Elana Chapman headshot
Wednesday, March 24, 2021

By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State alumna Elana Chapman, senior fuels and biofuels engineer at General Motors (GM), has been recognized for her impacts within the fuel industry. 

As a recognized expert in internal combustion engines, alternative fuels and advanced propulsion systems, she was honored as the 2020 recipient of the Phi Sigma Rho’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2021 Rodica Baranescu Award for Technical and Leadership Excellence from SAE, previously known as the Society of Automotive Engineers. 

Chapman earned a master of science in fuel science in 2004 and a master of science in mechanical engineering and doctorate in fuel science in 2008. Her research topics included furthering diesel fuel by blending it with dimethyl ether to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. During her time at Penn State, she was also a member of the team that tested and successfully operated the first global vehicle demonstration of DME-diesel fuel blends in a University bus shuttle on campus. 

She explained her education at Penn State first inspired her to envision a future beyond traditional gasoline-powered systems for transportation.

“I was able to gain a breadth of understanding about all types of energy and power units that can be used in vehicles and other applications, such as alternative fuels for internal combustion engines, batteries and fuel cells,” Chapman said. “I appreciated the diversity in the coursework provided to allow for my depth in these areas. I couldn’t have known then how it would set me up for future success.”

During her subsequent career, she spent more than 14 years supporting GM’s Advanced Engineering and Production Combustion groups with development of test fuels, in addition to her own projects related to fuels and engine performance to meet future vehicle emissions and performance standards. 

Phi Sigma Rho, a social sorority for women in engineering and engineering technology, has more than 40 chapters and nearly 9,000 initiated members. Chapman joined in 1989 and has served as a national officer for the sorority, as well as the president of the organization. 

The lifetime achievement award, which has only been bestowed three times in the organization’s history, was established in 2008 to recognize outstanding accomplishments in a member’s chosen field. 

“In addition to achieving excellence in her career as a biofuels engineer, she has consistently dedicated her personal time to paving the way for female engineers coming up behind her,” said Kathy Lyall, past national council president of Phi Sigma Rho.

Reflecting on her involvement with Phi Sigma Rho, Chapman recommended that aspiring women engineers join and build a community of supporters within their technical area of interest.

“Search for and seek out women who can mentor you in your career area of interest and start developing those relationships both personally and professionally very early in your career,” Chapman said.

Echoing the impact of these contributions, she also received the SAE Rodica Baranescu Award for Leadership and Technical Excellence, which was established in 2011 to celebrate the successes of women in the engineering profession and to encourage others to follow in their path.

“I was surprised and thrilled at the same time,” Chapman said on receiving both of these honors. “I’m thankful for being recognized for my contributions.”

As humanity begins to explore and adopt alternative fuel sources, as she has advocated for throughout her career, Chapman believes engineers have a unique role to play. 

“As a mechanical engineer, I think of myself as a ‘Jill of all trades,’” she said. “We play a critical role in leading problem solving as technical experts, translating between technical experts and being intentional and effective communicators.”