These Courses Take Minutes, But Yield Big Results

Tuesday, July 03, 2018
Students running alongside their Formula SAE racecar during a practice run

Students on the Rose GPE team design and build one-seater, open-wheel race cars to compete in Society of Automotive Engineers competitions around the country.

These courses are run in minutes and seconds, not weeks. Even by tough academic standards, they can be daunting. To participate, students need preparation and focus–as well as crash helmets and fireproof suits.

These tests take place not in the classroom, but during technical inspection and on the track. Students on the Rose GPE team (Grand Prix Engineering) design and build one-seater, open-wheel race cars using a portfolio of skills. The team comprises about two dozen students from the Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science departments. Success in recent Society of Automotive Engineers competitions shows they’re on the right track.

Lane Geier, a senior mechanical engineering major and GPE team manager, says results in autocross and design events at the Formula SAE Michigan competition in May validated the team’s overall approach. “Placing 19th in those events out of approximately 120 teams provided some assurance that the car is not only fast, but also well engineered,” he says. “The electrical team did especially well, earning full points and praise from industry professionals during their design presentation.”

Brake system issues shortly before leaving for the May competition showed the team could rise to a challenge under pressure, says Geier. “Using up a set of brake pads in 10 minutes is never a good sign, but we learned important information for future teams and were still able to fix the issue on time.”

Benefits of Rose GPE participation go well beyond points scored in competition, says team mentor Bill Kline, Ph.D., associate dean of innovation and professor of engineering management. “These are great hands-on educational experiences where they not only put into practice what they’re learning in the classroom, but they’re getting experience making budgets, presenting their designs, and documenting and analyzing everything. Students get to practice being an engineer while they are still an engineering student.”

The payoff for many students takes the form of choice job offers and exciting careers after graduation. “These students go to the top auto companies, SpaceX and suppliers,” says Kline. “Employers like the Rose-Hulman technical skills and hands-on experiences the students have gotten with the teams.”