Courses Charge Up Future Electric Vehicle Plug-In Engineers

 

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.”

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