Tech launches new vehicle engineering concentration, only such program in Tennessee

Students work on Formula SAE car.This fall, Tennessee Tech University will launch its newest engineering curriculum to help prepare students for careers as leaders in the automotive industry, which is one of Tennessee’s fastest growing fields.

The vehicle engineering concentration at Tennessee Tech is the only such undergraduate program in the state, and will prepare engineers who know cutting-edge automotive technologies and are ready to develop innovative automotive products to address societal needs.

“While other schools in the state offer graduate programs in this field, we wanted to provide this valuable education to undergraduate students,” said Tech President Phil Oldham. “With Tech’s established reputation in automotive engineering, as evidenced by our 12-time champion Baja SAE and Formula SAE motorsports teams, we are uniquely positioned to offer students this opportunity.”

The concentration will be an interdisciplinary curriculum between two programs in the College of Engineering: Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Students in both majors will share common classes and senior capstone project courses, providing for a truly interdisciplinary education in this field. The new curriculum will include three new courses including “Introduction to Electric Vehicles,” “Introduction to Autonomous Vehicles,” and “Vehicle Dynamics and Controls,” along with new experiential learning opportunities.

“This interdisciplinary education will enhance the collaboration of students, which is necessary for engineers in the automotive and other vehicular industries,” said Mohan Rao, chair of Tech’s Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The growth and diversification of the industry is expected to drive more change in the global automotive market in the next 10 years than during the previous 50 years.

Traditionally, mechanical engineering has dominated automotive engineering with emphasis on engines and combustion, emissions, design and manufacturing. As the industry is transitioning toward more hybrid, electric and autonomous vehicles, there is now a concentrated demand for automotive engineers with a background in areas like embedded hardware and software, sensors and electronic controls.

Vehicle engineering is an interdisciplinary field that covers various types of vehicular systems such as traditional petroleum-powered vehicles, hybrid and electric vehicles, automated and connected vehicles, and subsystems like engines, after-treatment systems, transmission, batteries, electric and control systems.

“The vehicle engineering concentration is a vital component in preparing the next-generation automotive engineers for modern product design and advanced manufacturing, and these skills are in high demand from employers hiring engineering graduates from Tennessee Tech,” said Pingen Chen, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Chen is the principal investigator on a new project partially funded by a grant from DENSO, the world’s second largest mobility supplier, that will help develop a new, open-access autonomous vehicle platform. This project will directly support the new degree concentration.

Tech is committed to producing a skilled automotive workforce for the state, which now has a significant automotive manufacturing presence, including Nissan, Volkswagen and General Motors, along with more than 900 automotive suppliers such as DENSO and Ficosa.

The new engineering building currently under development is expected to house the Baja SAE and Formula SAE motorsports teams, a state-of-the-art autonomous electric vehicle platform, and machine shops. Until the completion of the new building, the program will utilize existing spaces across the university.


Vehicle Engineering Concentration website

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