RIT Students Gearing Up For Spring Engineering-Design Competitions
Jan. 9, 2001
by Michael Saffran
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Nowhere else but Rochester Institute of Technology do students have the opportunities, all in less than a year, to build and race:
Sound like things from the future? Not for RIT engineering and engineering technology students, who participate in these and other hands-on engineering design and construction projects, all hallmarks of an RIT engineering education.
RIT competed for the first time at last year’s event, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.
Built from the ground up, RIT’s two mini-Baja cars scored high in last year’s challenges, shining in acceleration, braking, endurance, hill-climbing and maneuverability trials.
The dune-buggy-like cars also impressed in another criterion—they’re fun to drive! The nimble mini-Bajas have been known to "fly"—that is, occasionally become airborne—all in the name of good fun and education.
"The mini-Baja gives students real-world experience in a dynamic and highly technical environment," says Martin Gordon, assistant professor and mini-Baja team advisor. "It teaches things that cannot be learned in a classroom alone.
"Employers seek out students who possess special ambition and ability that go along with being part of a major collegiate-design competition, especially a very successful and highly ranked team," Gordon adds.
RIT’s mini-Baja team is an eclectic one, typically comprised not only of engineering technology majors, but students from an array of other disciplines such as business and pre-med. Annual competitions are sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Fortunately, RIT civil engineering technology students can count on that goal becoming reality again this spring when they hit the water at the National Concrete Canoe competition.
Students from other schools aren’t always as lucky—last year, some competitors’ crafts rolled over and split in half. Not that luck has much to do with it. Instead, RIT students can credit precision-engineering expertise, extensive water testing and experience from past competitions—RIT has competed every year since 1995, winning regional competitions in 1997 and 1998 (when RIT ranked 10th nationally).
Maureen Valentine, civil engineering technology department chair and concrete-canoe team advisor, has witnessed them all. Engineering skills aren’t the only things students gain from the endeavor, she says. "Over the years, I’ve seen students develop leadership skills, time-management skills and friendships through all the work it takes to ready a canoe for competition," Valentine says.
When all was said and done (and the cement had dried) last spring, RIT’s team paddled to a seventh-place finish at the American Society of Civil Engineers-sponsored event.
Oh, and the car is fast! The fuel-injection, 70-horsepower engine and six-speed transmission allow it to zoom from zero to 60 miles an hour in a stingy four seconds. That’s not your typical Sunday drive.
Nor is it your typical campus cruise, on a Sunday, or any day of the week for that matter. But that’s exactly what bystanders—some a little startled, others a little in awe—witness each spring as Formula-team drivers take their first public test spins on RIT campus sidewalks, an annual tradition at the university.
Last month, RIT students hopped to the "land down under" for first-time competition at the Formula-SAE Australasia, in Victoria, Australia. Competing against teams from eight other universities, RIT captured second-place overall, first place in acceleration trials and second place in autocross, cost-analysis, endurance, presentation and skid-pad categories.
The event wrapped up a racing season that also included competitions in Pontiac, Mich., and Birmingham, England. Work is already underway on a newly built car to be raced this spring and summer.
RIT students have participated in the Society for Automotive Engineers-sponsored events every year since 1993, designing and building every component of sleek-looking, fast-driving Formula race cars.
"Students employ the latest technology they learn in classrooms and on co-op jobs in designing the advanced components for these vehicles," says Satish Kandlikar, mechanical engineering department head, about the Formula car and moon buggy, both supported by his department."What these teams are doing is engineering at its finest."
Be it by land or by sea (well, make that by pond in the case of the concrete canoe), or pretend moon dust, RIT students have unique opportunities to learn by doing. And frequently they taste the thrill of victory.
At Rochester Institute of Technology, there’s no waiting for the future.