Mitch Hughes has shown the drive, determination, and work ethic to overcome any challenge. The senior mechanical engineering student at Saginaw Valley State University defies limits by balancing a full load of rigorous engineering courses, a demanding and time-consuming co-op, and his responsibilities as a varsity college athlete.
He thrives off a challenge and perseveres past obstacles. His grit and fortitude have fueled his desire to achieve, and he is proud of all that he’s accomplished in the face of adversity.
“It’s how you overcome those challenges,” the Davisburg native said. “I was never really gifted anything. I’ve worked for everything I have.”
With a strong aptitude for math and grandparents that worked in engineering, Hughes had always been interested in the field and was drawn to the complexity and problem-solving elements it provides.
“I love the challenge,” Hughes said. “No two problems are ever the same. There’s something new every day. It makes you think.”
A first-generation college student, Hughes knew that he always wanted to pursue a four-year degree, even though he would be the first in his family to do so. He pushed himself to achieve in high school and prepared for the rigors of university by balancing multiple advanced placement courses with three varsity sports, including two during the same season. His hard work and determination paid off with a near perfect grade point average, over 20 college credits, and an opportunity to pursue collegiate athletics.
Hughes had always enjoyed playing golf with his family, but didn’t begin playing seriously until his freshman year of high school. He worked hard to improve his game and began to excel during his junior year, placing him in contention to play collegiately.
The opportunity to compete in Division 2 athletics, combined with the scholarships he received, helped guide Hughes’ decision to attend SVSU. Knowing that he was paying for college on his own, he strived to find ways to reduce the cost of his education. His determination paid off and earned him SVSU’s most elite merit-based scholarship, the President’s Scholarship, as well other private scholarships, that allowed him to begin his college career without having to take out any loans. He knew his decision to pursue higher education was beneficial for his future, and it inspired his younger brother and sister to do so as well.
However, he did not always have this certainty. Hughes was excited to grow and challenge himself even further at college, but didn’t know what to expect.
“I was always worried about classes being extremely hard, meeting new people, and fitting in,” Hughes said.
These reservations were soon resolved, and he continued to thrive. Hughes soared academically— earning himself a spot on either the President’s List or Dean’s List each semester at SVSU and continually received recognition at the athletic department’s annual academic banquet.
His teammates made him feel welcome and he developed a strong community at SVSU. The genuine connections he built made him feel at home and his team helped him open up to his new environment.
“It’s like a family. I built a bond with a bunch of people. I’m going to talk to them for the rest of my life,” Hughes said. “We’re always there for each other when we need it. It’s a big reason why I’ve done so well.”
Despite this encouragement, his road to success was not always an easy one. The support of his teammates and his perseverance to overcome obstacles became his driving force when facing challenges, both on the course and in the classroom.
With a large roster and only the top third of players getting to compete for the Cardinals, Hughes had to fight for a spot in the lineup. Not having the chance to play as an underclassman, he was determined to compete during his senior season.
He dedicated himself to the team’s early morning workouts and weekend practices, pushing himself to constantly improve. Although there was no mandatory practice during the week, Hughes would go to nearby Saginaw Valley Public Golf Course in between his demanding class schedule to practice on his own whenever he had the chance.
His grit and dedication paid off and earned him a spot in the lineup his final year. He competed in nearly every competition for the Cardinals, placing in the top 10 individually and helping lead the team to several top 5 finishes.
“I love the competition,” Hughes said. “I forgot how much I missed it.”
He extended this resiliency and competitive spirit into the classroom as well. Even though he had an impressive GPA and resume, he struggled to find work experience in his field.
“It was hard to get a co-op for a while,” Hughes said. “It took two years to get one. I kept fighting though.”
This determination and work ethic paid off when Enayat Mahajerin, professor of mechanical engineering, recommended him for a co-op with B&P Littleford in Saginaw. The company was impressed by Hughes and has entrusted him with advanced responsibilities over the several months he has worked there.
“I help design parts, modify drawings, run vibration tests, and help the guys who are building machines in the shop,” Hughes said.
His patience was worthwhile as the co-op has been an excellent fit. He worked full-time during the summer months, and 15-20 hours during the school year in addition to being a full-time student and athlete. Hughes hopes to continue working for the company upon graduation, with the goal of one day being a certified professional engineer and opening his own engineering company.
Balancing everything on his schedule has been a challenge, but one that Hughes has embraced. His discipline and time management keep him on track to achieving his goals.
“It’s a grind. You really have to teach yourself how to have a schedule because when you get off your schedule that’s when the stress and anxiety kicks in and you’re behind,” Hughes said. “It definitely puts a lot of stress on you, but it also makes life interesting in a way because I’m always doing something.”
His dedication to excellence and the experiences he’s gained from his co-op have influenced his senior design project as well. As a capstone course, engineering students at SVSU are placed in groups and paired with a company to solve a need and build something new.
Hughes’ group was partnered with Duro-Last in Saginaw to develop a ladder-like cart system for the company, and they have dedicated countless hours to the project.
“We designed a custom hand truck with a system that can ride up the rungs of a ladder and be pulled up by a pulley or wench system,” Hughes said. “Some groups have to modify a system, but ours is brand new. There’s nothing in the world like it.”
Along with weekly group meetings, Hughes devotes 8-10 hours per week individually on the project to ensure that it is successful. Ultimately, this inner drive and the satisfaction he achieves from a job well done is what motivates him more than any external recognition.
“I have this underlying desire to be great. To prove everyone wrong and to prove that I can be someone,” Hughes said. “There’s something burning inside me. There’s a fire.”
Hughes is grateful for all the opportunities he’s had at SVSU and for how much he’s grown, both as an athlete, engineer, and individual. His college experience has been critical to his professional and personal development.
“Besides giving you a degree and education, it gives you a chance to learn about yourself,” Hughes said of attending college. “It’s really a life changing experience. You realize you have more potential than you think you did.”
As a senior graduating in May 2020, he has no doubt that he made the right choice in attending SVSU.
“Over the years I’ve realized this is an amazing place and I’m really glad I came here,” Hughes said.