Transforming Kettering

Celebrating a Transformational Decade

The completion of the Boldly Forward campaign, the opening of the Learning Commons and a host of other milestones and achievements mark a new era for Kettering University that will transform the University and, in keeping with Kettering’s tradition of leadership, transform the way education is delivered. As University President Robert K. McMahan has said, “The future is here.”

This long-awaited future did not suddenly materialize any more than the Learning Commons suddenly appeared one day behind the Campus Center. It has been building for a full century, which was celebrated in 2019 with the Centennial and the phrase, “the Future of Education Built a Century Ago.”

Ten years ago, after a troublesome start to the 21st century marked by 9/11, the dot-com crash of 2001 and the recession of 2008, that future seemed in peril. In 2012, Flint was the second-most dangerous city in the country, and the Kettering campus was surrounded by hundreds of acres of blighted neighborhoods plagued by crime. The entrance to the University at the top of Chevrolet Avenue was an eyesore dominated by the ugly and contaminated Chevy in the Hole brownfield across from the campus. The campus itself was run-down, the buildings and labs in need of updating and repair, and the technological infrastructure was well behind the times.  

Kettering’s financial situation provided little hope for a rebound. A skeletal advancement staff had built a paltry endowment of $50 million, and the annual fund hovered around $250,000 per year, with faculty and staff participation an uninspiring 17%. Alumni were disengaged from fundraising and recruitment, and only 329 students entered in 2011.

In order to reverse this steep and discouraging decline, the Kettering community stepped up to initiate a decade as transformative as the previous one had been debilitating. The goal, beyond survival, was to remain true to GMI and Kettering’s unique educational heritage and vision — equal emphasis on the classroom and the workplace — while reshaping that vision for a rapidly changing future. The task was almost too big and too comprehensive to imagine.

True Kettering and Kettering Built

The first order of business was to counter a decline in morale and an atmosphere of despair among faculty and staff with a dynamic new ethos.

Over months of work and meetings, the faculty and staff developed the True Kettering and Kettering Built brands, which were supported by four strategic Pillars of Success: Optimized Growth in Enrollment and Programs; Global Leadership in STEM Education; Community Vitality; and Engaged Stakeholders.

Over the next decade, this would be the platform on which the community would build a campus wide mission to drive all aspects of all initiatives: academic, operational and financial.

True Kettering Logo
Bolstering the Finances

The next challenge involved funding the future. The University recruited a group of top professionals, headed by then-Vice President of Advancement Sue Davies, to revamp fundraising efforts. With this staff, in 2014 Kettering pursued and won from Flint’s Charles Stewart Mott Foundation a $15.5 million gift — an unheard-of figure for Kettering at the time — for biology facilities and labs, targeted scholarships, the creation of Kettering Global (our online graduate programs), the FIRST Robotics Community Center, and multiple other initiatives and improvements.

The advancement team continued to build on this early success. By the start of 2022, the endowment had doubled to more than $110 million. Throughout the decade, year-over-year total gifts steadily increased by more than 40% and year-over-year donors by 10%. Faculty and staff giving more than quintupled, reaching 90%. Naming gifts were made for major facilities such as the GM Mobility Research Center (MRC) and Harris Mobility Research Annex building. The capstone, of course, is the recently completed $150 million Boldly Forward Capital Campaign.

This largesse is a testimony to three factors: the generosity and support of Kettering friends and alumni, the hard work of the dynamic advancement staff, and visionary university leadership.

Fundraising is only half the equation to financial health. Over the same 10 years, careful fiscal management led to restructuring University debt through the elimination of restrictive debt covenants and the creation of a $40 million capital fund for long-term investments — all without increasing the original debt service.

Academic Reorganization

With a new ethos and an improving economic outlook, internally and externally, leadership began restructuring Kettering’s academic organization and offerings to maximize resources and respond to market trends and students’ interests. Kettering created four academic colleges: The College of Engineering, the College of Sciences and Liberal Arts, the School of Management, and the Graduate School. Constant evaluation, planning and reordering culminated most recently with the President’s Task Force on Program Realignment and Reinvention, known as Bright Future. 

The University also created, consolidated and/or realigned other programs. For example, it revised the curriculum to support a retooled combined Bachelor’s /Master’s degree track for all students; secured multimillion-dollar foundation support for an integrated entrepreneurship initiative that spans the entire curriculum; and then doubled down on this emphasis by focusing on the development of an entrepreneurial mindset in students across disciplines through the identification of entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial opportunities.

