It takes dedication and perseverance to stand out in a crowd. In the collegiate world, Boise State is often associated with our football team along with its big blue field. The academic world is full of things outside sports and there are many things a university can use to build a name for itself.
One way this happens is by having a student presence in the collegiate world beyond having a whoop-ass football team and seriously cool home turf.
Many student organizations exist and compete at varying levels. One of those groups is debate, a popular competition where students duke it out verbally on stage about a huge range of topics. Debate groups are great because they take very little to fund and it is easy to get together to practice. There isn’t a lot of material cost to have a stellar debate team.
Another such program with less of a following is Student Automotive Engineering, (SAE) an engineering competition in which students design, build and compete with a race car of their own development. There are a lot of material costs, networking and science that go into the project every year.
However, not all students have the skills to manage every aspect of such a team and if The Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) were to develop a leadership coaching team to help such ambitious groups go further, there is a chance Boise State students could leave quite the impression on the competition presented from other schools.
The schools which field SAE teams range greatly from big name schools like Purdue University and Oxford Brookes to schools much closer to home such as Oregon State University and our neighbor up north at the University of Idaho.
While the idea of building a race car may not sound as though it has much merit when compared to a debate or basketball team, it is important to take into account how much science is involved in building a vehicle that can perform safely at high speeds.
Sarah Haight, professor of mechanical engineering, was involved in Mini Baja (now known as Baja SAE) in 2004. Baja SAE is where teams construct an off-road vehicle rather than a road-racing car. Haight said the ultimate goal was student learning and it was the hands-on experience which was particularly valuable.
There are many things students must consider in the design of the vehicle, such as what material the components are made of, how the vehicle is assembled and if assembly and composition is up to event regulations. Then there are a multitude of tiny design nuances that can affect how the car performs when it is tasked with going through an obstacle course at high speeds.
SAE is not inaccessible at Boise State and similar programs have popped up on campus in the past. Such a team would help Boise State build its reputation in the collegiate world as an engineering school and ASBSU could even offer funding. ASBSU allocates up to $3,500 for an individual group and $7,500 for student groups working with a joint group. Information on how to apply and receive the funds are found on ASBSU’s website.
So while ASBSU could offer initial funding, SAE presents a challenge which potentially could sink a startup team.
Students might not have the existing skills to run an organization with many aspects that go beyond what a normal competitive club might go through. Construction competitions can require additional funding or support outside of what they are able to get from the school.
A team of advisors dedicated to counseling student leaders could help them learn how to overcome the hurdles many groups face. Thus expanding student skills without putting the group at risk of failing from lack of know-how from its leaders.
Much of the learning from student involvement in a project like an SAE team is more than designing and building the vehicle, but also communication with potential partners whom could contribute to the project, venues and the competition’s governing body.
Even if a group of students wishing to start such a team knew of the challenges and didn’t necessarily know how to overcome those challenges, the ASBSU team could help them work through it.
Haight, who is now involved in Eco-Marathon—a competition where schools compete to produce the most fuel-efficient vehicle—compete against schools like Purdue University which, according to Haight, allocate up to $20,000 for their team. It means that while Boise State is able to give money to its groups, Purdue is forking up some competitive paper.
In the case of automotive engineering, more money can allow teams to buy materials and components to ultimately make the vehicle more competitive. In comparison to Purdue, Boise State has to do more with less, but also has more initiative to exercise skills outside just budgeting what they have been given.
This is where SAE becomes more than just engineering. It becomes marketing and public relations. Teams can use people who communicate with vendors to get better parts to compete, marketing people who make exciting material to promote the team and its interests along with making sense of the nuts and bolts behind a complicated science.
Our school may not be a hotbed of engineering prowess, but we do have the foundations to be. ASBSU has a good system in place to kick-start any number of competitive student teams which could build the Bronco reputation off the ground and if they work to develop a team that supports exiting or future clubs, we can really start seeing some flourishing student achievement.