A long-serving and active player on the SAE “team”—from young member to Caterpillar-retired Chairman of the SAE Scholarship Committee and a lot in between—Ken Wolfgram has been a significant and much appreciated positive force for the organization and for the education of young men and women. The impact of his actions will outlive his time on Earth, as in his will he is providing $50,000 for SAE scholarships.

SAE scholarship season opens

As someone who benefited greatly from college scholarships, the Chair of SAE International’s Scholarship Committee, Ken Wolfgram, doesn’t want anyone to miss an application deadline. So here they are:

• Jan. 15, 2015—Deadline for submission of freshman SAE scholarship applications for the 2015-16 academic year

• Feb. 15, 2015—Deadline for SAE scholarships for those who are in later years of study, including graduate studies

• May 30, 2015—Deadline for renewal of scholarships (only certain scholarships are renewable).

Visit http://students.sae.org/scholarships/ for a list of available scholarships, criteria, online application form, guidelines, and related information.

Wolfgram said the organization received about 10,000 applications this past year for the 13 scholarships (some of which have multiple recipients) offered. For the 2014-15 academic year, SAE International, through its SAE Foundation, handed out scholarships to 30 students. Fourteen will be offered this year.

Now a retired engineer, Wolfgram understands the importance of scholarships as much as anyone.

“I made it through school with the aid of several scholarships,” he told MOMENTUM. “I grew up on a farm and my dad was a poor farmer—as a lot of farmers are. I needed a lot of money, and the scholarships helped me get through. So I see the need for them.”

Wolfgram graduated from John Marshall High School in Rochester, MN, and enrolled on scholarships (not from SAE) at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, from which he graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in agricultural engineering. He was hired out of college by the now defunct machinery maker Allis-Chalmers in Milwaukee. There was no active agricultural engineering society in that city, but there was an active SAE branch. So he joined it.

He later was hired by Caterpillar, for which he spent the bulk of his career. The company strongly supported his involvement with SAE. He engaged in many local section activities and served a stint on the SAE Board of Directors. He was involved in several SAE committees over the years.

“The Scholarship Committee is one that’s near and dear to me because…I know how much it helped me in my career. I see the need for it. Without scholarships, I wouldn’t have been able to do half the things that I did as an engineer,” Wolfgram said.

He signed up for a three-year term on the Scholarship Committee but found out that committee math is different from regular math. “I’m now in the 22nd year of my three-year term,” he said through chuckles. He’s been Chair three times.

Retaining Scholarship Committee members is no easy task. “Many quit after one year because it’s a lot of reading,” he said. “To me it isn’t that much. I’m retired; I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Upwards of 90% of a member’s time is spent reviewing applicants, a task that consumes probably 25 to 30 hours a year per member, according to Wolfgram. With the extra duties that come with the chairmanship, he puts in closer to 45 hours.

January through March is the heavy review period for committee members, with the goal of making the scholarship award selections by May or June.

By the time the 10,000 applications are whittled down to about 100 or 150, there isn’t much separating the candidates in terms of their qualifications. The 250-word essay section of the application counts for about one-third of the overall score and is a great opportunity for applicants to distinguish themselves.

“You’d be surprised how many applicants in their essay say, ‘I want to be an engineer because as a kid I played with LEGOs,’” Wolfgram said with a laugh, but not a disapproving one. Mentioning LEGOs isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do. A bad thing to do, he said, is what one applicant did in describing how he turned to engineering because of an unhappy experience cleaning up after patients during a hospital internship.

Stay focused on the things SAE focuses on: transportation land, sea, and air, Wolfgram said.

Kacy L. Weaver, SAE’s Awards & Scholarships Program Manager, said there’s not a lot of advice to give regarding the essay question. It’s not that complicated. “Just be honest and answer to the best of your abilities,” she said. “This is your moment to stand out.”

Here is the essay question, which is common to all SAE scholarship applications:

“SAE International is the professional society for advancing the engineering of mobility systems in the aerospace, automotive, and commercial-vehicle industries. This includes all aspects of the design, manufacture, maintenance, safety, and operation of vehicles, devices, systems, and infrastructure used on land or sea, in air or space. Part of the purpose of SAE scholarships is to encourage students to pursue a career in the field of vehicle mobility engineering. Discuss your goals, plans, experiences, and interests for your career. While having an interest in mobility engineering isn’t required for many SAE scholarships, it will enhance your overall application.”

Wolfgram and Weaver worked together on a major enhancement to the application process for the 2015-16 academic year. It is now automated through the SAE website.

Something the two of them are always working on is trying to recruit new sponsors for new scholarships. Wolfgram has decided to make a major commitment in that regard, promising in his will to bequeath $50,000 for an SAE scholarship in his name.

“There are less and less engineering students, and the benefit of the scholarships is they encourage kids to get into engineering who might not otherwise consider that as their field. To me, that’s very important.”

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