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Assistant Professor David K. “Butch” Irick has helped hundreds of UT students build career paths while crafting leading-edge eco-friendly cars for national competitions.

October 17, 2016 | Updated: May 01, 2019

“Our students have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to design and work on vehicles, which helps them immensely after graduation,” says Irick, who is research director for the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE).

His history with hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels spans decades. He is an expert in the field and a seasoned veteran of shifting technology, research, and consumer tastes.

As faculty advisor for UT’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) program since the early 1990s, Irick helps students engage in real-world vehicle development.

EcoCAR 3 faculty advisor Butch Irick (right) and graduate student team member Eli Allen check the electrical circuit on the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro the team is working to hybridize.

In 2016, he worked with the EcoCAR 3 team to disassemble and rebuild a Chevrolet Camaro as a hybrid that still has the familiar rear wheel drive of a sports car.

The interdisciplinary team participates in the US Department of Energy’s competitions for advanced vehicle technology. Engineering students design and build the technology. Business students develop the project management. And communications students develop the marketing strategies.

Irick has enlisted several national companies including DENSO, MAHLE, JTEKT, and the Electric Power Research Institute, to support his student teams.

More than 800 UT students have gone through an AVTC team since the program was launched in 1989.

“Employers come to the EcoCAR 3 teams asking to hire soon-to-be-graduates because the companies are so confident in the skills that EcoCAR 3 instills in the engineers,” Emily King wrote in a web post for the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council while she was communications manager for the EcoCAR 3 team and a graduate student in public relations.

UT students have a blend of engineering skills and innovative drive, King added, that allows them “to push the direction that American car companies are taking to strengthen their sustainable transportation research and development.”

Matthew Mench, MABE department head, says another reason that major automotive manufacturers hire UT students is Irick’s instruction. “Dr. Irick has had a real impact not only in the classroom and out on the test track but also in their careers.”

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