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Engineering Boot Camp
WSU grad students work to create a sustainable vehicle.
Wayne State University’s EcoCAR 2 team, made up of 40 students, is re-engineering a Chevy Malibu into a vehicle that achieves 40 miles of all-electric range. The team members joined students from across the country who were challenged to reduce greenhouse gases through a General Motors and U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored competition, EcoCAR 2: Plugging into the Future. WSU is one of 15 universities competing in the three-year engineering competition.
Project manager for WSU’s EcoCAR 2 team is Israeli Idan Kovent. Communications team specialist is Alyse Waldhorn, a member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park.
The competition is designed to replicate GM’s three-year design process. It challenges engineering students to simulate a hybrid vehicle design and then implement it into the team’s GM-donated 2014 Chevrolet Malibu. Additionally, business and communications students on the team secure sponsorship and plan outreach events.
Kovent, 33, of Huntington Woods has been applying classroom knowledge to real-world problems since the team started in 2011. He oversees all sub teams: electrical, mechanical, controls, business and communications. Aside from being a full-time graduate student studying alternative fuel technologies and running the team, Kovent is a full-time engineer at ALTe Powertrain Technologies in Auburn Hills.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and moved to the United States in 2009.
Living in the United States, he says, has created a barrier that all international students encounter — distance. Kovent says that something as simple as speaking Hebrew at work reminds him of home. “One of our main investors from New York is actually Jewish, and I get to speak Hebrew when he comes in,” he says.
“Trying to solve a real-world problem through the re-engineering of a car over the course of three years is no easy task,” Kovent adds. “The team spends long days and sleepless nights working on reports and implementing new components to improve our Malibu.
“We all need to learn fast, on demand and solve real-world problems that are usually tackled by experienced engineers with much larger resources,’’ Kovent says.
Kovent chose to call the Detroit area home not only because his wife, Miram Levine, was studying internal medicine at Wayne State University, but also because he wanted to take part in the future comeback of the city, the automotive industry in particular.
At the end of the competition, the EcoCAR team plans to have a fully functioning parallel plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that runs on E85 and gets 40 miles all-electric range, Kovent says.
So far, the team has replaced the stock engine and rebuilt the fuel tank to adhere to their vehicle design. The team is also working to reduce the weight of the vehicle by exploring alternative low-weight seating options.
Benefits Of The Competition
Aside from all the tangible rewards that could potentially come from EcoCAR 2, like receiving a job with one of the Big Three after the competition, there are others that to some mean much more.
“Making friends, learning to become a better engineer and teaching others are such a great reward to me,” Kovent says. “Every year I get former team members emailing me and thanking me for giving them the tools to be successful in their career.”
The team’s communications specialist, Waldhorn, 23, graduated from Michigan State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology. After receiving her first degree, she says she realized she wanted to support and develop sustainable efforts, which led her to tackle another degree, this time in mechanical engineering.
“As soon as classes began, I started looking for an organization to join, and I found EcoCAR,” Waldhorn says. “I joined EcoCAR because it offers students real-world engineering experience where you can learn about anything from design and implementation to testing.”
As a female in engineering, she has put herself in a male-dominated industry and is doing well. “I feel that regardless of gender, if you truly love what you are doing then you will be successful,” she says.
Waldhorn has been helping the communications team out with youth events, general outreach, and team photography and videography. Considering she is new to the mechanical engineering program on campus, Waldhorn says she plans to transition into the engineering aspects of the team when she is ready.
EcoCAR 2 opens doors for students to network with professionals and work with software programs and tools that the industry uses daily. She has been working closely with the engineering team to grasp the computer-aided design program Siemens NX 7.5, which is being used by all competing teams.
The EcoCAR team will be at GM’s Proving Grounds in Milford next June to test the car in dynamic events.
“EcoCAR 2 is the best boot camp for any engineer,” Kovent says. “It challenges students to be successful in a multi-disciplinary competition.”
Katie O’Neal | Special to the Jewish News