Corvettes rev hands-on approach to automotive engineering at GM Ride & Drive

By the end of the five-hour GM Ride & Drive event, 220 registered drivers had taken 693 total test drives.


Three gleaming, new Corvette convertibles – Torch Red, Arctic White and Laguna Blue – are in a nose-to-tail line at 10 a.m. on a sunny Friday waiting for Vanderbilt drivers. Along with the Vettes, a fleet of 19 other General Motors vehicles from all four of its U.S. brands, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, are ready to roll.

By 3 p.m. Sept. 18, 220 registered drivers had taken 693 total test drives, many of them in the Chevrolet Corvette Stingrays. In five hours, some drivers had taken multiple ten-minute joy rides from the University Club on a preplanned mile-and-a-half loop.

The School of Engineering was host of a GM Ride & Drive event, part of the company’s Vehicle Advocate Program. Vanderbilt is only the third university outside Michigan to offer this event, which has been held at Georgia Tech and the University of Texas, Austin.

By driving some of GM’s most popular vehicles, students, faculty and staff had the chance to see in-vehicle technologies like navigation, infotainment, voice recognition, Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free text messaging, and safety, security and mobility solutions, and talk with GM employees about the “invisible” technology that goes into vehicles.

GM employees staff the event and an employee rides with each driver, age 18 or over who passes a breathalyzer test. About 40 employees participated at Vanderbilt – representing engineering, IT, manufacturing, purchasing, finance, and other company functions.

Dean Philippe Fauchet takes time to drive a Corvette after talking with students and GM employees.

“Our students are seeing the engineering they’re taught in class applied in the real world. I think there is an interest at GM to give exposure to our students, and interest in terms of recruitment, too,” said Philippe Fauchet, dean of the School of Engineering. “Mark Reuss, a Vanderbilt engineering alumnus, of whom we are very proud, made this event possible.”

Reuss (BE’86), executive vice president of Global Product Development and Global Purchasing and Supply Chain, is the top product development executive at GM and an avid motorsports fan. He was inducted into the school’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni in April, and he offered the Ride & Drive event to the school during that visit to Nashville.

“Getting exposure to a company like GM is huge for Vanderbilt. The school does a good job of bringing in a lot of big companies but not many in the automotive industry. Since I’m very interested in working in an automotive related field, it was great to meet GM employees and learn about potential opportunities,” said mechanical engineering senior Kurt Rosolowsky. “Driving the vehicles they brought was a great way to facilitate these conversations, too.”

A Cadillac ATS awaits a driver. A new Engineering and Science Building, set to open in 2016, is in the background.

While the Corvettes drew crowds, drivers also got to choose from three Camaro SS convertibles, a Cruze, Impala, Sonic and Volt. In the Cadillac line, the sleek ATS Sport Coupe, the CTS, a SRX crossover, and the Escalade were favorites. Buick was represented by the Enclave, Encore, Regal and LaCrosse. GMC brought muscle with a Terrain, a Terrain Denali, a Canyon and a Sierra.

Mechanical engineering junior Allison Bielawski came with a plan. “I’m looking for a summer internship and I thought this would be a good start. It’s really hard when you apply online. I think it’s really better to meet people in person. It makes a better impression.”


GM test engineer visits motorsport lab

The night before the event, Zach Mendla, a test engineer in the Global Battery Systems Laboratory, met with members of Vanderbilt Motorsports Club and other students to discuss the latest in battery technology. About 30 of them crowded into the automotive lab to hear about his career with GM and the work he does in the battery test group for the Volt.

Zach Mendla (left), a test engineer in GM's Global Battery Systems Laboratory, talks with Vanderbilt Motorsports Club members on the night before the Ride & Drive event. Engineer Phil Davis (right) is the club's adviser.

What was intended to be a one-hour visit stretched to four. Mendla was heavily involved in the Formula SAE Hybrid Collegiate Design Competition as a student and now as a GM engineer. Mendla said seeing the cars the students create and the unique and novel solutions they come up with to address design problems energizes him.

“Zach took resumes from all the students and made notes on the resumes after talking with each of them. He was really generous with his time,” said Phil Davis, staff engineer and adviser to the Motorsports Club. The club brought its Formula SAE car to the Ride & Drive event the next morning.

Furichous Jones, a freshman chemical engineering major, asked about the current direction of fuel cell research.

“We’ve been working on the gen 2 Volt battery since the gen 1 released,” Mendla said. “Really, development takes about 8-10 years.”

Jones said later that was fine with him – he would be eager to work on exciting, long-term projects.

Gabrielle Tate, senior electrical engineering major said meeting the GM engineer was an invaluable experience. “After the meeting, he took the time to speak individually with each member – freshmen included – about our resumes and about opportunities at General Motors. On Friday, he gave us advice about modeling software for the car project,” Tate said.

“The Ride and Drive event was absolutely amazing,” Tate said. “We were able to bring our formula car and speak with GM engineers about it.

“I also got to drive a Corvette, which was very cool.”

Motorsports team member Gabrielle Tate (EE'16) drives the Laguna Blue Corvette.

Brenda Ellis, (615) 343-6314
Twitter @VUEngineering