Incoming Society of Automotive Engineers President Neil A. Schilke envisions the world’s premier engineering organization as becoming a "funnel for new technology."

Mr. Schilke, General Motors Corp.’s general director of engineering-Corporate Staffs, says he’ll focus on SAE’s ability to serve as an instrument through which information on the latest industry developments – such as 42-volt vehicle architecture and fuel cell systems – can quickly be disseminated to members.

"And not only do we need to serve the industry in the emerging areas of innovation, we need to be innovative ourselves," he says of the 80,000-member society.

A graduate of Cornell University with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering, Mr. Schilke began his career with GM’s Chevrolet Div. in 1960 as a CGIT (college graduate in training) in the areas of production, die design and plant engineering. In 1964, he moved to GM Research Laboratories, where he was involved in conventional and advanced powertrains, vehicle dynamics, acoustics and vehicle control systems. After holding several key posts throughout GM’s ranks, in 1984 he became manager of GM Project Trilby, a corporate program to establish integrated vehicle control and systems engineering capabilities at the world’s largest auto-maker. He then headed up the formation of the GM Systems Engineering Center (SEC) for the Chevrolet-Pontiac-Canada Car Group and later became director of energy, noise and vibration and systems engineering for GM North American Operations (NAO).

In 1996, he moved to GM of Canada Ltd. to take on the role of general director of engineering and product planning, where he was responsible for product and manufacturing engineering, product planning and assurance and automotive regulatory activities. This past January, Mr. Schilke moved back to the U.S. to go on special assignment as SAE’s new chief.

Mr. Schilke is an SAE Fellow and has served as SAE treasurer. He also has chaired several SAE committees, including Bylaws, Objectives & Strategic Planning, Public Affairs and was co-chair of the Mobility Technology Planning Forums II and I.

With awareness of SAE continuing to rise, Mr. Schilke says he hopes to see a 10% increase in the organization’s membership. "I don’t know if that’s achievable in one year, but I’d like to see that increase be almost equivalent here in North America as outside of our region," he says. To try to get there, Mr. Schilke is spearheading a new "missionary program" in North America this year that will involve SAE officials going to constituent industries and reminding industry leaders of the opportunities that exist within the organization. On a larger scale, Mr. Schilke will personally lead efforts to increase SAE’s global membership, with planned trips to Europe, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Russia and Brazil.

"We just had a Congress in Brazil where we had estimated there would be 5,000 attendees and we had 10,000 people show up. So that’s an area that we have invested in with both time and effort over the years that is really coming to fruition right now," he says.

Another new initiative in the works this year is the Diversity Acceleration Group. "It will be directly connected to our Board of Directors to try to improve upon the things we’re already doing in the minority area," he says. Mr. Schilke has also served as the Board of Directors liaison for the Women Engineers Committee in an effort to mainstream ideas from under represented groups into SAE’s daily activities.

"I think it’s clear that it’s necessary to have different perspectives in the designs of our vehicles if they are going to be successful," he says.

With recent statistics indicating that North America will have a shortage of nearly 70,000 engineering graduates by 2010, Mr. Schilke plans to continue SAE’s educational endeavors.

"The key is to start early. We made that conclusion 10 years ago when we began our ‘World in Motion’ program. When kids get educated through the SAE design competition, working in teams, understanding systems, learning by experience, being focused on objectives, those all help convey the message that engineering is a fun, rewarding thing to do," Mr. Schilke says.

Mr. Schilke also aims to continue efforts to improve SAE for its members. "We have to package our information better; we’re trying to be more of a knowledge-based society. That means we need to take information, such as documents, reference books, standards, etc., and put it in different forms that are more readily usable to the engineer," he says. Another goal is increasing the accessibility of the organization’s meetings to members. SAE plans to go high-tech next October, offering its first meeting both live and online through its website.

Mr. Schilke and his wife Ro, reside in Rochester, MI, and have two children and two grandchildren. Mrs. Schilke is Director of Technology and Student Services for the Ferndale, MI, school district. o