I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life. I love it!
Being surrounded by water, getting to experience all four seasons, and living so close to the Motor City makes this a great place to call home.
But like many Michiganders such as myself, we all too often forget about the majestic landscape and culture found in the Upper Peninsula, located just about 300 miles north of Metro Detroit. To be perfectly honest, it’s almost like an entirely separate state being so far out of sight.
The Upper and Lower Peninsulas are joined together by one of the world’s largest suspension bridges, the Mackinac Bridge pictured below.
It is one of the greatest marvels of modern engineering and construction you’ll ever lay witness to. Spanning almost five miles end-to-end, the sheer size and magnitude of this bridge cannot be captured in pictures. In person, it is staggering.
But you must be wondering why in the world Modern Mopar Magazine is taking the time to discuss the geography and landscape of Michigan?
Let me explain.
While the Motor City may produce some pretty awesome vehicles, it takes highly educated people from all over the map to create, design, and engineer them. And in order to attract these people, car companies undergo significant recruiting efforts to bring in the best of the best. Chrysler is no exception.
Michigan Tech University (MTU), located way up in the U.P., is one of 29 universities that Chrysler currently has recruiting programs with. Their goal is to attract some of the most robust talent coming out of college in order to fill internships and, ultimately, full time employment positions within the company once stand-out students graduate.
A few weeks ago, yours truly got to join a team of Chrysler Engineers up at MTU during their launch of a near week-long recruiting campaign.
How did I get up there you ask? In a Pitch Black 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 provided by SRT Engineering of course (pictured below). How else do you travel?
Knowing that other manufacturers are undertaking similar recruiting efforts, it’s best to pull out all the stops.
So, before the MTU Huskies football game against the Indianapolis Greyhounds, Chrysler Engineers set up shop right on campus to make their presence known. And not only did they bring a Fiat 500, Dodge Durango, and Ram 1500, but also the remaining SRT lineup, plus a Mopar ’10 Challenger. It was truly a fantastic way to attract the attention of students and alumni entering to watch the game. Even the MTU mascot, Mr. Blizzard T. Husky, took special interest in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 (pictured below, you can’t miss him).
But this was more than just about creating publicity for the cars. It was a chance for the Engineers to interface directly with students interested in becoming a part of Chrysler. In fact, 40 students were specially selected to partake in one of two ride and drive events planned for that weekend.
What better way to spike a prospective student’s interest than by getting them behind the wheel, right? Especially in the SRT products. If getting to cruise around in a 470 horsepower performance car doesn’t give you incentive to do well in school, then I’m not sure what will.
The planned drive route took students from the MTU campus all the way to the highest point in the entire Upper Peninsula, called Brockway Mountain. Stops were made at several landmarks along the 100+ mile roundtrip so that students could swap cars and get to know all the Engineers who were along for the ride. In turn, the Engineers get to know them as well.
In the days following, the recruiting team also engaged students and faculty staff at several events including an MTU Career Day, a corporate information session discussing Chrysler Group, LLC, and design project meetings with student teams. Collectively, the recruiting efforts reached well over 500 students during the entire trip.
This particular effort up at MTU is quite special. Chrysler doesn’t just send any old group of Engineers to promote the company. This team consists of bonafide MTU alumni, all of whom have a deep affinity for their alma mater and a strong drive to capture the interest of students they think could help the cause at Chrysler.
The team (pictured below left to right), consists of the following Chrysler Engineers:
• Chris Whiteman – Head of MOPAR Electronic Accessories Engineering
• Adam Johnson – Lead, Powertrain Performance & Fuel Economy Simulation
• Rob Navaroli – Launch Manager, Manufacturing Engineering
• John Antilla – Torque Responsible, Vehicle Packaging & Integration
• Jody Hand – Current Production Manager
• Jennifer Shute – Vehicle HMI Supervisor
• Todd Davis – Lead, Powertrain Synthesis
• Chris Nowak – Lead VIR, Jeep & Ram Products (not pictured)
Once the recruiting efforts had concluded after the MTU football game, the team and I embarked on a day-long road trip through the U.P., or what locals call Copper Country. These parts are known for their rich history of copper mining that made the U.P. even more active than the Detroit area back in the day.
We split off into groups of two; each duo sitting comfortably in an SRT8, cruising much of the same route that MTU students would embark on the following day.
Let me just say that if you’ve never been up into the U.P. to view the incredible landscape, you simply must do yourself a favor and make the trip. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and it will take your breath away. It provided for some incredible photo opportunities with the cars. (See Below)
But if landscape isn’t your thing, then do it for the driving alone. Both M-26 and US-41 are some of the best roads I’ve ever piloted a car across. Constant elevation changes are matched by challenging S-curves that make spirited driving a blast. The trees and foliage that line the roads are, at times, so abundant that they almost engulf the entire roadway; making it like driving through a tunnel of timber and green.
Engineer John Antilla and I took advantage of the new Adaptive Suspension in the Charger, firming up the ride to carve through the two lane twists with remarkable ease and precision; although Dramamine should have likely been prescribed before hand. And the HEMI sounded sweet blaring through the surrounding forest, even if it comes at the expense of a one-on-one meeting with the local Sheriff for doing 76 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. But that’s another story. (No tickets!)
We weren’t the only ones digging the drive though. Rob Navaroli, driving an Inaugural Edition Challenger 392, became lost in his exploration of the HEMI’s torque curve and forgot to heed the warning of low fuel in the gauge cluster. Our convoy came to a halt while John and I retrieved fuel from the next closest gas station……..12 miles away! But, hey, all’s well that ends well. Right, Rob?
Once refueled, the group took me to numerous local landmarks including Brockway Mountain, the Keweenaw Snow Gauge, and The Jampot.
If you’re reading this and find yourself complaining about the snow where you live, perhaps a look at a measure of snowfall this area faces will sober you up (pictures below).
The coolest stop on our trip, however, had to be The Jampot. It’s a niche bakery shop located just off M-26 that sells everything from handmade pound cakes, to jelly and jams, muffins, cookies, and yes, even jalapeno-laden caramels that will set your mouth on fire.
The real kicker (other than a burning tongue and mouth from eating caramels) is that The Jampot is owned and operated by a group of local monks (pictured below). Yes, real monks with full beards and robes that bake everything from scratch. But have no worries, these are not the kind of monks confined to a life of silence. The monks at The Jampot are extremely polite and are eager to talk with customers.
Needless to say, I got to see way more than I could have ever planned for that weekend. I had never been up that high in the U.P. which gave me a greater appreciation for the beautiful countryside that lies north of the Mackinac Bridge. I would encourage anyone to get up there and see what it’s all about. And, by all means, bring your SRT with you. Those roads are exactly where cars like them belong.
But despite my enchantment with this newfound world to the north and an incredible drive with Chrysler Engineers, this weekend was more about Chrysler’s concerted effort to build strong relationships with students in the technical field. Many of the prospects they were engaging will likely go on to work in Auburn Hills, MI, or any number of Chrysler’s facilities across the country and the rest of the world. It is refreshing to see that the recruiting effort is alive and well.