Leadership Team

Team Sunergy runs on support from across the university and with the help of our sponsors. Included here are Team Sunergy’s leadership team and the advisers that will be traveling with us to the 2021 Formula Sun Grand Prix track race and American Solar Challenge road race events in Topeka, Kansas, and Independence, Missouri. Events are scheduled July 27 through Aug. 7.


Patrick Laney

Co-Mechanical Director

Hometown: Matthews
Year: Senior
Major: Sustainable technology

Patrick joined Team Sunergy during his first year at App State and has been involved with the mechanical team since. Team Sunergy was a major factor in Patrick’s decision to come to App State. He followed the development of Team Sunergy since its race in 2016 and, to combine his interests of automotives and sustainability, Team Sunergy was a natural fit. Patrick specializes in ROSE’s suspension, which determines the control of the car. Aside from working on his own car projects, Patrick has found a passion for mechanical work with the team and hopes to find a job working in a mechanical engineering position when he graduates.

Jessica Navarro-Luviano

Co-Mechanical Director

Hometown: Mocksville
Year: Senior
Major: Sustainable technology

Jessica joined Team Sunergy’s mechanical team in 2018, her first year at App State. She manages body work on the car, which includes hinges, composites, doors and interior renovations. Jessica had no previous experience in solar cars or composite work, and has learned everything she knows from her commitment to the team and passion for sustainability. She is majoring in sustainable technology with minors in philosophy and building science, and she plans to pursue her master’s degree in architecture to focus on green building designs.

Reid Kerr

Co-Mechanical Director

Hometown: Greensboro
Year: Senior
Major: Sustainable technology

Reid has been on Team Sunergy since fall of 2018. Reid chose App State specifically because of its reputation for promoting sustainability and in order to participate in Team Sunergy. Gaining hands-on experience that feeds his passion to build and create, he has focused on bodywork for the car updates. He said he enjoys the positive learning experience of working with his peers on how to best improve the car for competitions. Reid hopes to use this experience to continue working in the sustainable transportation field.

Matthew Allen ’21

Electrical Director

Hometown: Cary
Year: Graduate student
Major: Engineering physics

Matthew earned his undergraduate degree in sustainable technology from App State in 2021. His career interests include sustainable transportation, renewable energy and environmental research. He has been on App State's Team Sunergy since his sophomore year. Matthew has worked on programming with microcontrollers, battery technology and electrical system design — an opportunity to reinforce and apply knowledge he has learned within his major. Mathew said he has enjoyed the inclusive team environment and highly recommends Team Sunergy to any students interested in sustainability or transportation.

Sam Cheatham

Co Business Director

Hometown: Mills River
Year: Senior
Majors: Marketing-sales and management

Sam joined Team Sunergy in the fall of 2020 and was selected to be the team's business director. He is actively involved in the Walker College of Business, entrepreneurial enterprises and the university chess club. He is focused on building the team, planning for the 2021 American Solar Challenge race and developing a successful and collaborative team. Sam worked in a sales internship in Utah over summer 2021 and hopes to pursue a career in sales and business management.

Sean Riordan

Co Business Director

Hometown: Campobello, South Carolina
Year: Sophomore
Majors: Political science and economics

An out-of-state student, Sean was motivated to attend App State because of Team Sunergy and joined the team in the fall of 2020. He enjoys writing communications for the team, as well as working with the other team leaders to grow and improve the leadership structure of the team. Team Sunergy provides him an opportunity for hands-on experience working within a sustainable business field. Sean will be the reporter on the scene — filing stories for University Communications and posting on the team’s blog — while attending the ASC race this summer. He hopes to pursue a career either in research writing or investigative journalism, with a focus on environmental issues.

