Kettering University alumnus gives back to students by supporting the hands-on SAE experiences

When it comes to supporting Kettering University students, Don Ableson ’59 followed his passion for education to help point students toward success.

Big believers in hands-on experience and in the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), Ableson and his wife, Muriel, wanted to bring as many STEM learning opportunities to students as possible.

Most recently, the Ablesons committed $10,000 to Kettering’s SAE teams, though they have been long-time supporters of Kettering University and its students. In addition to the time spent rallying behind the Kettering experience and spreading the word wherever they can, they contributed the first donation toward the Kettering University GM Mobility Research center.

“SAE is a networking organization, where young engineers and veteran engineers can make new friends and have access to all kinds of technical knowledge and organizations. Over the years, I’ve tried to stay familiar with Kettering and what they are doing and the thing I always came back to was the Formula SAE teams there. I have no doubt that the teams will put my donation to good use for team activities or building their vehicles. I enjoy helping them and I hope they use my input to further their educational experience,” Ableson said.

Ableson studied Industrial Engineering while at Kettering University (then General Motors Institute). He worked for Fisher Body Works Engineering while in school, and continued with them for several years after graduation.  

“With my Kettering education and co-op experience, I entered the industry full time with confidence,” said Ableson.

Ableson retired from GM after 47 years of service at many Fisher Body and GM plants and in product engineering. His final position was executive director of the Specialty Vehicle Activity unit.

Fresh out of college, Ableson belonged to two professional organizations, SAE and ESD (the Engineering Society of Detroit.) Within a short time, he decided to focus on SAE, and has served the Society in many capacities over the years. In 1999, he became President of SAE International, and also was involved in forming the SAE Foundation, which promotes STEM educational efforts at every grade level and also at the college level.  

“The opportunities that the SAE Foundation provides brings more STEM topics into the classroom, helping students to learn about STEM and get information about job opportunities available to those who concentrate on these areas of their education,” Ableson said. “We have a chance to make more students knowledgeable about STEM.”

Ableson came to Kettering because of the hands-on experience, and that is why he continues to invest in the SAE teams and what they do. By being involved in the SAE teams, students learn so many valuable skills they can use throughout their college years and their careers, he said. “SAE provides both men and women an opportunity to get into the design of a vehicle and go through the planning of it, the building of it, and the actual racing of it. It gives them some real hands-on background and teaches them interpersonal skills as they mingle with many young engineers at Formula SAE or Clean Snowmobile competitions.”

It is with that mindset that the Ablesons were the first donors to Kettering’s Mobility Research Center.

“I just felt that this would be a great thing for Kettering to have. It would offer the students in these SAE clubs a real opportunity to learn by doing,” Ableson said. “Kettering students work hard and they put in a lot of hours. Those involved in SAE teams learn to compete honestly and take on new challenges beyond what they were expecting.”

Throughout his  career and his involvement in SAE, Ableson and his wife always knew they wanted to contribute to a solid education for future generations. And they continue to do that, especially here at Kettering.  

“It’s been a good run for my wife and I. Our decision when I retired was that we would give back.  Staying involved with the SAE Foundation and Kettering was the best way for us to do that. We have committed time and money to helping students in need, and hopefully bringing more and more students into engineering and STEM education. I’ve had many opportunities to travel the world as SAE President and talk with students in many countries. It really gives you hope for this world when you see the passion and enthusiasm of these young people, what they are trying to do, and what challenges they are going to face in their lives.”