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The University of Waterloo Engineering Department recently held a day of exploration for local elementary students and their parents. The goal was to educate the community on the amazing projects being undertaken at the university. The University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) was front and center for the event, holding interactive outreach presentations that displayed their engineering expertise and the opportunities of being a team in the EcoCAR Challenge.

In total more than 1,500 students and parents passed through the EcoCAR exhibit. Students were particularly interested in learning how hydrogen could be sourced as a fuel for the team’s vehicle.  Since hydrogen can be separated from water (H2O) through electrolysis, the team’s engineers demonstrated how electricity generated from clean sources like the sun could be used to create hydrogen and power a fuel cell vehicle.

UWAFT members Paul Nowosielski and Gurhari Singh explain the environmental benefits of their Hydrogen Fuel Cell Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle

The day after the engineering department event, UWAFT was at it again, as the EcoCAR exhibit hosted 7,000 high school students and their parents for Waterloo’s annual March Break Open House.  As aspiring university students and future engineers, these youngsters discovered that much of their future learning at university could very well occur outside the classroom. UWAFT highlighted the main goals and challenges of the EcoCAR competition, as well as showcasing the team’s work with industry and government to help green the automotive industry.  Parents were eager to get their children involved in a program that offers the fantastic undergraduate opportunity to work on real-world vehicles that could make a difference for generations to come.

The President of the United States visited Penn State last month and spoke to a crowd of 3,000 people on the topic of innovation in energy-efficient engineering. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was also in attendance. In addition to his 20-minute speech, President Obama toured an Architectural Engineering Structures Laboratory with Secretary Chu.

Twenty-five Penn State EcoCAR team members, including engineers, volunteers, faculty advisors and outreach members, attended the President’s speech, and the Penn State Outreach Coordinator, Allison Lilly, had the privilege of shaking his hand!

The Team at President Obama's speech

The President’s speech focused on inspiring Penn State students to meet their potential. He emphasized the need for collegiate competition, saying, “We’re going to have to out-innovate and out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”

The Penn State EcoCAR team is very familiar with competition and innovation, so President Obama’s speech really resonated. The President focused on clean energy, “because right now, some of the most promising innovation is happening in the area of clean energy technology — technology that is creating jobs, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and — something that every young person here cares about — making sure our planet is a healthier place to live that we can pass on to future generations.”

Obama called upon college students to try harder, work harder, and research harder – not for the grades, but for the good of our country’s future. “We need you to seek breakthroughs and new technologies that we can’t even imagine yet,” he said.  “And especially the young people who are here, we need you to act with a sense of urgency — to study and work and create as if the fate of the country depends on you – because it does.”

President Obama ended the speech with a message of hope, saying that he believes we will be able to once again set ourselves apart from the rest of the world by harnessing the energy of Penn State students and students across the nation.

The EcoCAR team left the room a little more excited to get back to work, to face their next challenge, and to set themselves apart in this outstanding engineering competition.

In the ongoing effort to make America more economically competitive, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced funding for Graduate Automotive Technology Education (GATE) Centers of Excellence. Energy Secretary Steven Chu‘s program sets aside up to $5 million to fund these GATE Centers, which educate students in critical automotive technology.

Graduate-level, interdisciplinary subjects addressed in GATE curriculum include:

  • Advanced Combustion Engines
  • Lightweight Materials
  • Advanced Energy Storage
  • Advanced Hybrid Propulsion and Control Systems

Like EcoCAR, the GATE Centers represent the DOE’s focus on clean vehicles and its interest in meeting ambitious goals, including President Obama’s challenge to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

To learn more, visit the GATE Center webpage!

ClimateWire’s Darius Dixon contributed an article to The New York Times last week entitled, “Preparing Students to Roll Off the Campus and Into Big Automotive Jobs.” The piece features EcoCAR and explores the evolution of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), the students competing in them and their relationship with the auto industry. Not only does Dixon talk at great length about the competition, he also includes highlights from Virginia Tech and Mississippi State University in his narrative!

