by Andrew Seetoo
In the engineering job market, experience is everything. Even a good portion of entry-level jobs require one to already have experience – before they have even graduated. Where can one get this experience while they are still in school? One place is through Baja SAE.
Baja SAE is an intercollegiate design competition run by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Throughout this competition, teams from throughout the United States and other nations compete in the design, marketing strategy, and dynamic prowess of their vehicles. Baja SAE simulates the design, planning, and marketing challenges of introducing a new product to market. Students need to function as a team to design, build, test, promote, and race their vehicles.
Prior to joining Baja SAE, I was taking courses just to fulfill requirements. I would be listening to lectures and wondering what practical use this theory had. Then I joined Baja SAE. All of a sudden, I now had something to apply my engineering theory to. In order to design and build this vehicle, I would have to use the theory I learned in the classroom. Designing parts for the vehicle also meant I had to reference material from previous classes, which effectively allowed me to review material that would have been otherwise forgotten from lack of use.
I learned and developed many skills throughout my time in Baja SAE. I started with very little knowledge about cars and almost no knowledge of hand tools. In fact, one of my first tasks while on the team was to pick up and sort nuts and bolts. While this appears to be an unskilled task, there was knowledge to be gained from it. I learned how to identify the strengths of bolts in addition to the various thread sizes and the standards that govern them. As one of the machinists on the team, I experienced firsthand the complexities between designing a part and actually making it.
Competition is where it all comes together. After a year of hard work, the vehicle is now complete and it is time to see how it stacks up compared to other teams. While the presentation and initial dynamic events are fairly uneventful, the endurance race is where things heat up. With about a hundred teams on the track and four hours to complete as many laps as possible, anything can happen. Vehicles flip and crash. Parts become heavily damaged and break. A broken part, however, doesn’t mean the end of the race. Teams are allowed to fix their vehicles and send them back out onto the track. As every second counts, this is a huge test of the team’s ability to adapt to and solve a problem on the fly.
All in all, Baja SAE has been a great experience for me. The wealth of real-world experience I have gained is invaluable.