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And the winners are...

Looking for something new to grace the driveway? Forget the popular SUVs and PT Cruisers. Try instead:
   A Vehicle that could ride on the moon.
   A dune buggy that flies (well, sort of).
   A canoe made of concrete
   A race car that crosses the Atlantic.

Formula SAE team members pose at the George Eastman House.

Inventions of the future? For RIT engineering students, the future is now.

Real-world, hands-on design and construction projects -- hallmarks of an engineering education at RIT -- help prepare the university's students for future careers in engineering. Where else but RIT's Kate Gleason College of Engineering and Applied Science and Technology can students learn to build and race a moon buggy, a mini-Baja car, a concrete canoe and a Formula car, all within weeks?

Last spring, for the first-time ever, a team of 24 RIT students entered the Great Moon Buggy Race sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

After weeks of design and construction work, students navigated a half-mile simulated lunar terrain course of craters, rocks, "lunar" soil and "lava" ridges. They completed two runs on the challenging moonscape course and, after refining their design based on what they learn, plan to return to the yearly competition.

RIT's mini-Baja and concrete canoe teams are more season in annual competitions, having participated every year since 1997 and 1995 respectively.

Thirty-nine members of RIT's eclectic mini-Baja team -- comprising not only engineers, but business, nutrition and pre-med students, as well -- went to competitions this year in Manhattan, Kan., Montreal and Milwaukee.

Built from the ground up, two mini-Baja cars from RIT finished near the top in competitions sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The cars especially shined in acceleration, braking, endurance, hill-climbing and maneuverability tests.

But, the cars also impressed in another criterion of the competitions -- they're fun to drive. That's clearly evident to everyone who sees the nimble vehicles, known to "fly" -- or, at least, occasionally become airborne -- all in the name of good fun and education.

Another area in which RIT students typically shine is teamwork. Following their final competition of the year in Milwaukee, the RIT team was honored with a special award recognizing students' spirit, leadership and assistance to both the competition organizers and competing teams.

"The mini-Baja gives students real-world experience working and communicating with others in a dynamic organization and highly technical environment," says Martin Gordon, assistant professor and mini-Baja team advisor. "It helps each student develop personally and teaches things that could not have been learned in a classroom alone.

"Employers seek out students who possess the special ambition and ability that go along with being part of a major collegiate design competition, and especially a very successful and highly ranked team," Godron adds.

Expect more top performances from RIT's mini-Baja team in 2001 and possible first-time entry in international competition in Brazil.

Concrete floats. At least, that's the intention. Fortunately, that was also the reality for RIT civil engineering technology students at the 13th annual National Concrete Canoe regional competition last spring.

Others weren't so lucky.

"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. "What these teams are doing is engineering at its finest."

(top) Concrete canoe builders float their boat. (bottom) The mini-Baja team spins their wheels.

Not that luck has much to do with it. Try precision engineering expertise learned at RIT and experience from past competitions.

The annual concrete canoe challenge has been a staple for RIT civil engineering students for five years running. RIT won regional competitions in 1997 and 1998, ranking 10th nationally in '98. RIT hosted the event in 1997.

Associate Professor Maureen Valentine, concrete canoe team advisor, has witnessed them all. She says engineering skills aren't the only things students gain from the endeavor. "Over the years, I've seen students develop leadership skills, time management skills and friendships through all of the work it takes to ready a canoe for competition," she says.

From that experience and teamwork, coupled with extensive testing, RIT students knew their canoe would pass muster. meanwhile, some crafts from competing universities flipped over and split in half.

When all was said and done (and the cement had dried), RIT's seven-member team paddled to a seventh-place finish at the American Society of Civil Engineers-sponsored event. They'll be back in the water again next spring.

Adds Bob Easton, civil engineering technoloy professor, "The concrete canoe competition challenges students to be analytical, innovative and creative in attaining a seemingly improbably goal."

Traditionally the engineering project receiving the most "oohs" and "aahs" is the Formula car. And for good reason -- RIT took first place in the international Formula competition in England in 1999. Oh, and the car is fast!

The fuel-injection, 70 horsepower engine and six-speed transmission on the RIT car allow it to zoom from zero to 60 miles an hour in a stingy four seconds. That's not a typical Sunday drive.

Nor is it a typical "college campus cruise" -- on a Sunday, or any day of the week. But that's exactly what bystanders -- some a little startled, others a little in awe -- witnessed as students took this year's car for its first public test drive on RIT campus sidewalks, a spring tradition at the university.

Two weeks later, in the team's first competition of the year in Pontiac, Mich., RIT took top honors in engineering and presentation categories, fourth place in acceleration testing and sixth place in autocross competition, finishing 14th overall among more than 100 other cars.

Next, students leaped the Atlantic to defend their championship at international competition in Birmingham, England. RIT's 30-member team fared well, taking top honors in autocross and design categories, second place in skid-pad inspection and third place in acceleration testing. Overall, RIT cam ein sixth place among teams from more than 30 colleges and universities.

RIT students will compete for the first time at the Formula SAE Australasia in Victoria, Australia, in December.

About 30 RIT students, participate each year in design and construction of a sleek-looking, fast-driving Formula race car. RIT student build every component of the racer -- making it unique from other cars in the competition, most of which have prefabricated brakes and suspension systems.

"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."

Annual Formula competitions are sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers.,/p>

Be it by land or by see (well, make that pond in the case of the concrete canoe), or pretend moon dust, RIT engineering students have unique opportunities to learn by doing. And, more often than not, they taste the thrill of victory.

The future is now for RIT's hard-working students.