Profile: Gianluca Mantovano

Published July 29, 2008

Gianluca Mantovano: The face of prospective student tours has the drive to succeed

Gianluca Mantovano’s favorite part of the tours he gives prospective students is what he calls the “grand finale.” It’s a look at the Myers Student Automotive Center in the Engineering Centers Building—home to the six University of Wisconsin-Madison vehicle teams and a major part of Mantovano’s daily life.

“This is the team I’m on,” the mechanical engineering student tells nine high school students and their families, gesturing at the Formula SAE car engine Mantovano tests.

A couple of the high school students hover around the 2007 world-champion formula car, and their interest in the vehicle is reminiscent of Mantovano’s high school days. The Chicago, Illinois, native spent a lot of time in his school auto shop and even started a high-mileage vehicle club to design and build a fuel-efficient car.

“I really wanted to continue that type of extracurricular activity in college, so that’s how I started looking at different universities,” Mantovano says.

During Mantovano’s senior year in high school, the UW-Madison Formula SAE team ranked third in the world, and Mantovano was impressed. After touring the auto shop and meeting some of the students, he thought UW-Madison was the place for him.

As a freshman, Mantovano joined the Formula SAE team; student members design, build and race a formula-style car for a collegiate competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

In May 2007, Mantovano’s sophomore year, the team traveled to Romeo, Michigan, and claimed the world championship for the first time in UW-Madison history. Afterward, team membership skyrocketed to more than 100 students, and Mantovano, who had been the group leader’s “right-hand man,” found himself mentoring newer members.
 During the 2007-2008 school year, Mantovano was the powertrain group leader. He says the team has evolved substantially since his freshman year: Team leaders are more focused on training new members, and Mantovano says their self-sufficiency lets him focus on designing the powertrain system and testing engine parts.

Team dedication is evident in the amount of time members spend in the shop. “It’s like a job,” Mantovano says.

In the fall semester, he works on the car 20 hours a week; the time commitment jumps to almost 50 hours a week in the spring months before competition. “People don’t understand how I do it. I work twice a week, take four or five classes, and I’m at the gym right when it opens—I’m always running around,” says Mantovano with a laugh. “It’s worth it—it definitely pays off,” he adds. “You get what you put into the team. The more time you put in, the more you get out of it.”

Mantovano credits his family for the discipline it takes to balance all of his responsibilities. Both of his parents are originally from Italy, and Mantovano speaks fluent Italian. “They grew up pretty disciplined themselves, and some of that rubbed off on me,” he says.

His family is also the source of his passion for all things automotive. “When I was 5 years old, we used to go to Florida to visit my uncle. He’d have a few Ferrari model cars running around, so I’d play with them and take them apart, but try not to crash them because they’re kind of expensive,” Mantovano says.

His father, an avionics technician who originally aspired to be an engineer, taught Mantovano how to be hands-on around the house and in the garage. The result, Mantovano says, is that he’s a “fixer.”

His experience has led to several internships. In summer 2007, he worked at Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, on massive off-road tires that stand 12 feet tall. This summer, he’ll move to Iowa to work for John Deere on powertrains and engine control. In the fall, he’ll switch tracks and work on jet engine turbines for GE Aviation.

In the future, Mantovano says he would like to own his own company. He’s earning a business certificate at UW-Madison with that goal in mind. “If I could work for Ferrari, that’d be my dream job,” he adds.

In addition to his vehicle experiences, Mantovano has helped Assistant Dean for Engineering General Resources Don Woolston give presentations to prospective engineering students. After the presentations, Mantovano leads the students and their families on a tour of the engineering campus.

“I show them the shop as the last part because a lot of students want to see the hands-on stuff, and the shop is an easy way to give them a good representation of what students can get involved in here,” he says.

Involvement, in the end, is what Mantovano stresses to prospective students. “When you come to college, no matter what you do, get involved. Do something you love,” he says. “If it weren’t for my involvement in the organizations I’m in, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

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