Every Saturday morning at 10am, University of Texas students can be found in the garage of the mechanical engineering building. They dirty their hands each week building formula-style racecars. With stiff deadlines and a huge task before them, the doors of the garage don’t close behind the last students until the sun has long since set.
What is it about Formula SAE that makes college students so willing to dedicate hours of their weekend to something that other students might consider “too much work”? What about Longhorn Racing transforms these college students into the dedicated, hardworking team that produces a racecar at the end of the year?
Longhorn Racing's motto is no joke: this organization gives students the kind of hands-on experience and training that no other organization at UT Austin can offer. Here, students take the knowledge that they learn in the classroom and put it into action in the real world. From start to finish - from designing and manufacturing the car to marketing the team - the students are the ones leading the process of creating a competition-ready car. This kind of independence only draws certain kinds of driven, enterprising people who know what they want to achieve but require a platform to hone their skills necessary to achieve their goals. One of those students, UT SAE's President Oscar Lopez II, chose to join Longhorn Racing and continued to be part of the team throughout his years in college because, “there are not many organizations on campus that provide you the stage and resources to work on a $30,000+ project and even fewer that allow students to manage this project virtually on their own.”
The entire crew of students designing the car is, for the most part, untrained. They have a handful of years of experience in car design at most, if they've been on the team throughout their time at university, but they have yet to earn a degree. Most of the process is a matter of trial and error, and not everything will work the first time around, but their determination to craft a competition-worthy car and advance in the team is the fuel that keeps them pushing through adversity. But no matter what their skill level is when joining the team, each student involved will learn from the experiences of their teammates and gain tangible skills such as welding, manual machining, general car maintenance, working with composite materials, familiarity with engineering software such as SolidWorks and ANSYS, and most importantly, project management. Valuable skills such as these will translate into students' future careers no matter what path they choose.
Students also gain a rare opportunity to put those skills into action in a more relaxed environment before making the transition to the workplace. In the garage, they have a chance to design, manufacture, and test every component of their car, and learn how to effectively utilize the business strategies they've learned by creating a sales pitch of the Longhorn Racing car and its team as a start up company. By putting textbook knowledge into practice, students have a chance to find their own solutions to problems and develop a deeper understanding of the skills that they'll use throughout their career, all before the pressure of a boss or paycheck.
However, that's not all; through an organization that requires the coordination of a large group of people to create a successful final product, students pick up a variety of soft skills that simply cannot be taught – skills like perseverance and teamwork, something that Vincent Marsella (‘15-‘16 Chief Design Engineer) perfectly embodies: “I have learned how to work as a member of an organization starting from a grunt just being ordered around and learning all I can, moving into a middle manager leadership position while increasing my knowledge and positive influence on the team, until finally rising to the top level leadership position that I currently hold.”
Additionally, Longhorn Racing works with a tight budget, which means that the team members are forced to look at problems from a new angle. In many cases, the simplest or most obvious solution to a problem isn't the most cost-effective. As these Longhorns navigate countless difficult tasks, they foster a confidence in their comprehensive set of skills that will produce a smoother transition into the workforce, as they've put themselves to the test and realized that they are capable of tackling difficult problems with a variety of different people.
By having partnerships with everything from big-name auto companies to local businesses, Longhorn Racing provides students with an opportunity to interact with potential future employers, learn from engineers in the industry, and form connections with professionals long before they graduate from college. In fact, students in Longhorn Racing have been offered interviews or internships specifically due to the fact that they were part of the team. It's an impressive feature to put on a resume, and businesses respond, knowing that the students who have graduated after having taken part in Longhorn Racing will have a developed skillset that they will bring to their company.
“It's not an understatement to say that... I wouldn't have the engineering skill set that I currently have without Formula SAE,” says UT graduate and former Longhorn Racing member Adam Pate, who was able to secure a position as a prototype engine designer straight out of college. “Without my experiences on Longhorn Racing, I would not have had the knowledge or skills that allowed me to achieve my current status.”
To put it simply, Longhorn Racing is an investment for the future. The hours may be long and the tasks may be difficult, but students at UT have a unique opportunity to hone the skills that they'll use their future career in a trying but relaxed environment. Those who step up to the challenge truly will go on to change the world.