When I started working on the EcoCAR 2 team, I was interested purely as a recreational club where I could discuss advancements in the automotive industry. I was interested in talking to people that knew the difference between a PHEV and an HEV, and why an electric vehicle doesn’t count as a hybrid. (Surprising as it may be, I still get questions about these differences.) I wanted to talk about technology. I had some ideas on what I thought a “perfect” hybrid would be, and I needed a group that could challenge my ideas. The challenges that I endured were far beyond my expectations of the EcoCAR competition. And I loved it! I expected a group of like-minded individuals that were highly knowledgeable about hybrids and EVs, and I was not disappointed. The Purdue EcoCAR team is comprised of people with deep knowledge relating to automotive technology. From the professors that lead the program, to the sophomores and freshmen, I had found a group where everyone would willingly contribute in any way that they could. They were always supportive, thought-provoking, and sometimes difficult (but in a good way). The variety of experience and knowledge proved a constant challenge for any decision or idea that I had.
This group was not anything like what I had expected. It was the pseudo-salon discussion group that I thought, and it was a mini-experiment akin to a start-up. All of my work was useful experience that could only be gained by starting a new company, without any of the financial or career risk. I developed management skills, technical skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills and confidence. The EcoCAR 2 competition is fast-paced challenge that is un-paralleled. I can only say that it is un-paralleled based on the feedback that I received from recruiters. “I see that you have EcoCAR on your resume. Tell me about that.” I told them how I worked on a team that designed a simulator that physically represented a mid-size sedan. I told them how we had learned to use powertrain control software to simulate an entire vehicle, and how we were able to adapt that software to test control strategies. I explained that I helped develop the timeline for competition deliverables, and the business case that I had to develop to obtain a grant for our car simulator. “Wow! This sounds like it was a great opportunity. You clearly learned a lot!” Yes, I did.
I was accepted into a prestigious rotational program at Chrysler Group that accepts only 30 applicants each year. The company would pay for me to get a master’s degree, I would work in 7 different departments within the company over 4-month rotations, and I would get to use one workday every week to study. I had impressed the recruiters (of which, I am now one), and I landed my dream job. But landing a great job is not the only benefit of the EcoCAR competition. The main purpose is to develop the next generation of automotive engineers. I knew step 1 was to get a sweet job (check!), and step 3 was making money from said job (profit!), but accomplishing step 2 was where I have benefited most from my EcoCAR experience: a great work ethic.My first rotation was working in the Human Machine Interface (HMI) group. The purpose of HMI is to apply scientific methods to all parts of the vehicle that the customer will interact with to determine the reason why someone likes or dislikes a vehicle. Basically, we attempt to apply scientific reasoning to subjective ratings. I worked on controls and displays: buttons, screens, switches, toggles, etc. Sometimes our process works (almost all of our vehicles controls receive “excellent” or “very good” ratings from Consumer Reports), and sometimes we need to start over. (For example, I couldn’t find any strong correlation between fingerprint area and anthropometric data. Back to the drawing board.) I had experience with ergonomics and anthropometry from designing the car simulator. But I didn’t have much experience with controls and displays. It didn’t matter.
EcoCAR had given me the tools to overcome any obstacles that I encountered. If I didn’t know much on a topic, I completed a literature review using the same methods I used in EcoCAR 2. If I had a lot of deliverables, I developed a timeline to complete them. Same as EcoCAR 2. If I was struggling, I knew how to find the source of my struggles and ask for help. Same as EcoCAR 2. Almost everything that I did during my time on the Purdue EcoCAR 2 team has directly related to my success in the Automotive industry. And that is the most important thing that I learned in the EcoCAR 2 competition: how to deliver.