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Auto Achievement: Student Wins $25,000 Scholarship Thanks to Car Co-ops and More

UC design student Ben Zavala is on a roll. He recently won a prestigious $25,000 Buick Achievers Scholarship, is currently on co-op at GM, has had his work shown at a national trade show and more.

Date: 7/21/2013 11:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided by Ben Zavala
Although University of Cincinnati student Ben Zavala won’t begin his senior year in UC’s nationally number-one ranked industrial design program until this fall, he’s long been steering toward his goal of an automotive design career.
Ben Zavala and the electric vehicle he built.
UC's Ben Zavala and his electric vehicle. He converted the vehicle from a gasoline-powered one at the age of 19.

For instance, at age 17, Zavala got a job working on trucks so he could learn as much as possible in a hands-on manner in order to better design cars. At age 19, he transformed a gasoline-powered vehicle that didn’t run into his own street-legal, plug-in electric car by removing “the engine and drivetrain and replacing all the guts with a new electric motor, batteries and a whole load of electronics to make the thing go.”

Already in his studies, Zavala, 22, originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., has had UC cooperative education work terms at Spin Master Ltd., in Los Angeles, where he designed toy vehicles; at Crown Equipment Corporation in New Bremen, Ohio, where he designed lift trucks; and then at Fiat Industrial in Chicago, where he helped design interiors and exteriors for a wide range of industrial vehicles.

Zavala’s evident drive, industry achievements and community service recently earned him one of only 100 national Buick Achievers Scholarships worth $25,000, which he will apply toward tuition.

But, according to Zavala, as much as any kind of scholarship is helpful, the recognition from an industry leader is, perhaps, even more important: “It’s more about the recognition of my work and efforts to date. I’m really happy to be recognized by a company with which I can identify so strongly.”

Regarding the scholarship award, he opined, “I believe I stood out because of my automotive interests. In my application, I went into detail describing the automotive design competitions in which I have participated at DAAP (UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning) as well as the many transportation-related co-ops I have taken. I take my automotive interests very seriously, and I think that it got noticed.”
Ben Zavala
Ben Zavala’s conceptual design for “Tiltred,” an unusual tilting tire design that was exhibited at a prestigious international trade show.

While at UC, Zavala – who is spending this summer on a co-op at General Motors, Inc., in Warren, Mich. – participated in studio course sponsored by Hankook Tire Corp. His futuristic tire design for tomorrow, created in that course, won kudos at a prestigious international trade show, SEMA 2012 (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas, where a prototype was built and displayed alongside a video demonstration, showing the design in action.

As great as it was to tread new ground with the tire design studio and trade show exhibit of his work, Zavala points to the camaraderie with his fellow students at DAAP as one of the biggest benefits of such intense projects: “It’s challenging, and it can be stressful, but you’re never in it alone. The whole class is in it together. It feels like a constructive environment, and there are always people there with you during the long nights working at DAAP. In addition, our transportation design faculty, namely Brigid O'Kane and Raphael Zammit, help to support the development along the way.”

On his current co-op with GM, Zavala again has a forward focus. He is working with other automotive designers to develop future concepts for brands like Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC.

He stated, “It’s a welcome challenge, and I am excited to see how my work can influence what we might see on the road in the not-too-distant future.”