Crash safety efforts lauded

Sep 15, 2006

The name of Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari and her efforts in Kettering's Crash Safety Center have landed on an elite awards list at Automation Alley.

The contributions of Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of Kettering's Crash Safety Center, have been recognized with a nomination for a top award from Automation Alley. Automation Alley is the organization charged with driving the growth and image of Southeast Michigan's technology economy.

Kettering's Crash Safety Center is one of three finalists for the "Educational Program of the Year" Award, which will be handed out Sept. 22 during Automation Alley's Sixth Annual Gala. Also nominated in the education category are programs at Walsh College in Troy and Malow Junior High in Shelby Township.

Eight top awards will be presented during this year's ceremony at the General Motors Heritage Center in Sterling Heights. It is the second year in a row that Kettering has been represented in this prestigious ceremony. Last year, ME's Dr. Joel Berry was named the Automation Alley's Emerging Leader of the Year.

Here is a portion of Kettering's nomination for the "Education Program of the Year" Award:

About Kettering University's CRASH Safety Center
The Kettering University Collaborative Research Center for Automotive Safety and Human Factors (CRASH) opened in 2005 to support three key endeavors:

  • educating undergraduate, graduate, and practicing engineers,
  • research, consulting , and testing for industry and
  • awareness and education for the community.

The Center focuses on bringing problems relevant to the automotive industry and safe driving into the classroom. As a result, Kettering is working to improve vehicle safety by teaching students how design decisions can impact the well being of occupants. This area is becoming increasingly important as new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are added or are made more stringent every year.

The CRASH Safety Center is part of a larger vision, which includes a Bioengineering curriculum, a Crash Safety Industrial Advisory Board, and the use of state-of-the art equipment. An Advisory Board brings business and industry representation and guidance to all aspects of the vision: curriculum, laboratories, and the co-op experience. The goal is to provide business and industry with knowledgeable and skilled engineers and future managers. Some of the corporate partners include General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Lear, Takata, Autoliv, Via Systems, Harley Davidson, Delphi, the State of Michigan and AAA of Michigan.

The focus of CRASH is to study the interaction between structural crash mechanics and occupant protection. The intent is to imitate the vehicle structural design process with the crashworthiness of that design and its ultimate effect on occupant safety. Instead of separate engineering groups evaluating vehicle crashworthiness, occupant safety, and structural design, the vehicle is analyzed as one system.

Community education and outreach is also a key element, including research for AAA of Michigan on an improved design for child/infant safety seats. Kettering, in conjunction with AAA, will develop educational videos for dissemination to the general public. AAA has also asked for the development of educational videos for specific population groups, such as Latinos, Hispanic, and Arab communities. Reaching out to these communities will increase their awareness about the use of child/infant safety seats.

The Center is a one-of-a-kind education and research facility - making Kettering the only university in the country to offer undergraduate students this mix of specific hands-on crash test safety research opportunities. The Center has three components, a deceleration sled, a component test area, and a dedicated computer-based classroom. The deceleration sled is a large piece of test equipment on which the interior of the vehicle (also known as a "buck") is placed along with test dummies, vehicle safety systems (airbags, seat belts), instrumentation, and high-speed video. The component test area allows for the study of impact on specific pieces, such as a crash test dummy's head or legs. Lastly, the computer classroom allows students to review data from the test instrumentation and learn how to set up and perform virtual crash tests. Undergraduates use the lab through the Mechanical Engineering Occupant Protection course and Collision Reconstruction course. Also, there is a lab component to Physics I. The lab is multi disciplined to allow faculty members from Mechanical Engineering, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering along with Science and Mathematics (including Physics and Chemistry) to use the lab and better integrate academic disciplines into tomorrow's workforce leaders.

Comments from Industry Leaders
"The Crash Safety Center is a modern facility where Kettering faculty and students, along with corporate partners, study the interaction between structural crash mechanics and occupant protection," said Kettering University President Stan Liberty. "An important part of this new center is the curriculum and a Crash Safety Industrial Advisory Board, whose members represent leading experts and advocates from industry and business."

