The Faces of UA’s EcoCAR Team

Written by: Michaela Alexander

The University of Alabama EcoCAR team is conquering new ways of working during Year 3 of the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, all while ensuring social distancing and taking the necessary precautions to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. To keep the momentum going in the competition, the leadership team continuously works to ensure that everyone is on the road to success. Although their ability to connect with sponsors, team members and the community has been limited, the leadership team decided to take their virtual masks off to share a little about themselves and their role in this year’s competition.

Madeline Gilmer, the Project Manager, recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. Currently, Madeline is pursuing her master’s in business administration with a focus in real estate. As the project manager, she works with the Engineering Manager and sub-team leaders to develop the overall project timeline. She is responsible for tracking and executing all project-level activities, knowledge transfers and recruiting activities, along with managing the budget. Madeline’s favorite part about EcoCAR is the people she works with every day.

“Everyone brings different perspectives and sets of skills to the team. I have enjoyed learning from them!”

Madeline aspires to be a project manager for a design-build construction company. She would like to lead projects in a variety of industries and eventually move into business development. Working with EcoCAR has provided Madeline an opportunity to grow into a knowledge sector that she had not experienced yet.

“It was a great way to continue developing my leadership skills and work in an advanced team environment.”

Madeline has already accepted a full-time position but has no doubt that working with EcoCAR would provide a competitive edge to any applicant. Outside of her busy schedule, she embraces her creativity through videography and photography. Her dream job is to work for Cirque du Soleil designing shows.

Jordan Olson, the Engineering Manager, is a mechanical and electrical engineering graduate student. Jordan is responsible for coordinating work across three technical sub-teams, tracking team activities and clearing any roadblocks that the sub-teams may face. He serves as the team’s main point-of-contact for technical issues.

“EcoCAR gives me the opportunity to work with cutting edge automotive technology that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”

For the past three years, Jordan has worked with EcoCAR in a variety of positions. He was previously a member of the business sub-team (Formula team) and the Systems Safety Lead Engineer. Jordan’s dream is to work as a controls or automation engineer for an electric vehicle manufacturing company.

Aside from working with EcoCAR, Jordan is a self-proclaimed foreign language nerd. He studied Spanish for six years and learned some Italian when he spent the summer in Turin, Italy. If there is any kind of big sporting event, Jordan is watching it. Otherwise, you can find him practicing guitar, playing video games, working out, hanging out with his dog or at a local Tuscaloosa coffee shop.

Ashley Phan is a doctoral student studying computer science. She serves as the Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV) Lead and Human Machine Interface and User Experience (HMI/UX) Lead. As the CAV’s lead, Ashley is responsible for integrating sensors onto the Blazer to perceive the environment around the vehicle. Using the detections reported by the sensors, she leads the team to develop algorithms to autonomously control the vehicle.

This is Ashley’s fourth year working with EcoCAR and third year as a tech lead.

“My favorite thing about EcoCAR are the opportunities to perform advanced and innovative research. Additionally, I enjoy that EcoCAR allows me to share knowledge with newer generations and spark interest in the future of autonomy.”

Before Ashley’s goals became a reality, she was diagnosed with a very rare blood disorder at two years old. The doctors ran out of ways to help her, resulting in her going into a coma for three weeks. One day, she woke up and no longer had the disorder! No one could explain what happened, so they called her a “miracle child.” The doctors predicted that she wouldn’t live past high school, but she proved them wrong!

Ashley earned her undergraduate degree in computer engineering, where she developed an interest in computer hardware. Now, as a computer science doctoral student, she is concentrating on software development.

“The CAVs lead position merges both the hardware and software sides in one system, so I felt that this was a perfect opportunity for me to apply my interests into a real-world system.”

Through EcoCAR, Ashley was presented with the opportunity to become the program director for the EcoCAR Diversity Initiative Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. She aspires to work as a software developer, then get her post-doctoral degree and become a computer science professor.

Brandon Stevens, the Propulsions Controls Modeling (PCM) Lead, is an electrical engineering graduate student. Brandon leads the controls software teams and works on the vehicle to obtain functionality while integrating the new hardware. His role is to ensure that the vehicle is as fuel efficient as possible while maintaining safety for the vehicle and its components.

Brandon has worked with EcoCAR for three and a half years. He served on the CAVs team and electrical team during EcoCAR3. This is his second year as a tech lead. Brandon saw EcoCAR as the opportunity to work on a new challenge.

“The quick prototyping of our research was a major appeal for me as we get the opportunity to quickly try out new ideas on PCM.”

Brandon aspires to work in the software engineering field, either as a subject expert or managing a small team. He is a big fan of the Star Trek series from the 1980s to 2000s. He also enjoys cooking and baking during his free time.

Caroline Bolt, the System Safety Lead Engineer, is a senior studying mechanical engineering. Caroline conducts a variety of safety analyses on all systems and components of the Blazer to determine safety requirements, which ensures the car will remain safe in case of potential system failure. She works diligently with all sub-teams to implement these requirements.

Caroline is new to the tech lead team but grew familiar with EcoCAR her sophomore year. She took a break from EcoCAR to live in Germany for a year.

“I applied for this position because it was such a great learning opportunity. Through different internships and classes, I’ve gotten a good understanding of the mechanical systems in cars, but this position has given me a chance to learn about all the components in the car and how they work together.”

