March 24, 2006
SIUC, GM celebrate 37-year partnership
CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale's nationally recognized automotive technology program recently received another honor with the donation of a 2006 Pontiac Solstice from General Motors Corp. through Auffenberg of Carbondale.
The donation is a direct result of SIUC's program earning the Automotive Industry Planning Council's Award of Excellence for 2005 – the third time it has been judged the nation's top program. The program, only the second three-time winner in the award's history, also earned top honors in 1991 and 1999; national winners cannot compete again for the award for five years.
The donation underscores a nearly four-decade relationship between the University and the automaker that dates back to L.D. Wiley, the first department chair, more than 37 years ago.
"We are fortunate to have such an outstanding corporate partner in General Motors," Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said. "The continuing support is critical for our faculty and students to remain on the cutting edge of the automotive industry."
Paul D. Sarvela, dean of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts, pointed to the "excellent relationship" with General Motors and SIUC alumni who work there as key factors in the program's success. Several members of the automaker's corporate staff serve on advisory committees, work on implementing paid internship programs and offer other support to students, he said.
"We are the No. 1 automotive technology program in the country for several reasons – including a great faculty, staff and student body," Sarvela said. "But another important factor is strong industry support. The donation of cars, such as this fine donation from GM, will enable the Salukis to continue to be No. 1 and on top of their game."
"We are deeply grateful to our friends at General Motors for this latest gift in support of our automotive technology department," said Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and CEO of the SIU Foundation. "This long partnership is just one example of how higher education and industry can work together to achieve positive outcomes. Strengthening existing partnerships and cultivating new relationships is just one of the many goals of the University's long-range plan, Southern@150."
The relationship between GM and SIUC is special, said department chair Jack S. Greer.
"I think it is a rarity for automotive programs," Greer said. "There are just a few of us in the United States, and I don't think any of the other schools have the same relationship with GM that we have."
Bill Szelag, manager of GM's Technical Assistance Center in Flint, Mich., earned his associate degree in automotive technology from SIUC in 1973 when it was a two-year program, and a bachelor's degree in education in 1974. GM employs more than 200 SIUC graduates throughout the United States, not including graduates working in GM dealerships or in contract/supplier positions. The positions also include engineering, business administration, communications, marketing, and industrial technology.
The company recently revived its global internship program with SIUC to provide experience for two students with GM service operations. Also, there are internships in GM service operations in addition to an ongoing externship program. Last week, two automotive technology students spent a week shadowing GM employees – most of whom are SIUC graduates – in their jobs.
Other connections include two, $2,000 GM Service Operations Scholarships awarded annually, and two, $1,500 alumni annual scholarships started by Szelag, GM warranty manager Dale Hall, another automotive technology alumnus, and other program alums.
"Any grad owes a lot to the program and having the faculty keep in contact with alumni and with alumni groups very much helps to facilitate the continued support," Szelag said. "The goals of both helping the program and helping our respective companies drives the support efforts; pride and relationships is what keeps it going."
Glenn K. Rosser graduated from the program in 1978 and earned a bachelor's degree in distribution management in 1980. He is a GM area service manager in Chesterfield, Mo., and said the relationship with SIUC is a "win-win" situation for GM. SIUC provides GM's dealers with "proficient and professional technicians and managers who are the heart of the automotive business," he said.
"Today's vehicles are far more technical in their design than those of the past – they require a thorough understanding of electronics, hydraulics, fuel control and on-board systems," Rosser said. "We at GM are pleased that we can rely on SIU to provide students with the understanding needed to provide our customers with the best ownership experience possible."
The Pontiac Solstice will help keep students on the cutting edge of technological advances.
"What is so nice about receiving a car like this is that our students who graduate in May will be trained on 2006 vehicles," Greer said. "That allows us to keep a very up-to-date and current curriculum. That is what is so important about getting new cars. That allows us to stay on top of things."
Auffenberg of Carbondale General Manager Jamey Turner also noted the close relationship the dealer has with the program. The dealership's service manager and body shop manager serve on automotive technology's advisory committee. Students also gain on-the-job experience there, he said.
Greer explained dealerships often hire students to work part-time to gain valuable experience.
The automotive technology program has about 175 students this year, and anticipates more than that next fall, Greer said.
Szelag, who chairs the automotive technology advisory committee, said a recurring comment from students each year is "the faculty and leadership in the program is what makes the program so strong and enables them to be a repeat winner …"
"The Pontiac Solstice donation of a very newly launched product is GM's way of saying congratulations to the SIU automotive program for winning the national award again," Szelag said.
Shaping high-quality undergraduate programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.