Senior Yamile Pariente first arrived at Porsche for her internship the week of June 8, 2015. She walked into a building that was practically empty, and there was an almost eerie silence. Her supervisor wasn’t there to greet her, and she was being introduced to her new position by another engineer who oversees engine design and construction.
Everyone was at the 83rd 24-Hours at Le Mans race in Le Mans, France. It was the second time Porsche had competed in the famous 24-hour endurance race since 1998, which was also the last time they had won.
“Porsche won the Le Mans that weekend only a year after a 17-year hiatus,” Pariente remembers, still in awe of her team’s win. “It was incredible. Everyone was so happy. They came back the next week with the car and we had a party. Everyone was there, celebrating and taking pictures with the trophy and the car. That was my first week at Porsche.”
Not too shabby for an undergraduate who never dreamed she’d be an intern at Porsche in the first place, never mind in the motorsports division.
When coordinators at MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives), which organized her internship, asked her what she’d want to do at Porsche, she told them motorsports and powertrain engineering, because, she says, “I assumed they’d say no to my request, so I figured I might as well aim high. I never thought it’d be considered seriously.”
But a couple of days later, Alexander Hitzinger, technical director of Porsche’s 919 Hybrid racing team, emailed her directly to discuss the details of her upcoming internship. Pariente, who won second place in last year’s 2.007 robot competition, packed up her bags without a moment’s hesitation, took a leave of absence from MIT, and flew to Germany. “It wasn’t even a question,” she says. “This was my dream job.”
The oldest of two daughters, Pariente’s love for cars began as a young child – a passion passed down to her from her father, a sports car fanatic, according to Pariente.
“I was very good at math and science, and I loved art, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” she says. “I thought about going to art school for transportation design, but I really wanted to work with cars, so I chose to become a mechanical engineer.
“Of all the ‘manly’ hobbies my father tried to instill in me, cars is the one that stuck,” she jokes.
But being one of only two women engineers on Porsche’s motorsports team doesn’t bother Pariente. “People are often shocked when they meet me for the first time,” she says. “On paper, my name doesn’t obviously reflect a specific gender, and people often aren’t expecting me. I’ve gotten some pretty hilarious reactions from people when I tell them I go to MIT and I’m a mechanical engineer working at Porsche for their racing team. But being a woman in motorsports has never hindered me, and the engineers at Porsche are very nice and inclusive.”
At Porsche, where she worked for 6 months from June to November, Pariente focused on engineering development for race cars. One of her first projects was to analyze telemetry data from previous races, and her main project was to run a dynamometer test on a single-cylinder engine and develop combustion models and optimization techniques.
“It’s been a great learning experience,” she says. “Usually only practicing engineers get to do that. I got the chance to see a lot of new ideas that were being tested.”
Pariente also took a lead role in connecting Porsche to MIT faculty and students. She helped to plan a Porsche visit to MIT in September in which Alexander Hitzinger gave a lecture to a packed room as part of MechE’s Inspiring Engineering Lecture Series. He spoke about the Porsche racing team and their 919 Hybrid, the winning car in this year’s Le Mans. Pariente and Hitzinger also met with several faculty members whose work is connected to automotive engineering.
Pariente will return to MIT in the spring semester to finish up her senior year in mechanical engineering, and she hopes to return to Porsche after graduation in 2017. I didn’t have to ask her if it was all worth it.