Working with EcoCAR helped Caroline get an internship with Mercedes Benz. She stated that having hands-on experience with EcoCAR really helped her stand out in the interview.

After graduating in December 2021, Caroline plans to pursue her master’s degree in mechanical engineering and continue working in the automotive industry. During her spare time, Caroline enjoys hiking. In February, she hiked the entire island of Santorini in Greece, which took seven hours. Caroline also enjoys reading outside on her porch.

Zachary Davis, the Propulsion Systems Integration (PSI) Lead, is a dual master’s student studying mechanical engineering and business administration. Zachary is responsible for managing the design, integration and testing of all propulsion systems in the vehicle. This includes designing and manufacturing components and mounts, implementing the new hybrid powertrain into the vehicle and testing the reliability and functionality of all new components. He works with the other technical leads to ensure that the vehicle is correctly integrated for its systems to function as intended.

“EcoCAR has given me the opportunity to improve both my technical skills as an engineer and my soft skills as a leader, all in a fun and exciting environment. So many of the other leads and members have different experiences and backgrounds that come together to shape how the team functions and makes decisions and has made the team such a great place to learn and work.”

Zachary enjoys learning about cars, which led to his interest in working on UA’s EcoCAR team. EcoCAR has helped him learn more about the development process of vehicles. From his experiences with the team, he received an internship with NASA. In the future, Zach plans on becoming an engineering manager at an automotive company, such as General Motors. He likes working at the intersection of engineering and business and desires to shape the future of the automotive industry.

Zach spends his free time participating in watersports, such as waterskiing and wakeboarding. This summer, he learned how to waterski on a competition ski course from his neighbor, who water-skis semi-professionally. When it gets too cold to be in the water, he enjoys playing video games, woodworking and hanging out with friends.

Michaela Alexander, the Communications Manager, is a second-year graduate student studying advertising and public relations. Michaela ensures all communication deliverables for competition are met with the assistance of Capstone Agency. She is responsible for creating blog posts, maintaining the social media accounts and websites and promoting UA EcoCAR on campus and in the community. This position offers a challenge to Michaela and Capstone Agency as they work together to discover new ways to communicate information virtually.

“Working with EcoCAR has shown me how communication works in a more scientific field, which many communication professionals overlook while they are in school. This position has helped me learn more about STEM and the transformations occurring in the automotive industry.”

Science and technology have always intrigued Michaela as she grew up in “The Rocket City,” Huntsville, AL. EcoCAR is currently teaching her how to navigate in a new work environment while learning more about the innovations and ideas developing in the automotive industry.

After graduating in May 2021, Michaela hopes to have a career in corporate communications. She is looking forward to working for a company that will keep her learning more about technology and other innovations around the world.

Michaela enjoys traveling during her free time. She has been to a few countries such as Italy, Greece and France. She has also visited a variety of states from Illinois to Texas. Michaela is a movie and TV show fanatic and slightly obsessed with TikTok.

Brian King, the Propulsion Systems Integration (PSI) Associate Mechanical Lead, is a mechanical engineering student. Brian is responsible for assisting with the coordination of the design and integration of mechanical systems within the vehicle. These components are tested thoroughly to ensure optimal performance.

During his sophomore year, Brian worked with EcoCAR but took a break when he went to study in Germany for his junior year.

“EcoCAR allows me to apply my engineering knowledge to a real-world project. Being able to work on the actual vehicle with other people who are just as excited about the future of the automotive field as me is a wonderful experience.”

EcoCAR deals directly with major advances in the automotive industry, such as hybrid powertrain technology and autonomous controls. Given Brian’s interest in the industry, this position was a perfect chance for him to gain valuable experience.

Brian has received various internship opportunities from working on EcoCAR, such as working at Mercedes Benz U.S. International. His future career goal is to become a CEO of a major automotive company.

Brian played semi-professional hockey in the Canadian Hockey League. When he has spare time, he enjoys playing the guitar or piano with his little brother who is on UA’s swim team.

John Ferrell, the PSI Associate Electrical Lead, is an electrical engineering student. He serves as the electrical hardware expert on the team, especially pertaining to the propulsion systems and physical build of the vehicle. His past work includes the creation and routing of the team-added electrical wiring, research and integrating the new engine into the vehicle, as well as the hybrid systems and design and implementation of the vehicle emergency disconnect system.

John has been a part of the EcoCAR team for two years. He was always interested in a technical leadership position and appreciates the opportunity to be involved.

“I enjoy working with EcoCAR for multiple reasons. We get access to a workshop fully stocked with tools and the challenging work of integrating a different engine and a hybrid system into the Blazer. I also enjoy working with the team.”

John is considering a career in auto-manufacturing after graduation. Career success for him would be becoming a manager of a moderate-sized technical team.

Working in electrical engineering labs and conducting his personal experiments can be dangerous, but John claims to have only shocked himself one time while working on his projects. During his free time, he is most likely playing video games.

UA’s leadership team quickly embraced the new ways of working to be successful in this year’s competition. The UA EcoCAR team is dedicated to not only reach team and personal goals but to learn from challenges they face. With around 100 members, the diverse team attracts the best and brightest students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), who get the opportunity to work on the leadership team. You can keep up with the UA EcoCAR team on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.