Kyla Willoughby

Photographer and videographer

Hometown: Chapel Hill
Year: Junior
Majors: Commercial Photography and Graphic communications management: cross media production

Kyla loves capturing moments through photos and videos. She has been practicing photography since middle school and videography since her senior year of high school. She currently works for AppTV, App Sports Broadcasting, and Aportfolio, a website where students collect and curate evidence of their learning for a professional audience. She said she is "stoked to help capture the moments for team Synergy and strengthen my photo and video skills!"

Nate McDonald


Hometown: Raleigh
Year: Senior
Majors: Communications - electronic media and broadcasting

Nate has worked for the AppState's television station, AppTV, for four semesters and is the programming director. The electronic media and broadcasting program and AppTV have helped him discover his passion for storytelling as well as television production.


Dr. Lee F. Ball

Chief Sustainability Officer

Lee is an integral part of App State’s leadership and is heavily involved in campus master planning and strategic planning. He is also a strong advocate for Team Sunergy and has previously attended the 2017 World Solar Challenge and the 2016 and 2018 American Solar Challenge. He is the co-chair and a founding member of App State’s Sustainability Council. He is active globally — having led international programs to Peru, Columbia, Costa Rica, and Australia — and also works with local and regional sustainability focused organizations. Before his tenure as chief sustainability officer, he spent 14 years teaching in App State’s Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment. His scholarly work focuses on sustainability leadership, sustainability literacy, the valuation of sustainability, biophilic/ecophilic design and change agency related to community engagement. He has a doctorate in sustainability education, a master's degree in environmental education and a bachelor’s degree in natural science.

Chris Tolbert

Lead team advisor

Practitioner in residence, Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment

Since the early years of the Solar Vehicle Team, Chris has served as a mentor, advisor and role model. In past years, he has attended the Formula Sun Grand Prix and American Solar Challenge. At App State, he teaches courses in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment including Solar Vehicle Design, and has research interests that include electrifying transportation and engaging underserved and at-risk K–12 students. He is a NSF Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator and holds an M.S. and B.S. in mechanical engineering from UNC Charlotte.

Jim Dees

Data and assessment specialist, Office of Sustainability

Jim serves the Office of Sustainability as a specialist focusing on sustainability data, the university’s renewable energy resource responsibilities in the state of North Carolina and App State’s involvement with the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) climate action planning process. His expertise ranges from climate action planning to sustainable urban agriculture, and prior to his time at App State, he built and managed the sustainability program at Guilford College. He holds a B.A. in geography from Frostburg State University.

Dr. Brian Raichle

Technical adviser

Chair and professor, Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment

Brian has worked closely with Team Sunergy for several years and has served as a technical adviser. He attended the 2016 American Solar Challenge and 2017 Formula Sun Grand Prix. At App State, he teaches courses focused on renewable energy systems, complementing his research interests in renewable energy and photovoltaic self-consumption, among other related topics. He holds a doctorate in physics from North Carolina State University and a B.S. in physics from West Chester University.

Dr. Derek Eggers

Telemetry adviser and communications specialist, Center for Academic Excellence and Office of Academic Affairs

Derek supports App State faculty who use technology for teaching. He has a background in industrial technology and engineering design. He regularly teaches IND-3911 Rapid Prototyping in the university’s Department of Applied Design, in addition to other experimental courses. He is a ham radio expert and his other interests include project based learning, digital design and fabrication, and environmental sustainability. He holds a Doctorate of Education in instruction and administration from the University of Kentucky, a M.S. in industrial technology from Purdue University and a B.S. in engineering design technology from East Tennessee State University.

Ray Sinclair

Logistics and strategy adviser

Retired lecturer, Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment

Ray was a building science instructor in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment for nearly 13 years and also operated Sinclair Builders in Linville. In 2018, he co-taught a five-week course in which students built a tiny house slated to become part of a housing community for adults with disabilities. He also co-authored “Design and construction of a direct hydro powered coffee depulper” which was published in the journal Energy for Sustainable Development. He holds a Bachelor of Science in industrial education and a Master of Arts in industrial technology as well as an undergraduate teaching certificate from App State.