Students share success of EcoCAR effort

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An interdisciplinary effort by Penn State students to design and improve a working hybrid vehicle has been bolstered by a group of communications students who have helped raise awareness about the project.

The EcoCAR 2 Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and General Motors, challenges teams from 15 universities across North America to achieve greater efficiency while reducing greenhouse emissions and petroleum consumption. Teams are judged on engineering components as well as business and communications success during the three-year program that started in 2011.

Seven students play an important role in the communications efforts for the Penn State team, and they have a high standard to uphold because the team earned second place for its efforts in that area of the competition last year.

“Last year the communications team was so successful because we weren’t afraid to ask for help. We built relationships with Penn State, competition sponsors, schools and community members,” said Taylor Kidd, a senior public relations and economics major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., who leads the communications team. “Many successful public relations efforts depend on relationships like that.”

At the end of this academic year, the students’ work will be evaluated during a weeklong competition of tests conducted in Yuma, Ariz., to determine the vehicle’s production readiness. In addition, the team will make presentations in San Diego, Calif., about their work. Last year, Penn State’s vehicle team won six awards.

Kidd and members of the communications team have been especially focused on ”green” initiatives in the community and utilizing social media to promote advanced vehicles and teach the public about changes in the auto industry. The team has partnered with environmental groups on campus and facilitates events at Penn State campuses across the state.

Other members of the communications team are: Andie Ashbaugh, a public relations major from Yorba Linda, Calif.; Ari Gianakopolous, an integrative arts major from Columbus, Ohio; Cheyenne Sexton, a public relations major from Elizabethtown, Pa.; Becky Szwak, a public relations major from Mount Olive, N.J.; Maria Turconi, a public relations major from Gibsonia, Pa.; and Lotus Zhou, a marketing major from Shanghai, China.

The overall Penn State team functions as a company with mechanical engineering, marketing and public relations students all working toward a common goal. Kidd says that the teamwork provides important hands-on experience. “It’s taught me how to interact with people on a professional level and truly gain their respect,” Kidd said. “That’s something you simply can’t learn in a classroom.”

Updates about Penn State’s involvement in the competition may be found on Facebook and Twitter, with sites maintained to focus on the effort.

Last Updated February 28, 2013