Furniture design student puts knowledge to practice with Appalachian’s Solar Vehicle Team

During the 2017–18 year, industrial design student John Lalevee had the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream by designing the body of Appalachian State University’s newest solar vehicle, ROSE (Racing on Solar Energy). By combining his expertise in furniture design with his enthusiasm for automobiles, Lalevee had the unique experience of using classroom knowledge toward a university initiative he was passionate about while in school.

Lalevee, who hails from Raleigh, enrolled at Appalachian knowing he wanted to study industrial design in the university’s department of Applied Design. He chose the furniture design concentration after taking a few courses from faculty who are also professional furniture designers. It was in these classes that he saw how furniture can have long-term utility and can be designed without creating much waste.

"Furniture has a unique ability to be designed very sustainably by using wood, a renewable resource. It’s also something that typically lasts a few decades, and can function as an heirloom,” he said. “The program has excellent professors, each with unique approaches to what it means to be a designer, allowing us to develop our own design philosophies.”

According to Lalevee, the program also encourages students to focus on side projects that inspire  learning outside of the classroom. In fall 2017, he joined the university’s Solar Vehicle Team after he was recruited by a friend for his design skills. Since he had no previous experience in automobile design, he devoted countless hours to the project.

“I taught myself the software the team uses and really started digging in, learning new things like aerodynamics and composites, things a furniture designer might not normally get into,” he shared. “As the designer of the car’s body, I had to work with just about every other person on the team to ensure all systems would work in the car.”

ROSE is the second iteration of Team Sunergy’s solar vehicle following the Apperion, which the team raced during summers 2016 and 2017. It will function both as a race car for the Formula Sun Grand Prix and American Solar Challenge in summer 2018, and as a multi-occupant car designed to sell the public on solar transportation. For this reason, Lalevee worked hard to ensure the design was aesthetically pleasing.

Dan Blakeley ‘15 ‘18, who was the team’s project director during the 2017–18 year, commended Lalevee's work on ROSE. 

“The job John has done speaks volumes to his dedication and his craft, which has only flourished because of the tools and training he received as an industrial design student,” Blakeley stated. “He has created an aerodynamic design and a highly efficient form along with a beautiful design.”

When Lalevee graduates, he dreams about opening his own design studio. Between his courses in the industrial design program and his work with Team Sunergy, he’s able to obtain relevant work experience while developing and applying his design philosophy both in the classroom and beyond.

“Team Sunergy gives me the opportunity to work on a multidisciplinary team as a designer — something I will do as a professional — and something that is hard to get in a classroom environment. I call upon the hard skills I learn in class almost every day, whether it’s 3D modeling, sketching or fabrication of parts,” he said. “I also get to ensure that this car means something. It’s not just an engineering exercise, it’s about shaping the future of personal transportation.” 

About the Department of Applied Design 

One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department Applied Designat Appalachian State University fosters excellence in design education, design research and professional placement. The department balances theoretical and pragmatic approaches while exploring an awareness of impact through design decisions on the global community. Faculty focus on a holistic approach to creative problem-solving by integrating sustainability and ethical responsibility in teaching and practice. The department offers bachelor’s degrees in apparel design and merchandising, industrial design and interior design. 

About Team Sunergy
Team Sunergy is Appalachian State University’s interdisciplinary team of undergraduate and graduate students transforming solar-powered transportation. Its solar car Apperion gained national attention with top-three finishes in the 2016 and 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix, an international collegiate endurance competition that sets the standards for and tests the limits of solar vehicle technology. Team Sunergy brings together students from a variety of majors who have a passion for sustainable transportation and the ingenuity, innovation and drive to create it. Learn more at

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

John Lalevee
Published: May 23, 2018 12:23pm