Published: May 14, 2018

$1M gift establishes Creative Engineering Endowed Professorship

Contact(s): Patricia Mroczek College of Engineering office: (517) 432-1303, Caroline Brooks Communications and Brand Strategy office: 517-432-0920

Thomas Wielenga, a 1978 graduate of Michigan State University, is investing $1 million to kick-start the next teaching paradigm in the College of Engineering.

The $1 million gift creates the Wielenga Creative Engineering Endowed Professorship, which is designed to be a springboard for new approaches in educating mechanical engineering students.

“We have not applied the technology of today in creative ways to drive down the cost of education,” Wielenga said. “I’m hoping this endowed professorship will find technical ways to reduce costs, improve the capabilities of students and move us toward new teaching models.”

Leo Kempel, College of Engineering dean, said the gift is proactive by systematically reducing the time-to-degree and thereby reducing the cost.

“Spartan engineering has always been about providing opportunity to students with talent to pursue a career as an engineer, to be someone who leads future technology for the sake of society,” Kempel said. “The rising cost of higher education for families is an impediment to providing such an opportunity. This gift will not only help mechanical engineering students, but also it will benefit all our engineering students across the nation.”

Wielenga is an Honors College graduate in mechanical engineering. After MSU, he received a master’s degree in computer-aided design and a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. For the next 12 years, he worked for his thesis adviser, Milton Chase, founder of Mechanical Dynamics Inc. There, he was one of the developers of the mechanical simulation program, ADAMS, which is used extensively to simulate mechanical systems, including cars and trucks.

Wielenga then worked as a consultant and expert in the field of vehicle dynamics and accident reconstruction. He used the ADAMS mechanical simulation program to accurately model the dynamics of vehicles rolling over during vehicle crashes.

Faced with these many tragedies, Wielenga said he thought of a way to prevent these accidents by activating the brakes in a certain way. He patented the technology in 1998 and licensed it to braking suppliers and automotive companies. His anti-rollover braking system is now on most sports utility vehicles. Today, the technology saves around 1,000 lives a year.

Wielenga explained that ideas are formed from combinations of existing resources.

“New ideas are subject to a competitive process that eliminates those that are less fit or less desirable. Those that survive are ‘designs’ that become the basis for new ideas in a continuing process of creation,” he said. “This process results in higher functionality and more complexity. This applies to almost all fields of endeavor and to life itself.”

Wielenga believes that engineers are especially creative.

“We are the ones who make new things,” he said. “We design things that move, that protect, that heat, that cool, that shelter, that are smarter, faster or carry more things. We even make things that make things. Engineers may be the pinnacle of the creative, but often are not recognized as such.

“We have an opportunity to have an outsized influence on the technology of the future,” he added. “As the creative process continues, complexity will increase along with functionality. And because the creative process involves competition between ideas, we have to be competitive to remain relevant.”

Wielenga, who lives in Michigan and Florida, is a member of the college’s Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board.

The gift supports Empower Extraordinary, the $1.5 billion campaign for MSU that launched publicly in October 2014. To date, the College of Engineering has topped its $80 million campaign goal and is now at $97 million. The campaign closes on December 31, 2018.

James Klausner, chair of mechanical engineering, and alum Thomas Wielenga, whose $1 million gift created the Wielenga Creative Engineering Endowed Professorship.