Shifting into Gear

Science and storytelling do not always go hand in hand. Jargon, data, complicated schematics and figures, if not properly understood, can fail to engage those audiences that scientists most need to champion their causes. Driven (pun intended) to test her talents as a communicator, Cristal Carrillo recently joined the University of Washington’s EcoCAR 3 team. Sponsored in part by The U.S. Department of Energy, the national competition is an opportunity to highlight the UW’s commitment to sustainability, as well as Cristal’s storytelling skills.

Why did you want to study Communications?

“I chose COM as my major as an alternative degree. I had originally decided on nursing before I transferred to the UW, but I was unable to pursue it due to a health diagnosis. I then had to consider my hobbies, because I wanted to find a career that aligned with what I enjoyed.

My initial perception of Communications as a field was just as a way to learn about how we interact as individuals. However, after my first course, I realized that COM is far more complex, which really intrigued me and made me want to pursue it as a career. During my time with the Department, I was able to learn COM while also learning about different cultures and the global impact of the industry.

Personally, I have also learned how to communicate better with others and how rewarding that can be. If I could, I would go back and encourage my freshman self to ask for help and meet with the Department advisors whenever I could. Being the first of my family to go to college, I often times felt lost and alone. Navigating college is stressful when you do not have anyone aside from your family guiding you. In this way, the Department advisers have been a great source of support.”

What is the EcoCAR 3 project?

“The University of Washington is one of 16 national teams that was selected for the EcoCAR 3, the latest cycle of Advanced Vehicle Technology competitions (AVTC) sponsored by General Motors and The U.S. Department of Energy and managed by Argonne National Laboratory. EcoCAR 3 embodies the ingenuity of automotive and related industries with highly skilled engineers, project managers and communicators. The four-year competition demands collaboration among students, faculty, and mentors to design and build an eco-friendly Chevrolet Camaro, while maintaining commercial quality, energy efficiency, and consumer appeal.

The primary responsibility of the communications team is to raise awareness of the benefits that the UW EcoCAR 3 Camaro delivers. My job is to plan and execute three public relations campaigns: a Youth Outreach campaign, a General Public Awareness campaign, and an Influencer campaign. Each campaign focuses on a specific goal. The Youth Outreach campaign encourages students, particularly underrepresented and underprivileged populations, to pursue STEM & Communications studies. The General Public Awareness campaign focuses on educating a larger audience on the benefits of a hybrid vehicle, in terms of its effect on the environment and its cost efficiency. The Influencer campaign is a vehicle for reaching out to government officials with an interest in beneficial educational initiatives.”

What attracted you to the EcoCar 3 project?

“The project allows me to put in practice those skills that I have learned in the classroom, as well as being a place where I can learn new skills. I had never had the opportunity to plan and execute a campaign, and although this experience is new, I look forward to learning how the process works. I also have never created a website or promotional items, but I am now responsible for doing exactly that for our team.  I am also excited to learn how to be an efficient social media user.”

What have been some of the challenges and rewards of working with a multi-disciplinary team?

“I would say, first, that it’s been a challenge trying to transform the communications team into one that is more successful and efficient from previous year’s efforts. Working with engineers has enabled me to learn how to communicate effectively with those who may not be used to interacting socially with a variety of external audiences.  At the same time, I have a deeper understanding of the team’s work ethic and reasoning and rational. I have grown to appreciate engineering. Particularly all the effort that goes into planning, designing, and building the car. What other opportunity would I have to learn about mechanical innovation, car safety, battery voltage and how a hybrid system works?”

What is next for the project?

“The next phase of the project will take place during Year 4, the final year of the competition. As we approach this final cycle, it is imperative that we hire new talent to build upon the work already completed by our amazing departing seniors. We especially will need volunteers from the Communication department to manage the team’s website and social media, develop new and more dynamic campaigns, support our fundraising efforts, and the team’s overall creative needs. Having an outgoing personality is important. Our team will also benefit from the engagement of aspiring mechanical engineers, with the vision and ingenuity to continue the project that we have worked on for three years.”

Know someone worth howling about? To nominate an undergraduate student for a “Hello Huskies” profile, email Megan Jeffrey, Department Communications Specialist