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This week’s Mentor Monday post features Bill Beggs, an engineering group manager at GM. Bill has been an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition mentor for six years, first with Challenge X and now with the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team.  Bill has visited MSU twice in the past year, once last fall and once prior to the Year Two competition, to offer advice and assist the students with their EREV.  The team was extremely successful in Year Two and their efforts were both recognized and rewarded in San Diego with a first place win in the overall competition. 

During the EcoCAR Year One fall workshop, GM mentor Bill Beggs delivers a check for seed money to the MSU team leader, Matthew Doude

“It was great seeing all the teams’ efforts at the Year Two Finals in May,” said Bill.  “I’m proud of my team for winning, but it’s also inspiring to see the work of the other teams, too.”
Bill is looking forward to traveling to Mississippi later this year to check in on the team’s status in the third and final year of EcoCAR. 

“It makes a huge difference when you get face time with the students,” said Bill. “I love meeting individually with everyone on the team, seeing the vehicle first hand and talking through any issues they may have.  You just can’t get that kind of interaction over the phone or through email.” 

In Year Three, MSU is focused on vehicle refinement, which includes improving drive quality and optimizing fuel economy.  The students are also looking to incorporate after-market consumer electronic features, such as touch screens, into the console of their car.
Bill has worked for GM for 10 years.  Based in the Energy Center in Milford, MI, his current project focuses on the development and execution of more efficient fuel economies. 

“Basically, our goal is to achieve the best possible fuel efficiency we can for consumers,” he said.  “With all the new advances in vehicle technology, it’s an exciting field to be a part of right now.”

In this week’s Mentor Monday post, we are featuring Kelly Pietras, a design system engineer at General Motors, who serves as a mentor for the EcoCAR students at North Carolina State University. Kelly has traveled to North Carolina three times within the past year to review the students’ progress and offer advice ranging from engineering tips to one-on-one career counseling.

While in Toronto for the Year One EcoCAR Finals, Kelly Pietras and NC State students conceptualized, modeled, and tested hybrid powertrains in the virtual world

“EcoCAR is a great opportunity for both GM and the students,” said Kelly. “Not only do the students get to build a physical car, but they also get to experience teamwork in a situation that models a real-life work environment. And for me, it’s always exciting to hear the students’ fresh, new ideas.”

As a new team to competitions, the North Carolina State students concentrated on planning the design and layout of their EREV vehicle, so that when it was finally time to install the system hardware, they didn’t waste any time. Kelly was especially proud that the students were able to get their car running in electric mode, and their efforts were recognized with the Most Improved Team award at the Year Two competition in Yuma and San Diego. Currently, the students are working on equipping their vehicle with a fully-integrated powertrain system, while optimizing driver-friendly design and feasibility.

At GM, Kelly has been working to improve the powertrain experience for customers for 10 years. As an ongoing project, Kelly engineers six-speed front wheel and six-speed rear wheel automatic transmissions, which can be found in cars like the Cadillac CTS and SRX and other full-size vehicles.

“GM is an exciting place to work,” said Kelly. “There’s always something new going on, from technological developments to advancements on existing designs.”

To sum up her involvement with EcoCAR, Kelly says, “I grew up in Detroit, so the auto industry has always been a part of my life. I’ve been inspired by cars from a very young age, and it’s amazing to see that same enthusiasm in such talented young adults.”

This week’s Mentor Monday post features Keith Van Houten, a noise and vibration specialist at the GM Proving Grounds. As a mechanical engineering student at Virginia Tech, Keith participated in the GM Sunrayce competition and is thrilled to return to his alma mater to mentor the Virginia Tech EcoCAR team. 

With more than 20 years of experience in student engineering competitions, Keith assists his team in properly balancing the EcoCAR’s architecture. While new and complex designs provide opportunities for performance edge, Keith teaches his team that their implementation must be well balanced with the inclusion of proven technology – the type of technology they can execute with a high degree of reliability. So far, his team has struck a good balance with this year’s VT E85 split parallel hybrid architecture.

Both Keith and Virginia Tech have been involved in Advanced Technology Vehicle Competitions for quite some time, so their experiences have helped the team keep the project on track. As expected, the team’s recent inspection proved that the students are on schedule. While Keith assists the students, they teach him the details of evolving battery and hybrid technology – something he hasn’t had the opportunity to do in his current work assignment.

GM mentor, Keith Van Houten (right) talks to Virginia Tech engineering students, Lynn Gantt and Patrick Walsh, about design options for the high voltage belted alternator starter system

This week’s Mentor Monday post features Kerry Grand, an engineer working in the consulting services group at MathWorks‘ Michigan office. 

Before joining MathWorks and getting involved with EcoCAR, Kerry held various engineering positions at Ford and General Motors. During that time he focused on and gained extensive knowledge of hybrids and electric vehicles – experiences he brings to his EcoCAR teams. 

Kerry joined MathWorks in 2006, and soon after, was drawn to the student competitions. He was intrigued by EcoCAR’s green mission and the chance to help students become engineers. During his undergraduate studies, Kerry participated in an SAE electric vehicle challenge supporting his senior project; this competition was successful because of strong support from both advisors and sponsors. 

As an EcoCAR mentor, he is impressed by the professional growth of the students throughout the three years. Students are using industry standard processes to design their vehicles and he sees firsthand how much the teams develop their skills during the competition. “Questions they ask today are very different than the questions they asked in Year One. The students are really into learning about modeling with MathWorks’ Simulink technology. They now understand Simulink and are diving deeper into the complexities of their designs to focus on optimized control, rapid prototyping, and deployment.”

