The first four students to complete a bachelor’s degree in transportation design at Lawrence Technological University will graduate when commencement ceremonies are held at Cobo Arena in Detroit on May 15.

Even though this is the first graduating class, Lawrence Tech’s program has already been recognized by as one of the country’s top eight in automotive design.

The four members of the first graduating class were all working in the industry during their final semester: Jason Falenski of Troy at Ford Motor Co.; Ben Graf of Sebewaing at RTT USA, an international graphics software company; Taylor Manuilow of Port Huron at Peugeot in France and Chris Nichols of Sears at Volkswagen in Germany.

The degree program reflects Lawrence Tech’s signature “Theory and Practice” approach to learning by combining in-depth conceptual investigations with hands-on projects and extensive exposure to working professionals. It draws on two disciplines, engineering and design, and the new graduates have been prepared as designers who understand automotive technology and how to communicate effectively with engineers.

Transportation design students at Lawrence Tech work on industry-sponsored projects in all four years of college, and many are hired as interns or co-op students prior to graduation.

“We’ve tried to make our program like a four-year apprenticeship,” said Keith Nagara, director of the transportation design program at Lawrence Tech.

In many ways the program reflects the Nagara’s own experience. Originally an art student, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in automotive engineering from Lawrence Tech. He worked on powertrain systems at Chrysler Corp. and automotive design at Ford.

He was recruited for the Lawrence Tech study committee that created the transportation design program, was hired as co-director for the launch in 2007, and took over as director the following year.

“We wanted to create an industry studio environment,” Nagara said. “Students must blend their creative talent with an understanding of engineering and manufacturing technology, so that they design projects with feasibility of manufacturing in mind.”


Leave a Reply