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Q&A with Volkswagen Fellowship Recipient Andrew Foote

Andrew Foote, Nathan Strain, Chancellor Donde Plowman, President Randy Boyd, and William Henken pose in front of an orange Volkswagen liftgate.

From left to right: Andrew Foote, Nathan Strain, Chancellor Donde Plowman, President Randy Boyd, and William Henken attend an announcement ceremony of a new research partnership with Volkswagen at UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm.

Since 2020, Volkswagen Group of America has awarded several fellowships to University of Tennessee, Knoxville, graduate students. The fellowships are one component of a partnership that also created the automotive company’s first North American Innovation Hub at the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. 

Doctoral student Andrew Foote became one of the first recipients of the fellowship, which not only includes funding but also an opportunity to gain real-world experience working with Volkswagen on industrially relevant research and development. We sat down with Foote to discuss his experience. 

What are you studying?

I am studying power electronics in the field of electrical engineering. My focus is on the wireless charging of electric vehicles, which is similar to the wireless charging of your cell phone or your toothbrush, but much greater in power level.

What UT professors and VW professionals are you working with?

My professor is Daniel Costinett in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). My committee members also include Kevin Bai and Helen Cui from EECS. Omer Onar from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is also on my committee, and we are working with his group on parts of the project. I am blessed to also have mentors from Volkswagen: Hendrik Mainka, who is with me locally at Innovation Hub Knoxville, and Ruediger Kusch, a senior power electronics researcher in Germany.

Have you had to travel for your research, or do you plan to travel to complete your research or degree?

I came to Knoxville in 2016 after completing my undergrad at Auburn University. Looking around for opportunities for my graduate work, I was really attracted to UT because of the connection with ORNL, the strong power electronics programs in CURENT (Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks) in EECS, and the Bredesen Center, which would let me work at ORNL while completing my PhD. I have definitely traveled and will continue to travel to conferences and with Volkswagen across the US and internationally.

When do you estimate you will graduate, and what will be the title of your degree?

I am aiming to defend the end of the summer or early fall after finishing testing and writing the results in my dissertation. My degree will be a PhD in Electrical Engineering.

Do you have any plans after graduation?

After graduation I am planning to continue working at Innovation Hub Knoxville full time as a research engineer.

Do you have any additional comments about the value of the UT-VW fellowship?

The UT-VW partnership has been great for helping me finish my PhD work. As a VW PhD fellow, I have had great support and guidance on my research from Volkswagen as well as direct access to real-world applications for my research. Everyone involved at UT, VW, and ORNL also really want the partnership to succeed, which helps keep things moving.