Byline: Cassandra Spratling
DETROIT _ You never know what'll influence a child.
Cartoons did it for Jason Lee.
He loved to watch them as a kid. Truth is, he still does.
His favorite growing up in Prince George's County, Md., was "The Transformers," a futuristic cartoon about robots.
"They made all kinds of inventions, and I was fascinated," he recalls. "I'd think, `Hey, that's so cool.'"
It made Lee want to create things too. So he'd empty his big box full of Erector Set and Lego parts and start building.
Lee longed to become an engineer some day so he could create things for real.
A summer program helped make that dream come true. While still a high school junior, he participated in a University of Maryland program designed to expose more African-American children to college life and the possibilities offered by a degree.
The experience fueled his desire to go to college. And it paved a path to help make it possible.
Lee went from the University of Maryland to the University of Michigan to Ford Motor Co., where he most recently worked as a transmission system engineer for the 2007 Navigator.
Now he's on loan from Ford to help do for other children what the Maryland program did for him: Expose them to college and prepare them to be successful when they get there.
Since December, Lee, 31, …