Dixon points out that initially, vehicle competitions aimed to advance technology and promote alternative fuels. Twenty-three years and 16,000 students later, the competitions have other emphases. EcoCAR’s own Kristen De La Rosa from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) is quoted in the article saying that there has been a shift in the emphasis of the program from designing and developing future vehicles (pre-hybrid market) to an emphasis on providing the most real-world educational experience for the future leaders of the auto industry.

Teaching this type of systems-level thinking and skills, while emphasizing hands-on learning and real-world applications, presents another major set of AVTC benefits – opportunities for students to make an almost seamless transition into careers in the auto industry and related fields. Close relationships with General Motors (GM), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), ANL and other industry heavy-hitters have an influence on the EcoCAR experience – an admittedly good one according to Virginia Tech’s EcoCAR co-team leader, Lynn Gantt, who is quoted as saying, “Who wouldn’t want their industry involved in their education? Just about everyone among the team and sub-team leaders has a job offer from industry.”

How has EcoCAR or other AVTCs prepared you for the real world? Please share your comments, we’d love to hear from you!

For a deeper view into how EcoCAR students have gone on to work for companies like GM, DOE and ANL, check out: Life After EcoCAR: Jim Motavalli Examines Recruiting and Future Careers for Students, an Inside the Green Garage post featuring insights from auto journalist and EcoCAR enthusiast, Jim Motavalli.

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), a long-time partner to the DOE Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions, has presented the engineering community with one important question: What skills and experiences will today’s engineering students need to develop while in school and throughout their careers to successfully compete in today’s global workplace? To gather answers, ASEE set up an online survey and is soliciting input from educators, employers, students, and professional engineers.

The survey looks at different attributes such as knowledge of different subjects, management skills and spoken languages, and measures the perceived importance of each one at different stages in an engineer’s career – from an incoming university student to an experienced practicing professional. ASEE says they hope the findings will ultimately help “enhance the preparation, performance and employability of engineering graduates around the world.” To ensure global input is captured, ASEE collaborated with the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES) and translated the survey into 12 languages.

You can find more information about the survey here and the complete form here. Findings are scheduled to be released by the end of the year. We’ll be looking out for them and share the results once they’re available!


Dr. Mehdi Ferdowsi (left) and Andrew Meintz are leading the effort to prepare Missouri S&T's engineering students to design the electric and hybrid cars of the future. Photo: B.A. Rupert/Missouri S&T Communications.


When Dr. Mehdi Ferdowsi and Ph.D. student Andrew Meintz offered the inaugural class on electric and hybrid vehicles last January at Missouri University of Science and Technology, they made an instant connection with students from a variety of engineering disciplines.

Seventeen students enrolled in the course, even though it was hastily put together and not widely advertised.

“They obviously see this as a new field that is going to grow and ultimately become a new career path,” says Ferdowsi, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T.

That’s one of the hopes of Ferdowsi, Meintz and the federal government. Fueled by $5 million in stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Energy as part of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Missouri S&T is developing a new undergraduate minor in advanced automotive technology to better prepare students for the plug-in economy.

Last semester’s introductory course, taught by Meintz, a Ph.D. student in electrical engineering, was S&T’s entry into the world of plug-in electric vehicles. Meintz makes a great instructor because he can draw upon his own experience with EcoCAR as S&T’s Electrical Team leader. “I used skills learned through the EcoCAR Challenge to tie course material with industry practice.  Not only did the course present material from a classroom lecture point of view but also used hands-on Model Based Design techniques to allow students to model hybrid electric vehicles.”

The introductory course was what Ferdowsi calls “a gateway class” designed “to familiarize students with the concepts of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles.” Students from electrical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering and engineering management enrolled in the course to learn about the different fuel, powertrain and energy storage systems of electric and hybrid vehicles.

