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OU's SAE team boasts strong competition, real world experience

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
OU's SAE team boasts strong competition, real world experience
By Eric Reikowski, media relations assistant

OU's SAE team designs, builds and races a formula style race car.
Oakland University’s Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) turned in a strong showing at its 2010 Formula SAE competition held in May at the Michigan International Speedway placing 36th in a field of 102 teams from 12 countries. The performance was the second best in school history.

The team prepared for competition by designing and building a formula style race car in compliance with a series of guidelines and specifications set by event organizers. Event rules stipulate that vehicles must run on an engine no larger than 610 cubic centimeters and teams utilize innovative techniques to develop a successful design.

“We prepare our vehicle through as much testing as possible,” said Stephen Parker, president of SAE at Oakland. “This way, we can discover areas of weakness before we reach competition. In engineering, everything must be tested in its application before it can be truly proven to work.”

Parker added that the team put together detailed presentations on design, sales and costs of the vehicle as part of the competition. Teams competed against each other not only as vehicle manufacturers, but as businesses operating with an eye toward efficiency and value.

With 27 members, 2010's SAE team is the largest yet at Oakland.
This year’s team of 27 members—the largest in school history—produced a vehicle that surpassed all others in acceleration and skidpad capabilities, Parker said. He said the team had to overcome a few obstacles after their vehicle’s engine blew up prior to competition and a drive axle was damaged during competition.

While much of their time is spent preparing for competition, Oakland’s SAE team also participates in many other events, including the Woodward Dream Cruise, Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, Rockin’ Rods in Rochester and the SAE World Congress at Cobo Hall. The team plans to attend the North American International Auto show this winter.

One of the team’s future goals, Parker said, is to gather enough support to one day make the trip to one of the Formula SAE competitions on the West coast or overseas. He touts the organization for the great learning experiences it provides to a diverse group of students.

“We have students from all areas of engineering and computer science, as well as some in business, communication and finance," said Parker, a senior mechanical engineering major. “The students in non-engineering fields join our program for the opportunities it offers to gain real world experience in their fields. Most of our students have a strong interest in automobiles, but many others are just looking for some good experience and that is definitely something you can find in SAE.”

Parker has been in the organization for several years and recalls how he got hooked during his sophomore year at OU. “I met a friend in class who was involved and eventually started coming out to the garage where SAE has its main office. After a few visits, I steadily became more involved and now I can hardly give it up for a second.”

Fellow SAE member Katy Cunningham shares that passion. The junior mechanical engineering major initially joined the organization during her freshman year, but dropped out soon afterward. “I gave excuses like I didn’t have time and I didn’t even know what my major should be,” she recalled. “About a year ago, I decided the best thing I could do for myself was to rejoin. Not once have I regretted that decision.”

Cunningham said she felt nervous at first because she didn’t know much about cars, but learned with the help of her teammates. She remembers the thrill and anxiety of competition.

“You have to present your design to real engineers who are not afraid to critique what you have worked on all year,” she said. “It’s a scary situation, but it prepares you for the real world.”

Recent OU graduate and SAE member Eric Boldenow said the organization also helped him prepare for life beyond the classroom. “SAE has been one of my best experiences while attending OU,” said Boldenow, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering. “Being able to apply what I have learned in my courses to something as interesting and exciting as a race car is a very unique opportunity.”

Boldenow worked on the car’s exhaust system for his senior design project, which allowed him to get valuable hands-on experience while completing an academic requirement. He credits his SAE experiences with helping him break into his profession.

“Having SAE on my resume helped to get me my job,” said Boldenow, who works in the design validation lab of an engineering firm in nearby Rochester Hills. “Overall, my experience with SAE has been nothing but positive and I would encourage anyone interested to stop by the garage and see what we are all about.”

For more information about SAE at Oakland University, visit the website.