Where Are They Now: Penn State’s Gary Neal

Gary Neal has been a loyal participant in Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) since 1998. Gary first joined the AVTC program as a team member of Penn State University’s FutureTruck team. During this time, he was working towards obtaining both his Bachelor and Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

After graduation, he began his career at Penn State’s Applied Research Lab, a defense-related research facility. He does everything from project management to engineering projects for the Department of Defense. He is also an adjunct professor in the College of Engineering, where he teaches a freshman seminar and senior design class on Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT) Team, as well as being the faculty advisor for Penn State AVT team for the past decade.

One of Gary’s favorite moments during his involvement as a faculty advisor occurred when Penn State earned its best finish in the Ford FutureTruck competition. “We placed second that year. It was a good group of people and it showed in the placement we had in the AVTCs that year,” he said. He is also proud of his current EcoCAR 2 team, which won first place this past year!

Gary said that watching the students during the competition is like watching his own kids. “You do the best job that you can to teach them the right way to do things, and at some point you have to let them go off and have some experiences to exercise those skills that they’ve hopefully learned.” He adds that he tries to stay hands-off during the competitions. “Once in a while I’ll have to step in and guide them back into the correct path, but overall they’re doing pretty well. I enjoy watching them come into the program.”

Being involved with AVTCs has given Gary many opportunities that he says he wouldn’t have had as just an undergrad or graduate student.  “Being involved gives you some real world experience. It gives you the ability to not only do the engineering work, but the opportunity to do project management – scheduling, budgeting and financing,” he said. “Those are skills that every engineer has to have to make their project successful.”

Gary said that the program has changed immensely since he was a student. “It was a little more monster garage, junkyard style. I think teams concentrated on just making things work at that point, and as anyone who has gone through a real world engineering project, you know you have to do more than just make things work.”

Now a faculty advisor, Gary said that the program has morphed into a standard development process modeled after industry engineering tasks. “You’re following more of a regimented documentation and management process that gives these students today a bit of a better feel and more applicable experiences to the things that they will see when they graduate and get a real job.”

Take a look back at Gary throughout the years, both as a student and faculty advisor, for the Penn State Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT) team in the video below!