This semester, S&T has ramped up the course offerings for plug-in and hybrid automotive technology. The curriculum, which is funded through stimulus dollars, includes half a dozen undergraduate and graduate courses designed by Ferdowsi, an expert in power electronics.

The ambitious initiative of converting the auto industry from gasoline to electricity requires far-reaching efforts. Thus, S&T is also integrating coursework into existing classes and developing graduate certificate programs to help practicing engineers move into the emerging field of plug-in technology. Ferdowsi and his colleagues at S&T are also working with two other Missouri schools – the University of Central Missouri and Linn State Technical College – to provide additional work force training. In addition, Missouri S&T is helping the St. Louis Science Center educate the public about the importance of electric vehicles.

“Developing new course material is hard, especially when you’re talking about a new car that hasn’t even been developed yet,” says Ferdowsi. But creating a new course of study will ultimately have a significant impact on the nation’s economy. “We will have a pipeline of students prepared for this industry.”

Where Are They Now this week highlights Mel Corrigan (previously Mel Fox), a Penn State and Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) alum who has spent her impressive academic career focused on Fuel Science research which ultimately led to her current position working on one of the most exciting innovations in vehicle technology.

Mel Corrigan began her undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at Penn State-Altoona.  Throughout her time at Altoona, she participated in the Society for Automotive Engineering Mini Baja competition.  During her junior year, she moved to the Penn State-University Park campus, where she became involved in undergraduate research studies focusing on diesel exhaust aftertreatment.

While studying at Penn State, Mel interned at Toyota Motor Mfg. in Georgetown, Kentucky in their Facilities Controls Engineering department where she compiled weekly utility consumption reports for the nine plants at the facility.  At that time, Mel also took part in the Energy Team, examining methods of improving energy consumption for vehicle manufacturing processes.

In 2002, Mel obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering at Wayne State University where she worked in an engine lab studying diesel combustion, She also participated in a National Science Foundation (NSF) project to create safety-related exercises for chemical engineering textbooks.

Mel entered graduate school at Penn State in 2003, starting with a Master’s of Science in Fuel Science.  Her research focused on performing three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics of combustion in a coal-fired boiler.

After completing her Master’s degree, Mel decided to continue her studies and obtain her Ph. D. in Fuel Science.  She shifted gears in her research, moving from modeling to experiments and then began studying the effects of intake-induced turbulence on the combustion characteristics of hydrogen assisted natural gas combustion in a spark-ignition engine.

Mel (Fox) Corrigan

Mel became involved with the Penn State Advanced Vehicle Technologies team during Challenge X. During her graduate studies, Mel received a two-year fellowship that required her to do weekly science outreach in K-12 classrooms.  This program, GREATT (Graduate Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Technologies), soon lead her to become the controls team leader for Penn State team in Year Two and the overall team leader during Year Three.

After completing a twelve-week internship in the Powertrain Systems Research group at General Motors during which she lead a project sampling and characterizing particulate matter from diesel combustion, Mel landed her first job with GM.

Mel now works as a Battery System Integration Engineer for the Chevy Volt.  She continues to support advanced vehicle technology competitions and acts as a judge for EcoCAR at workshops and competitions.  EcoCAR is not only thrilled to utilize Mel’s professional expertise, but also grateful to have her perspective as a former competitor as EcoCAR ushers in Year Three.

Today, we are sharing Part Two of the interview with Paul Smith from the MathWorks.  In Part One of the interview we learned about Paul’s role in the EcoCAR competition and what set Ohio State apart from the other teams in Year Two. Paul shared some great insights, so check out the rest of the conversation below!

Q: What was your most memorable moment from the Year Two Finals events in San Diego?
A: During the presentation from Mississippi State University when Will Dickerson, the student presenting to our judging panel said “we couldn’t have done this without Stateflow.” The MSU team had a really detailed understanding of some of the more subtle features and applied them to the great benefit of the team. MSU went on to win the overall EcoCAR competition in Year Two.