Establishing a Global Footprint
Kettering Online Logo

Addressing another of True Kettering’s Pillars of Success, Kettering aspired to a global presence marked by leadership in STEM education. With the help of more than $3 million in seed funding, the University established Kettering Global, which is made up of Kettering University Online (KUO) and KetteringGlobalX (KGX). KUO provides graduate-level educational opportunities that integrate an intense academic curriculum with applied professional experience. KGX is the corporate training and continuing education division offering employers solutions to meet their talent pipeline needs. Through these programs, the school that entered the decade as a largely regional university now boasts a worldwide presence with students from every corner of the globe.

Community Vitality

Kettering has always been a loyal institutional citizen of Flint, and if there is anywhere it has over delivered during the last 10 years in response to a crying need, it is community vitality. Early in the decade, Kettering began to develop and lead — with the assistance of $1 million in U.S. Department of Justice funding — a community property acquisition strategy to improve livability and increase safety. The University then convened a group of more than 80 community stakeholders, known as the University Avenue Corridor Coalition, to materially improve the neighborhood. Stretching roughly from McLaren Flint on the west to University of Michigan-Flint on the east and from Hurley Medical Center/Whaley Children's Center on the north to the Flint River and Chevy Commons on the south, the University Avenue Corridor has seen hundreds of acres of blighted homes and neighborhoods turned into well-lighted green spaces, parks, refurbished homes, and small-business centers and restaurant areas. Taking advantage of the improved surroundings, Kettering created programs providing forgivable loans in support of employees purchasing a primary residence in these nearby neighborhoods.

The University also led three other notable neighborhood improvements: first, with $4 million in gifts, it took ownership of historic Atwood Stadium from the city of Flint, upgrading the structure with new seats and turf, and restoring it to its original glory as a venue for sporting events and other community activities. It has since been called one of the most beautiful and useful multipurpose stadiums in the country and is now home to everything from Kettering graduations and intramural sports to high school sports and two semi-professional soccer teams. Second, it created the attractive new Gateway entrance to the University at the top of Chevrolet Avenue, a beautification effort that benefited the entire area. Finally, it reclaimed the unsightly and unsafe Chevy in the Hole brownfield area, building the MRC on the site.

As a result of all these efforts, after only five years, the neighborhood surrounding the University witnessed a 78% drop in blight; a 54% decrease in assaults; 83% fewer robberies; a 76% decrease in burglaries; and a 36% drop in vandalism. The trend has continued, transforming the formerly blighted and crime-ridden area into one of the safest and most desirable neighborhoods in Flint.

Community vitality is as much about relationships as it is about physical improvements. During the past 10 years, the University has provided academic support for local STEM education. This includes scholarships for local students in the Flint Promise Program; tutoring and mentoring programs for area youth; and the FIRST Robotics Community Center, which provides space and mentoring for eight local robotics teams.

Atwood - Women's Soccer Team
Campus Improvements

Kettering’s physical campus not only underwent a face-lift in the past decade but also grew its footprint with projects such as the 9,600-square-foot FIRST Robotics Community Center and the expansive MRC. The FIRST Robotics Community Center features machining and designing areas, a regulation-size practice field and eight bays for teams to store their equipment. The MRC is a 3.25-acre test pad built to racetrack specifications with, stadium-style lighting, fencing and landscaping for the research and development of autonomous vehicles, vehicle safety standards, hybrid and electric vehicle technologies, and more.

There has also been a plethora of building plans, improvements, and upgrades affecting virtually every present and future campus facility. In the planning category, mid-decade saw the development of an ambitious and futuristic campus master plan spanning both sides of Chevrolet Avenue that, when built out, would dramatically change the face of the campus, the experiences of students and exponentially increase academic opportunities. The plan’s first step, of course, has been the Learning Commons.

Independent of the plan, new labs were added in chemical engineering, physics and biology; innovative campus structures were developed with d.spaces; common spaces were redesigned and refurbished; and countless improvements were made in the infrastructure of every building on campus.

Upgrading technology for an increasingly wireless world has been another focus. This involved the creation of KUCloud, a virtualized computing cluster that is accessed using a virtual desktop app that can be run on multiple devices used by faculty or students; a campus wireless upgrade with far greater bandwidth capabilities; the opportunity to access University software from any device anywhere in the world; and the addition of a proprietary University 5GE Cellular Network with a 3-mile radius of coverage to support communications at the MRC.

Transforming Kettering. Transforming Education.

With the achievements of 2022, Kettering has transformed itself and is prepared to transform education with a revitalized vision of cooperative education. The Boldly Forward Campaign is funding that future, the Learning Commons is its physical manifestation — the very site of the immersive learning Kettering is pioneering — and programs like the BorgWarner Scholars Program, Kettering Global and the Bright Future academic restructuring are all prepared to deliver on the vision.

The future, where we are transforming Kettering and transforming education, is here.

Looking Back on Kettering University