Criminal justice edged engineering in Southwestern Michigan College freshman Brandon Benjamin’s inner career dialogue.
“I originally was going to Lansing Community College because I wasn’t interested in the whole university scene,” said Benjamin, from Stockbridge, northwest of Ann Arbor. “But I definitely wanted to experience dorm life and wanted a reason to leave home, be more responsible and experience life on my own. I started looking into Michigan schools that offered dorm life, but were not extremely expensive. I’ve been interested in criminal justice since I was a kid.”
“As I read up on SMC’s criminal justice program,” Benjamin said, “I decided it was something I wanted.”
Visiting the Dowagiac campus, “Everything looked super nice, so I decided to go for it.”
Benjamin rooms in Keith H. McKenzie Hall with high school friend Bailey Pratt.
While becoming a state police trooper ultimately leads his aspirations, Benjamin gave strong consideration to engineering after studying robotics at Stockbridge High School.
Stockbridge is renowned for its Advanced Underwater Robotics Team, which landed in the limelight on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” in 2014 about a trip to the western Pacific Ocean island of Palau, 500 miles from the Philippines.
A robot Stockbridge designed and built helped find the remains of three missing U.S. World War II servicemen.
For his Innovative Vehicle Design class senior year, Benjamin and his classmates transformed a gas-powered go kart into an electronic vehicle, competing against 60 other teams from more than 40 schools, including Capital Area Career Center, Eaton RESA, Jackson Area Manufacturers Association, Tecumseh and Williamston high schools.
“I was team captain,” he said. “My roommate here was also on that team. I also did underwater robotics.”
“We took the entire motor and gas tank off and left everything else,” Benjamin said. “We tried to make it light as possible. We had to purchase a speed controller, two 12-volt car batteries, an electronic accelerator we hooked up to the pedal and an electronic motor, wiring and cables to connect everything.”
“At the beginning of the year, we were given that we had to have some sort of innovative design,” he said. “We went to Mcity,” a test facility on 32 acres of the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex. “We had to do a presentation and agility testing on the actual course. We got first place in one area and second in agility. We did close to 11 miles on one battery charge on the agility course. A lot of it was figuring out gear ratios for the actual sprocket on the motor compared to the larger gear connected to the rear-wheel-drive system. With the speed controller we had, you can plug a cable into a laptop and change the amount of power output to the accelerator, so it goes as soon as you touch it or slowly builds up speed.”
“I really, really enjoyed” Robert Richards’ class, which is why he considered engineering.
“During that class I really saw it was something I could do. I considered both until I graduated. I really enjoyed engineering, but I like the idea of helping the public and being there for people in need. My uncle is a sergeant with the state police. I got to ride in a tank, watch him rappel out of a helicopter and climb the skyscraper at the Lansing police academy.”
“I didn’t know there were community colleges with dorms until I started researching,” Benjamin said. “SMC has a great criminal justice program and it’s a lot cheaper to go here. It’s exactly what I was looking for. My dad liked the whole idea of me getting the hang of being responsible for myself. He knows where Dowagiac is from driving trucks.”
He played sports starting high school, then gravitated to after-school jobs at McDonald’s and as a waiter in a retirement community.