Embry-Riddle EcoCar makes pit stop in Gainesville

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) EcoEagles aren’t reinventing the wheel; they’re reinventing the car, a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu to be exact. As part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, the student sustainability organization is competing against 14 other college teams to convert a regular car into a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle. The goal of the competition, EcoCAR 2, is to reduce the environmental impact of a Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety and consumer acceptability.

Derek Bonderczuk, EcoEagles control teams lead, talks about the series architecture and biodiesel engine.

The EcoEagles visited Gainesville last week to showcase the car at the Santa Fe College Center for Innovation and Economic Development. The car can operate on battery power for approximately 30 miles before the biodiesel engine turns on. This is the last leg of the three-year competition with vehicles competing on a professional test track in June. More than 50 students participate in EcoEagles.

General Motors and Argonne National Laboratory sponsor the competition with 28 other companies, all invested in EcoCAR 2 to follow technology trends and have access to participating students after graduation. In addition to the computer programmers, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and control specialists, EcoEagles has communications and business students on the team.

“When the students go off at the end of their schooling, they filter into the entire advanced vehicle infrastructure in the United States. These students will interact with each other for the next 30 years in conferences,” said David Spitzer, one of EcoEagles faculty advisors and president of Spitzer Enterprises LLC, a business consulting agency. “They’ll hire and fire each other.”

An automotive industry executive with more than 20 years of experience in professional automobile racing, Spitzer is no stranger to innovation. He also serves on the UCF Business Incubator board and is the training facilitator for Startup Quest™ at CareerSource Flagler Volusia.

Startup Quest™ is a 10-session entrepreneurial training program that advances a model for workforce development by growing self-employment through entrepreneurship, shifting the mindset from “find a job” to “create my job.” Trainees are unemployed and underemployed professionals and veterans with an interest in building a startup business. Trainees are guided by mentors — successful, often serial, entrepreneurs — in developing a business plan, marketing plan and an investor pitch. The statewide entrepreneurial training program began in Gainesville (FloridaWorks) and expanded to seven other Florida workforce regions with a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The individuals involved in Startup Quest™ are also involved in their communities doing different things just like I am. Startup Quest™ is a platform for cool, bright people that are energetic to come into contact with each other.

David Spitzer, EcoEagles faculty advisor and Startup Quest™ training facilitator

It is this combination of innovation and individuals that allow Florida to compete on a national stage, Spitzer said. “We can compete with Silicon Valley, and we can compete with the Research Triangle up in North Carolina,” he said. “There are these different pockets, but I’m excited to be part of Startup Quest™ and also reaching out here in Gainesville and going to Jacksonville and Tallahassee.”

Florida’s collaborative innovation movement is spreading from the panhandle to the Keys, and some ERAU students are reaping the professional benefits of their participation even before they graduate. ERAU senior and Controls Team Lead Derek Bonderczuk was first exposed to EcoEagles while researching hybrid vehicles for a class project.

“From that little involvement that I had, it gave me access to the [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”] [fusion_builder_row] [fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] [sponsors]. I got a phone interview, and that grew into an internship,” he said. “I learned on that job the skills necessary to start with the [EcoEagles] controls team, and I was able to advance rather quickly.”

Active learning is integral to the success of EcoEagles, according to Lead Faculty Advisor Patrick Currier. “The students do all of the work. I don’t create any reports; I don’t work on the car; I don’t design anything. My job is to get the students to do all of that and provide them support they need to be able to do it,” he said.

The hands-on experience Bonderczuk learned from his time in the lab – anywhere from 40 to 80 hours per week – relieved his worries about looking for work after graduation. “You can choose what opportunities you want to cultivate, and you can choose what you do. It gives you a lot more freedom to find your career path,” he said.

Currier and Spitzer agree that working with the students and seeing them grow is a huge reward of giving time and expertise to the program. Spitzer sees similar results in Startup Quest™, where Floridians are embracing technology awareness and entrepreneurship while building professional networks through their participation in the local innovation community.

“The individuals involved in Startup Quest™ are also involved in their communities doing different things just like I am,” Spitzer said. “Startup Quest™ is a platform for cool, bright people that are energetic to come into contact with each other.”

Watch this video from Santa Fe College CIED for more information about EcoEagles:

For more information about Startup Quest™ and EcoCAR, visit the following links:
Startup Quest™: http://startupquest.org

EcoCAR 2: http://www.ecocar2.org/about-ecocar2

EcoEagles: http://www.ecocar2.org/teams-list/embry-riddle
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