‘Down the Road:’ ISU graduate student personifies cooperation between Indiana State, Rose-Hulman

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
December 7, 2010

When Indiana State University graduate student Jennifer Spector isn't busy studying or teaching, she can be found doing public relations work for a campus organization - at another college.

Spector works as the outreach coordinator of the EcoCAR team at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. The graduate student, who is expected to finish her Master's in communication with a focus on public relations at Indiana State in May, started working for the group in August. She created a yearlong communications plan, scheduled events and spoke with people about the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge competition and the Rose-Hulman team.

The position "has made me realize how much responsibility it is to take on a public relations position for any kind of company, and this has really allowed me to see what it's going to be like to work in the industry, and it's gotten me really excited," said Spector, who is from Indianapolis. "It's given me a lot of confidence as far as where I can go when I graduate."

Thirteen teams in the United States and three teams in Canada are vying to win the EcoCAR challenge. In the competition, teams develop technologies to reduce a hybrid vehicle's impact on the environment. The competition started two years ago and is in its final year.

Through the duration of the contest, teams receive almost three million dollars in cash and in-kind support to design, build, test and refine a hybrid crossover vehicle, said Zac Chambers, co-advisor of the EcoCAR team and associate professor at Rose-Hulman.

In addition to working on the vehicle, the teams also provide marketing and outreach. Rose-Hulman had the assistantship available, so Chambers asked Joyce Young, director of the ISU motorsports program, about an ISU student joining the team, which eventually led to Chambers and Young meeting with Spector and talking about the job.

"She already had a tremendous background in event marketing and management as well as communications, and she has just been absolutely outstanding for our team," Chambers said, "and it has shown the potential that exists for Rose-Hulman to partner with Indiana State University and share the student resources that we have with each other."

Spector didn't know much about the EcoCAR competition until she began working for the Rose-Hulman team. She quickly got caught up to speed, though, when she attended an EcoCAR workshop in Massachusetts in October.

"The whole EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge, it was huge, and I honestly did not have an idea of how big it was until I was at this workshop," Spector said, "and I also realized how much responsibility was in my hands, which was both exciting and nerve-racking."

In the strategy she developed for this year, Spector stressed that the team hopes to increase its presence on the internet, with regular updates on the group's website and social website pages. The team also hopes to increase its outreach to children, especially those in middle school.

The group is scheduled to visit several Vigo County high schools and at least a half-dozen middle schools in early 2011 to promote its efforts.

While several other aspects of the communications plan are important, the most important thing is "influencing our youth since they are literally the adults of tomorrow," Spector said.

In addition to letting them know about the new technology that the team is developing, team members will also talk to students about engineering. Some engineers have told Spector that they knew from a young age that they were interested in the field.

"But a lot of them didn't have the tools or programs to kind of develop that, so I feel that by going to these middle schools and talking to them now, when they're in seventh and eighth grade, they can start thinking about it," Spector said.

She has already worked with the EcoCAR team in several public events. ISU's Young coordinated a car memorabilia show in Carmel, Ind., earlier this year, and invited the EcoCAR team, including Spector, to attend the event.

"She's really good at what she does, in terms of the public relations and marketing and communications aspects of her job," Young said.

This hasn't been the only time Young and Chambers have worked together. The professors developed a friendship through their interest in the motorsports industry in Indiana, Young said, and they've tried to include each other in programming events when possible. The ISU NASCAR Kinetics team, a group of five students advised by Young that competed in a national competition, hosted a party to watch a NASCAR event; the team invited the Rose-Hulman group to attend the event and explain their project to attendees.

Rose-Hulman also helped the event by providing the 14-by-14-foot viewing screen that showed the event. Several Rose-Hulman students also provided advice and technical support for the ISU NASCAR Kinetics team, Chambers said. The ISU team ultimately beat out nine other universities across the country to win the NASCAR Kinetics: Marketing in Motion contest.

"Indiana State University is a great institution just down the road," Chambers said. "It is exciting to see these two schools partnering together to improve the quality of education and academic experience for our students."

Spector is not the only ISU student working with the EcoCAR team. She reached out to several undergraduate students to help her with projects next semester, said Debra Worley, communication professor and the public relations program coordinator. Worley initially recommended Spector to Young as a good candidate to work with Rose-Hulman.

"It keeps trickling down," Worley said, "and more students continue to keep getting the chance to be engaged in this."

The EcoCAR competition continues into next semester, with the culmination of the three-year contest coming with events in Detroit and Washington, D.C., where Spector will give a presentation to an audience of hundreds of people.

"It's just everything that I've wanted professionally or personally with my environmental passions is kind of shone through this job," Spector said. "It's pretty much the best thing that's ever happened to me up to this point."

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Other/Media-Services/EcoCar-Challenge/001BSB5296/1116767750_jjXUV-L.jpg (ISU/Bethany Baker)
ISU graduate student Jennifer Spector poses with the EcoCAR from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Spector is the outreach coordinator for the EcoCAR team, which is in the final year of a three-year national competition.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/1116651021_8oX2k-L.jpg (Courtesy Photo)
EcoCAR team at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Contact: Joyce Young, director of motorsports studies program, Scott College of Business, Indiana State University, 812-237-2000 or joyce.young@indstate.edu.

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or austin.arceo-negrich@indstate.edu.