Summer Spotlight: VT Team’s Grads Launch Careers in the Auto Industry

This year, Virginia Tech awarded over 300 students with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.  While most chose to work in defense in the Washington, D.C. area, many chose another career path.  This year, over a third of the students who worked on the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team of Virginia Tech as a senior design project for EcoCAR Year Two have secured various automotive jobs with Liebherr Mining Equipment, Altec Industries, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.  Five students on the team chose to work at General Motors, a headline sponsor of the EcoCAR Challenge, along with the Department of Energy.  These students chose to work for GM because of the information learned in creating an extended range electric vehicle that uses stored grid electricity and E85 fuel for propulsion.  While the EcoCAR students have only been working for a few weeks, they are already deep into their new assignments. Of the five students at GM, HEVT placed two in full-time positions.

Brian Fiore is currently working full-time with General Motors in the Powertrain department at the Milford Proving Grounds.  His official title is “6-Speed Algorithm Design Development Engineer”, which means that he works on the design and calibration of 6-speed transmissions.  This work involves writing code in C and then testing the code changes on a transmission controller in a physical vehicle.

Michael Kearney is working in Hybrid Vehicle Integration.  In Human Interface Displays and Gauges, he will be helping develop and test the algorithms being implemented in the hybrid driver displays for the Chevy Volt (such as EV range, efficiency, and charging) and upcoming PHEV and BAS+ (Belted Alternator Starter) platforms.

Four students are working as summer interns before returning to graduate school at VT.

Jesse Alley is working in the new state-of-the-art Battery Systems Lab in Warren, MI testing the air-cooled battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt. The goal of his work is to characterize the thermal management system at the pack level. Because the pack is the first of its kind and more are sure to follow, a secondary goal is to develop a methodology for characterizing the thermal system of a liquid-cooled battery pack.

Jonathan King is developing and testing a new optimization strategy for the BAS+ mild hybrid system. He will work on adapting the code developed for two and four mode transmissions to the BAS+ system. This will involve expanding the code to work with six gears and handle torque converter dynamics. The goal of the project is to determine whether fuel efficiency can be improved through the use of this system.

Lynn Gantt is working on Hardware-in-the-Loop validation for ABS (Antilock Brakes) and stability control validation for vehicles that are completely in math.  With this philosophy, GM can build a few test vehicle variations and validate the remaining combinations (several hundred) using lab tests.  His role as Team Leader prepared him for the global scope of his work with Korea on the Chevy Spark and Aveo.

Patrick Walsh has worked in the automotive industry before but this summer chose to spend it at Argonne National Laboratory as a research aide.  He is working on comparing the new, third generation (2010) Toyota Prius drive train to that of a second generation (2004) Prius. The end goal of the research is to determine where improvements or differences in performance or efficiency were achieved in the new model. The majority of Patrick’s time is spent in the Advanced Powertrain Research Facility, which includes a state-of-the-art 4WD chassis dynamometer capable of simulating vehicle road loads.