Team Drive


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Team building for Colorado State University actually comes down to not having a leader. The positive is that everyone feels they're of equal importance. The negative? Each person may not contribute equally. For the EcoCar project, the second scenario hasn't been found to be a problem.

It is part of a senior design curriculum designed to make opportunities for students to travel, meet with industry people who are practicing engineers, and feel they're a part of that bridge to the next level: their career. And it's for a grade, too.

Colorado State University's EcoCar team.
Image: CSU

"We worked with the Department of Energy and General Motors gave us a car and seed money," says Dr. Thomas Bradley, who oversees the project and is assistant professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the school. "The challenge was to build a lower greenhouse gas emission and higher fuel economy than a conventional car without losing performance. That's part of the motivation, to be able to show that students are creative and capable every year we put together a senior team. There's a 95% turnover every year but that's part of the challenge also."

So what about not having leaders? "We have graduate students who are kind of leaders of the team but it's a strong word," Bradley says. "They're not the bosses but their job is to help organize and transfer knowledge and be a voice of experience."

Lasting the entire year with 30 undergrads divided into five groups, there is a set of deliverables that must be met to fit the course work. There are three or four written reports and final presentations with the National Lab and General Motors.

"We have undergrad business manager that herds the students along on the business side," he says. "We have feedback that we provide internally to them and they deliver to us before the National Lab."

And how have the results been? "I think we raised the bar at Colorado State and we've won university level awards with these design projects," he says. "Students have been recruited by automotive R & D firms and have gotten pretty elite positions. The program has also become a focus of attention even locally and has become a resource for local clean technology industry, presenting at energy fairs."

This year they've even upped the ante as it's about designing a fuel cell plug in a hybrid electric vehicle.

Jake Booker, a graduate research assistant who helps oversee some of the students this year, admits he wished he could have been a part of this project during his undergrad days. "It works well in trading ideas and collaboration without too much interference between a single decision-maker," he says. "We gently nudge them towards the finish but it brings an excitement that sitting in class can't. My senior design project was dealing with simulation code for 20 weeks. It's very different to produce something like an Ecocar."

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

The program has also become a focus of attention even locally and has become a resource for local clean technology industry, presenting at energy fairs.

Thomas Bradley, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Colorado State University

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January 2013

by Eric Butterman, ASME.org