Jack Jensen, supervising engineer in Vehicle Safety and Crash Worthiness for General Motors said that most engineers who develop systems for cars don't learn the specifics of safety. "The young engineers who train at Kettering will be able to make a contribution early on, rather than later. That is paramount in safety issues," he said.

Richard Miller, manager of Community Safety Services for AAA Michigan, said Kettering's state-of-the-art facility will provide automotive engineers and child car seat manufacturers with vital information to better protect occupants, especially children, during automobile crashes. "This center will play an integral role in educating child safety seat technicians throughout Michigan and our country so that they can better assist parents and other caregivers in keeping their children safe," Miller said. By working with traffic safety research partners, such as Kettering University, AAA is helping to ensure that the only families who are damaged or destroyed in a Michigan crash are the dummies who work at Kettering's Crash Safety Center, he added.

Congressman Dale Kildee, a Democrat from Flint who represents Michigan's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that Congress has important work to do and needs to be guided by professionals in engineering. "We can't go far without sound engineering."

Engaging the public through national television:
Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari's efforts to educate the greater community have already been featured on national television. Her Dynamics Class became aware of the infamous photo of Pop Star Britney Spears holding her infant son unrestrained in a moving vehicle. The class did a crash safety demonstration on what happens in a car accident if the driver is holding an infant who is not properly restrained in an approved child safety seat. The "teach-able moment" left a tremendous impact on the students and even sparked national interest. CBS News picked the story up from the Saginaw affiliate and the story aired nationally on:

WBZ (CBS) Boston, March 3
WBBM (CBS) Chicago, March 2
WCBS, New York City (CBS), March 2
KOVR (CBS) Sacramento, March 2
KMAX (UPN), Sacramento, March 2
WKMG (CBS) Orlando, March 2
WIAT (CBS) Birmingham/Anniston, March 2
WTTO (WB) Birmingham/Anniston, March 2
WTKR (CBS) Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News, March 2
WCBI (CBS) Tupelo, March 2
KIDK (CBS) Idaho Falls, March 2
KGWN (CBS) Cheyenne, March 2
KPHO, (CBS) Phoenix, March 2
WREG, (CBS) Memphis, March 2
KOAM, (CBS) Joplin, Mo., March 2
KPSP, (CBS) Palm Springs/Palm Desert, March 2
KCBS, (CBS) Los Angeles, March 1
WTSP, (CBS) Tampa/St. Petersburg, March 1
WNPA, (UPN) Pittsburgh, March 1
KFMB, (CBS) San Diego, March 1
WSPA, (CBS) Greenville, SC/Ashville, NC, March 1
WWMT, (CBS) Grand Rapids, March 1
KSFX, (FOX) Springfield, Mo., March 1
KHQA, (CBS) Quincy, Mo., March 1
WXVT, (CBS) Greenwood, MS, March 1

And locally in Mid-Michigan:

WEYI (NBC) Flint/Clio, March 1 and Feb. 28
WNEM (CBS) Saginaw, Feb. 28
WJRT (ABC) Flint, Feb. 28

Impacting safety in the community:
Lastly, the CRASH Safety Center has already impacted safety and education issues in the community. The center donated 109 child safety seats to Safe Kids of Greater Flint during National Child Safety Seat Week in February 2006. Lew Moquin, director of Safe Kids, Beckie Hoppe, injury prevention coordinator for Trauma at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, and Penny Perez, a child passenger safety technician with Safe Kids, gratefully accepted the donation. The Dorel Juvenile Group USA, which markets the Cosco and Safety 1st brands, donated the car seats to Kettering for use in safety testing. Through Dr. Brelin-Fornari's leadership, Kettering passed along the unused products to Safe Kids to give to low-income and at-risk families an opportunity to keep children safe and spread the important mission of the CRASH Safety Center.

Because the CRASH Safety Center trains tomorrow's skilled labor in partnership with the community and industry, Kettering University respectfully nominates the Kettering University CRASH Safety Center, directed by Dr. Janet Brelin-Fornari, as the Automation Alley Educational Program of the Year.

Written by Patricia Mroczek