Challenge X

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The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has participated in several advanced vehicle technologies competitions, including Challenge X. Amanda Womac, the current executive director of the Hearing and Speech Foundation in Knoxville, was the outreach coordinator for the UT Challenge X Team.

As Outreach Coordinator, Womac was responsible for all media relations and speaking engagements for the team. This helped Womac to not only develop professional contacts, but sharpened her ability to speak publicly about technical issues.

Representative John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN) is presented a souvenir shirt from University of Tennessee Challenge X team members Amanda Womac and Eric Koenn Tuesday, May 20, 2008 in Washington, DC.

Womac says that her experience in the competition has spilled over into her current position as adjunct faculty at Lincoln Memorial University. In addition to Womac’s current position she also teaches a public speaking course at LMU.

Her experience as outreach coordinator for the UT Challenge X Team was a great addition to her flourishing career as a science journalist.

When Womac was approached to become the outreach coordinator, she was already writing articles about engineering for her position in the Office of Engineering Communications, so it was a natural fit. In addition, she drove a bio-fueled Mercedes, which gave her a personal connection to alternative fuels.

The experience of Challenge X also helped strengthen Amanda’s technical writing skills, which in turn helped her obtain her current career.

Womac said, “I first started working at the Hearing and Speech Foundation as a technical writer for the Research and Development Program shortly after the competition ended. I became executive director a year later because of my organization and communication skills.”

The Challenge X experience is one that Womac will never forget. It not only introduced her to the world of alternative fuels, but gave her hope in the future of improved vehicle technology.

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Team Tennessee recently gathered together to hear from Scott Curran, former team member and current research engineer at UTK and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Curran was team lead on Challenge X and is working with Victoria Kisluk, the outreach coordinator, as well as Team Tennessee to further our knowledge and perspective on this three-year-long competition and how outreach makes a huge impact on the experience.

Curran started the talk with everyone introducing him or herself and asked if anyone had questions about outreach. One team member, Boyd Culver, asked, “How does the entire team come into play when it comes to outreach? I thought it was just the outreach coordinator?”

Curran replied, “Outreach is not only a one person show. Each and everyone of you are outreach team members because you all represent and promote this competition from the day you signed up.”

Over the course of the presentation it became obvious that Team Tennessee was uniting on the outreach front. The inspiration as well as the do’s and don’ts shared by Curran made the team understand and put forth some ideas of what Team Tennessee could be doing, including holding recruiting events in the upcoming months.

Curran expressed the importance of making a united front. He wanted each member to brainstorm ways that Kisluk could help the team and its members. He brought up several key points: It is everyone’s job to take pictures or videos of events, if you hear an interesting idea or story, write it down and last but not least show off your accomplishments.

The presentation sparked the interest and ideas of team members. Team Tennessee was generating ideas and situations that were applicable to the project as well as how outreach comes into play when you least expect it. This truly helped the team understand that outreach and engineering combine to make a team grow to its potential.

At the conclusion, Curran asked asked if the team had any questions or if they learned something new. Members of the team sat and began talking amongst themselves. One member of the team, Travis Childress, came up with the idea of having an informational meeting to recruit potential new members. This idea began the evolution of events and ideas that Team Tennessee has developed for the remainder of this year as well as Years Two and Three.

Team Tennessee would like to thank Scott Curran, Grace Loy and Kristy Keel from East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition for being so helpful in this process. It is collaboration at its best.  And as Team Tennessee’s new slogan says: Big Orange Big Ideas. The team is collaborating its school pride with the engineers of tomorrow to fulfill the messages and ideas of EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future.

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CrossChasm, the parent company to EcoCAR Silver Sponsor FleetCarma, was founded by Challenge X competitors and University of Waterloo alumni Matt Stevens and Chris Mendes five years ago. Stevens and Mendes have continued to support Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) through the years, and CrossChasm has recruited heavily out of EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge and EcoCAR 2. Business without Borders writer Sean Fine published a piece on CrossChasm and its relationship with AVTCs last week – check it out here, it’s definitely worth a read! And take a look at our previous post welcoming FleetCarma to the EcoCAR 2 family.

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Mike Arnett spent countless sleepless nights working with his team during Challenge X, but it was all worth it.

“We got to completely disassemble and reassemble a car the way we wanted to,” said Arnett, a recently hired engineer at Gamma Technologies.

He always loved cars, but Georgio Rizzoni, his eventual Challenge X advisor at The Ohio State University, encouraged Arnett to participate in the competition. He joined the Challenge X team in Year One as an undergraduate student and finished Years Two and Three during graduate school.

