Built from scratch
Baja Buggy competition prepares students for real world
Even in times of economic uncertainty, recent University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering graduates seem to have a good thing going. After all, 80 percent of Civil and Mechanical Engineering student interns land jobs at their respective companies without even interviewing.
Thanks to the school's Baja Buggy team, finding and retaining a job upon graduation has become even easier. Students from any discipline can join the team, which charges students with designing and building an off-road vehicle from scratch.
Just as a professional engineering group would function, the nine-member spring 2009 Baja Buggy team completed designs, ordered parts from vendors, worked within a budget and built machinery to meet strict safety standards.
"The goal of the project is to replicate introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market," said Mike Carlson, adjunct instructor in civil and mechanical engineering, professional engineer and advisor to UMKC's Baja Buggy team. "Students who successfully complete these projects have been tested and have passed in areas of time management, teamwork, ethics and budgeting -- all the same things they will encounter in the engineering field. These are the skills employers are looking for."
Throughout the six-month project, students spend an average of 20 hours a week designing, constructing and testing the vehicle. Before the regional and national 2009 Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Competitions, some students worked more than 40 hours a week on the project. The competitions included static events (written reports and oral presentations regarding engineering design and project costs) and dynamic events (racing factors, such as acceleration, towing, traction, maneuverability and endurance). Four students drove the vehicle, which could accelerate to 30 miles per hour.
"This hands-on experience is so important to our curriculum at UMKC, and it has helped me to be more valuable in the real world," said Noah Boydston, spring 2009 Baja Buggy team member and mechanical engineering graduate.
Upon graduation and without an interview, Boydston landed an engineering job at Kansas City, Mo.-based Midwest Research Institute -- where he had interned for three years.
Because the project has helped students build professional management skills, the team hopes to recruit more students and build two Baja Buggies in the spring of 2010. Construction has begun on a student machine shop, and classes on machine safety began in the summer of 2009.
The School of Computing and Engineering offers courses related to the Baja Buggy team, as well. Vehicle Dynamics, for example, focuses on the analysis and prediction of vehicle dynamics through computer simulation. Another course -- the Human-Powered Vehicle Design Lab -- provides the background necessary for the design of such vehicles.
Posted: June 25, 2009