EcoCAR puts team members in the driver’s seat toward success

The MSU EcoCAR team poses in front of Swalm. The team is comprised of students from a variety of majors and offers hands-on experience vital for their future careers.

Mississippi State University is home to a variety of clubs and organizations, each meant to be a place for students to find like-minded people and pursue their interests by getting experience and education in real-world topics.

MSU's EcoCAR Mobility Challenge team is one of those groups, providing hands-on experience and extensive training to a diverse group of students and majors interested in automotive design, engineering and much more. 

Morgan Cox, one of the team's engineering managers and a student pursuing a master's in mechanical engineering, has been involved with the MSU EcoCAR team for two years after spending two years on another school's team. She described the long term goals of the team including some of the innovative features of the car. 

"The EcoCAR Mobility Challenge is a four-year automotive engineering competition where we are redesigning a 2019 Chevy Blazer to have a hybrid power train, as well as some semi-autonomous features," Cox said. "We still have an engine in the front of the car, and we've added an electric motor to the back and a high-voltage battery pack."

Beyond just being an engineering and design competition, EcoCAR is aimed at improving cars long-term, as well as providing a kind of real-life experience that cannot be attained anywhere else.

"We also have students who are adding these autonomous features like a reactive cruise control where the car will break for us and capabilities for the car to communicate with others on the road. That can ultimately lead to a better traffic scenario on a large scale and improves safety for the driver," Cox said. "It's seeing what students can do in preparing ourselves for industry and ultimately improving the automotive industry as a whole."

The other engineering manager, Vance Hudson, is pursuing his master's in general engineering. He is one of the most seasoned members of the MSU team, as he is working through his fifth year.

Hudson has been noticed as a successful, influential member of the EcoCAR team. His accomplishments on the team have made him an eligible candidate for internship and job offers, which he has so far turned down to stay with the team.

"One of the big taglines for EcoCAR is that it may be the best way on campus to get hands-on, technical experience," Hudson said. "Whether you are related to the automotive industry or anything related to it, we have sponsors that span basically anything that you want to do."

Ryan Stallcup, a graduate student in industrial and systems engineering and one of the project managers for the EcoCAR team, has spent two years leading the team to success.

"We are one of eleven North American universities in EcoCAR, so, ultimately, our goal is to do as well as we possibly can in the competition," Stallcup said. "We are all pretty competitive, and we take pride in representing Mississippi State."

As well as pushing his team to produce the best work they can, Stallcup has been pursuing new objectives to increase the advancements of the team. From promoting the idea any student interested in the EcoCAR project can join the team to encouraging team unity, Stallcup is pushing the team towards success and opening opportunities to the members.

"One of the things that drives us is the opportunity to lead such a big team of undergraduates," Stallcup said. "If somebody who is not from a typical major is interested then we are going to do our best to find a way for them to contribute because we really value the diversity that different perspectives bring."

Throughout the 16 years MSU has had an EcoCAR Mobility Challenge team, they have had four first-place finishes, as well as a variety of other awards this past spring, despite challenges presented by COVID-19.

The MSU EcoCAR team goes far beyond simply a group of engineering majors. Bryanna Trulove, a senior majoring in communication and philosophy, is the communications manager. Trulove encourages students outside of the typical STEM field to consider joining the team.

"I was nervous about joining something not only STEM-related but in the automotive industry with no previous experience with cars at all," Trulove said. "However, joining the team was eye-opening, and, really, it's just great to work with so many different people."

Trulove said her experience with the MSU EcoCAR project is something she never expected, and it goes far beyond the competition and team expectations she had. From working towards the future to providing opportunities for young people, Trulove said EcoCAR has greatly impacted her academic experience and future.

"I wish people knew that it is so much more than just a competition," Trulove said. "It is something you are able to get involved with, and there is room for any different major: communications, business, engineering and beyond. We can come together as members of a team, gaining experience and a network, while having fun and getting to know people. I am so glad I get to be a part of that."

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