Next Chapter of UW’s Faculty Advisors

Written by: Sabreena Lauzon

The University of Washington (UW) EcoCAR team said farewell to Dr. Brian Fabien, the team’s lead faculty advisor, at the end of Year Two of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge. Dr. Fabien spent nearly a decade directing the UW team and has taken on a role at the University of Portland as the Dean of Engineering. He has inspired countless students through their Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions (AVTCs) experiences, and the UW team will always be grateful for his mentorship and contributions throughout each competition.

With Year Three of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge underway, the UW team is pleased to announce that Professor Robert Bruce Darling, a Professor of Electrical Engineering, has taken over as lead faculty advisor. Darling has been in the department since 1985 and has researched areas such as integrated sensor development. He is also the electrical safety advisor for Formula Motorsports since 2015, and the faculty advisor for Washington Superbike since 2018. Darling joined the UW EcoCAR team as a departmental faculty advisor in 2013 during EcoCAR 2 and is excited about stepping up into the lead faculty position.

“Brian Fabien left some big shoes to fill. The role comes with a lot of responsibility, but in a good way. The students do all of the real work; my role is mainly to remove roadblocks and offer advice and encouragement,” explains Darling.

UW EcoCAR will have two faculty advisors in Year Three: one lead and one departmental. UW EcoCAR students welcome Professor Per Reinhall, Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Washington, as the departmental faculty advisor. Reinhall was a faculty advisor during EcoCAR 2 and will be working to rejoin the team in 2021. The team is looking forward to working with Reinhall throughout the rest of the competition.

Faculty advisors play a vital role in the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge. Their dedication is what makes the competition possible, whether they are offering advice or ensuring the team is staying on track.

The team caught up with both Dr. Fabien and Professor Darling to get an inside look at what it’s like to be a faculty advisor. When asked about what they like most about EcoCAR, Darling says that he values the work ethic of the students involved.

“Their enthusiasm, motivation, and teamwork are inspiring. EcoCAR is a volunteer team, so students are here because they want to be, not because they have to be,” Darling says. “It is wonderful to be associated with the group of people who are destined to make a positive mark on the world.”

“As an engineering educator, I enjoyed seeing students gain confidence in their abilities as engineers,” adds Dr. Fabien. “They must synthesize and apply all their classroom knowledge to achieve the goals of the project.”

Inspiring, encouraging, and motivating EcoCAR students is exactly why faculty advisors are such a crucial part of the team’s structure. As Professor Darling puts it, EcoCAR is “the real deal with all of the problems, inconveniences, and challenges the world offers.” AVTCs present an experiential learning opportunity for involved students. The project environment closely mirrors those within the engineering world, so having faculty advisors guide students throughout the competition ensures everything runs smoothly.

Concluding his thoughts about EcoCAR, Darling reflects on his personal experience as a faculty advisor for the University of Washington team. “Even as just an advisor, it’s constantly learning new things and pushing my own envelope, which is a large part of what makes it so much fun. To quote Piet Hein, ‘problems worthy of attack, prove their worth by hitting back.’ The most exciting and memorable moments of your life are when your learning curve is the steepest. EcoCAR throws everyone into that space, myself included.