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Smarter Mobility

By James M. Amend

Washtenaw Community College’s new program reflects collaborative approach between industry, government and education

Southeast Michigan is rapidly becoming a hub for the research and development of intelligent transportation systems – a mobility advancement promising safer roadways, less traffic congestion and fewer carbon-dioxide emissions – and Washtenaw Community College (WCC) is entering the field in a big way.

But the planned Advanced Transportation Center (ATC) at WCC is unique in that it will take a soup-to-nuts approach. The ATC will address not only ITS, such as the connected vehicle technologies and roadway infrastructure that will eventually allow cars to communicate with each other and pave the way for automated driving, but also the demands future mobility will place on the service and repair sector, and the lightweight materials and manufacturing methods those cars and trucks will use to enhance fuel efficiency.

The goal of the ATC is to graduate students with expertise in those fields and to provide incumbent workers with training to keep their skills up-to-date. It was made possible by the Michigan Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Program, a $50 million initiative designed to boost skilled-trades instruction at community colleges. WCC received $4.4 million.

WCC President Rose Bellanca says the grant will provide students with sophisticated, innovative tools and technologies to prepare them for in-demand jobs.

“The funds will enhance our faculty’s continued efforts to develop ambitious and rigorous curricula that provide our students with a continuum of learning opportunities,” said Bellanca, a 2015 MICHauto Summit panelist.

Alan Lecz, director of the ATC, brings 35 years of engineering experience at Ford Motor Co. to the position, as well as years of interaction with local community colleges.

“The Advanced Transportation Center is unique in that it takes a systems approach to intelligent transportation,” Lecz says. “We want to have programs that address skill needs and will be at the leading edge for the installation, manufacture, maintenance and repair of ITS vehicles.”

The curriculum begins this fall with a certification program for software programming used in the embedded networks of connected vehicles. The ATC will also interface with industry, government and professional organizations, as well as other educational institutions, including the K-12 levels where America must close a gap with rival nations in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“We can boost the capabilities of teachers and students in K-12 and get young people interested in STEM careers,” Lecz says.

As part of the ITS community in Southeast Michigan, WCC will serve a pivotal role in advancing future transportation systems, which are expected to be radically different from today’s and essential to a safer, more responsible society.

“This transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game-changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy and for accessibility,” says Peter Sweatman, director of the Mobility Transformation Center at the University of Michigan and a 2015 MICHauto Summit panelist. “Our cities will be much better to live in. Our suburbs will be much better to live in. These technologies will truly open the door to 21st century mobility.”

James M. Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com.