UM-Flint Engineering Students Hone Skills and Design Vehicle

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UM-Flint students and faculty at Baja competition
UM-Flint students and faculty at Baja competition

Throughout the year, an evolving crew of UM-Flint engineering students poured their talents and ingenuity into designing and building an off-road vehicle.

They took the vehicle to Rochester, New York in June and competed against university teams from across the globe in Baja SAE Rochester, an event which tested teams and their vehicles in a wide variety of ways, such as design, cost, acceleration, suspension, and sales presentation.

The competition is over, but the benefits of participating this year are long-lasting, said UM-Flint Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Mihai Burzo.

"The students get a first-hand sense of the importance of several things that will make much more sense when they will work as an engineer, such as being part of and working as a team, developing and following a schedule, designing to a budget, manufacturing issues, and keeping track of paperwork," he said.

The UM-Flint students designed the vehicle. They cut, shaped, and welded steel and aluminum into automotive parts. They found wheels to buy on a limited budget. They developed the electrical system. They took the brakes from old mopeds in the university's machine shop and reconfigured them for the vehicle. They secured sponsorship funding.

About 40 students contributed throughout the semester, all of who are members of SAE International, and many who are involved in the campus chapter of the global engineering association, said Burzo.

The work they did was not for a specific class. Instead, they contributed time and talents into the project, many said, to learn real-life engineering skills.

"We were all raring to go. We wanted to do this," said UM-Flint junior Hassan Freeman. "Failure was not an option.

The group's project was a success.

Six students, along with faculty and staff, traveled to Rochester in June for the competition. They made several welding adjustments on the spot, and passed inspections needed to gain entry into the contest. According to SAE International, the competition featured 100 college teams, with more than 1,200 students from the United States, Canada, Venezuela, India, Brazil, and Mexico.

"We managed to make it through the technical inspection and participated in the dynamic events, and the race, which we were told most teams do not get to do. Therefore, I am beyond ecstatic for the team's efforts and results," said Burzo.

The benefits extend far beyond the competition, Burzo said. He expects to display the vehicle at several UM-Flint and community events to showcase the university's talents, recruit students for the engineering department and student clubs, and spur further interest in the next competition.

The students have gained valuable skills, he said, which translate to gaining the attention of future employers.

"The students get to apply classroom concepts to real-world problems," Burzo said. "There are also the benefits of peer-led team learning, and the completion also helps nurture the entrepreneurial mindset through a business-focused vehicle design."

Students utilized the UM-Flint machine shop, and frequently welded at at the Hubbard Building.

Burzo hopes to recruit students from other fields next year, such as business students who can hone their skills at recruiting sponsors.

Kristen Rusinek started at UM-Flint last fall, said the competition was invaluable.

"We learned how to act on the fly," said Rusinek, who was part of the team that traveled to Rochester. "It is so real world. You are actually doing engineering."

Freeman drove the vehicle during several of the tests at the event, including riding it up and down hills, over logs and through the mud.

"It was awesome," he said. "When you drive this car, nothing exists except you and the track, and maybe the guy you are passing."

Beyond the thrill of the drive, Freeman said the development of the Baja team highlights the supportive atmosphere at UM-Flint.

UM-Flint mechanical engineering senior David Van Alstine, who worked on the said the project is another example of how faculty and the university help students succeed.

"The faculty here are excellent," Van Alstine said. "Dr. Burzo is wonderful to work with. He really puts forth effort to get students involved, not only in club activities but his research as well. A lot of the other professors do that too. They do that really well here, in getting students involved with faculty projects and research."

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