Class of 2016: Gabrielle Tate is designing cars—and her future

MyVU has profiled a dozen members of the Class of 2016 who embody Vanderbilt’s missions of inclusion and community. Representing a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, they’ve pursued diverse interests at the university. We’re featuring their stories in the lead up to Commencement on May 13.

Gabbey Tate is a Doug Durando Scholar. She was photographed in the School of Engineering's machine shop. (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Gabrielle Tate—Gabbey to her friends—has the drive it takes to make U.S. automakers take notice.

“Of the job offers I received, General Motors was the best because I’m interested in power and energy management,” said the electrical engineering major, who spent four years on the Vanderbilt Motorsports team. “I’ll work on battery testing within the powertrain program in the Global Propulsion Systems Unit.” Tate reports to the GM Technical Center, the hub of the company’s engineering effort, in Warren, Michigan, on Aug. 1.

Global Propulsion Systems combines both traditional gas and diesel powertrain programs and newer battery projects—both electric and hydrogen. Tate, a native of Fairfax, Virginia, is excited about being a part of GM’s newly renamed unit. “Starting in tests is good. It will help me understand the systems,” she said.

Tate discovered the Vanderbilt Motorsports lab as a first-year student and has been on the team ever since. The motorsports club works intensely and aggressively each year to get a car ready for the annual Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) competition in Michigan. Tate also has been a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, a student club, for four years.

She has worked on the Vanderbilt Formula SAE car’s wiring harness, which is the “nervous system” of the car’s electronics. Along the way she conducted, among other tasks, a full failure-fault analysis some 20 pages long.

Tate calls her experience in the School of Engineering’s machine shop, where she served as a teaching assistant helping fellow students on a daily basis, invaluable. There she learned to use a lathe and a band saw and to solder, file and mill parts.

“The machining skills are so important,” she said. “[rquote]If engineers design something, can it actually be made? Designing a part and then making it yourself is so gratifying.[/rquote] It also helps you understand machining costs.”

As her capstone engineering design project, Tate worked on a Baja SAE car. It uses a special 10-horsepower Briggs and Stratton motor. Tate designed and created the data acquisition system, which includes sensors to measure the rpms of the engine and drivetrain as well as the wheel speed transducers on all four wheels.

Despite devoting many hours weekly to motorsports cars, Tate also found time to study Mandarin Chinese and to live for a year on the Chinese language hall at McTyeire International House.

“My parents majored in engineering and both had full scholarships,” said Tate, who is a Doug Durando Scholarship recipient. “They’re hard workers, and I didn’t want to let them down.”

What’s her next step after reporting to GM? “Buying my first-ever car,” she said with a laugh.