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Electric Car Powers Alumnus Chad Conway’s Bright Future

April 7, 2015

Conway Profile Web

From Comuta Car to Tesla: Chad Conway, a 2012 mechanical engineering graduate, started his work with electric cars in a garage in Massachusetts, and now works at developing stationary energy storage systems for Tesla in California. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

Chad Conway’s career in electric cars started the day he uncovered a boxy, antique battery-powered vehicle buried deep in a high school teacher’s jam-packed garage.

One of Conway’s first goals in life was to rebuild a car, he told Rose-Hulman students during a recent campus visit. He imagined rebuilding a Mustang or another “muscle car”, and winning the best ride award at his Duxbury High School prom in Massachusetts.

But, as fate would have it, one of Conway’s teachers offered him an antique 1980 Comuta Car, a short-lived electric car, to rebuild. The vehicle, one of the last of its kind produced, was buried deep inside the teacher’s garage, which Conway described as containing anything you would ever need for any project, assuming you had three days to find it.

After a lot of time and work, Conway was indeed driving his banana-yellow, cheese wedge-shaped Comuta Car in time for his prom, where he did win the coveted best ride honor.

Meanwhile, his interest in electric cars was charged up.

“I started emailing Tesla [a California-based electric car maker] when I was in high school” asking for an internship, Conway says. The company was so small, it had practically no staff, let alone the need for an intern. But he was urged to keep in touch.

And, Conway's persistence paid off. He landed an internship with Tesla while being a Rose-Hulman student. Once the deal was final, he started contacting alumni in the San Francisco bay area seeking a place to stay. Phil White, a 1998 computer science graduate, opened his home to Conway for the summer.

“That’s Rose-Hulman for you,” Conway says. “That was really awesome.”

A second internship with Tesla followed the next summer, taking Conway to work in the company’s expanding European operations. Then, he joined Tesla full time after graduating in 2012 with a mechanical engineering degree. The company had just a few hundred employees, allowing Conway to get actively involved in several innovative projects. Now, the company has several thousand employees producing sporty-looking sedans capable of more than 100 mph with rapid acceleration.

Conway has come a long way from that original Comuta Car. He is now in the thick of another Tesla innovation, helping develop stationary energy storage systems, which has the potential for substantial cost savings for companies while making better use of the nation’s electric energy production system.

“I love to be a multi-faceted engineer,” Conway says. “I didn’t want to be a one-trick pony.”

Conway credits his outside-the-classroom activities at Rose-Hulman with providing skills and opportunities that have helped him along his journey. He was a leader on the EcoCAR team, launched the annual Rose Startup entrepreneurship conference, co-founded Rose Innovative Student Entrepreneurs (RISE), and was one of the first participants in the Leadership Advancement Program. He was also a leading student voice in establishing the Rose-Hulman 2013-2018 strategic plan.

As a graduate, Conway continues to promote Rose-Hulman and urges fellow students and graduates to do the same. He tells them to work hard at whatever they do, further enhancing the reputation and value of a Rose-Hulman degree.

“If someone has never heard of Rose-Hulman,” make sure they “never forget Rose-Hulman,” he remarks.

And, Conway still has his 1980 Comuta Car, despite having a top speed of just 40 mph. Other than public transportation and a bicycle, “it’s still my only vehicle,” he says.