Professor, Automotive and Heavy Equipment
by John Smith - Nov. 7, 2019
Modern times have brought about advanced technologies designed to improve upon the automotive experience, where end goals present products that offer increased fuel efficiency, greater vehicle durability or enhancement of the safe transport for those people and goods on the move.
In his 14 years as a member of the faculty in Ferris State University’s School of Automotive and Heavy Equipment, Professor Patrick English has been steadfast in his desire to provide his students hands-on opportunities to examine and learn with the parts and power plants that now shape the change in this industry.
“I saw the need to gain support for the program, whether it was through physical donations, grant awards or financial gifts that would allow us to bring the latest technology into our students and classrooms,” English said. “We would not have the program that we enjoy without these resources being available.”
English said the instruction that focused on hybrid power plants and alternative fuel vehicles began at Ferris as a lecture-only class.
“We have been able to move to a much better place, in terms of student learning both at the Associate of Applied Science and Bachelor of Science levels,” English said. “Students in Automotive Service Technology need to know how to power down a high-voltage system safely, or test a battery or electric motor. We have been able to augment the level of training offered thanks to corporate donors and funding from the university and collaborative partners.”
English said a Toyota Highlander sport utility vehicle, and that automaker’s Prius mid-size car, are part of Ferris’ learning stock, which also includes an all-electric Nissan Leaf, complete with charging station, thanks to various corporate donations.
“We also have hybrid transaxle components to bolster our laboratory instruction,” English said. “The school is part of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium, serving as one of 22 National Training Centers. This helps us be most familiar about the cutting-edge developments and aware of how automakers are allocating their research and development funding.”
Other aspects of change regarding the technology of transportation include vehicles with engines powered by hydrogen fuel cells, or those that burn natural gas. English said school bus fleets are going over to NG-power or propane-fed systems, rather than diesel engines because of cost considerations and environmental concerns.
“The East Coast has more natural gas filling stations in place, with fleet vehicles like delivery vans being outfitted to take advantage of this opportunity,” English said. “We try to keep the greater community aware that great improvements have been made and will continue to arrive, in terms of electrified and alternative fuel vehicles.”
While autonomous vehicles are closer to reality in West Michigan and elsewhere, English said consumers’ acceptance of the self-driving car will determine how significant they become as an option on the roadway and a subject in the classroom.
“What is clear at this point that such vehicles will require at least a hybrid power plant, to feed the electrical components required to operate an autonomous system,” English said. “Those who wonder whether their driving experiences might come to an end will have to wait for the buying market and manufacturers to sort this matter out in the future.”
English said The Ferris Foundation has been a staunch supporter, with five Faculty Merit Grants received over the years, with the most recent award focused on electric vehicle instruction.
“These components and vehicles are the most expensive prospects, in terms of instructional aids for our department,” English said. “The Foundation’s merit grants allow us to present hands-on technology and training opportunities that would not be possible, otherwise.”
Ferris is awaiting word on a National Science Foundation grant application, which would allow English to work with the University of Michigan on developing their curriculum as it relates to electric vehicle energy supply and storage. English wrote and submitted a large grant this summer and confirmation of any success is likely in November.
English said another aspect of staying current with emergent technology and components is attending the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo and the Specialty Equipment Market Association show, which run simultaneously in Las Vegas, Nevada in early November.
“There are conferences and exhibitors who help us stay familiar with the cutting-edge developments in aftermarket equipment, along with information on industry direction,” English said. “As members of the NAFTC, we are allowed to attend these shows and keep our instruction relevant, with respect to the latest technology as it becomes available.”
Across the School of Automotive and Heavy Equipment, English and his faculty peers have structured the curriculum to develop a student’s mechanical skills before they move on to instruction that advances their abilities in engineering and product design.
“We ask that they become proficient in their skills as technicians, with the belief they will apply that knowledge of mechanical operations to their learning in computer-aided design and metal testing,” English said. “That broad base of understanding will make them a good fit for a variety of jobs in the industry.”
As the largest and best-known AET program in the country, English said Ferris enjoys a variety of opportunities in terms of industry support and career prospects for their graduates.
“Students who complete the Bachelor of Science AET program are capable to begin their professional lives in Quality Assurance positions, testing applications and roles in service support on the corporate level,” English said. “The program can also be a springboard to positions in product design and engineering. Our students are well positioned to pursue a variety of career destinations across the industry. We do bring in corporate speakers to make students aware of the range of opportunities that they offer, which is often an eye-opening experience for our students.”
English said one of the joys for SAHE faculty is the dedication their students exhibit in classroom and laboratory activity.
“Their interest in these technologies is a key consideration in their potential to understand and succeed with these products,” English said. “It is a challenge to stay abreast of the latest product improvements and industry trends, so that we can pass that along to them.”
Automotive Engineering Technology students take their desires to learn and succeed beyond the classroom, as a registered student organization, Ferris Formula Hybrid SAE has moved on from a fossil fuel-powered open-wheel racer to developing an electric vehicle. English and assistant professor of Automotive Service Jason Kruse are co-advisors of the RSO.
“We are entering the second year of a two-year build,” English said. “If all goes well, we will be ready for competitions in May 2020. In previous years, the participants developed a hybrid power plant for their racer. It is of tremendous value to the participants in terms of exposure, applying what they learn about engineering, electrical safety while having a great deal of fun putting this vehicle on the track and entering competitions against other college teams.”
John Smith is the communications specialist in the News Services and Social Media department of University Advancement and Marketing.
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