Kettering graduate honors mentors by championing student scholarships

Charlie Baker ‘82 recognizes his successful career and life path would not be what it is without Kettering University.

Starting in 2015, Baker has funded five endowed scholarships in honor of those who gave him a chance when he needed it most. A sixth endowed scholarship is in the planning stages.

Charlie Baker '82“If I look back through my career, Kettering is a pivotal experience. I have  worked hard but have also been lucky throughout my career. The ability to get into Kettering which required someone to be charitable and good to me at one critical point changed everything,” Baker said. “I was able to put together a career path that I wouldn’t have been able to do if Kettering had not existed.”

Kettering (then General Motors Institute) was where Baker wanted to be, but it wasn’t that easy. After high school he worked as a mechanic for four years. Three years into his job as a mechanic, he knew he wanted more. He applied to Kettering and was denied. He wrote another letter and was again denied.

He then tried something radical. He left work on a Tuesday night and drove through the night from Minnesota to Flint to meet with former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs William Fugenschuh. He had no appointment, but Fugenschuh was gracious enough to meet with him and after some creative dialogue give him a chance.

He was admitted to Kettering to begin studying Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering. The first endowed scholarship honored Fugenschuh.

Baker started at Pontiac Motor Division during his co-op at Kettering. Baker subsequently worked both at Pontiac and Saturn Corporation as an engine test and design engineer. He left General Motors and worked at Honda R&D Americas for 15 years, eventually as Chief Engineer for five Honda vehicle programs in Japan and the U.S., as well as Vice President of Honda R&D Americas in Ohio.   

He left Honda and was Group Vice President for Engineering for Johnson Controls Automotive Experience, then Vice President for Engineering at Harley-Davidson. Baker rejoined GM in 2010 as the Executive Director and Global Functional Leader for Interior and Safety Engineering, and in 2014 he became Executive Director for Product Marketing for the GEM project.  

After retiring a couple of times, Baker has now started a joint venture with a partner and Lumiant Corporation commercialize Xaedra, a revolutionary Artificial Intelligence platform that is the world’s first material property prediction engine, he said.

“As I thought back about my life, I asked myself how do I make a positive difference? Once I was able to think about that for a while it was very clear that Kettering was a great place to do some good,” he said. “Kettering is the school for people similar to myself who don’t have an enormous amount of money but were willing work hard to have a great engineering career. Giving back to people who are just like me and who need a chance was just a great idea. My wife is also a Kettering grad with a similar story, so she was part of this thought from the beginning.”

In February 2016 he created the James E. Lyons Endowment. Later in 2016, Baker created another endowed scholarship in honor of Tom Davis, who was key executive and mentor at one of his first work assignments at Pontiac.

In 2017, Baker created the Leo Hilke Endowment and the James Bay Endowment. Hilke was another mentor, friend and supervisor at Pontiac and Saturn and was responsible for all emissions development at Pontiac in the time Baker was a student. James Bay was the Department Head of the Automotive Engineering Department. His mentorship and support of a Turbo 301 Indycar engine project when he was in school was critical in Baker’s early career, and ultimately allowed him to be sponsored by Product Engineering at Pontiac Motor Division.

“James Lyons was a great mentor and supporter. Tom Davis looked at the proposal for the 301 Turbo Indycar engine development and took a chance on a kid that was a pretty rough around the edges. Leo Hilke was a mentor all through my life, believed in me and gave me some great opportunities. Jim Bay was absolutely a great friend and mentor throughout my time at Kettering. I can’t say enough good about them,” he said.

Baker is currently discussing a gift to endow his 6th scholarship in honor of Harry McKinley, who encouraged him to become involved in student government, where he eventually served as president of the Firebirds club, as well as the sophomore representative of the Policy Council.

“The idea of doing it in honor of the people who had helped me in my career just seemed like a great way to recognize people that it’s impossible to pay back. How do you pay back the people who gave you the chance to completely alter your life’s trajectory? How do you repay that?” Baker asked. “I encourage Kettering alumni to look in their hearts and ask ‘Would I be leading the life I am now without the Kettering experience?’ Take time to reflect on where you are now and how much of this was due to Kettering and the people who helped you. The schools needs us now. This is a karma thing.”