A Dive into the Lives of UA EcoCAR Faculty

A Dive into the Lives of UA EcoCAR Faculty: Q&A with Dr. Paul Puzinauskas and Professor Mike Pope

Written by: Madison O’Brien

Dr. Paul Puzinauskas and Professor Mike Pope are long-standing Faculty Advisors for the University of Alabama’s EcoCAR team. Dr. Puzinauskas started with the proposal for EcoCAR 3 in the Fall of 2013, and Professor Pope joined the team in 2014 when Alabama got into EcoCAR 3. These two have been extremely influential in the success of the Alabama EcoCAR team throughout the years, and it was a pleasure to interview both about their work and background.

Dr. Paul Puzinauskas

Q: Why did you want to be the faculty advisor for EcoCAR?

A: Three main reasons.

1) EcoCAR provides one of the best systems integration and engineering experiences available. It is the most cross-disciplinary project of any kind on campus. The EcoCAR faculty advisors are fully committed to supporting such experiential learning and providing a wide variety of professional opportunities to our students.

2) While there are a fair amount of professional automotive manufacturing opportunities for our graduates in Alabama, there have not historically been a large number of our students working in vehicle design and development in the automotive industry. Prior to EcoCAR, I personally was only aware of one COE graduate working in automotive design or R&D and felt a large reason was the lack of exposure they had to the industry and that the industry had to them.

3) The graduate student, innovation, and automotive engineering infrastructure support make it the student design activity that is most synergistic with the advisors’ normal professional mission of teaching, research, and service.

Q: What about the automotive industry interests you? Does your education background reflect that and if so, what is that background?

A: I have always been obsessed with cars and racing. My father always bought Chrysler products, so I became a Mopar diehard as I grew up.  I used to persuade my sisters to get the brochures for all the new Plymouth and Dodge muscle cars every fall and since 1970 yearned for a purple Hemi ‘Cuda. While that car has long been out of reach for me, my first car was a 1969 Plymouth roadrunner, which was great. It had some great features, including a GTX console, front disc brakes, and a manual transmission. I built and rebuilt that car many times (Because I screwed it up a lot!) and bracket-raced it until I left for graduate school. I chose the University of Michigan for its history supporting the automotive industry and for the WE Lay Automotive Lab. I led the team that built the first Formula Car at UM, which is a major reason why it took me 6 years to finish my graduate work. I worked for two years at the GM Research Labs while I completed my dissertation. The topic of this effort was the effect of in-cylinder flow on combustion and heat transfer in a four-valve per cylinder spark ignited engine. I had to do it at GMR so the formula car would no longer distract me!

Q: What research have you done, and is any of it in relation to the automotive industry or mechanical engineering?

A: My research has all focused directly or indirectly on automotive (mostly IC engine) topics. In addition to my dissertation, I have worked on instrumentation of extreme engine applications, laser combustion diagnostics, laser plasma for ignition and spectroscopy, advanced combustion strategies and advanced engine control.

Q: What other groups do you oversee on campus?

 A: Formula SAE and COE Does Art

Q: What classes do you teach at Alabama?

A: They are mostly thermal science focused and include Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer, IC Engines and Advanced IC Engines, Engineering Leadership.

Q: Any closing remarks?

A: I very much enjoy getting to know the students that participate in EcoCAR and FSAE and really appreciate the support EcoCAR gets from the College and the University.

Professor Mike Pope

Q: Why did you want to be a faculty advisor for EcoCAR?

A: I wanted to provide students with a quality experiential learning opportunity

Q: What is your education background?

A: I received my BSME from the University of Alabama and my MS in engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Later, I went back to the University of Alabama to get my MBA and then received my MS in Accounting at University of Alabama in Huntsville. My earlier degrees were to support my technical work (space, defense) in Industry and the later degrees were to advance my business executive education.

Q: What work did you do before becoming a professor at the University? Why did you want to become a professor?

A: I supported applied research for space and defense customers prior to coming back to campus, and I became a professor because I wanted to give something back to the next generation

Q: Do you oversee any other groups on campus and what is your role in them?

A: I am the Faculty Advisor for UASpace, Theta Chi Fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity, Engineers in Action, and for UA Club Wrestling

Q: Why do you think students should join EcoCAR?

A: It provides an excellent opportunity for hands-on learning over an extended timeframe

Q: What classes do you teach at Alabama?

A: I teach Freshman/Sophomore/Junior classes in the STEM/CREATE path to the MBA covering the following areas: Organizational Behavior, Marketing, Accounting, Finance, Operations Management, Global Business. I am also the professor for 1st year MBA classes for Industry Partner Project and a Senior-level ME Innovation class

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