Solving the STEM Crisis by Investing in Youth

We interviewed Brigit Anthony, vice president of Cooper Standard, on the company’s direct approach to solving the STEM gap by investing heavily in youth education.

Tell us about your professional background and your work with Cooper Standard.

I personally have 30 years of experience as an engineer in the automotive industry. I currently serve as vice president of engineering and technology for the North America region of Cooper Standard. Cooper Standard is a leading global supplier of systems and components for the automotive industry. Our products include rubber and plastic sealing, fuel and brake lines, fluid transfer hoses, and anti-vibration systems. I also lead the company’s newly established STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Affinity Group.


My education background is I have a Bachelor of Engineering degree and a Masters of Engineering degree in thermal science from the University of Michigan in Dearborn. I began my career as a product, manufacturing, test and resident climate engineer at Ford Motor Co. From 1997 to 2013, I was employed at Visteon Automotive Systems. I served as senior director for the global HVAC and powertrain cooling product lines. I joined Halla Visteon in 2013 as senior director of the global powertrain cooling systems and heat exchanger engineering, where I was responsible for global product design and manufacturing standardization, and core engineering. I ended up serving as a senior director of the Americas technical center for Halla Visteon Climate Control Corp before joining Cooper Standard in 2015

What is the new STEM initiative at Cooper Standard?

Fifteen months ago, we started the STEM Affinity Group and we partnered with the Dow Chemical Company. They already had an active stem program for a long period of time in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. The program was called “You Be the Chemist.” To create some additional engineering- and automotive-focused education, our employees worked with Dow on a new program that could offer information on careers and manufacturing at all different education levels. The STEM Affinity Group’s purpose is to both educate and stimulate interest and excitement around STEM careers, and to also promote manufacturing in the automotive industry. 

Cooper Standard uses this graphic to promote the many career opportunities in modern manufacturing.


What age group does the program target?

The program is customizable to fit elementary school, middle school, or high school. Currently the focus of our experiments, demonstrations, education, and career talks are focused in between the elementary and the high school level. We've now expanded the STEM Affinity Group, outside of the Detroit area and globally. Within the United States we have a few locations that are starting to put together their own stem chapters including northern Michigan, Kentucky, and Ohio. We have established chapters around the world in China and Brazil and we are now expanding into Mexico to create another chapter. 

Besides the STEM Affinity Group we have several other programs, each geared to different programs and areas. We have a program that is focused on middle schools in the area and underprivileged areas where we go to them on a biweekly program. That program is called Inspiration and we do science education directly at their schools. We have another program that is bimonthly through the school year centered in Detroit at one of the most at-risk zip codes in the whole country. We’ve had now about a year and a half of education with students that are both middle- and high-school aged. The program includes a computer-aided design (CAD) “tinker” program where they learn how to use CAD software to build different parts and we host competitions with the kids. So we have numerous programs that reach a wide variety of age groups. And it is amazing how fast it has grown in a year and a half because there’s so much demand throughout the metro Detroit area. For example, we’ve gone to a number of high schools to do career STEM career talks to the high-school students especially toward the female students to expose them and try to generate interest and excitement in the STEM career. 

Cooper Standard employees host a science fair for students at S.A.Y. Play.

Additionally, based upon all the volunteering and engagement of our Cooper employees in the STEM Affinity Group, we have reached out and are sponsoring students in what’s called the Academically Interested Mind (AIM) scholarship program. It’s for 11th-grade students to attend Kettering University this summer for five weeks. Kettering is in the middle of Michigan and it used to be called the General Motors Institute. It’s a unique university in that students have alternating semesters between class education and real-world firsthand experience for a four-and-a-half-year program. The students in the AIM scholarship program are completely immersed into college life including dorm accommodations. Every student that attends gets a partial scholarship for college and the No. 1 student gets a full scholarship for a four-year education at Kettering. We are currently sponsoring two students from the Detroit area, two students from Torreón, Mexico, where Cooper Standard has a plant and is building a tech center, and three students from Jamaica.

Cooper Standard is expanding its STEM initiatives to different countries including China, Mexico, and Jamaica.


What is your hope for this large investment in STEM?

This is an extension of the Cooper Standard Foundation, which is an important part of our culture. Our foundation is built primarily around employee engagement. Our employees go out into the community and we match their efforts with contributions that are important to them. It is a large part of our DNA to want to give back to the community and the mission of the foundation is first and foremost children and education.

That’s the main emphasis around it, however, we also would very much like to see the auto industry and manufacturing in general have a workforce for the future. They don’t have to work here at Cooper Standard but as stewards of the industry we feel it is important to make sure that there’s a future workforce. I personally feel that the Cooper Foundation is a differentiator for people to want to work at Cooper Standard.

Cooper Standard employees teach students basic CAD skills that can be used in the engineering industry.


What is the main goal of the STEM Affinity Group and what areas are being targeting?

Our STEM program is meant to give students the opportunity to see real scientists and engineers who work in the industry, and can give them a sense of what it’s like to pursue these careers in STEM. Especially in the underserved areas because these children might have a teacher that gives them a science book to read on their own and that’s the extent of their science experience. We’re giving them a real-life experience with our employees who come and spend time with them. It’s amazing the results of that one-on-one interaction, and that just wouldn’t happen if our employees were not there.

And it’s not just us here at Cooper Standard, there are other organizations throughout the industry that are working along the same lines including our customers. We all recognize that there is a gap. Between 2014 and 2024, there will be a large job gap when you compare the growth of available automation jobs versus the number of students coming. We know that we are part of that gap and as we mentioned before, there is the global aspect. Cooper Standard is in 20 countries around the world and we want to make sure that we can produce cars at the highest levels of innovation for years to come. 

What’s the feedback you’ve seen from the students in the program?

I'll give you a couple of examples. We had a high-school career talk where we had female engineer speakers, and the female students would come up and say that they are scared to join a robotics team because it’s all boys. These young female students don’t get the support from their families and the schools to go into engineering or STEM fields. For them to be able to sit down and talk to successful women in the engineering industry and ask wholeheartedly, “Do you really think I can do this?” It really touched all of us to say we are living examples and to have the opportunity to explain to them they can do it and to pursue their dreams. Additionally, we’ve done surveys of the students in Detroit and in the short life span of the program, their interest, knowledge, and experience in science has increased by about 20%. We’ve also had numerous students that have started their own science demonstrations and have entered our robotics camp in August. These students go on to participate and be part of other robotics teams. 

Have any of the high-school students you work with expressed an interest in entering engineering or science majors at the university level?

Absolutely! They have expressed interest and part of our sponsorship is giving them an opportunity to enter the AIM program to really learn about what the college engineering life would be like.

What are your future goals for the program?

Our goals would be to absolutely see some of the students that we have go on to study in college and have careers in the STEM area. To see their education progress and develop from an early introduction of science education and special areas like robotics. Based on that success to educate young students in STEM, we will continue to pursue our chapters around the United States and into other countries important to manufacturing.

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