Where Are They Now: Virginia Tech’s Irene Berry

As a student at Virginia Tech (VT), Irene Berry recalls feeling right at home when she was first introduced to the school’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team (HEVT) lab.

As a sophomore, she wanted to get involved in one of the student design teams, and she had several options.

“At first, I wasn’t sure which one to join,” she said. “But from the first time I walked into the HEVT lab, team leader Steven Boyd took the time to show me around, explain the vehicle, and find something for me to do. I was incredibly impressed with the team and their work, and I immediately felt right at home.”

Irene volunteered whenever she could, mostly with the Controls Team. “I really loved having that perspective of the entire vehicle and how all the systems in it worked together,” she said. “The Controls Team always had work that I could help with and the other team members always took the time to explain what they were doing and why. The more I learned about the team, the competition, and the vehicles, the more I wanted to be involved.”

Among Irene’s fondest memories of her time with the team are working in the shop, taking test drives, and tackling challenges.

“The moments I remember best are the ones when nothing seemed to be working or when we were facing a problem or challenge we didn’t know how to address,” she said. “There were lots of long hours for the controls team working on wiring and coding, but we always found ways to keep each other motivated,” she said.

After graduating from VT, Irene earned dual master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in mechanical engineering and the technology and policy program (TPP). She was also involved in the MIT Electric Vehicle Team, converting a 1970s Porsche 914 into an all-electric vehicle.

Since 2010 Irene has worked at the GE Global Research Center in the Edison Engineering Development Program, where she is completing rotations in different laboratories and gaining experience in electric propulsion systems.

“My experiences with HEVs and their components were definitely valuable for my first job,” said Irene. “The experience from ChallengeX that I value the most is thinking about and dealing with systems. Systems thinking is something you might talk about in class, but I think it is an experience you only really get from something like doing controls for an AVTC vehicle. It’s also a rare opportunity that few students get to experience. I worked harder on that team than I have at anything else, and it was definitely worth it, both for how much we accomplished and how much I learned along the way.”

Irene is impressed with today’s EcoCAR 2 program. “Every year the competition seems to demand more and more, and the teams always seem up to the challenge,” she said.