Katherine Murphy, TEP Program Manager; Tina McBride, GM Academic Programs Manager; Doug Andrews, GM Project Team Manager; Debbie Cvengros, GM Academic Programs Project Manager

The evolution of the automotive industry to a global platform demands that product and manufacturing engineers form a cross-functional team to collaborate with business partners and suppliers around the world. As a result, savvy automakers want to recruit and develop engineers who are both technically competent and can work in diverse cultures, develop globally competitive products, and lead multinational teams. Furthermore, today’s auto industry is faced with complex technological challenges, unprecedented economic pressures, and global competition that require highly skilled engineers who have a depth of knowledge across engineering disciplines and a breadth of knowledge in other topics, such as business, management, and culture.

General Motors and the University of Michigan’s Division of Integrative Systems + Design (ISD) in the College of Engineering have forged a partnership to design and deliver customized Master’s level technical education programs that match these new business realities. Qualified GM employees worldwide can take advantage of these unique academic programs that stress practicality and flexibility while encouraging innovation, leadership, and global teamwork.  Courses are offered online with technology to assist interactive learning for students both online and on campus, with both methods of delivery boasting the same quality and rigor.  

“It is the model for a Master’s education in engineering,” says Dr. Jack Hu, U-M’s Interim VP for Research who co-led the development of this collaborative partnership in his prior role as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education. While designed with GM’s needs in mind, these academic degrees are available to all U-M students and offer a roadmap for automotive, aerospace, energy, and other multinational companies working in a complex distributive environment.

The Global Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering (GAME) Master’s program was developed jointly with GM in 2002 to address its need for multi-disciplinary engineers who can design, engineer and manufacture vehicles for a global marketplace. The program now has over 170 students from General Motors’ worldwide operations in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Korea, and the United States. This fall, a team of Michigan faculty led by Dr. Albert Shih, ISD Associate Chair, collaborated with GM subject matter experts to update the curriculum to meet the company’s changing competency needs. The new curriculum has a greater emphasis on systems engineering, and affords students the opportunity to focus on a number of new and revamped specialty areas.

Using the successful GAME degree template, the partners collaborated in 2008 to launch a new, customized Master’s degree in Energy Systems Engineering (ESE). As the company moves forward rapidly with the design and production of hybrid and all-electric vehicles, the curriculum emphasizes depth in alternative propulsion systems, energy conversion, battery technologies, and environmental sustainability while capitalizing on the breadth of the GAME content.  Currently, there are 150 GM engineers pursuing this degree. Dr. Suljo Linic is the ISD Program Director.

Both degrees culminate in a global team capstone project with real-world business application, demonstrating the employee’s ability to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs. The projects have resulted in substantial bottom-line savings, numerous continuous improvements, and design innovations. One such project resulted in a multinational team patent application for a rear cargo management system—a first of its kind for the partnership.

These customized degree programs illustrate how university-corporate collaborations can reach beyond the traditional “customer-supplier model,” says Ed Borbely, ISD Director. They point the way toward a new future in which universities and companies collaborate to improve engineering education for professional practice in today’s complex, demanding environments.