James Harder knows the benefits of hard work and perseverance. The 2019 Saginaw Valley State University mechanical engineering alumnus started college when he was just 14 years old. While being homeschooled, the Saginaw native took college classes for two years through the Great Lakes Bay Early College program at SVSU to get ahead and discover what he wanted to study.
After taking a third year to explore his options, Harder found his passion for engineering and decided to return to college full-time. However, since he was homeschooled, several universities denied him admission and scholarship opportunities.
SVSU welcomed him. The university recognized his value and sought him out to return as a student, even offering him the President’s Scholarship. The way that SVSU supported and empowered Harder made his decision simple, he said.
“I really appreciated the way they treated me as an individual person and not a number,” Harder said. “I came here with no reservations.”
When Harder returned to SVSU, he was initially overwhelmed with the transition he faced. His parents had moved out of the country for work, and he didn’t have much of a support system close by. SVSU staff and faculty soon stepped in to provide him with mentorship and guidance, and to ensure that he knew he wasn’t alone. Whenever he had questions or concerns, staff and faculty went out of their way to help him succeed, he said.
“I really valued that the engineering faculty were inviting students to come ask questions. They had open doors and were always inviting. When you went and asked them questions, they were glad you did,” Harder said.
Harder was determined to challenge himself and make the most of every opportunity he had to excel. When he decided he wanted to complete his degree in two and a half years, his supporters at SVSU rallied around him to help him achieve this difficult objective.
In addition to his accelerated course load, Harder also pushed himself to advance his hands-on experience with a multi-year co-op at Nexteer Automotive in nearby Buena Vista Township. In order to fit all his ambitions into his already full schedule, Harder would work from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Nexteer before coming back to SVSU to take his classes. The support he received from SVSU while managing this heavy workload was invaluable, he said.
“SVSU was there if I wanted to take opportunities like co-ops, taking extra classes, and finishing my degree quickly,” Harder said. “They were there to back me up when I wanted to challenge myself.”
Harder continued to push himself to defy limits and discovered his passion for startups while completing his senior design project. He collaborated with Nexteer to develop an electric power steering motor frame for a home gym. The opportunity to apply this innovative mentality and build something new led him to his next ambitious endeavor.
Harder decided to push himself further and study abroad for his final year. The staff at SVSU were dedicated to making this dream a reality, helping Harder earn a scholarship to study industrial design at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.
His drive to study internationally and to apply himself to innovative initiatives earned him his current position— working at the cutting-edge start-up, Halter, in New Zealand.
Harder has worked at the company for three months, utilizing his mechanical and electrical engineering expertise to design innovative technology that aims to transform the farming industry. He is currently working with his team to develop a solar powered collar for cows that allows farmers to track and monitor their herd remotely.
Harder’s drive to overcome challenges and his determination to follow his passions led him to start his career in a part of the world he had always dreamed of visiting. Even half a world away, Harder still remains in contact with SVSU and the people that helped him along the way, and he is grateful for all of the unique opportunities he had at SVSU that helped get him to where he is.
“Any opportunity that you get to do something extra, no matter how difficult it seems, take those difficult opportunities,” Harder said. “Work hard and when you find what you love, put in everything you have and you will be rewarded.”