Graduating Female Engineer Looks to a Future in the Racecar Field

by John Varrasi, ASME Public Information

Over the last four years while earning a degree in mechanical engineering at Cooper Union in New York City, 21-year-old Amy Chambers has nurtured a passion for fast cars and high-performing engines.

As a freshman, Ms. Chambers joined the university’s Formula SAE® team, calibrating engines that would enable the school’s modified racecar to compete in an annual autocross-style road race against as many as 120 other student teams from around the world.  Amy remained on the Formula SAE team in her ensuing years at Cooper Union, becoming the driver in her sophomore year and captain this year – all along hoping that, following college graduation, she would be able to land the type of job to align with her engineering skills and interests.

She did.  This July, Amy will start a job as design and validation engineer at General Motors in Detroit, Mich., working primarily in the area of powertrains.  What’s more, GM has outlined a path that will enable the young engineer to apply for a position in GM Racing, which equips NASCAR racecars. 

“I am very excited about the opportunity with GM,” said Amy.  “My short-term career objective is to work with automotive powertrains and my longer-term aspirations involve racecars, so I believe I am on a good pathway.”

The Job Search

Amy Chambers’ seamless transition from student life to a rewarding job position in the working world is a case study in career planning and preparation, and proof that good outcomes come to those who steadfastly pursue their hopes and dreams.  For Amy, an engineering career seemed a destiny from a young age.  Growing up along with two triplet sisters in Northport on New York City’s Long Island, Amy displayed a knack for building and fixing things around the house, like televisions and remote controllers.  “I would always be interested in how things work,” said Amy.  “I would dismantle and reassemble anything I found interesting.”

She attended Northport High School, scoring high grades in math and science and blending curriculum requirements with courses in woodworking and computer-aided design.  Entering Cooper Union, Amy enrolled in the electrical engineering program, which she found somewhat unfulfilling.  “I was more interested in the engineering side of cars, particularly automobile engines,” said Amy.  “So I gravitated toward mechanical engineering at Cooper Union to obtain the abilities and training to pursue these interests.”

Amy developed a strong aptitude in thermodynamics, fluids engineering, and heat transfer, excelling in all her coursework.  On the Formula SAE team, she leads all aspects of engine calibration and servicing and is involved on every subsystem of the powertrain, from intake to exhaust.  Using a dynamometer and other engineering tools, Amy and her powertrain team measure and test every engine parameter to gain optimum engine torque in varying racing conditions.  The Cooper Union car has not yet won the annual competition; however the car finished a respectable 54th place in 2015.  “We have high expectations for a strong outcome this year,” said Amy.

Sharpening her focus on a professional career in automotive engine calibration, Ms. Chambers last summer interned at Honda R&D Americas, Inc., in Ohio.  During her senior year at Cooper Union, Amy cranked up her job search, interviewing at several automotive firms in the Michigan area.  Throughout her search, Amy used her contacts at ASME, Cooper Union, and the Formula SAE network to identify career opportunities and job openings, as well as hiring managers.  According to Amy, the initial interviews were carried out on the telephone and the subsequent face-to-face meetings were arranged at company expense.

Fast Track

In her initial engineering position at General Motors, Amy expects to test the powertrains for some of the auto company’s Chevrolet and Buick models to be available in 2017 and 2018.  GM plans to keep Amy in that job for 6-8 months, after which the young engineer will transition to vehicle-level calibration work at a corporate division in Milford, Mich.  Following a stint there, Amy will have the opportunity to apply at GM Racing.

Amy believes she will be able to cope with the challenges of adapting to changing job responsibilities in different parts of the company.

“I will employ a problem-solving mindset,” she said.  “I along with many other engineers are trained to analyze a situation, then use technical experience to arrive at a pragmatic approach to a solution, and finally implement measures and countermeasures to solve the problem.”