Michigan Mobility Institute executive director Jessica Robinson says the process of creating a first-of-its-kind Master of Mobility degree is "well underway," thanks to the institute's new partnership with Wayne State University (WSU).
The institute made headlines earlier this year when it announced its intention to create the high-level educational credential in mobility. Robinson says WSU's College of Engineering was an ideal inaugural educational partner to collaborate with in creating the coursework and formal structure for the degree.
"They are here in the heart of Detroit," she says. "That became really appealing to us as we thought about creating a program that can be connected to a lot of the investment and growth that we're seeing in Michigan right now. It's already connected to the tech ecosystem."
Robinson also saw an ideal match in WSU's existing dual focus on both cutting-edge research work and connecting its grads to jobs in the field. She notes that many WSU professors are already working on classes that are applicable to next-generation mobility careers, which will form an important base upon which to build a regimen of highly specialized mobility coursework.
Institute staff are also working with local mobility hiring managers and HR teams to determine what educational experience they're most in need of, so the institute's curriculum can be tailored to fit industry demand. However, Robinson says a "human-centered design approach" is crucial to the planning work.
"We're trying to make sure that we are creating coursework that doesn't just meet the constraints of academia or the needs of hiring managers, but it also recognizes the motivations and the goals of the people, the students, that will be taking these classes," she says.
That entails considering what times to hold classes to best fit with students' schedules, as well as considering the diverse professional experience that students may bring to their mobility studies. Robinson says WSU staff are already creating programs that are tailored to engineering professionals who are interested in taking their education to the next level. That's crucial because the Michigan Mobility Institute hopes to provide next-generation training for people with existing experience in the auto industry, "classic" mechanical or electrical engineering, computer science, and more.
That will require creating a series of core courses to establish what mobility is, how it's different from the traditional auto industry, and some of the key technology driving it today. From there, electives will offer a deeper dive into more specialized areas of the mobility industry.
"We want to make sure it has enough context and breadth that if you come in from a variety of backgrounds, you still have a meaningful learning experience and it's not so narrow," Robinson says.
WSU will provide the Michigan Mobility Institute's physical campus for the time being. Other space needs may arise with time, and if they do Robinson says the institute will work with WSU and other partners to create them. However, she says the institute intends to make use of other existing local mobility facilities as needed.
"If a student group wants to do a certain type of testing where (the American Center for Mobility) has the right facilities, I think we should absolutely put that into the plan to take advantage of the resources that are here in the region," Robinson says.
Robinson anticipates welcoming the first class of Master of Mobility students in 2021, although she also hopes to offer individual courses earlier than that – potentially in the winter 2020 semester. Beyond merely establishing a new formal structure for technical skills training, she hopes the Michigan Mobility Institute will also allow students to "do a reset on the business model, the business context, and the system that they will be designing for and within in the future."
Robinson shares the story of an engineer she worked with in the process of doing research for the institute.
"He said, 'I've been trained to think about the vehicle as the system and the unit that we design for. But so much of mobility is about interaction with the environment,'" she says. "That understanding of context is really important."