DEARBORN - Imad Dr. Makki, Ph.D., leads a busy life as a technical expert in Powertrain Controls designing control strategies for lower vehicle emissions and improved fuel economy.
But an already heavy workload at Ford didn’t stop him from taking on even more responsibility as volunteer director of the Research and Advanced Engineering High School Science and Technology Program (HSSTP). The program is designed to raise awareness among high school students about technical careers and demonstrate the importance of science and math in industry.
“I believe that this is a great program and a great opportunity,” said Dr. Makki, who has been heading up the HSSTP since 2009. “I wish when I was a high school kid that there was a program like it because it really helps students see how science and engineering relates to real-life applications and it helps them zoom in on a career path.”
Students who enroll in the HSSTP come to the Research & Innovation Center for six Saturday morning sessions from October through March to meet different Ford scientists, engineers and technicians and learn about a variety of subjects from chemistry and physics to engines and transmissions through lectures and hands-on demonstrations.
Typically 150 to 200 high school students from throughout southeast Michigan attend each session. In addition to Dr. Makki, other professionals from Research and Advanced Engineering volunteer their time to make the program a successful and enriching one for the students.
“We do it because we want to make a difference. We’re not doing it because someone is telling us to do it,” said Dr. Makki. “This is a great chance for us to promote science and engineering and reach out to students and encourage them to consider this as a career option.”
Though he has no way of tracking exact numbers, Dr. Makki says many students who have attended the HSSTP in the past have come back to Ford for jobs.
“We view this as a pipeline to recruit some really good talent,” said Dr. Makki. “The students are really amazed at the types of things we’re working on and many of them want to come back and work for Ford. “We have many graduates now working for the company as engineers.”
In addition to handling all of the administrative work and logistics for the Saturday morning sessions, Dr. Makki has also taken on responsibility for coordinating a summer internship program for the students.
“We get about 40 to 50 applications each year,” he said. “It’s a major undertaking to go through the selection process and find mentors in the right areas. We ultimately take 10 to 15 interns each summer.”
Angela Harris did an internship with Ford after completing the HSSTP in her junior year at Allen Park High School in 1998. She came to Ford as a full-time employee in 2003 after graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.
Harris credits her mentors at Ford for steering her toward the right career path.
“I don’t think I would have known to go into chemical engineering if I hadn’t had the opportunity to do the internship here at Ford,” said Harris, who now works as a research engineer in Biomaterials and Plastics.
“Most people don’t start their careers when they’re 16 years old, so it’s been an interesting journey for me.”
It’s also been a very successful journey for Harris, who was named “Top Green Engineer” by marie claire magazine in 2011.
“I knew when I did my internship at Ford that this is what I wanted to do. It just seemed so cool and futuristic to me to have a high-tech job researching things that might be in your vehicle 10 or 15 years down the road,” she said.
Philip Lechowicz, an electrical engineer and member of Ford’s electrification team, also attended the HSSTP and did an internship at Ford when he was a student at Adlai Stevenson High School in Livonia in 2000.
“It’s a very good opportunity to get real-world experience versus the typical textbook instruction you get in the classroom,” he said.
And Dr. Makki himself has a personal connection to the HSSTP. One of his daughters just finished her second year attending the program and is applying for one of the internships this summer.
“She likes biomedical engineering, and we showed her that we do a lot of that type of work here for active and passive safety,” he said. “She was very excited about that.”
This year marks the 28th year that the HSSTP has been inspiring students throughout southeastern Michigan to pursue technical careers. Dr. Makki says the accomplishment is a team effort.
“This unique program wouldn’t be possible without the Ford employees who volunteer their time to make it a success,” said Dr. Makki. “With our strong volunteer base, strong management support and overwhelming interest, we expect the HSSTP will continue to prosper and reach out to more and more students.”