The concept of the EcoHawks design class, overseen by Dr. Christopher Depcik, began with a challenge to students to take the theory they learned in class and apply societal objectives to deliver designs that would make a real difference in stewardship of our environment and how we preserve our natural resources.

Hill Engineering Research and Development Center
Hill Engineering Research and Development Center, the home of the EcoHawks (2105 Becker Dr)

The EcoHawks are an interdisciplinary student group facing the challenges of a sustainable approach to automobiles and energy infrastructure. This is accomplished by approaching the situation from five vectors of success: education, energy, environment, economics, and ethics. Each of these concepts individually addresses specific aspects of sustainability, shaped by the confluence of the ideals of people, planet, and prosperity. This focus is in step with the strategic initiatives of the University of Kansas (KU) for Sustaining the Planet and Powering the World.

The EcoHawks program has grown steadily since its inception in the Fall of 2008, recording enrollments up to 40 students. Over ten students have stayed for graduate school, and the concepts cultivated in the project have led to five papers published by undergraduate students. In 2009-2010, EcoHawks was named the Student Organization of the Year for Academic Enrichment by the Student Involvement & Leadership Center on campus, in 2011 it received Honorable Mention in EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet student design competition, and the group has been featured in over 50 news pieces including items on Fox News,, and NBC Action News.

The excitement created by this organization originates in the quality products produced by the student teams. The teams accomplish multiple objectives: design and fabrication, working with K-12 students and educators, and developing service projects for KU campus and local schools. For example, the team has developed and constructed two parallel hybrid go-karts to stimulate enthusiasm for engineering among high school students, and one was donated to a high school. Moreover, the students have converted a 1974 VW Super Beetle into a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that achieves over 100 mpge. The EcoHawks project is:

  • multidisciplinary across environment, energy, economy, sociology, education, and ethics,
  • supports KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic initiative for Sustaining the Planet and Powering the World,
  • engages and excites K-12 students as well as KU undergraduates,
  • leads to publishable results, and
  • encourages graduate school opportunities

Recently, a new facility for the EcoHawks was designed and constructed by Studio 804. This organization is a comprehensive educational opportunity for graduate students entering their final year of the Master of Architecture program at the University of Kansas. Studio 804 has pioneered new technologies and advanced construction techniques, including five LEED Platinum projects to date. The similar ideologies and goals of the EcoHawks project and Studio 804 made the collaboration between the two groups a natural partnership. This integration provided the EcoHawks program with a facility that will aid them in conducting research, fabricating, and refurbishing electrified vehicles along with investigating renewable energy sources. In particular, the building contains:

  • space for computer workstations and interdisciplinary collaboration
  • areas for students to test and research various forms of alternative energy (solar/wind/biomass)
  • building to vehicle (B2V) and vehicle to building (V2B) infrastructure
  • a 10kW solar photovoltaic array in order to power building and study intermittent energy sources
  • high visibility space to highlight different projects and sponsors

The Hill Engineering Research and Development Center has been LEED Platinum certified.