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The University of Alabama

UA Student Team Racks Up Awards in National Vehicle Contest

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The UA EcoCAR 3 team won 11 first place awards at the recent Second-Year Competition.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – A team of University of Alabama students in a competition among North American universities to design and construct an advanced, energy-efficient vehicle was recognized with several first-place awards after completing the second year of a four-year program.

The UA team in the EcoCAR 3 program placed first in 11 categories including the Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award, the National Science Foundation Innovation Award and the General Motors Women in Engineering Award. The awards were given during the Second-Year Competition  in Yuma, Arizona, and San Diego. The team was also recognized as the top communications program for the year.

“There is a lot to be proud of from year-two competition,” said Joshua Stoddard, the incoming engineering manager for UA EcoCAR 3 from Memphis, Tennessee. “Our awards demonstrate a strong team through various areas — communication, management and technical.”

In 2014, UA was selected as one of 16 institutions to participate in EcoCAR 3, an engineering competition sponsored by General Motors Co. and the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition challenges students to create a car that uses less energy and emits less pollution without sacrificing performance, safety or consumer appeal.

This is the first team from UA in more than 20 years to participate in the Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition Series, established by federal energy department and managed by Argonne National Laboratory.

The four-year competition engages the next generation of automotive professionals in engineering, business and communications, allowing students to experience the vehicle development and launch process from design to marketing.

About 130 students from eight different disciplines are part of UA’s team. The team also works with the Capstone Agency, a student-run public relations firm, to help with social media and media relations.

During the competition, students conceive, design and integrate an innovative, state-of-the-art powertrain into the newly redesigned Chevrolet Camaro, donated by GM, with the objectives of maximizing vehicle fuel efficiency, maintaining federal emissions and safety standards, and improving vehicle performance, while satisfying consumer demands for flawless drivability and affordable cost.

The UA team plans to turn the gasoline-powered Camaro into a blended plug-in hybrid with a smaller internal combustion engine supplemented by two electric motors. The changes should mean the Camaro can travel 48 miles on the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline compared with the 28 mpg it is rated to achieve now. The students’ success in meeting these objectives is evaluated yearly before the final evaluation at the end of the competition.

After the first year of the contest, UA’s EcoCAR 3 team was tabbed as the “Team to Watch,” placing in the top half of all teams. This year, the team placed fourth overall, an impressive showing considering UA has not competed in an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition Series in more than two decades, Stoddard said. Stoddard recently earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at UA and is now pursuing a master’s in business through the STEM Path to MBA Program in the Culverhouse College of Commerce while  working toward a graduate degree in mechanical engineering.

“Placing fourth is a huge improvement from eighth last year and puts us right in the thick of the most competitive schools that have participated in this program many times before and have a legacy of success,” he said. “Building this program up from the ground up has taken significant effort from all students involved, from collecting sponsors to doing academic research. Every contribution counts toward our success.”

Members of the UA EcoCAR team having a little fun taking pictures with their Chevrolet Camaro while at the year-end competition.

Members of the UA EcoCAR team having a little fun taking pictures with their Chevrolet Camaro while at the year-end competition.

The team’s lead adviser, Dr. Paul Puzinauskas, associate professor of mechanical engineering, was named the Outstanding Faculty Advisor for his dedication to mentoring student participants along with his efforts in creating engineering courses focusing on automotive technology and industry and ensuring students and professors from across campus play significant roles in the team’s success.

“Advising this incredibly talented team in the EcoCAR 3 competition is a perfect role for Paul,” said Dr. Charles L. Karr, dean of the UA College of Engineering. “It melds his two passions: young people and cars. He has put a lot of his time and energy into this effort, and our entire campus – not just the students in EcoCAR – are benefitting from the initiatives he is key in putting together.”

Megan Hathcock, a rising senior in mechanical engineering from Huntsville, was selected for GM Women in Engineering Award, given to women on EcoCAR 3 teams who demonstrate outstanding technical excellence and accomplishments. Hathcock served as co-lead for mechanical on UA’s EcoCAR 3 team. She is also a student in the STEM Path to MBA program.

The team also won two awards from the National Science Foundation, the NSF Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Engineering Award and the NSF Innovation Award.

Another award included Best Collaboration with a Clean Cities Coalition. The three communication awards are: first place for communications program, best communication and implementation plans and best social media report.

Technical awards included best consumer appeal presentation, best final technical report and best innovation progress review.

The team won $22,000 in prize money that will be used to finish work on the car before the year-three contest next year.

Along with Puzinauskas, the team’s advisers are Dr. Tim Haskew, head of the department of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Rob Morgan, executive director for Innovation Initiatives in the Culverhouse College of Commerce; Mike Pope, instructor of marketing in the STEM Path to MBA program; and Dr. Hwan-Sik Yoon, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.