He’s all geared up for automotive manufacturing

Mitchell Crawford
Degree: BS Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering & Applied Science
Hometown: Prairie du Sac, Wis.
It’s a fact: He collects highway signs – what else?

When it comes to automobiles, don’t get Mitchell Crawford started – unless you’re prepared for a long discussion. His childhood fascination with cars steered him toward a degree in mechanical engineering, and it was a particular car he worked on at UWM that ultimately helped him land a job in the automotive field.

Crawford is in an enviable position. Despite tough economic times, he has been a salaried engineer working nearly full-time at Modine Manufacturing in Racine since January. Among Modine’s products are thermal management components that are used in automotive applications.

Crawford has worked four internships, called co-ops, with Modine. This included one term in Tennessee, where he worked at one of their plants to gain manufacturing experience. “So after all that, they wanted me and it was mutual,” he says. “I did not look anywhere else.”

From his hometown near Madison, Crawford settled on UWM after visiting his cousin who was enrolled and living in the residence halls. Although his parents are University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni, Crawford was impressed with the tight knit community at Sandburg, and decided then to pass up Madison in favor of coming to the larger city.

A drive to improve

He immediately joined the student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), a group dedicated to designing, building and racing an off-road “Baja” car. Each year, universities from around the world race these vehicles in a competition sponsored by SAE.

But when Crawford began, the UWM Baja car had seen better days. The car – and the team’s chances for being competitive – was hindered by a decade of repairs and upgrades from only recycled pieces. He recalled how the front suspension arms had been made out of table legs because that was all previous student engineers had to use.

The group took stock of what it would need to bring their car to the next performance level.

“SAE was the icebreaker for me in the college. I met so many people,” says Crawford. “My aim was to build up the inventory of available resources, which involved fund-raising. For a while it was like Christmas every week when we were receiving new parts and tools.”

In his two years in SAE, the group had amassed $30,000 worth of tools and materials, enough to build an all-new car, he says. And in the process, Crawford made some valuable contacts, one of which recommended him for a co-op at Modine.

Old-school done right

The experience has left him with some opinions on the importance of the manufacturing sector. “I’ve come to see how manufacturing brings more robust economic growth to an area,” he says. “It’s truly making money by making things. It could drive the U.S. forward, but automation is necessary in order to compete in the global market.”

Modine’s product-testing facility particularly impressed Crawford. “We can simulate the radiator module from a dump truck traveling off road, down to each pothole and bump,” he says. “Our climatic wind tunnel can simulate a car driving up to 150 MPH with an air temperature of -20 F to 130 F. It’s an extremely efficient way to test a product while controlling the elements.”

The search for efficiency was a theme that also permeated Crawford’s study abroad experience in Germany, where he and his classmates studied renewable energy.

Before leaving the country, Crawford made time for his first love. He visited the Autostadt (literally “car city”), a museum of automobiles that is adjacent to the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg.

“There was every car that had represented a milestone, or advancement in the industry. I had an opportunity to check them out up-close, some of which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.”

Having earned his degree and started his professional life, what’s Crawford’s next goal? It just may be to replace his silver Impreza with a faster vehicle.