In The Spotlight: Meet Gracie Cole

AAA member, unicyclist, engineering leader
EnCompass Magazine

Gracie Sorbello Cole, our Spotlight member for this edition, recently shared with EnCompass the story of how she converted her family’s beloved bus into an award-winning electric vehicle, and how AAA has helped her out along the way.

Have you ever had one of those cars that was so special it felt like a member of the family? AAA member Gracie Cole can relate. In 1979, her parents purchased a new Volkswagen Bus to accommodate their growing family. That bus took Gracie, the youngest of four children, home from the hospital, on hundreds of rides to and from soccer practice, on two 6,000-mile cross-country family road trips—and, sure enough, needed the occasional visit from AAA.

When Gracie graduated from college, her parents gave her a very special gift: the family bus. “They told me two very specific things,” she says. “First, check the oil regularly, and second, make sure I always have AAA.”

Gracie and her husband, Kevin, on the road with their dog, Mack, an Alaskan Malamute. Courtesy of Gracie Cole

The bus was Gracie’s constant companion—even her occasional home—as she built a career in outdoor recreation management, earned her master’s degree, and became the first woman to unicycle across the U.S. Always one for adventure, Gracie went to work as an aircraft fuels operator at Antarctica’s McMurdo station. She didn’t need the Volkswagen down there, of course, so she sold it back to her mom. “There has always been one rule for the bus: It needs to stay in the family,” says Gracie.

Back stateside, Gracie knew two things: She wanted a new career in mechanical engineering, and she wanted to buy the bus back from her mom. She managed both while pursuing a second bachelor’s degree at the Colorado School of Mines. During her senior year, Gracie led a team of 14 other Mines students in a capstone project, dubbed “Project Re-Volt,” to convert her family’s ‘79 Volkswagen into a fully electric vehicle.

Gone were the engine, the gas tank, and the need for oil changes. In their place, was a road-trip ready vehicle powered by 18-batteries, cutting-edge electrical systems, and custom components, with plenty of room for loved ones and all their camping gear.

Gracie and her husband, Kevin, on the road with their dog, Mack, an Alaskan Malamute. Courtesy of Gracie Cole

While the Volkswagen no longer chokes and chortles as it heads up to Colorado’s high country, it kept its spirit of adventure. So much so, that whenever the bus accelerates off the line, Gracie thinks of her father, who passed away in 2010. “Wow, my dad would’ve loved that,” Gracie exclaims!

Gracie ultimately graduated from Mines as the outstanding senior in Mechanical Engineering, and Project Re-Volt won the Fall 2020 Capstone Design showcase. Her experience leading that team inspired her to pursue a Master of Engineering Management at Duke University, all while working as a systems engineer for the Sierra Nevada Corporation here in Colorado.

As for the bus? While it’s essentially a brand-new, electric vehicle under the hood, Gracie keeps her AAA membership card close at hand. “With Volkswagens, the journey is the adventure,” she says. “Whether we take it road-tripping, camping, or just to get groceries, we’ll never leave home without the peace of mind and sense of safety we get from AAA, because even electric vehicles break down.”

To learn more about Gracie Cole and the entire Project Re-Volt team, visit ReVoltsWagen.com.