Kerry Grand with fellow MathWorks mentor, Pete Maloney, at the Year Two EcoCAR Fall Workshop hosted at MathWorks' headquarters in Natick, MA

This week’s Mentor Monday post features two EcoCAR mentors: Amanda Kalhous, the GM mentor for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), and Paul Shoytush, the GM mentor for Penn State.

Amanda is an engineering specialist in infotainment/telematics at General Motors of Canada’s Regional Engineering Centre. She joined the GM team in 2005 and has been working on Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) since 2008 – the year the EcoCAR competition started. 

GM mentor, Amanda Kalhous, and UOIT controls team lead, Hugo Provencher, reviewing vehicle error messages

“Right now, my team is working on the finishing touches of their lithium-polymer battery pack,” said Amanda. “They recently solved an issue with their motor that was limiting their torque output. I’m looking forward to seeing it all come together at competition.”

The team’s enthusiasm reminds her of why she loves being an engineer. “The best part of working with the UOIT team is getting to know the students and to see how bright the future of automotive engineers will be,” said Amanda. “It’s invigorating.”

Paul Shoytush, a senior project engineer for GM, is the EcoCAR mentor for his alma mater, Penn State. Paul recently visited campus to help the team get their 1.3 Liter diesel engine running, a key step in rebuilding the EcoCAR.

GM mentor, Paul Shoytush, working on control algorithms in Penn State's research lab

“The best part of being a mentor is watching the students succeed and helping them in the process,” said Paul. “It really is amazing to see the students working as hard as they do. All of their hard work will pay off in Yuma.”

“Working with Paul over the last few years has been incredible,” said Penn State faculty advisor, Gary Neal. “Besides the fact he is a Penn State alum, Paul has always put in that extra effort to help out the team. That is what the Advanced Vehicle Team needs – a mentor who is always there and appreciates what they do.”

This week’s Mentor Monday post features Chris Fillyaw, an application engineer specializing in control design and automation, at The MathWorks’ office in Michigan. Chris’ work with the EcoCAR student teams stems from a personal hobby and passion: drag racing! 

Chris Fillyaw talking shop with an EcoCAR student

“In both EcoCAR and drag racing, the winners are determined by what the sponsors and judges see at competition.  The real work, however – the learning, the team bonding and the commitment to achieve your best – comes behind the scenes in the design and preparation stages,” said Chris.

In both activities you are given a set of rules and you must be creative and think outside of the box to get ahead in competition.  How you tackle the race course is up to you.

“Continued analysis and refinement of designs can go a long way.  If you don’t meet your goals on the first try you might think the design is inadequate. You shouldn’t give up and go in a completely different direction, but rather re-evaluate your game plan: ‘What didn’t work the way you thought?  Why? What can be improved,?’ said Chris.

Of course, lessons learned on the race course have come in handy for Chris during the EcoCAR competition – it was a great way for him to prepare for the F1 racing event during the MathWorks training workshop!

Billy Bland, mechanical team, Chris Lucier, team leader, Chris Twarog, GM mentor, and Jake Dunda, controls team, all wonder where the “hybrid do-hickey thing goes”

For this week’s Mentor Monday post, we’re featuring Chris Twarog, a General Motors (GM) controls integration engineer based out of the company’s Milford, Michigan proving grounds. For many years, GM has been a major sponsor for Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC) alongside the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).  

Chris started mentoring during the Challenge X competition when a colleague asked him to temporarily fill in as a mentor for Penn State University. 

“I had a great experience working with the Penn State team and I wanted to stay involved in future competitions. GM placed me as a Michigan Tech mentor for Challenge X in the fall of 2007, and I’ve stayed with the team for EcoCAR,” said Chris.  “My role is to keep the students on track to meet their goals and deadlines.  I help them with project management and show them the way we track project goals, timing and metrics at GM.  They then can apply this information to their project deadlines and carry the skills with them in their future careers.”

“I also help the students integrate GM controllers and components into their vehicle.  As a controls integration engineer, I am really focused on vehicle integration, rather than integration at a component or sub-system level, and so are the EcoCAR students.  It’s a great technical fit.” 

Right now, the Michigan Tech team is hard at work installing and making their hybrid system work with the rest of the vehicle.

Prior to his current position, Chris was in the Concept and Vehicle Integration Group at GM working on concept cars that are shown at auto shows.  “I worked on the electrical system for the Chevy Volt and Camaro concepts,” said Chris.  “It was fun to engineer new cars that are well received and have the latest advanced technologies.”

Outside of GM and EcoCAR, Chris plays hockey and co-ed softball, enjoys dirt biking, and spending time with friends.  He also tinkers on cars in his own garage and is doing his best to help plan for his upcoming wedding in July.

This week, we are featuring a mentor from National Instruments (NI), another EcoCAR platinum sponsor! National Instruments is providing Hardware-in-the-Loop (HIL) support to 9 of the 17 EcoCAR teams. Two of the teams, Embry-Riddle and Virginia Tech, are also are using National Instruments’ Software-in-the-Loop (SIL) solution for their projects.

Stephen Barrett is a systems engineer at National Instruments where he provides engineering support services that include: pre-sales concept development, benchmarking, on-site training and consulting, and creating software add-on components for NI’s real-time testing platform. Stephen is a former member of the Texas Tech University Challenge X team and has been assisting the EcoCAR teams since the competition kick-off in 2008.

“I really enjoy participating in the EcoCAR program as a mentor. I’ve been able to leverage my successes and failures as a student and my real-world experiences to better advise the teams. The applications the teams are using are quite challenging and it’s been rewarding to see how quickly they apply the right tools and technologies to solve problems.”

Stephen Barrett as a student on the Texas Tech Challenge X team in 2008

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