FutureTruck Alumni Lead the EcoCAR EV Challenge at UC Davis

Futuretruck alumni lead the ecoCAR EV Challenge as Faculty at UC Davis

Written By: Lauren B. Taylor

AVTCs have a rich history in engaging students and preparing them for entering the workforce. Honoring that spirit, the UC Davis EcoCAR team has two faculty mentors who are AVTC alumni and participated in previous challenges as UC Davis students. Dr. Christopher Nitta and Dahlia Garas worked together on the FutureTruck challenge and are now spearheading UC Davis’ efforts in the EcoCAR EV Challenge along with Dr. Michael R. Hill. 

Dr. Christopher Nitta first began work on the FutureCar Challenge in 1998 during his 3rd year of undergrad at UC Davis after being recruited by his cousin. Chris was a Computer Science and Engineering major and worked on programming the controls for the FutureCar Challenge, which included helping with installing a computer with a touchscreen interface into the vehicle. He then transitioned to the FutureTruck challenge and stayed involved with the series throughout his undergraduate and graduate education. After receiving his MS in Computer Science, Chris began lecturing in the Computer Science department at UC Davis and started a consulting firm with two other FutureTruck alumni. He then received his PhD and continued as a Professor of Teaching at UC Davis. Chris has taught nearly all of the core courses in the Computer Science department, and is passionate about software engineering and design. 

Dahlia Garas first heard about the FutureTruck program her freshman year at UC Davis. When Dahlia entered her senior year in 2000, her friends that were on FutureTruck asked her to help with composite lay-ups. late at night by friends who were on the team, even though she still didn’t feel she knew more about cars yet. Dahlia was soon excited by joining a great team and a hands-on project so she stayed involved for the remainder of her undergraduate career and then decided to pursue a MS in mechanical engineering so that she could continue working on the project. During her Masters, she filled several roles including communications lead, Radar lead, and Team Leader. Before graduating, Dahlia helped transition the team from FutureTruck to Challenge X.

After graduating with her MS, Dahlia left UC Davis and Challenge X for a position as an Engineer in Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Technical Center, doing consumer-focused vehicle and charger testing and data analysis. In 2007, she returned to UC Davis to manage the PHEV Research Center, allowing her to focus again on her favorite vehicle technology. She enjoys the mix of management, education, and research that this job provides, and has kept her captivated for 15 years! 

According to Chris and Dahlia, they both enjoy the friendly environment where you can meet people and work on a wide range of interesting and innovative projects at Davis and are happy to be on this side of AVTCs. Chris recently served on the Engineering Student Design Center (ESDC) redesign committee, where he met Dr. Hill. Chris and Mike saw the EcoCAR EV Challenge as a perfect way to energize the ESDC and engage students in automotive technology and transportation equity.

As faculty mentors, Chris and Dahlia hope current students involved with the EcoCAR EV Challenge get what they had, “a fun and game-changing experience” as well as connections and friends that they can hold on to for 20 years and more! In fact, Chris and Dahlia still get together with other FutureTruck alumni and even have an annual Post-Thanksgiving Non-Turkey-Based PotLuck (PTNTBPL) that they will gather for this year.

Stay tuned throughout Year One to hear more from the UC Davis EcoCAR team!

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