EcoCAR Faculty Advisor is opening a car door with UC Davis written on it

EcoCAR Faculty Mentors Inspire Tomorrow's Automotive Leaders at UC Davis

AVTCs have a rich history in engaging students and preparing them for the workforce. Honoring that spirit, the UC Davis EcoCAR team is lucky to have two faculty mentors who are AVTC alumni and participated in several challenges as UC Davis students. Dr. Christopher Nitta and Dahlia Garas worked together on the FutureTruck challenge and are now spearheading UC Davis’s efforts in the EV Challenge along with Dr. Michael R. Hill. 

Dr. Christopher Nitta first began work on the FutureCar challenge in 1998 during his 3rd year of undergraduate education at UC Davis after being recruited by his cousin. Chris was a Computer Science and Engineering major and worked on programming the controls for the FutureCar challenge, even helping with installing a computer with a touchscreen interface into the car. He then transitioned into the FutureTruck challenge and stayed involved with the challenge throughout his undergraduate and graduate education. After receiving his MS in Computer Science, Chris began lecturing in the Computer Science department at UC Davis and started a consulting firm with two other FutureTruck alumni. He then received his PhD and continued as a Professor of Teaching at UC Davis. Chris has taught nearly all of the core courses in the Computer Science department, and is passionate about software engineering and design. 

Dahlia Garas first heard about the FutureTruck program her freshman year at UC Davis, and thought plug-in hybrids sounded like such a cool and obvious technology solution to inefficient gas engines that she planned to work on it once she “knew more about cars”. In 2000, in her fourth year, she was lured into helping with composite lay-ups late at night by friends who were on the team, even though she still didn’t feel she knew more about cars yet. However, the lure of a great team and an exciting, hands-on project was strong, and Dahlia stayed involved for the remainder of her undergraduate career and then decided to pursue a MS in mechanical engineering so that she could continue working on the project. During her tenure, she filled several roles including communications lead, Radar, and Team Leader. Before graduating, Dahlia helped transition the team from FutureTruck to Challenge X, as there was a high turnover rate at the time.

After graduating with her MS, Dahlia left UC Davis and Challenge X for a position as an Engineer in Southern California Edison’s Electric Vehicle Technical Center, doing consumer-focused vehicle and charger testing and data analysis for one of California’s largest utilities. In 2007, she returned to UC Davis to manage the PHEV Research Center, allowing her to focus again on her favorite advanced vehicle technology. She loves the mix of management, education, and research that this job provides, which might explain why she’s been there for 15 years! 

According to Chris and Dahlia, the pull of Davis is the friendly environment where you can meet and help people working on a wide range of interesting and innovative projects, which sounds much like the environment of AVTC. In fact, Chris and Dahlia still get together with other FutureTruck alumni and even have an annual Post-Thanksgiving Non-Turkey-Based PotLuck (PTNTBPL) that they hope they can recommence this year after pandemic-related disruption. 

Chris recently served on the Engineering Student Design Center (ESDC) redesign committee, where he met Dr. Hill. Chris and Mike saw the EcoCAR EV Challenge as a perfect way to energize the ESDC and engage students in automotive technology and transportation equity. After being unsuccessful with a proposal for EcoCAR 3, both Chris and Dahlia emphasize the importance of having Mike on the team, and appreciate his passion for helping students. 

AVTC provides students a hands-on, engaging experience in automotive engineering, leadership, and transportation equity spaces. And the diverse student population at UC Davis means a wide range of students have the opportunity to get their foot in the door and start climbing the career ladder. As faculty mentors, Chris and Dahlia hope current students involved with the EcoCAR EV Challenge get what they had, “a fun and game-changing experience” as well as connections and friends that they can hold on to for 20 years and more!