By Professor Sheryl Gracewski
I have been the faculty advisor for the UR SAE Baja team for over 20 years, so I have witnessed the remarkable evolution of the team. The most obvious growth is in the number of students: currently, about 40 students make significant contributions to the team each year, whereas in the past, there have been teams with as few as 5 members. The surge in numbers has been accompanied by an increase in student diversity, including not only students from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, but also from a wider range of majors. For example, economics majors have recently helped the team excel in the Baja competition’s Sale Presentation and electrical engineering majors are developing data acquisition systems to test vehicle performance.
The Team has grown in many more ways than just increasing numbers. By necessity, the Team has refined its organizational structure to handle the additional training and logistics needed for a larger group. It is amazing that the students not only design and fabricate a Baja vehicle each year, but they also train the underclassmen, so that they can take over and be successful the next year. Each year they devise better methods for this training. For example, they have created Wiki pages and are developing training videos to archive critical information.
The Team’s design, analysis, fabrication, and overall engineering skills have also vastly improved, especially over the last several years. Such advances would not have been possible without the support of the Team’s sponsors, local industries, alumni, and the Team’s family and friends. To coordinate the larger number of students contributing to the design, they have set up the Product Data Management system and instituted various systematic methods for CADing their designs in Solidworks. In addition, their knowledge of and access to fabrication techniques has also significantly increased in recent years, with the assistance of local companies. For example, they now design their own gearbox and have it fabricated by local sponsors, whereas in the past they either purchased a gearbox or used a less robust system of chains and sprockets.
The team members, especially the team leaders, seem to have boundless enthusiasm and put in an enormous amount of time and energy into the team. It is not unusual to find 10-20 Baja members working in the shop or Baja office on a Saturday or Sunday. They begin preparing for the next year, on the way home from the last competition of the summer, as they review how well their vehicle performed and where they could improve on the design. They meet (online) weekly starting early in the summer, so they can finish most of the design in the fall semester, and complete fabrication and testing of the car before the first competition in late spring.
Working with the UR SAE Baja Team has been an amazing experience. I have witnessed not only the growth of the team, but also the advancement of the team members, from novices to team leaders and beyond. I enjoy seeing the alumni that support the team and cheer them on at competitions. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know so many outstanding students.