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UA Engineering Clubs Start Their Engines for Another Year of Fun and Ingenuity

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UA Engineering Clubs Start Their Engines for Another Year of Fun and Ingenuity

Sept. 12, 2013
Success Outside Classroom Gives Engineering Students a Jump Start

Engineering clubs anchor students outside the classroom and give them opportunities to get ahead. Every year, the UA's engineering clubs set out to recruit new students, and some pull out all the stops.

The student-built Formula racecar in action. Main picture at top shows UA Baja Racing driver Robbie McCarthy sending the mud flying during the mud bogging event at the 2012 Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series in Burlington, Wis. The UA team finished 9th in the mud bogging.

A loud roar of engines turned heads on campus as two student-created cars drove down University Boulevard on the University of Arizona campus.

The cars belonged to the Baja and Formula racing teams, two of more than three dozen engineering student clubs gathered Sept. 3, 2013 on the Arizona State Museum lawn to show off their work to prospective members.

There seemed to be something for everyone: from complex contraptions that make people laugh to life-changing water projects in developing countries.

Baja Racing Team Ups Its Game

The Baja Racing team designs and builds a single-seat off-road racecar to compete in the annual Baja SAE Collegiate Design Competition. In May 2013, the team placed 27th in a field of more than 80 international college teams at the Hannegan Speedway in Bellingham, Wash. The Baja team has been rising in the ranks of international college teams in recent years, and finished 12th in 2012.

William Titus, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and the club’s president, joined the team as a freshman. He’d had some experience restoring old cars with his father and wanted to continue working with his hands while learning more about design.

“It’s absolutely loads of fun,” Titus said, describing a ride in the car after months of work. “If anyone has done any off-roading, they know how addictive it can be to be flying down trails and jumping over rocks.”

Besides building and racing their car, the team also does outreach to encourage students to get involved in science, engineering and technology.

Al-Haji, a member of the Mandoli, Mali, chief's family and next in line for that title, rests on the the handle of his village's broken water pump, which EWB members were preparing to fix.

Formula Racing Team Builds Camaraderie, and Cars

For many engineering students, summer vacation didn’t mean taking a break from their clubs.

Aaron Abril, president of the UA’s Formula SAE Racing team, lived in Phoenix for most of the summer. But the fifth-year mechanical engineering senior drove nearly 120 miles to Tucson every Saturday for the team’s early morning meetings.

“You work in Formula, you don’t get a break,” Abril said.

Formula SAE is a national student design competition organized by SAE International (formerly Society of Automotive Engineers). Formula teams build and test formula race cars then compete annually against other college teams in nationwide races at various venues around the country.

“The giant shiny race car is what got me to show up at first,” Abril said. But it was the sense of camaraderie he found in the club -- the inside jokes and the laughter -- that made him stay.

Members gain a wealth of engineering knowledge during the project because they are involved with every aspect of design, testing and construction.

“Being a part of Formula gives you a five- to 10-year jump in engineering experience,” said teammate James Keen, a mechanical engineering senior.

Rube Goldberg Club Makes Serious Fun of Simple Task

For many students, the UA Rube Goldberg team, which designs and builds complex contraptions to solve simple tasks, is the perfect mix of serious and fun.

“We’ll be building and working but also laughing with people who’ve become our friends,” said Phillip Gotobed, a sophomore electrical engineering major. “It’s fun and comfortable.”
The club may only be in its third year, but it already has a memorable reputation. The first year the team won the Rube Goldberg Legacy Award at the National Rube Goldberg Machine Contest at Purdue University in Indiana. The team’s bathroom-like design -- complete with rubber duck, spider, rat, mousetraps, and a golf-ball-spewing toilet bowl  -- turned chaotic at the flip of a switch, all on its way to simply popping a balloon.

Last year’s task for the national contest held in Columbus, Ohio, for which the team took second prize, was to make a hammer hit a nail. But the long and perilous path to achieving that task involved a nasty lawnmower accident in a kitchen, a space exploration mission that blew up the moon, and a volcano that destroyed an off-road vehicle.

This year, the team will be tasked with zipping a zipper. Now that should be an interesting machine.

Theta Tau Floats to the Top

Theta Tau, one of the many professional engineering organizations for students on campus, builds community and makes floats.

This co-ed fraternity holds social events, organizes professional development workshops and does community service throughout the year.

The group is perhaps best known, however, for its ambitious homecoming float designs. During their 15-year winning streak, these imaginative students have dazzled parade-goers with high-tech, gadget-laden floats -- a 14-foot-high working stagecoach, a 23-foot-long hybrid trolley-streetcar, and a gigantic rocket ship, to name a few.

Engineers Without Borders Sets Out to Make Hot Baths in Bolivia

Members of the UA student chapter of Engineers Without Borders support community-driven development programs at home and abroad through the design and implementation of sustainable engineering projects.

The group has taken rainwater harvesting techniques to a remote region in Mali in North Africa, and delivered water to 10,000 people in 26 communities in Ghana.

Now they are working on a new sanitation and bathhouse project for a community of about 300 people in Marquirivi, Bolivia, high in the Andes Mountains.

Marquirivi is at an elevation of about 13,000 feet, and water is very cold, so many people do not bathe because they are afraid they will become ill. EWB plans to use solar water siphons to bring the water temperature up to a more comfortable 80 degrees.

The EWB chapter is required to have a five-year engagement with the community in Bolivia, said Zach Patterson, a materials science and engineering senior and president of UA’s EWB chapter. That way, “if anything goes wrong early on, we’ll still be around to fix it.”

In addition to the Marquirivi project, EWB has been working with Grecycle, a local biodiesel company, to use old cooking grease and solar energy to create biodiesel.

“There’s less grease going down our drains and into our sewers. It also lessens emissions,” Patterson said. “And it’s a way for us to raise funds.”

Creative fundraising is a must for the group because the Bolivia project alone is expected to cost about $200,000.

“College teaches you that anything is possible,” Patterson said, adding that it also encourages thinking about the future.

“We try to think about the outcome of what we’re doing and where we’ll be years and years from now,” he said. “It gives you a sense of how your choices now will affect the far future, which is important for engineers to think about. We have a lot of power to create great things, but we also have to be cautious of the consequences.”

Prepping for the Real World

Whether they are developing clean water sources or designing cars, members of all the UA's engineering clubs say that being a part of the organizations makes them better students and leaders, helps prepare them for life after college, and provides a built-in support network.

“It is a place you want to be. We’re like a family,” said Formula Racing's Abril.