He believes his competition involvement was essential to deciding his career path, and it solidified his position with General Motors after graduation. Throughout his time at GM, Arnett kept in touch with past Challenge X competitors and eventually volunteered his time with EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge. Arnett was one of the key support members for EcoCAR 2-Mode teams, helping troubleshoot issues and lend a hand throughout Years Two and Three of the competition.

At his new job, Arnett will be working with GP power, Gamma Technologies’ most well-known technology. As EcoCAR 2 ramps up, he encourages students to participate as much as they can, making the most of their experience.

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Jamie Clark wasn’t always interested in the automotive industry, but his participation in Challenge X during his senior year at Penn State University sparked his curiosity and ultimately led to his job today.

“I had a desire to work on something that would make the world a more efficient or cleaner place,” said Clark, who currently works at Johnson Controls Automotive as a system engineer.

His main role on the Penn State Advanced Vehicle Team was to work in the battery group, where, among other responsibilities, Clark had to package the battery system, determine where it would fit in the vehicle and devise a way to keep it cool.

He believes his experience in Challenge X contributed to his first job at Tesla Motors working as a mechanical engineer.

“There was definitely a lot of company contact during Challenge X, not only with General Motors, but also with the other companies that helped support the competition,” Clark said.

He always had a desire to work abroad and his dreams became realized when he moved to Germany for his current position at Johnson Controls Automotive. While he didn’t speak German at the time, batteries are a more specialized area of the automotive industry, and his expertise made him more marketable to German employers.

Today, he primarily works on battery modeling to determine how the battery interacts with the all aspects of a vehicle’s software and hardware during design validation testing.

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When Bryan Jungers first showed interest in Challenge X at the University of California-Davis, he had never heard of hybrids before, but today he works as Manager of Research at E Source, focusing heavily on electric vehicles.

E Source helps utilities and major energy users solve problems involving energy efficiency, program design, sustainability and more. Jungers’ experience with Challenge X was an important first foray into the sustainable technologies that are now part of his daily life.

He recalls helping to integrate the battery packs into the UC Davis vehicle, which was challenging because hybrid technologies were still relatively new at the time. Ensuring the safety of the vehicle with a large battery pack was an added challenge that today’s engineers don’t have to worry as much about.

Beyond gaining real-world experience, Jungers also became a “rockstar in networking.” He says Challenge X gave him a reach in the professional world he never would have experienced otherwise. Jungers also attributes experiences during internships to his current success. He worked as a student intern at the California Energy Commission and helped write a contract for the Plug-In Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Center currently in place at UC Davis.

Further, Jungers helped with the systems architecture for the Vehicle Design Summit at MIT. Over the course of several months, he coordinated with team leaders from Europe, Africa, India and China to specify powertrain engine characteristics, such as the size of the engine and performance specifications.

While Jungers has made many strides since Challenge X, he encourages future competitors to learn from their mistakes during competition.

“I saw a lot of students come in and work on the project, but if they had a problem, they would just quit,” he says. “It’s about going out there and learning from those mistakes because you learn a lot more from the problems than the successes.”

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The Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) program was started by Argonne National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1987 and has included more than nine unique series over the last 22 years. Most recent AVTC series include EcoCAR, Challenge X and FutureTruck. Our latest “Where Are They Now” post features Shawn Midlam-Mohler, an AVTC alum who has contributed as a team member, team leader, and now faculty advisor for each of these recent AVTC series spanning the past 12 years.

Shawn started his M.S. at The Ohio State University in 1999 where he quickly got involved as a team member on the Ohio State FutureTruck team working on the Chevrolet Suburban, sponsored by GM. As a team member, Shawn worked on the emissions control system of the vehicle.  Shawn quickly discovered the significance of these competitions and signed up to be team leader for the Ford FutureTruck. During his time as a student, Shawn always felt that the time spent working on FutureTruck was one of the most valuable parts of his education.  Therefore, fostering this type of learning with new students was a natural fit for Shawn.

From 2004-2005, Shawn was focused mostly on completing his PhD, but still managed to support the Challenge X team at OSU. After completing his PhD in 2005, Shawn began working as a Research Engineer at The Ohio State University Center for Automotive Research where he currently is employed today. This position allows Shawn to perform research for some of the best in the automotive industry. He has had the opportunity to work with General Motors, Chrysler, Tenneco, Cummins, and many others through SMART @CAR and the CAR Industrial Consortium. Shawn’s research includes emissions control, powertrain modeling and applied engine control.

