Through the eyes of alumi

Three decades after the first Shell Eco-marathon in France, the competition has grown to an impressive event with over 200 teams and 3,000 participants.

To mark the 30 years of stories, records and innovation, we invited four Shell Eco-marathon alumni to visit the last event in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The lucky alumni were Matthew Snodin, Dante Powell and Gert Pilles, who competed for Aston University, UK, and Rafał Maciejczyk from team Smart Power, from Poland. As VIP guests, they had an exclusive look behind-the-scenes and were able to meet teams and organisers.

The most striking change for all former participants was the change of pace: from the stressful competition days, to a quiet time to enjoy and experience the event like never before. But the excitement of competing and the pride of working together to achieve success was something that everyone missed.

“When you compete, there is an overwhelming sense of pride” said Dante Powell, who is from Aston University which builds a new car from scratch every year, “and when we were here as a competitor we were working with future technology and had the knowledge that we had built an advanced vehicle”.

It was clear to all that the event had developed over time with new technologies (such as modular cars and 3D printing) but also showed evolution of design and performance. “Always having the records broken underlines the progress and keeps the competition relevant and fresh” said Matthew Snodin, also from Aston University.

The UrbanConcept car by Aston University

Building careers and friendships for life

Matthew participated in Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2014. One of his roles in the team was to lead human interaction which has directly led to his Masters subject, Human Factors and also helped him to secure Jaguar Land Rover as the industry partner for his thesis. When he graduates from his studies, he will join the graduate scheme of JCB and hopes to focus on the human/machine interface. 

Matthew sums up: “Being a part of Shell Eco-marathon has changed my life. I was not only part of a unique project, but made friends for life. It secured my place on my Masters, my thesis and my job!”.

Dante has been particularly struck by the response to his experience with hydrogen fuel now that he is in the job market. After completing a Masters in Energy Systems and Thermal Processes, he has actually been offered job opportunities on the basis of the work he delivered with the team. For now, his focus is going to be on smart grids, smart energy metering and smart houses as he joins the company which owns and operates Britain’s energy transmission network, National Grid.

Alumni from years past also felt that Shell Eco-marathon made a difference to their career progression. Rafał was a founding member of his team and led on rear suspension. Several years into his career, he now works for Bombardier in their ground transport division where he works on railway points (switches).

Gert Pille mentored the Aston University team and is also several years into his career, working at Doel Nuclear Power Station in Belgium. He said: “People who don’t know about Shell Eco-marathon are amazed when you tell them about it. They want to see photos of the car, and can’t believe we built such an advanced vehicle – and that’s before they find out about the innovative fuel types we have used!”

The Prototype car by team Smart Power

Solving real-world problems

The learning experience from Shell Eco-marathon proves to be invaluable as the participants move into the work space. For Gert, the competition teaches participants how to collaborate and respect different perspectives. “You learn to trust other people, to agree to disagree and achieve results together”.

According to Rafał, Shell Eco-marathon shows that we are “moving past a world where progress is powered by one Einstein type figure, where it is powered by individual achievement…we are moving to a world where group collaboration and teamwork will be key to unlocking the challenges of the future.”

Team work and passion are surely something that the original competitors of Shell Eco-marathon in 1985 would also agree with. It creates a common foundation that binds the participants of yesterday with those of tomorrow. Nothing better to celebrate the anniversary of the competition, as Rotterdam proudly hands the baton on to London for Shell Eco-marathon Europe 2016.

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