Written by: Crystal Kilpatrick, University of Alabama
What happens to EcoCAR students after they graduate? With all the opportunities and connections students can have, they may be like Trevor Thompkins and work for a headline sponsor right out of college!
General Motors (GM) has been empowering students in STEM fields for years as a lead sponsor for Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), including the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge. In addition to sponsorship, GM offers students at the University of Alabama and 11 other universities the opportunity to form relationships with GM employees.
This environment of mentorship opens doors to the automotive industry for many students who may not have existing connections. Ohio State University graduate, Trevor Thompkins, was able to form a relationship with GM during his time working on EcoCAR 3. Now, Thompkins works as part of GM’s internal team responsible for helping young engineers pursue their dreams.
“I always wanted to work in the automotive industry. That was my goal since I was young,” Thompkins said. “I always loved cars, and so for me, working for GM certainly was a goal and was something I realized was achievable once I started working on the EcoCAR team.”
Thompkins was introduced to EcoCAR at The Ohio State University, where he was studying strategic communications and marketing. Originally an engineering major, he made the switch his junior year and joined the OSU EcoCAR 3 team as a Communications Manager.
As the communications manager for years one and two of the competition, Thompkins worked alongside his co-communications managers handling a plethora of responsibilities. These included pitching to the media, managing social channels and working closely with the team leads and faculty adviser. They also had the role of creating schedules and organizing transportation to and from their base location facility, the Center of Automotive Research. For Thompkins, this was invaluable for his career.
“It was a really big opportunity to gain experience with actual PR work,” Thompkins said.“Working with the co-communicators, I learned a lot from them. To be able to immediately turn around and practice those skill sets I learned was big for me and cemented the fact that communications was something I wanted to do and that experience I had on the team directly led to me applying for the GM communications internship,” Thompkins said. “I believe my experience and my success I had with the team helped me land the internship, which ultimately led to me getting a job at GM.”
On the last day of his post-graduate summer internship at GM, GM offered Thompkins a full-time job. He started a month later as a Communications Coordinator for GMC and is a part of GM’s TRACK rotational program. Today, Thompkins is a Manufacturing Communications Coordinator. His decision to accept was influenced by the genuinely good people who worked at GM. He found a place he felt he belonged and knew he could grow his skills.
In this position, Thompkins represents North American manufacturing operations. “I work with North American manufacturing leadership to make sure that their messages are getting out to our 40+ plants,” he explained. “I also work with our team of communications managers that manages communications and community relations at most of these plants.”Thompkins ensures that messages from the communications managers of these plants are forwarded to corporate and messages from corporate are effectively communicated to all employees throughout North America. In his role, Thompkins applies the skills he learned in the classroom with the knowledge he gained from his EcoCAR3 team.
As a headline ponsor for EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, GM works closely with Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy and MathWorks, to manage the competition. GM assists with everything from developing the competition’s rules to the choosing the platforms teams will use. General Motors also donates the materials needed for the competition to each participating team, including the 2019 Chevrolet Blazers.
“We donate the hardware, so we donate the actual vehicles the teams will be using as well as technical support,” Thompkins said. “Each team has a mentor who is an engineer within GM. These mentors spend a dedicated amount of time reaching out to each team, helping those teams solve problems and making sure those teams have all the communication they need to follow the rules and be able to ask questions and get answers from GM about the parts and technology we are supplying.”
In addition to their donations, GM ensures that teams can participate in different workshops. They often supply time at their facilities for teams to do the workshops – last year, the EcoCAR 3 teams were even invited to travel to a GM facility in Michigan to complete some work.
Thompkins said that their goal is to “make sure we are developing the next generation of automotive innovators who can be foundational in the success of engineering and manufacturing in the U.S. We, as a whole, are working to highlight the best and the brightest students in STEM and manufacturing careers. Through youth outreach, we want to promote diverse and inclusive STEM education efforts.”
“GM is excited to be a part of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge and we are proud because we have a strong history of bringing in students from the program to make General Motors a stronger company by finding those next, brightest students to help us remain innovators in our industry,” Thompkins said. “We really appreciate the effort of the students and what they put into this competition and enjoy seeing where they take each competition.”