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Recently, Kary Winkler and Jesse Richuso, members of the Georgia Tech EcoCAR outreach team, visited Creekside Middle School in Georgia.

GT OCs Kary Winkler and Jesse Richuso

GT OCs Kary Winkler and Jesse Richuso

Kary and Jesse were very excited to be greeted by the happy faces of 8th grade life sciences students. The two GT outreach team members taught the middle schoolers about alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles.

The highlight of the visit for the middle schoolers was the competitive activity that Kary and Jesse planned for them after the presentation. The Outreach Coordinators (OCs) challenged the class to develop an alternative fuel or advanced technology vehicle and come up with a corresponding magazine advertisement for a consumer campaign. The student teams had to choose between E85, gas/electric hybrid, full electric and hydrogen fuel cell energy sources and were also able to pick the car type, size and interior features. As an additional challenge, the students were tasked with keeping both price and consumer appeal in mind. The teams were given 25 minutes to draw a magazine ad and two minutes to present their ad and car to the class.

Eighth graders hard at work during the competitive activity
Eighth graders hard at work during the competitive activity

The team that received the most votes for their ad won the opportunity to visit the EcoCAR Garage on the Georgia Tech campus. Kary and Jesse were absolutely drained by the end of the school day, but they were encouraged by the students’ enthusiasm. The OCs believe they helped fuel a new generation of green-consumers!

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EcoCAR is a multi-dimensional project that brings students together from a wide array of majors. The outreach component of the competition draws in communications and marketing students who want to contribute what they’ve learned in the classroom to the team. Outreach is an integral part of the EcoCAR competition, with the goal of educating communities and raising awareness about the benefits of advanced vehicle technologies. Outreach strategies focus on how advanced technologies reduce the overall impact of transportation on the environment and our economy.

The main focus for EcoCAR’s Year Two outreach program was media relations and the education of policy makers, youth, consumers, government officials, and NGOs, with an emphasis on social media outlets. Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, blog posts, videos, and online forums were just a few forms of social media that students used to help rally fans and introduce others to the EcoCAR project. Social media outreach proved to be very efficient in communicating messages about energy efficiency and advanced vehicle technologies to the public.

Not only was Mississippi State University the overall first place team in Year Two, but also placed first in outreach. MSU scored 36.9 points for outreach efforts, Ohio State University followed with a very close second place victory scoring 36.6 and Pennsylvania State University following just behind in third place with a total of 35.9 points.

MSU team members accepting the EcoCAR 1st place Outreach Award

“Our outreach team was successful due to the diversity of our members’ talents; each member had something unique to offer,” said Elizabeth Butler, MSU team Outreach Coordinator. “The engineering side of our team was also really supportive in helping out with events and together the group was able to accomplish a wide range of events with a lot of creativity.”

Several teams invited government leaders from their community to their workshops to check out their vehicle and to learn about the EcoCAR Challenge. Other teams visited local schools and youth groups to discuss fuel efficiency and ways to reduce petroleum dependency. MSU developed very close relationships with many local schools, even scheduling return visits to update the kids about their vehicle’s progress throughout the school year, as well as educate them about energy-related issues.

The third place outreach winner, Penn State, also took home top honors in the Best Social Media category for the second year in a row. Outreach Coordinator and fervent tweeter, Dana Bubonovich, said the team was successful because they were able to keep updating information on various online platforms.

Dana and Allison from Penn State accepting the Best Social Media Award at Finals

“Throughout Year Two, I updated our Twitter page more than 900 times; I tried to blog as often as I could and update our Facebook page with the help of the engineers,” said Bubonovich. “Social media has become the new way to learn about current news and trends, so by focusing a lot of my time on that, I was able to increase the team’s recognition throughout Pennsylvania.”

While in San Diego at the Year Two Finals, the Outreach Coordinators had the opportunity to work with national media at the EcoCAR “Ride and Drive” event. The teams and the Outreach Coordinators spent time talking to the press and showing off their vehicles.

The EcoCAR outreach program helps students learn how to promote their efforts and energy efficient vehicles on various public platforms, and prepares them for jobs in the rapidly-changing energy world.

Outreach grows increasingly more important as teams begin Year Three of competition. This year, teams will focus on refining their vehicle into near-production prototypes. With a strong focus on consumer appeal, engineering and marketing students will work even more closely with each other, developing an understanding of how both roles play a part in developing a consumer product.

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