From Administrator to Advisor: Dr. Brian Woerner Jumps Into WVU EcoCAR
Written by: Kaycee Kiser
Every team in the EcoCAR EV Challenge would not be where they are without the support of their faculty advisors. From reviewing deliverables to offering guidance on vehicle development, they are the backbone of every team. For the West Virginia University (WVU) EcoCAR team, Connected and Automated Vehicle Systems (CAVS) Advisor Dr. Brian Woerner brings his expertise in electrical engineering and computer science as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) to impact all members.
Dr. Woerner became the Department Chair of the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the Statler College of Engineering at West Virginia University in 2004. During this time, he was the first recipient of the Lane Professorship, which is awarded to tenured faculty members to recognize and reward their achievements. He served as the department chair for 15 years, and joined EcoCAR in August 2019 during Year 2 of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge as the CAVS Advisor. He was familiar with the program, and even attended the final competition of EcoCAR2 as an administrator.
“As it happened, when I was stepping out of the department chair role to return to the faculty as a teacher and researcher, an opening became available for the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering (CSEE) faculty advisor position on the WVU EcoCAR team,” said Woerner. “I jumped at the opportunity to become part of the WVU team.”
When first joining the team as an advisor, Woerner was unsure about some of the details that came with being an advisor for EcoCAR. WVU Lead Faculty Advisor Dr. Andrew Nix and General Motors mentor Dr. William (Bill) Cawthorne, an alum of WVU, were a tremendous help in directing him into the competition.
“That was three years ago, and I was able to finish the EcoCAR Advanced Mobility Challenge,” Woerner said. “I was also able to work with Dr. Nix on a proposal for the new installment of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs), the EcoCAR EV Challenge.”
Dr. Woerner has over 30 years of experience as a researcher and educator. During the early parts of Woerner’s academic career, he taught and conducted research in the field of wireless communication, contributing to the development of code division multiple access, interference cancellation and multiple antenna technology to improve the performance and capacity of wireless systems.
As a department chair in the Lane Department, he helped obtain ABET accreditation for the department’s Computer Science program for the first time. Dr. Woerner encouraged the growth of the department’s scholarly research publication and Ph.D. enrollment. He also oversaw the move of the department to a new building, the Advanced Engineering Research building.
Since returning to the faculty after being the department chair, Woerner has had the chance to serve as an Office of Naval Research Summer Faculty Research Fellow, and as a WVU IDEA Fellow promoting entrepreneurship. He was recognized in 2021 with a Statler College Outstanding Teaching Award.
At WVU, EcoCAR is a student design competition and a capstone design course for many students. Dr. Woerner mainly works with the CAVS and DEI teams, and is an instructor for the CSEE department’s two semester capstone design sequence that is based on the EcoCAR project. Currently, the two classes have 48 students enrolled.
Outside of EcoCAR, Dr. Woerner serves as the CSEE department’s ABET coordinator for the five accredited undergraduate degree programs in the department.
“Because capstone design is such an important part of the accreditation process, it is a natural fit for me to teach one of the department’s capstone design classes,” said Woerner.
In the EcoCAR EV Challenge, one of the main focuses of the competition is DEI. In the Statler College of Engineering, Dr. Woerner serves as an advisor for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter at WVU. With him as an advisor of these two organizations, this provides many opportunities for collaboration between EcoCAR and NSBE.
Many students come through the EcoCAR team each semester. With this, faculty advisors want to make a lasting impact on their students. Throughout his teaching and research career, Dr. Woerner has found that his proudest achievements are the accomplishments of his students. There are a few times when he’s had the chance to work with a special group of people, and the WVU EcoCAR team is one of those special groups.
“I hope each of our students ends up with a degree and a great job,” Woerner said. “But in addition, I hope that each of our students remembers the fun and intensity that comes with a team competition like EcoCAR.”