Q: In what ways have you seen the teams change from Year One to Year Two? How have their skills developed? Any particular teams achieve outstanding/unique growth?
A: What has impressed me the most is how the teams continue to build upon the legacy of modeling, simulation and analysis expertise that they’ve developed at their schools over the years. Models are a fantastic way to capture the design intent and pass that knowledge along to future generations of students they may never even meet. Future generations can quickly look at the models and develop an abstract understanding of what the design is trying to accomplish. This just doesn’t work with hand written code. Furthermore, the use of multi-domain modeling for modeling the physical systems just wasn’t present in the competition until a few years ago. Rose-Hulman has been a pioneer in this area and has shared their ideas with the other teams by running sessions at our workshop in the fall.

Additionally, the incorporation of students from other disciplines (business, economics, marketing) that manage overall projects or develop the teams’ outreach programs. Some of the teams’ outreach programs are rich with various social media exposure, high school and elementary school interactions, tremendous web presences and the list goes on. As any member of a major automotive OEM knows, it’s not just about the math and science. Successfully building and operating in a team environment is essential to getting things done. This has been a great growth area.

Q: As we enter the final year of the challenge, what advice do you have for the students? What challenges lie ahead that they might not be anticipating?
A: Year Two was about getting the vehicle to move. Year Three is all about refinement. It is key to keep using simulation to validate new ideas to refine the controls or hardware or to add on new degrees of control freedom. You can break the vehicle in simulation as often as you want, but you can only break the physical vehicle once!

I would also suggest that the student engineers take full advantage of the offers for support and mentorship from the sponsors. These are industry experienced engineers that have learned from the school of hard knocks. A smart student will learn from their own mistakes, a wise one will learn from others’ mistakes.

Q: What’s next for MathWorks and EcoCAR?
A: We are actively planning the details of the EcoCAR Fall Workshop: September 29 – October 3, 2010 to be held at our campus in Natick, MA. We will offer a three track learning solution to accommodate new comers and old timers alike. We’re also planning some things just for the faculty advisors to help them on their quest to integrate the concepts of Model-Based Design into their classroom and curriculum.

We’ll continue to provide the resources of our mentors to the teams and we are looking forward to supporting the future of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions as those plans come together.

MathWorks is a Platinum Sponsor for the EcoCAR Challenge and has been involved in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) for many years. For each competition, MathWorks donates software for Model-Based Design and delivers intensive training to all student teams and faculty advisors during the fall workshops. Additionally, the company provides experienced automotive industry engineers as mentors who work closely with students. Part of MathWorks’ mission is to give back to the communities in which the team lives and works, using its engineering and education expertise. In the following interview, Paul Smith, Director of Consulting Services for MathWorks, talks about EcoCAR and how the competition is a convergence of both engineering and education. Paul also congratulates all of the teams for their hard work and dedication to date.

Q: What is your role in EcoCAR? How does EcoCAR compare to other student competitions you’re involved with?
A: My day job is Director of Consulting Services but I also act as MathWorks technical lead engineer for the EcoCAR competition. I help design the support structure MathWorks provides to the competition organizers, faculty advisors and student engineers. I also have the great privilege of participating in the judging of various elements of the annual competitions and MathWorks Modeling Award. While previous student engineering competitions focused primarily on hardware modifications and some add-on control systems based around rapid prototyping platforms, EcoCAR includes a unique focus on modeling and simulation, within engineering education as well physical vehicle development. The early focus on desktop and Hardware-in-the-Loop simulation based testing provides a safe platform to let engineers do what they do best – develop and try out new ideas. The shifting focus to developing the next generation automotive engineer has taken the program to a whole new level. The competition gives the students a really tremendous opportunity to learn how industry works and uses the same, albeit scaled down, development process GM uses. When they graduate, they are finding multiple job offers in the current jobs market. This is a great testament to the tremendous value participation in this program has both for the student and the company that hires them.

