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Professor James Carlson is delighted when his students’ eyes light up

Wednesday, August 09, 2023 12:00 AM

James Carlson
James Carlson

When former Macomb student James Carlson accepted a co-op (work-based learning) assignment in Dearborn, he had no idea how to get there. A college staffer grabbed a map and highlighted the best route to take to what would become a career-making opportunity for Carlson, now a professor in the college’s Product Development program.

“I worked as a CAD designer for about 10 years after graduating (with an associate degree in auto body design) from Macomb,” said Carlson, who started out in that co-op job designing seat components for Ford. “After a few years, I went to MSX in Warren and was designing HVAC components for GM and helping other designers learn new CAD software to make their jobs more efficient. Seeing them become better with the software gave me a sense of accomplishment. That’s when I realized I wanted to teach.”

Ensuring the relevance of programs

Carlson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial administration from Central Michigan University, joined Macomb’s faculty full time in 2003. He works in tandem with industry to ensure Macomb’s offerings in product development remain relevant. Macomb’s Digital Sculptor program, which teaches students the art and science of clay modeling, is the most recent case in point. 

“GM reached out to me several years ago about the need to develop a sculpting program that teaches students studio design plus the manufacturing process,” said Carlson. “With the support of many companies, the program is doing well.”

Carlson no longer lives in what he calls the “one mile bubble” he grew up in Warren, where he graduated from Warren Woods Tower High School and worked at Chicken Shack. He now makes his home in Almont with wife Robyn, a graduate of Macomb’s Surgical Technology program, and their three teenagers: Braedon, Gabriella and Camden.  He enjoys fishing, hunting and completing DIY household projects, but also finds time to attend advisory meetings at local high schools and serve as a judge at competitions held by the Michigan Industrial and Technology Education Society.

“I am grateful to Macomb,” he acknowledged, “for all the opportunities it has provided me.”

Keeping students excited about the possibilities

After teaching for nearly the past two years at a temporary off-site facility during the renovation of R,S and T buildings, Carlson will be returning to South Campus this fall to the complex’ new incarnation: the Skilled Trades and Advanced Technology Center. He’s looking forward to teaching in the facility, which has a state-of-the-art design that will keep students excited about the possibilities.

“Watching students develop and begin their careers in the industry is a great satisfaction to me,” said Carlson. “When our design students come and tell me that they have an interview or you see their eyes light up when they walk through a design floor at one of the tech centers, this means more to me than my own time in the industry.”