By Christopher Plunkett (Biomedical Engineering, ’16)
Entering college I was not entirely sure what to expect. Having grown up in a small town, I was not entirely prepared for the bombardment of new clubs, activities, and social functions that college had to offer. When walking through the campus activities fair I found myself immediately overwhelmed by the possibilities. However, one booth immediately stood out as one of the most exciting and new activities that I could be a part of. The possibilities that this group seemed to offer were too fascinating to pass up and I soon found myself on the mailing list ready for a general interest meeting. I’m sure you have already guessed which booth that was.
I joined the Baja team as a true novice in engineering, and motorsports in general. It was only by luck and the persuasive arguments of former member Kim Heng (’14) that I found myself at the shop for the first of many Saturday mornings ready to start work. It was during this year that I met some of my first friends at the University of Rochester and began to fully appreciate the craftsmanship and hard work of industrial manufacturing. I took a liking to arc welding; a job I would fulfill for the team for all four years of college. The work was always a challenge but after a hard year of work and a week of very little sleep, we left Rochester bright and early for what would be my first competition. The trip to Tennessee was an amazing experience filled with late night car work, cheese barns, and some all you can eat catfish. However what really drew me closer to the team was the passion that everyone showed for the vehicle. It was the kind of dedication that could only come from a year of work and was truly inspiring. After that wild Tennessee competition I was definitely hooked on Baja.
Over the next two years I would take on the role of the frame project lead where I was able to hone my design, planning, and project management skills. I was responsible for two years of chassis design where the link between engineering coursework and hands on construction became very apparent. It was also during this time that I began to realize how important Baja would be to my career goals and aspirations. With the skills I gained on the team and the help of our team’s wonderful adviser Professor Sheryl Gracewski, new opportunities for summer research fellowships and industry internships became possible. It was because of this exposure to mechanical engineering that I began to shift my focus away toward a more engineering heavy career. Now that I have embarked on that path post grad, I am confident that my decision to move in this direction was best for me.
Competition also introduced me to students from around the country and the world. Baja truly inspired a sense of global community across all teams. If another team needed anything, whether it be a washer to an arc welder, there would always be someone to step up. Our team benefited from plenty of this help and the generosity and kindness of the Baja community left a profound impact on me. But even before we befriended new teams at competition, we had become a family back at home. The joy of working with individuals who are both incredibly motivated and wonderfully friendly and open makes even the most challenging of projects a pleasure. In truth my favorite part of the Baja season was always the start of a new year as it would signal the start of many new friendships that would be among the closest I would have in college. We would enjoy late night food together, watch movies together, play badminton together, and travel coast to coast together in an epic road trip to Portland, Oregon during my junior year. It is these and the countless other memories of good times with friends from Baja that I will remember for the rest of my life. These bonds, forged by a collective will to engineer a superior vehicle, can never be broken.
The beauty of Baja is a mutual sense of passionate and sometimes downright insane dedication to the club shared by its members. While grueling all night welding sessions and marathon design review meetings seemed exhausting, you could not help but come away from them feeling closer to your teammates, more confident in yourself, and wanting to get back in the shop the next morning to keep pushing forward. It is a feeling that many have shared throughout the history of the team and that will drive us ahead as. Even now, as I continue on to the next phase of my engineering career, I am constantly reminded of the skills and lessons I have learned while a part of this club. The friends I have made, support I have received and the happiness I have shared while a part of this organization is something I will always cherish. I hope to stay in touch with this team that has given me so much and I will be eager to watch as new team members take the lead and raise our racing club even greater heights. I look forward to see what other great things the team will accomplish, but above all else I look forward to seeing the sense of teamwork, determination, friendship and passion for achievement in the efforts of Baja members for years to come. So from the bottom of my heart thank you Yellowjacket Racing. You have given myself and countless other students some of the best times of our lives.