Honda Associates Helping the Next Generation

Honda R&D Americas (HRA) engineers Michael George and Manuel Callejas Rojas were both awarded HRA’s “Year of Service” Citizenship Award for how they have made service and community citizenship part of their daily lives.

The award was created to increase associate recognition of their commitment to living the Honda Philosophy through contributions to the community. It’s a lesson and inspiration for all of us as we peek into what inspired their nominations and awarding of HRA’s Citizenship Award.

For Michael and Manuel, service involved different people. In Michael’s case, some of those people were students who, in some cases, have pursued careers in engineering. Others just needed a helping hand.

Manuel, on the other hand, spent his time honing and training young engineers through involvement in the Honda Young Professionals (HYP) and Latino Dreams In Action (LDIA) Business Resource Groups (BRG) and in his own training of associate interns.

Both of their efforts, as you’ll see, are part of what contributes to making Honda a company that society wants to exist.

Michael George has been involved with Benjamin Logan High School’s Robotics Team to help mentor students in STEM. “The best part is that we get to help them problem solve.” The “we” includes teachers, Michael’s wife, Alisa, and, most recently, his three-year-old daughter, Joanna, who’s become like a mascot for the team.

“Kids come up with a lot of innovative ideas,” and while they’re not all usable, Michael and Alisa “try to be the guiding light with them.”

Over the course of the five years he’s been helping with the robotics team, Michael has learned a great deal. “At the beginning, we were trying to give our ideas on the proposals to fix something or problem solve,” he shared. “I’ve learned a lot of patience and how to ask certain questions to guide the kids along better.”

That includes seeing how excited the team gets when they figure out a problem, create countermeasures, do the work, and then see it rewarded as the robot they’ve built accomplishes its task.

The relationship has certainly created a strong bond between Michael and his students, who greatly appreciate his guidance.

“His advice was never ‘do this, do that.’ It was always pointing out things we should think about and making sure we understand what we are doing,” senior Ben Coffield, shared. Coffield has been inspired to help with the middle school robotics team, in part because of Michael’s influence and example as a mentor.

Jake McKenrick, another senior from the team, added, “I want to be an engineer. It is nice to get experience from people who are in the field that I want to be in.”

And, Coffield said, with other students nodding in the background, “He’s never gotten frustrated with us.”

“That’s a major feat,” teacher and coach Jason Smith said—one that had a major impact on Michael.

“After you start building relationships with the kids,” Michael said, “and seeing them succeed, seeing them fail, and you get close to them, they become like family, like our kids.”

Those relationships have continued past the robotics team. Michael and Alisa have had a number of students remain in touch with them, and they’ve watched a number of the past team members pursue careers in engineering—a life-changing effect from his service.

“I want to make a positive impact in our society and organization,” Manuel Callejas Rojas said of his service supporting both the Honda Young Professionals (HYP) and Latino Dreams in Action (LDIA) BRGs. Manuel’s interests include supporting next-generation engineers and “promoting the study of STEM careers among students in the Hispanic community.”

Manuel’s activity began in 2014, when he started with HRA. “From a professional standpoint, nothing is as challenging as starting a new career,” he said. Prior to Honda, Manuel worked for 14 years in Wolfsburg, Germany; Puebla, Mexico; and Dearborn, Michigan for other auto companies. That experience positioned him to help others as they start their own careers at a new company.

His inspiration has come from both his personal life—being inspired by his personal religious faith—and his professional life—following the Honda Philosophy. Manuel’s faith was a crucial part to his upbringing in Mexico and instilled in him that people are the root of everything. At work, Honda’s philosophy has been a guiding light that gives both purpose and meaning to Manuel as he encourages and mentors other engineers.

“Honda has many professionals who are first-generation college graduates, and it is their first job as engineers,” Manuel noted. “My mother told me, ‘If you can help someone, do it,’” and Manuel has not only helped, but has done so with a joy and fervor that others have noticed.

HRA’s David Busch worked with Manuel in HYP and recalled that Manuel “has always been kind and passionate about going above and beyond to get involved in things outside his day-to-day responsibilities,” including creating a book club, setting up factory tours, and working with the other HYP officers.

“Manuel always had many ideas for how to help people further their careers,” added colleague Timothy Rupp.

“He was very enthusiastic about making and taking leadership roles,” said colleague Steve Rosenkrantz. “He was willing to put in the work to make his ideas work out.”

HRA’s Ricky Coria remembered Manuel’s passion and enthusiasm for being part of founding LDIA. Coria shared a memory from an evening event at The Ohio State University for the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. When Manuel was invited to speak, he didn’t want his thoughts to be lost in translation, literally—so he gave his speech in Spanish. “He told them how important it was for Hispanics to continue their education and continue their careers,” Coria recalled. “He empowered them, and by speaking in Spanish, it was very authentic.” And the students responded, cheering.

Manuel plans to continue his support of young engineers, both in the BRGs and however he can. It is, after all, the future of the company and a part of his life.

“It’s a great honor,” Michael said of receiving the Citizenship Award. That reward is made sweeter by the fact that Michael got to choose where his honorary donation would go. His pick? The Benjamin Logan High School Robotics Team, to help guide and support them—just as he and Alisa will—for some time to come.

Manuel agreed. “Without a doubt, it is an honor to receive the Citizenship Award.” Given the opportunity to make a donation as part of the Citizenship Award, Manuel chose Amethyst, a local program for addiction recovery. “Because of COVID-19, staying at home has created a secondary effect that not too many people are talking about,” he shared. “It has created some threat situations for women and kids.” The increase of domestic violence, in particular, caught Manuel’s attention. “I don’t see support for women who are affected by this situation, so I looked for something that could help them, and this organization stood out in my research.”

Congratulations to both Michael and Manuel for their honors—and for directing their donations to neighbors in need on behalf of Honda.

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