Early May 22, Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Team co-leader Benjamin Sattler and controls leader Chris Monaco drove to Old Main in Penn State’s EcoCAR 2 competition vehicle to pick up Penn State President Eric Barron for a reception at the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute. For the drive from Old Main, it was Barron behind the wheel.
Once on site, Barron inspected the vehicle from the outside, spoke with several members of the team and toured the Hybrid Vehicle Garage where the lion’s share of the work for Penn State’s advanced vehicle technologies competitions takes place.
Tim Wilson, a recent graduate in mechanical engineering, took Barron through the garage and described some of the many tasks the students have accomplished, from pulling the stock motor out of the vehicle to recent refinements leading up to the Year Three competition, which begins June 1.
The team’s competition vehicle, a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu designed into an ethanol (E85) plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, was flanked by several other Penn State competition vehicles from past contests, which looked almost like retired elder siblings of the current competition machine, poised to see how this youngest vehicle in the Penn State family will do in Year Three of the North American competition, which begins June 1.
“And it all happens in these two rooms?” Barron asked. “This is very impressive.”
Donghee Lee, the EcoCAR communications team leader, introduced Martin Pietrucha, director of the Larson Institute. Lee noted that the team comprises active student involvement from the colleges of engineering, business and communications.
“In the footsteps of its namesake, Tom Larson, a pioneer and visionary for both the University and the transportation industry, the Larson Institute continues to champion multidisciplinary approaches, such as ours, to develop practical solutions to key problems in transportation,” Lee said.
Pietrucha noted the substantive track record Barron has accumulated as a researcher and administrator, including two decades at Penn State and being named a distinguished professor of geosciences in 1999 and serving as dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences from 2002 to 2006.
“We’re fortunate to have a man of his stature, talents and humanity lead this great University,” said Pietrucha.
Barron was to the point as he addressed the team, visitors and the media.
“I didn’t prepare any remarks,” said Barron. “I decided to just see how this felt.”
Three things came to mind, he said. He recalled a student’s comment at a recent Capital Campaign celebration event: “When he gets up in the morning,” said Barron, “he thinks about what he can do better and what he can do more. That’s the Penn State I remember. This is epitomized in the success of this vehicle and all these other vehicles.”
Barron also noted his experience that “students who are engaged outside of the classroom and are very involved in other activities tend to have better grades and get better jobs. I’m struck that this is an example of student achievement at its finest.”
The third thing Barron said he noted to himself was “the degree to which students burrow.” When this happens, “they don’t have the opportunity to interact with people that you find in successful enterprises, it’s that teamwork and ability to work with other individuals that have different talents that makes us truly successful, and quite frankly is a requirement in employment.” Barron found this team’s work principles to be squarely opposite from burrowing.
“And the only thing I would say after that is, doesn’t it feel good to be in first place?” Barron smiled and gestured to the members of the EcoCAR team gathered around their competition vehicle. “I wish you great success in bringing in the next trophy!”
Attired today in their “dress blues,” the trademark polo shirts of the Advanced Vehicle Team, team members seemed to enjoy the chance to chat with Barron and other visitors, including Charles Whiteman, dean of the Mary Jean and Frank P. Smeal College of Business; Karen Thole, head of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering; representatives of the Strategic Interdisciplinary Research Office; as well as current and past advisers and members of previous Penn State vehicle competition teams.
Soon, it was time for Barron to get chauffeured back to Old Main for his next obligation as University President.
And it wasn’t long before the pull of the competition took the Advanced Vehicle Team members back to task and the inevitable pre-competition conversation: What’s the next detail to address?
EcoCAR2 is a three-year national collegiate engineering competition with 15 selected universities participating. Penn State EcoCAR2 team won the first year overall in Year Two competition in 2013. The team is comprised of more than 50 undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff.