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In the Fast Lane to a Career

Posted: October 27, 2014, 2:15 p.m.
by Doug Killough & Michelle Pierce.

It’s 2014 and everyone is going green. If you are not, you are behind. From hybrid vehicles to recycled water bottles, the effort to save the environment is becoming a cultural norm.

In recent years General Motors (GM) has taken a stand to save the environment. Some efforts include “more fuel-efficient vehicles, energy efficiency, waste reduction and resource preservation.” General Motors also offers a blog informing everyone of its environmental efforts.

In a key CSR initiative, GM reaches out to North American universities in an effort to increase awareness by offering a competition for students to create and engineer a new eco-friendly vehicle. This year, The University of Alabama is one of 16 universities chosen to participate in the competition — EcoCAR 3.

The mission
The mission for student teams is to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro to help reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The universities must complete this task while ensuring the Camaro’s muscle and performance are not compromised.

Behind the scenes
EcoCAR 3 provides engineering and communication students the opportunity to work together to successfully complete the competition. Engineering students work to use innovative technology to recreate the interior of the Camaro while maintaining the marketability of the signature sports car. As the engineering students work under the hood, advertising and public relations students work to create an effective communication plan to be fully implemented during the competition.

“The hands-on nature of advanced vehicle technology competitions (AVTCs) for both engineers and communicators is second-to-none,” Chris Bonelli, a plant communications manager for GM, said. Bonelli also served as the communications manager for EcoCAR 2 while attending Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.


Looking back in the rearview mirror
Objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Looking back, the EcoCAR 3 competition can help students in more ways than one. The competition continues after some team members graduate, but that does not mean they do not benefit from the experience.

“Combining theory and practice through the EcoCar3 experience is not only rewarding but an ideal way to start a successful professional career,” Brittany Galloway, communications manager for EcoCAR 3 at The University of Alabama, said. “The competition gives our students the opportunity to gain in-depth real world experience and exposure in business, engineering, communications, finance and operations management.”

For public relations students, experience is everything. Working on the EcoCAR 3 competition provides experience complying with government regulations set by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“EcoCAR 2 provided me with real media clippings, writing samples and digital analytics that I could bring to the table to prove to an employer I was worth their time,” Bonelli said.

The EcoCAR competition gives team members the chance to implement social responsibility while exposing them to practical experience in the public relations realm of the automotive industry.

“You’re making that segue from being just a student who is involved in on-campus things to really becoming a professional,” Galloway stated. “It’s the real world experience.”

She emphasized that there is no room for error when the pressures of real world work experiences arise. Once the team makes a mistake, they lose their credibility. It’s not a class assignment with a rough draft and a grade; it’s professional work for an actual client.

Galloway further explained how partnering with other colleagues helps prepare team members for the real world. It gives communication students the chance to work with other people who think differently than they do.

In a classroom, students are only around other public relations students, but when they begin their jobs as professionals, they are forced to communicate with people who may have a completely different thought process. “In the real world, it is very rare that you will be working with [other] PR people,” Galloway said.

“It’s really good to learn how to communicate because that’s what we are supposed to do,” Galloway said. “When you actually are around these different people, you get to put those skills into play. Everybody’s language is different. The more we can learn their language, the better we can effectively communicate their message AND our message.”

The EcoCAR competition provides team members with the opportunity of working with like-minded students as well as those with different interests. The competition allows students to grow as future professionals while making a difference in their communities. “I owe my PR skill, knowledge and, of course, career to my two years spent with EcoCAR 2,” Bonelli said.

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