Seniors Ben Bontrager-Singer (right) and Caleb Hostetler work on constructing the supermileage vehicle in spring 2020. (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

From the supermileage car project to Tesla: Senior enjoys fast-paced process engineering internship

Senior Ben Bontrager-Singer believes that landing a summer engineering internship at Tesla was mostly due to his leadership of EMU’s Eco Shell Marathon team.

The team built a fuel-efficient, or “supermileage” car to compete in the 2020 competition. After a COVID cancellation, the car made its maiden voyage in April 2021. 

Bontrager-Singer worked at Tesla’s headquarters, known as Gigafactory Texas, in Austin. The company is one of the biggest world leaders in sustainable energy with electric cars, solar and integrated renewable energy solutions. 

“[The supermileage vehicle] project really pushed me in so many ways that are relevant for real engineering positions including intense problem solving, teamwork, and leadership,” he said.

“Ben took on tremendous leadership responsibilities and practiced great work ethics in the super-mileage car project,” said engineering professor Esther Tian. “The experience of a successful internship at Tesla surely boosts Ben’s preparedness for his pursuit after graduation. With the attainment of ABET accreditation, our Engineering program is even more poised to graduate students like Ben who are ready to engage in their professions and serve and lead for positive change.” 

Bontrager-Singer was a process engineering intern at the Tesla headquarters in Austin, Texas. He both found the internship and applied online. The hiring process was intense, he said. His two interviews were focused highly on technical skills, theoretical knowledge, and experience: he explained in detail the theory behind the supermileage vehicle’s systems.

At Tesla, Bontrager-Singer was primarily responsible for the design and commissioning of the thermal system for the casting machines, which are used to create the rear and front underbody Model Y and Cybertruck Teslas. Each is created in one piece, eliminating nearly 100 parts from traditional manufacturing processes.

“I was able to get hands-on experience because I was thrown into the deep end,” he said. “While it was at times overwhelming and stressful, I was able to learn that no single issue is as big as it seems.”

In the beginning, every problem that Bontrager-Singer ran into “seemed like the end of the world.” 

“However, the longer I worked the more I realized that isn’t the case. Just because I haven’t had this experience before doesn’t mean I can’t figure it out. I learned to step back and look for the root issue rather than letting myself immediately feel overwhelmed.”

Bontrager-Singer lived with friends of his brother—Joel Castanon ‘16 and Emma Petersheim ‘18—who helped him adjust to life in Austin.

After graduation, Bontrager-Singer plans to apply for either a job in the space launch industry or a full-time job at Tesla.