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University of Tennessee Student Makes Research Connections Through the NSF

University of Tennessee Student Makes Research Connections Through the NSF

At the University of Tennessee, the opportunities for students to learn through research are plentiful. One student, however, found a common theme in her research opportunities. Karson Stone, a freshman in Mechanical Engineering, connected two research programs that will not only further her knowledge in her field, but these programs are both associated with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

One of the most important aspects of college today is obtaining research experience to further one’s insight into his or her chosen field. At the University of Tennessee, the RISER (Research and Instructional Strategies for Engineering Retention) program was developed to benefit and retain engineering students, especially females, by illustrating, “how their chosen majors can be intellectually challenging, personally satisfying, and beneficial to society,” through different opportunities including research experience. Dr. Claudia J. Rawn, the Principle Investigator for the program, not only reaches out to students about the RISER program but also helps pair every student in the program with a professor conducting research that can provide opportunities in their field of interest. This program is funded by the National Science Foundation through the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP).

Karson, being a proactive female engineering student, joined the RISER program as soon she started her freshman semester at the university. She worked closely with Dr. Rawn exploring different research opportunities until Dr. Rawn referred her to Dr. David K. Irick, the faculty advisor of the University of Tennessee’s EcoCAR 2 hybrid vehicle design team.

EcoCAR 2: Plugging In to the Future, is a three-year collegiate engineering and automotive design competition in which fifteen universities across North America compete. While the main sponsors of the competition are the Department of Energy and General Motors, the NSF is also one of the Platinum Sponsors for the EcoCAR 2 competition. Over the course of three years, students take a 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, donated by GM, and re-engineer it from the ground-up to be an alternative fuel plug-in hybrid vehicle. The competition challenges students to further reduce the car’s environmental impact without compromising performance, safety or consumer acceptability. While a senior design team engineers and builds the car, there is also a Business Team and a Communications team. Each team has specific deliverables for the competition.

Karson is a member of the Communications Team, which has given her the opportunity to learn more about advanced automotive technology, alternative fuels, and advanced topics associated with mechanical engineering; With all of this experience, she has gained a head start in her field of study. Along with gaining technical knowledge about alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies, Karson has built up her technical writing skills, team building abilities, and outreach experience. While working on the EcoCAR 2 Team, Karson has coordinated a STEM research project with L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville, produced blogs pertaining to the competition as deliverables, and wrote an article to be published in Ethanol Producer Magazine about EcoCAR 2 and the effects of their flex fuel, E85.

To find out more about the EcoCAR 2 competition and students like Karson Stone, visit, and to find out more about the University of Tennessee NSF RISER program, visit