Written by: Lily Joy Crosby
The exhilaration of hearing the engine start for the first time after the conversion to a hybrid-electric vehicle… riding around in the car once the team’s User Interface was ready, seeing it map out the buildings and cars and being in awe of the engineers’ hard work… feeling like they had just built a spaceship together… the endless laughter of group meetings, and the comradery that only comes from struggling and pushing toward progress together. These are some of the moments and memories Dean Blanks reflected fondly upon when asked about his experience being a part of the University of Tennessee’s EcoCAR team.
For Dean, studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT) was always a no brainer. He grew up hearing his grandfather’s stories about studying engineering at UT in the 1950s, watching UT football, and dreaming of walking around on the hill surrounded by a sea of orange.
In August 2018, Dean began his journey earning his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and his MBA at UT. Having already studied at UT for his Bachelor’s degree, Dean knew a lot about the EcoCAR, so he was ecstatic when he was contacted by Dr. Irick for the Project Manager position at the beginning of his first semester of graduate school. Dean joined Team Tennessee in the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge during Year 1 with the Chevrolet Blazer, and he stayed in his role for two years before graduating.
One of Dean’s goals after joining Team Tennessee was to act as a communicator and organizer for the team. Anything he could do to help advance the team in the competition and advance his team members in their own career aspirations was always his main focus. There is a culture of cross collaboration that only comes from working with people from a diversity of backgrounds, given the interdisciplinary aspect of the competition. Having to maintain flexibility and balance the bandwidth of UT’s small team made EcoCAR a great simulation for the real world.
Since graduating from UT and the EcoCAR team, Dean has been working for Honeywell in Providence, Rhode Island, as part of a leadership development program. In this program, he will rotate through three different positions in the company across a 4.5-year span. Currently, Dean is serving as an Integrated Supply Chain (ISC) Professional Accelerated Career Entry Program (PACE) Manufacturing Engineer for Honeywell. In this position, he works at a safety equipment manufacturing plant making N95 masks for the COVID-19 pandemic safety equipment stockpile. His main responsibilities include minimizing downtime to meet customer demands for safety products, solving assembly issues, and applying manufacturing systems to ensure quality and efficiency in production.
Being part of EcoCAR during the COVID-19 pandemic and then transitioning to a company that has transformed operations to manufacture safety equipment, Dean stresses the importance of being able to adapt. Plans change drastically and often without warning, and while those changes can be difficult to weather, pushing through and growing from those moments is what leads to advancement.
When asked if he had any advice for current and future EcoCAR team members, Dean responded, “Embrace the challenge. Never lose sight of the reason you’re doing it, even when you’re discouraged. You are building tomorrow together, and you are making yourself and the world better prepared for it in the process.”