Looking to get involved?
The College of Engineering has many opportunities to get involved with project teams, leadership programs and much more!
When I started looking for universities to apply to, there was one thing at the top of my radar: Formula SAE. The Society of Automotive Engineer’s Collegiate Design Series was something I wanted to pursue throughout college to keep me engaged and to keep my hands moving. I was disappointed to find out that the Texas A&M University’s FSAE team was exclusively a mechanical engineering senior design project and not something that I could participate in as a freshman in general engineering. I stumbled upon Baja SAE, a team open to all students excited to gain design and manufacturing experience, at one of the university’s open house events, and once I became a student, I gave an apprentice application a shot. That year’s team took a chance on me, and it’s ended up shaping my college years and my career path.
If you’re interested in finding a project team to join, then keep on reading for information on opportunities, how to get involved and what you will take away from your experience.
Project Team Opportunities
In Baja SAE, we build and race a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle. Each year, the team starts from scratch and comes up with an entirely new concept. We attend the Baja SAE competition, which is an annual event with many different components including a four-hour endurance race. At Texas A&M, there are also many other opportunities, and everyone can find something that fits their specific interests:
- Aggies Invent
- SAE Aero
- Formula SAE
- Apprentices program for Baja SAE, as well as Formula SAE
- 12th Man Garage
- Women in Engineering project teams:
- High Altitude Balloon Club (HABC)
- Sounding Rocketry Team (SRT)
- Texas A&M University Rocket Engine Design (TAMU RED)
- Robomaster Robotics
- TURTLE – Texas A&M University Robotics Team and Leadership Experience
- Human Powered Submarine Team
As a freshman, it’s common to get on campus and feel like you don’t have any experience to offer. Nobody expects you to be able to design an entire car straight out of high school. When applying for project teams, you’ll highlight your skills and the experiences that you’ve had, but you’re often starting with a clean slate. To prepare yourself for project team applications, it could be beneficial to seek out relevant reading material and try to find applicable LinkedIn Learning classes.
I reached out to Matthew Fisseler, who attended Texas A&M for his undergrad and master’s in mechanical engineering. He’s participated in Baja SAE, Formula SAE and served as an officer for SAE Development.
As Matthew says, “At any level, you can show up, you can learn something, and you can participate.”
In Matthew’s opinion, what the project teams do best is provide a giant safety net to fail. In industry, problems can be more severe and have more serious consequences. By being on a project team in college, you have less of a chance of breaking as many things once you get to your “real” job because you’ve already made a bunch of mistakes.
He offered this advice, “If everything you do works out perfectly the first time, you don’t learn anything…. And you also understand that if you fail, you feel more comfortable failing because you know you’re going to be able to push past it.”
As a freshman and sophomore, it’s a good time to explore options, but as a junior and senior, you need to be thinking about why you’re joining a particular team and what you’re looking to get out of it. It’s a really good idea to come in with a goal. Matthew chose suspension for FSAE because he wanted to run more finite element analyses and wanted to design components that handled high loads.
Be ready to adapt
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from four years on Baja, it’s experiencing failure and figuring out how to learn from it.
In 2020, we started on a design for a 2-wheel drive vehicle. Shortly after our designs were finalized, the series made a rule change to allow 4-wheel drive vehicles. Coming up with an entirely new design on such short notice was an exercise in being adaptable and able to work under a shortened timeline. This year, pretty much every industry has been affected by supply chain issues. Having to order parts under these conditions has taught all of us about planning in advance and allowing extra time for things that are outside of our immediate control.
How does the team choose its members?
The interview process for teams is typically conducted by upperclassmen or students who are experienced members of the project team. They were once in your shoes, and they have a good idea of the qualities of a good candidate/teammate. Qualities that are valued are enthusiasm, involvement, and a genuine interest and passion in what you’re doing. They want people who are accountable and work to their best ability. A teammate may design a part that fails, but if they’re ready to fix it when it breaks, this is a million times more valuable than having someone who gets it perfect the first time but is never around for manufacturing. The heavier technical stuff can and will be taught if you come in with the right attitude and willingness to learn and work.
Before applications officially open, it may be helpful to get in contact with someone who’s currently or has previously been on the team. It can show that you’re being proactive, and you’re demonstrating your interest in the organization and project. It also will provide you with good information and advice for what you’re wanting to do.
Put yourself on the right path
There’s nothing that can put you on the right path like surrounding yourself with people who are just a few steps ahead of where you want to be.
When I was a freshman in general engineering and hadn’t gone through Entry-to-a-Major (ETAM) yet, I had a lot of things I needed to figure out. One of the Baja SAE team members at the time was a manufacturing and mechanical engineering technology (MMET) major, which I didn’t know even existed. My heart was set on mechanical engineering, and I hadn’t allowed myself to consider other options. Turns out, talking to this teammate really sold me on the MMET major. His classwork looked so interesting and I loved hearing about the hands-on activities that he got to perform in his lab sessions.
Being able to get an inside peek at what the major was like really helped me make up my mind. The friends you make on these teams can be life-long, and their support and encouragement is what you need to help get you through college. On the flip side, when you’re an upperclassman, you’re able to give back and help students with their degree plans and guide them to what they want to do. It’s a wonderful opportunity to share your experience and insight.
I could rave on and on about the things that I’ve come away with, but the best thing I could tell you is to get out there and discover what there is to learn yourself.