College Relations Coordinator Loren Townes (center) discusses Washtenaw Community College’s advanced manufacturing programs with visiting high school students during the Future Automotive Career Exposition event at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 17. | Photo by Kelly Gampel


Director of Media Relations

A sassy, red Polaris Slingshot equipped with smart car technology and customized using advanced manufacturing applications was the star of the show at Washtenaw Community College’s exhibit at this year’s North American International Auto Show.

The Slingshot was modified in the college’s advanced manufacturing labs by a team of automotive service and motorcycle program faculty, staff and students. Each modification represented a different skill or technology being taught on campus.

“Everything done to this vehicle was something that our students can learn in a class today, and it was done on equipment that is being used in the workplace today,” said Advanced Transportation Center Director Al Lecz, who represented the college at NAIAS. “That kind of hands-on experience is what gives our students a competitive advantage when they’re seeking employment.”

It was the third consecutive year WCC has participated in the AutoMobili-D exhibit at NAIAS. The area is sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Planet M. It featured more than 200 brands, ranging from automakers and suppliers to tech startups and universities.

WCC was the lone two-year college to showcase its mobility-themed programs and innovations. This year’s auto show continued its focus on autonomous and connected vehicles.

Sections of WCC’s vehicle were customized  with lightweighting carbon fiber materials and 3-D printed parts. It was also equipped with front and side LiDAR — a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to detect and measure distance to objects. Other equipment included a dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) system capable of sending and receiving basic safety messages between vehicles, traffic infrastructure and pedestrians.

Rounding out the technology was a bird’s-eye-view camera that allows for a 360-degree view of the area surrounding the vehicle.


Adding to the uniqueness of WCC’s exhibit, also on display was the college’s new mobile Automotive Cybersecurity Educator (ACE), an exact replica of a typical automobile’s electronics, controls and communications network.

The mobile unit was developed specifically for WCC by the GRIMM cybersecurity/consulting firm. It is designed to monitor and modify communication systems to uncover vulnerabilities that could result in a data breach.

Purchased with funds from the Center for Connected and Automated Transportation (CCAT) grant, WCC is believed to be the only college in the nation with such a cybersecurity tool.

RELATED: Photo gallery from NAIAS

“WCC has been a leader in cybersecurity education since it became one of the first institutions in the state to offer a cybersecurity degree in the early 2000s,” said WCC Business and Computer Technologies faculty member Mike Galea.

Galea and fellow WCC instructor Cyndi Millns gave detailed descriptions on how the bench worked to those visiting the exhibit.

“It was gratifying to see the positive reaction from people as they observed the sophistication of the workbench,” said Millns.

“There are very few academic programs in the automotive cybersecurity discipline right now. Our students will greatly benefit from this type of real-world experience, which allows for a seamless transition as they enter the workforce.”

Esther Schmidt is in her first year of the automotive program at WCC. She works part time in the department’s tool crib.


Esther Schmidt, a student in WCC’s Automotive Service program, shared her college experience with show attendees.

Though outnumbered by her male classmates, Schmidt feels right at home in her automotive classes and cites the hands-on approach as a key reason for her enjoyment of the coursework.

“I started in the program because I wanted to do something with my hands and I’ve always enjoyed cars,” said Schmidt.

“All my instructors made me feel welcomed and valued, and in this program, you learn by doing,” Schmidt said. “Being in a male-dominated field can be challenging, but that provides me an incentive to work just a little bit harder.”

Schmidt plans to earn an associate degree in Powertrain Development and a Welding and Fabrication Principles certificate.

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer receives an overview of WCC’s new Automotive Cybersecurity Educator (ACE) from faculty member Mike Galea. | Photo by Kelly Gampel


Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer stopped by the WCC exhibit and was given a tour by President Dr. Rose B. Bellanca and Dean of Advanced Technologies and Public Service Careers Brandon Tucker.

“We were so honored Governor Whitmer stopped by,” said Dr. Bellanca. “I was proud to show her the remarkable work of our faculty, staff and students and demonstrate how our college is playing a key role in creating a trained workforce to support the mobility revolution.

“I shared with the governor the many ways WCC is helping to position Michigan as the global epicenter for advanced transportation.”