Fastlane

September 7, 2010

Valerie Zelko Byrd: Overhaulin' the Auto Industry

I’ve had a love for cars as far back as I can remember. I grew up in Toronto, where my dad owned his own mechanic shop, and I was always helping him with his latest project. I took apart my first engine at age 7 and it snowballed from there.   Working in my dad’s shop made me realize how much I liked working on cars…and I didn’t want to stop. I even married the host of car TV!  Oh, and as a fun trivia fact, I was featured on the pilot episode of TLC’s Overhaulin’ where I worked on a Chevrolet Chevelle SS. I was only featured for a split-second, but hey, I’ll take it. It was the chance of a lifetime.

I went to school at the University of Western Ontario in London Faces_Valerie Zelko_Race Trackwhere I studied mechanical engineering. Prior to joining GM, I worked for MAGNA Powertrain in Toronto within the engine cooling group. At the time, they were trying to get into the electric water pump market, so my job was to study fuel cell and hybrid cooling to help them design pumps. This experience helped me land my initial job at GM within the hybrid group. For the first three years, I worked on hybrid controls, that is, until the idea of the Chevrolet Volt came to fruition.

For the last two years, I’ve been working on the Volt within the development and validation group. What does that mean? Well, basically, I get to travel a lot! This position requires a great deal of vehicle testing – whether in our wind tunnel or on the road. In fact, I just returned frFaces_Valerie Death Valey 1om Death Valley (my third visit in the past 3 months!) where we tested the vehicles performance in extreme temperatures. My job was to make sure the electric motors weren’t overheating and that the cooling systems were working properly. Based on our tests, which were repeated multiple times, we made calibration changes to help refine the system. As you can imagine, it’s an exciting job and you never know what’s going to happen.

When I’m not working, you’ll probably find me wakeboarding, playing hockey or snowboarding…that is when I’m not hitting the books, studying up to earn my MBA from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.Faces_Valerie skiing

Working on a project that’s as innovative and ground-breaking as the Chevrolet Volt has made me realize how truly lucky I am to work in a job I love.

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