Building the Future

Johnathan Otterbein and Individual

Growing up spending a lot of time working in the garage with his dad, Johnathan Otterbein, Class of 2020, has been interested in how things work from a young age. Because of this, it only made sense that he chose to be a mechanical engineering major at Grand Valley. He appreciates many aspects of the program, such as the emphasis on hands-on learning, getting to work on exciting projects like building robots, and gaining real-world experiences through the required co-op. The engineering program also offers extra-curriculars like the solar racing team, which Johnathan has been the Lead Design Officer of for two years. 

Johnathan explained that the addition of the Innovation Design Center has been a huge improvement for the solar racing team. They’re now able to have their own space in the building, whereas before they were sharing a space with Grand Valley’s formula racing team.

The team’s goal is to successfully compete in the American Solar Challenge. To compete, they must construct a vehicle powered only by solar panels, which will take on a 1500-2000 mile cross country course. Thanks to the new facilities and dedicated space in the Innovation Design Center, the team hopes to race for the first time in July of 2020. Johnathan works with the mechanical and electrical teams to create designs for the vehicle. 

“My favorite part about being on the team is being able to apply what I’ve learned in my classes to a real-world project,” said Johnathan. 

Ryan Aldridge, Operations Manager at the Innovation Design Center and faculty/staff advisor for the solar racing team, has witnessed firsthand how the new space in the Innovation Design Center has expanded opportunities for students. 

For Johnathan, the most exciting part about the new building is the state-of-the-art labs he now has access to, including the Machine Shop, which has metalworking and computer numerical control (CNC) machines, along with a plasma cutter, and the Rapid Prototyping Lab, which allows for 3-D printing. 

“The Innovation Design Center has helped improve students’ experiences by offering them cutting-edge technology in our labs. Students can use this technology to better shape their careers,” said Aldridge. 

GHSP, a leading global supplier of mechanical and electromechanical systems to the automotive, transportation, and appliance industries, has been a major supporter of the Innovation Design Center from the beginning. 

“We have supported Grand Valley for decades and this gift is more of the same,” said Erick Johnson, Executive Vice President and Corporate Secretary of JSJ Corporation, parent company of GHSP. “We recognize how far Grand Valley has come in engineering, and they provide great engineers for our company.” 

Ryan Aldridge is grateful to GHSP for giving to the Innovation Design Center, helping to build the future engineers of West Michigan.

“On behalf of the faculty and staff here at Grand Valley State, I would like to thank GHSP for their support of our new facility. Without help from donors like GHSP, it would be very difficult to incorporate all of these new technologies and labs into our students’ educational experiences,” he said. 

Johnathan is just one example of an engineering student who plans on building a career in West Michigan.

“The core values of GHSP steward our legacy and improve our community for the future,” said Marc Smeyers, chief technology officer at GHSP.

After graduation, Johnathan has secured a manufacturing engineering position and would like to continue his work in advancing renewable energy. He can’t wait to see his work on getting the solar racing club started pay off when the car races for the first time this summer. 

“I would like to say thank you to GHSP for allowing engineering students to increase our education,” said Johnathan.

Learn more about the Innovation Design Center.


GHSP, a JSJ business, discovers, aligns, and delivers complete solutions in a manner that is worry-free and maximizes value for our customers. We anticipate trends and technologies that drive demand and align with customers to discover innovative solutions that meet their needs in the market. Engineering and technology have inevitably raised user expectations.

The core values of GHSP steward our legacy and improve our community for the future. —Marc Smeyers, chief technology officer at GHSP