Kettering graduate using engineering skills in healthcare field

Nov 4, 2013

A Wisconsin native, Nathan Wilke '84 first became interested in Kettering University (then GMI) after reading about the University’s co-op education model.

When Nathan Wilke ‘84 was searching for colleges, unbeknownst to him at the time, he was also foreshadowing his future career.

A Wisconsin native, Wilke first became interested in Kettering University (then GMI) after reading a Milwaukee newspaper article that discussed the University’s co-op education model.

Nathan Wilke ‘84“I was looking for a college that was going to be a good value,” Wilke said. “I needed to be able to earn an income in order to fund my education, so co-op was perfect for that. I was able to finish my undergrad degree essentially debt-free, and that was something my parents and I really appreciated.”

Finding value would prove to be a theme in Wilke’s career. After graduating from Kettering, he completed his MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Wilke has spent 31 years in the automotive industry, working in various roles for General Motors for 21 years and working 10 years for GKN Driveline, a British company that produces constant velocity (CV) joints.

For the past three years, he’s worked for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison, Wisc. In his current role as program director, value analysis, his primary responsibility is helping the healthcare network maintain and improve its performance levels while also identifying opportunities to reduce costs and operate more efficiently. It is a new role in the organization and he’s the first director.

“The principles I’ve learned working in industry can really make an impact on healthcare,” Wilke said. “The United States spends more on healthcare than any country in the world, but it does not have the top results for that cost. There are many opportunities to improve the value in healthcare, and engineering principles can definitely help achieve that.”

Wilke’s experience in industry started as a student at Kettering when he did his co-op for a GM facility in Janesville, Wisc. He credits the mix of classroom attention he received from faculty at Kettering along with the variety of skills he learned as a co-op employee with helping supply him with a well-rounded skillset when he entered the workforce. In particular, he was able to learn many different elements of the auto industry -- human resources, finance, quality control, maintenance and manufacturing, among others -- because his co-op job allowed him the flexibility to gain experience in different departments.

“Kettering helped prepare me with more than just the hard skills that you learn in the classroom,” Wilke said. “I had to go out and apply those skills and build on them during my co-op term. That combination of great classroom instruction and learning on the job gives a foundation of skills that prepare students to be problem solvers when they enter into their careers.”

Wilke also valued the attention he received from faculty at Kettering.

“I’m a small town person, I went to a small town high school,” Wilke said. “Kettering fostered an environment where I didn’t get lost in the numbers. I was able to have great relationships with professors, and that really helped keep me focused in school.”

As a student, Wilke was inducted into the Robot Society, a Kettering honor society that recognizes students for high academic achievement as well as participation in civic and extracurricular activities. He also worked as a resident advisor, something that further helped him fund his education by helping alleviate room and board costs.

Despite a busy schedule -- in addition to his career, Wilke is married with two sons -- and living outside of Michigan, Wilke was still interested in staying involved with Kettering as a graduate. He’s been able to fulfill that desire through serving on the Alumni Board.

“I owe a lot to Kettering,” Wilke said. “I was not only able to mostly fund my undergraduate education through co-op, but I also received an education that has helped me find career opportunities where I can use many different skills. I felt obligated to give back as a result of that, and serving on the alumni board has been a good way for me to stay in touch and keep engaged.”