From Crippled to Competitive: One School's Transition to a Volunteer Team in the Baja CDS 2011-01-1111
For over a decade, Ohio Northern University's participation in the SAE Baja competition was limited to a Mechanical Engineering senior design (capstone) team. The teams' experience was often one of frustration, generally ending in a car that placed low in the final competition standings, and some years could not even pass technical inspection. Six years ago underclassmen successfully petitioned to switch Baja to an all-volunteer team. The resulting transformation was dramatic. Though the new team received no class credit for their work, the number of hours spent on the project rose sharply. Continuity in personnel from year to year ensured that painful lessons were not repeated, and experience gained from competition and relationships with other schools' teams was put to good use. Planning for next year began the minute that the current year's competition was over, rather than the team putting it all behind them and moving on to their career. Within four years, the ONU team tied for 9th place in the Wisconsin regional competition endurance race, and 17th overall out of 100 teams. The next year, their 100-lb-lighter car with countless design improvements brought home a 3rd place trophy (out of 41 cars) from the winter competition held at Michigan Tech. And the student enthusiasm continues to grow. Membership numbers are increasing annually, and for the first time in school history the team will be competing at all three SAE-sanctioned events in 2011. Many schools continue to value the various Collegiate Design Series events as capstone projects, but for a competitive product and more lifelike design experience, ONU is convinced that the volunteer squad is the way to go.