A STUDENT CONNECTS THROUGH THE NSF
I am a junior studying engineering at
the University of Tennessee and found
not one, but two research programs
that will help further my knowledge
in my field. The programs are both
associated with the National Science
At the University of Tennessee, the
RISER (Research and Instructional
Strategies for Engineering Retention)
program was developed to benefit and
retain engineering students, especially
females like me, by illustrating “how
their chosen majors can be intellectually challenging, personally satisfying,
and beneficial to society” through different opportunities, including research
Claudia J. Rawn, the principal investigator for the program, not only reaches
out to students about RISER, but also
helps pair every student in the program
with a professor doing research that
matches the student’s interests. RISER
is funded by the NSF's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Talent Expansion Program.
Being proactive, I found the RISER
program as soon I started my freshman year at the university. I worked
closely with Dr. Rawn researching
different opportunities until I was
referred to David K. Irick, faculty advisor of the university’s EcoCAR 2 hybrid
vehicle design team. EcoCAR 2 was a
three-year collegiate engineering and
automotive design competition in which
fifteen schools competed. While the
main sponsors of the competition are
the Department of Energy and General
Motors, the NSF is a platinum sponsor.
For the competition, students took a
stock 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, donated by
GM, and rebuilt it from the ground up as
a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
The EcoCAR 2 competition ended in
2014, giving way to EcoCAR 3, which
challenges students to further reduce
the environmental impact of a 2016
Chevrolet Camaro over a four-year period without compromising performance,
safety, or consumer acceptability.
The first year involves modeling and
simulation in preparation for the next
three years, when the team will be
working with the physical car. While a
team of senior engineering students
designs and builds the car, there is also
a project management team and a communications team. Each team has specific deliverables for the competition.
I am a member of the communications and the project management
teams. By working with these teams, I
have had the opportunity to learn more
about advanced automotive technology,
alternative fuels, and advanced topics
associated with mechanical engineering. It has given me a head start in my
field of study.
While working on the EcoCAR 2 and
EcoCAR 3 teams, I have coordinated
outreach events at elementary through
high schools, the FIRST Robotics
Regional competition, EarthFest, and
around the university’s campus; I have
written and edited technical deliver-
ables (including the project manage-
ment plan, communications plan,
and implementation plan); and I have
improved my teamwork abilities, lead-
ership skills, and technical knowledge
specifically in the automotive field.
I also believe that “the Karson Model”
will revolutionize the UT EcoCAR 3
team. Before I joined, the team had
always been made up of only senior
and graduate students. It was a senior
design capstone course, which resulted
in a large turnover from year to year.
By introducing students to the team as
freshmen, like I was when I joined, there
could be a lower turnover and a higher
knowledge transfer from year to year.
This gives underclassmen a hands-on
introduction to research and;engineer-ing design not normally seen before
the senior or graduate levels. The early
exposure;provides a platform to link;un-dergraduate course work to real-world
Through the EcoCAR competitions,
I have had the opportunity to meet
industry leaders, travel to competitions
with a team, and above all, further my
knowledge of engineering concepts
and applications through research and
real-world experiences. To find out
more about the EcoCAR 3 competition
and students like me, visit http://www.
ecocar3.org or follow the team on Twit-ter/Instagram: ;EcoCARUTK. ME
KARSON STONE is a junior studying industrial
and systems engineering at the University of
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One of the most important aspects of college today is obtaining research experience to further your insight into your field.