Currently, Shawn serves as the Co-Faculty Advisor for The Ohio State EcoCAR team. His experience in AVTCs allows Shawn to keep the OSU EcoCAR team motivated and on track.

Shawn works with Ohio State EcoCAR students on testing their vehicle

Shawn jokes, “During my time as a student in the advanced vehicle competitions, it would be an understatement to say that we are more successful now than we were in the past. Our earlier trials and tribulations make the present look a lot rosier when something goes wrong.  As serious as a current setback seems, I can usually think of something worse that we’ve already experienced and learned from.”

Shawn believes AVTCs give students opportunities to engage in the applied side of engineering.  Shawn stated, “Application of engineering principles is what industry thrives on and participation in motorsports projects like EcoCAR are great ways for students to get that experience.”

In addition to his role as the EcoCAR faculty advisor, Shawn is gradually becoming more involved in teaching and supporting the research areas within The Ohio State University‘s mission.  Shawn is working with interdisciplinary capstone senior design and is striving to integrate motorsports’ projects into Ohio State’s curriculum. He is taking on more responsibilities with the entire spectrum of automotive student project teams at Ohio State.  The OSU EcoCAR team is fortunate to have such strong leadership from Shawn and looks forward to his continued support of advanced vehicle technology competitions for years to come!

Are you an AVTC alum? Share your “Where Are They Now” story with us at

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In 1987, The U.S. Department of Energy began sponsoring Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTC).  More than 16,000 students from more than 600 institutions in North America have participated in one of  these hands-on learning opportunities.  To date, there have been more than 45 different competitions.   Take a moment to reflect back on some of the competitions over the years and look how far we’ve come!

Let us know which logo you like the best. The polls are now open!

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tarbertThis week’s Where Are They Now post features Brandon Tarbert, a long-time Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) participant. Starting as an undergraduate at The Pennsylvania State University, Brandon was looking to get involved with things that interested him. He was told as a freshman that the best way to end up in a career he loved was to get involved in an extracurricular activity in college. One evening when Brandon was out with friends, he met the school’s Challenge X team leader and heard all about the competition. Brandon had a nascent interest in hybrid vehicles and clean energy and thought it could be an exciting opportunity.

Starting in Year One, Brandon began working with Penn State’s Advanced Vehicle Technologies (AVT) team to promote Challenge X throughout the campus and to local news media. As the competition progressed, Brandon and the AVT team worked with other sustainable groups around campus to promote sustainable living.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications from Penn State, Brandon was hired by Sentech, Inc. as a communications analyst for the U. S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Vehicle Technologies Program. At the DOE, Brandon managed communications and web development. He worked with engineers to promote the research and development pursued at the DOE’s national laboratories focused on advanced vehicle technologies. Brandon also supported the logistics, planning, and judging for EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge.

Brandon really enjoyed working with the EcoCAR students, but is currently fulfilling a two-year service with the Peace Corps in the Republic of Benin, a country in West Africa. We wish Brandon the best during his service and look forward to his return!

Brandon teaching in West Africa

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This week’s Mentor Monday post features Bill Beggs, an engineering group manager at GM. Bill has been an Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition mentor for six years, first with Challenge X and now with the Mississippi State University EcoCAR team.  Bill has visited MSU twice in the past year, once last fall and once prior to the Year Two competition, to offer advice and assist the students with their EREV.  The team was extremely successful in Year Two and their efforts were both recognized and rewarded in San Diego with a first place win in the overall competition. 

During the EcoCAR Year One fall workshop, GM mentor Bill Beggs delivers a check for seed money to the MSU team leader, Matthew Doude

“It was great seeing all the teams’ efforts at the Year Two Finals in May,” said Bill.  “I’m proud of my team for winning, but it’s also inspiring to see the work of the other teams, too.”
Bill is looking forward to traveling to Mississippi later this year to check in on the team’s status in the third and final year of EcoCAR. 

“It makes a huge difference when you get face time with the students,” said Bill. “I love meeting individually with everyone on the team, seeing the vehicle first hand and talking through any issues they may have.  You just can’t get that kind of interaction over the phone or through email.” 

In Year Three, MSU is focused on vehicle refinement, which includes improving drive quality and optimizing fuel economy.  The students are also looking to incorporate after-market consumer electronic features, such as touch screens, into the console of their car.
Bill has worked for GM for 10 years.  Based in the Energy Center in Milford, MI, his current project focuses on the development and execution of more efficient fuel economies. 

“Basically, our goal is to achieve the best possible fuel efficiency we can for consumers,” he said.  “With all the new advances in vehicle technology, it’s an exciting field to be a part of right now.”

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