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Gary Neal could not hide his surprise and satisfaction after being named Rookie Faculty Adviser of the Year during the "Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility" competition.

"I was pretty much shocked," Neal said.

Engineering students from Penn State and 16 other universities from across North America created fuel efficient hybrid vehicles as part of the four-year Challenge, with Penn State taking home several awards.

In addition to the $15,000 Neal's award brought for Penn State's hybrid vehicle program, Penn State's Hybrid Vehicle Team won a number of categories, including fabrication and workmanship, control and technical presentations and best vehicle appearance. The team received sixth place overall, because of problems with its emissions system during scoring.

"It's a little disappointing. We did really well in the bulk of the competition," Neal said. "If it wasn't for a failed component, I think we could have gotten third place."

Although it was Neal's first official year as faculty adviser, it was hardly his first experience with the program. Neal, who is a 1998 Penn State graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, participated in the competition during his undergraduate and graduate years at Penn State.

"He's constantly thinking about the program. He's extremely passionate," team leader Tim Cleary (graduate-mechanical engineering) said.

Later this year, the team will begin work on the "EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge" competition. It is a three-year competition in which participants must reengineer a Saturn VUE with the goal of reducing petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Students can join the team by taking the course Hybrid Electric Vehicle Lab II (ME 497A).

"I constantly hear students saying, 'I wish I would have known about this earlier,' " Neal said.

This year's team had 30 to 40 students and five or six graduate volunteers, Cleary said. One of his biggest hopes for next year is to have more people participate in the program.

"It's a great thing for students to experience," Cleary said. "You don't get hands on knowledge like this in a classroom."

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