Q: What is MathWorks Crossover to Model Based Design and what are the judging criteria?
A: The Crossover to Model-Based Design Award recognizes EcoCAR teams that exhibit the most creative application of MathWorks software products to help achieve the competition’s overall objectives. Those objectives include, from a high level, reduction of the environmental impact of automobiles by improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, while retaining the vehicle’s performance and consumer appeal. Basically, the student engineers are working on removing the automobile from the debate on environmental impact using industrial grade development process and tools.

The MathWorks award focuses a bit more narrowly on the application of our software as part of the overall competition and points were awarded to team in a number of areas including plant modeling, controls design, validation & verification, tuning, data analysis, visualization, and hardware implementation through automatic code generation. Extra credit is given for uses of MATLAB for analysis of engineering challenges outside the boundary of the vehicle that are part of the overall energy equation.

Q: What set Ohio State University apart from the other 15 teams this year?
A: The Ohio State University made extensive use of our physical modeling tools like SimScape and SimPowerSystems, Simulink, Stateflow, Control Design, and Optimization tools. They performed signal processing to examine high frequency high voltage effects. They used models to determine vehicle fusing and cooling requirements, and used Report Generator to produce summary reports to satisfy competition delvierables. They built a standalone engine controller from the ground up in Simulink (most teams command torque through a CAN interface to a black box to control engines). They have two simulation environments they’ve built called EcoSym and EcoDyn based on Simulink for static and dynamic analysis and design of their powertrain and related controls. Overall, OSU has built upon a rich tradition of Model-Based Design competency instilled by their faculty advisor, Georgio Rizzoni and clearly demonstrated to our judging panel that they were the team that set the standard for application of our tooling solutions.

Interested in Paul’s advice for the students heading into Year Three of the competition? And what is in store for MathWorks and EcoCAR? Check back here tomorrow for Part Two of Paul’s interview with the Inside the Green Garage blog!

This week’s Mentor Monday post features Dale Klein, a GM mentor, who explains that his strategy for success in the workplace is all about making predictions.  As an energy and drive quality engineer at GM, Dale uses computer models to predict fuel economy and performance in the early stages of vehicle production.  In his first mentorship during the Challenge X competition, he passed this notion on to the students at University of Akron.  And currently, the EcoCAR team at Ohio State University has benefited from Dale’s approach. 
“I’ve helped teach the students to think things through ahead of time and anticipate if their vehicle will meet the competition requirements,” said Dale. “That way, the students can respond to the judges’ questions even before they ask them. There are no surprises.” 
In Year Two, the Ohio State EcoCAR team worked on completing their very complex hybrid powertrain system.  “I have a ton of respect for the students.  They chose a system that’s definitely not easy to build,” said Dale.

Dale Klein with the OSU EcoCAR team

Despite their challenging vehicle, the OSU team was able to run their car in electric-only mode and complete most of the events at the Year Two test drives in Yuma, AZ.  In San Diego, they were awarded fifth place in the overall competition and scored well in the judges’ reports.
In Year Three of the EcoCAR challenge, Dale will continue to help his students focus on predictions, especially in terms of consumer criticisms.  The students will spend most of their time debugging issues that they ran out of time for in Year Two: rewiring the inverter connections and engine harness, improving fuel economy, and refining consumer drive-ability. 
“I’m confident that the students will make the vehicle live up to 110 percent of its potential,” said Dale.

To help them do this, he is planning to travel to Columbus at least once in the fall and again in early spring to advise the team in these final stages before the EcoCAR closing ceremonies next year in Washington, D.C.
“EcoCAR is great for the students because they get to work directly with big name companies like GM.  And it’s really great for the companies, too, because we can put the best students to work immediately after graduation,” said Dale.  “I wish I had something like this when I was in school!”

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May 2020