Engineering Alumni Spotlight: Jim Sute
Many Wayne State students are inspired to follow in the footsteps of the visionaries who built Detroit and transformed it into the manufacturing and technological hub it is today. Jim Sute, BSME ’87, was no exception, balancing life as an engineering student and working professional, immersing himself in the campus culture and learning firsthand about the symbiotic relationship between the university and the city in which it lives. Sute has been with General Motors for more than 35 years specializing in paint process engineering, and is passing on his wealth of experience to current students through the Industry Mentor Program.
Can you please describe your career path?
I started my career as a college co-op at a GM assembly plant in Ypsilanti during my junior year at Wayne State in 1984. After working four alternating co-op terms, I graduated in May 1987 and took a full-time position as a facility and process engineer with GM. In 1993 I transferred to the GM Detroit-Hamtramck paint shop where I worked in various positions until 2008 when I transferred to GM Tech Center in the Global Manufacturing Engineering organization.
Describe the ways you’ve stayed connected to Wayne State since graduation.
My wife and I both graduated from Wayne State in the late 1980s and we’ve lived in the Detroit area since. All three of our children graduated from Wayne State (Steven 2012, Daniel 2017, Molly 2019) so we are all proud alumni now. I have been involved with training and developing new engineers at work throughout my career, so the mentoring program at Wayne State seemed to be a good way to become reacquainted with the college after being away for years. I have truly enjoyed getting to meet the young people in the program who are all finding their way toward engineering careers to provide them some insight, advice and encouragement, but also to listen and learn from them about how the curriculum and college has evolved over the years.
With what other organizations do you volunteer, and what are your hobbies and interests?
I work on two technical committees with the National Fire Protection Association regarding paint finishing and manufacturing processes. I have volunteered as a leader or coach in youth baseball and soccer, scouting and in church programs. My interests include playing and listening to all kinds of music, hanging out with the family and our pets, and exploring cities especially my two favorites, New York City and Detroit.
Why did you choose to attend Wayne State?
I wanted to earn a degree in engineering and stay local to Detroit. I didn’t hear much about Wayne State when I was going to high school and didn’t know any graduates but from what I could learn from my pre-internet research it seemed like an exciting place with an excellent engineering program. I actually got lost the first time I drove to campus to take the entrance exams. This was back before GPS.
What student organizations or teams were you part of at Wayne State?
I was working full time and taking a lot of credit hours, so unfortunately I didn’t volunteer to any student organizations back then. I will say that I was lucky enough to land two paper airplanes into the Student Center ceiling from two floors below which was not an easy thing to do back in the day. I also found time to make it to a lot of the epic fraternity parties that used to happen at Wayne State back in the 1980s, where I met my wife. That was another time in history.
How did your education at Wayne State prepare you for what you are doing today?
The classes at Wayne were extremely challenging to me and it took a semester to learn to manage the workload and prioritize time for schoolwork and the job I had to work to help cover expenses. The professors were tough but excellent, especially Milton Koenig who I will always remember for his stinging yet humorous comments in red pen on my lab report covers. I learned that there is no partial credit if the bridge falls in and just because you don’t see the pattern yet doesn’t make it random. I cringe when I hear someone say they never use their engineering education at work. Engineering is literally everywhere around us.
What is the most important thing you learned at Wayne State?
In addition to engineering curriculum, I learned how Detroit and Detroiters played a key role in the history of manufacturing in the U.S. Also, I believe college life should immerse young people in the real world, not insulate them from it, and I appreciate the diversity of people, backgrounds and culture on the Wayne State campus.
What advice do you have for current students who want to make the most out of their experience at Wayne State?
Take time to explore the campus and the city, be a good ambassador, make friends and stay in touch with them and keep working toward your goals. Sometimes the concepts are difficult to grasp but it will be a little easier if you put your phone down for a while.