A Journey on Four Wheels

Love at First Sight                                                                      

“My job the summer before my freshman year was as a service porter and alignment checker at my local Chevy dealership, West Chevrolet. One day, a Blade Silver 60th Anniversary C6 ZR1 came in for service, and I was captivated. The way paint sparkled in the light coming through the bay doors, how the chrome wheels encased the calipers that matched the candy blue ‘1’ in the ZR1 badge, and the dark blue interior. That is probably the first time I had the thought ‘It would be cool to work on something like this as my job.’” And just like that, the ZR1 came and went, and so did all those years Ryan McNealy spent at The University of Alabama as a member of the EcoCAR team.

Meet UA and EcoCAR Alum, Ryan McNealy

A Maryville, Tennessee native,  Ryan McNealy graduated from The University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2018 and completed both his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and MBA in 2020. He is now working for General Motors as a development engineer in the Driveline Development and Integration group at the Milford Proving Ground in Michigan. Specifically, he works with SUVs and trucks, testing software, driveline components, and other mechanics. He has worked for General Motors for a year and a half now and will soon be rotating positions as part of the Technical Rotation and Career Knowledge (TRACK) development program.

Once a Member, Always a Member

In one’s life people come and go and eventually everyone sets out on their own unique path. College is no different. Every year new friends, team members, and peers emerge and set out to broaden their horizons and blaze their own path. McNealy was part of the EcoCAR team for 6 years, gaining valuable hands-on experience, and creating many memories while leaving behind another trail to blaze.

McNealy discovered EcoCAR in one of his freshman STEM classes and decided to join. However, it was not only that class that drove his urge to become a member; McNealy has always had an interest in cars and EcoCAR was the perfect opportunity for him to get involved in a community where all the other students shared his passion towards the automotive field. McNealy stayed with EcoCAR for 6 years; all his undergraduate and graduate studies spent at The University of Alabama was paired with a couple of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) programs, first the EcoCAR 3, then the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge.

After earning 3rd Place Overall in EcoCAR 3, McNealy placed 1st in PSI Presentation and 3rd Overall in Year 1 of the Mobility Challenge. McNealy’s long-lasting involvement with the UA EcoCAR team and the success he had achieved solidified his passion and further inspired him to continue to work within the automotive industry.

“It was the Year 3 competition of the EcoCAR Mobility challenge when we came up to Milford Proving Grounds. Seeing the proving grounds and the prototype C7 ZR1s running around cemented my predilection for the automotive industry and General Motors.”

Advice Worth Taking

Now, after spending a year and a half at GM, McNealy has had time to reflect on the previous 6 years at The University of Alabama and EcoCAR. “Get involved in automotive engineering clubs on campus such as EcoCAR, Formula SAE, or Baja.” he said when asked about some advice to students who are also planning to pursue a career in the automotive industry. He also mentioned some of the ideal skills he acquired at EcoCAR that have come in handy for him, including understanding of vehicle systems, the ability to work both independently and in groups, and a methodical approach to problem solving.

McNealy is not short of ambitions and plans either. He will be traveling to Kincheloe, Mississippi for Winter testing, which he is immensely excited about. After exiting TRACK, he would like to stay at the Milford Proving Grounds working as a performance or development engineer on General Motors’ battery electric vehicles.

As we were about to wrap up, he quickly added: “Apply to internships early and often. Internships are a great way to determine what parts of the automotive industry interests you and more importantly what does not.” And this advice is definitely worth taking.


Written by: Richard Miksi, Madison O’Brien, Elena Rouse