Baja Buggy competition prepares students for real world

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As leader of a mechanical engineering project, Ryan Moore ensured that his team completed designs, ordered the correct parts from vendors, maintained a budget and built machinery to meet strict safety standards.

With several responsibilities on their plates, it might seem that Moore and his teammates were working for an engineering firm. However, Moore – a senior mechanical engineering major – and his nine teammates were competing on the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering’s (SCE) Baja Buggy team. Students from any discipline can join the team, which charges students with designing and building an off-road vehicle from scratch.

“The goal of the project is to replicate introducing a new product to the consumer industrial market,” said Mike Carlson, adjunct instructor in civil and mechanical engineering, professional engineer and advisor to UMKC’s Baja Buggy team. “Students who successfully complete these projects have been tested and passed in areas of time management, teamwork, ethics and budgeting – all the same things they will encounter in the engineering field. These are the skills employers are looking for.”

Throughout the six-month project, students spent an average of 20 hours a week designing, constructing and testing the vehicle in UMKC’s Old Maintenance Building. Shortly before the regional 2009 Baja Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Competition in April, some students worked more than 40 hours a week on the project. The competition included static events (written reports and oral presentations regarding engineering design and project costs) and dynamic events (racing factors, such as acceleration, towing, traction, maneuverability and endurance). Four students drove the vehicle, which could accelerate to 30 miles per hour.

“This hands-on experience is so important to our curriculum at UMKC, and it will help us to be more valuable in the real world,” said Noah Boydston, a senior mechanical engineering student.

Baja Buggy 3Because the team has helped students build professional management skills, the team hopes to recruit more students and build two Baja Buggies rather than one. Construction has begun on a student machine shop, and classes on safely and effectively using machinery will begin in the summer of 2009.

SCE offers courses related to the Baja Buggy team, as well. Vehicle Dynamics, for example, focuses on the analysis and prediction of vehicle dynamics through computer simulation. Another course – the Human-Powered Vehicle Design Lab – provides the background necessary for the design of such vehicles.

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