This past June, a group of Fairfield University School of Engineering students crossed the finish line for the first time ever at the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Baja Buggy Competition in Peoria, Illinois.
Our design performed to our expectations and did well against other first-year teams.
— Emily Yale '18
Held at Caterpillar's Research and Demonstration Center, the international collegiate design competition had more than 100 teams at the event where students were expected to build a Baja Buggy — or a single-seat off-road vehicle designed to operate in dirt, mud, on rocks, and other rough terrain — from scratch, within a strict set of design rules.
Four young women and six young men formed the Fairfield University team (Fairfield Stags Racing) for the five-day competition.
“We had to design and build the frame, steering system, brake system, suspension system, and safety systems,” said Emily Yale ’18, a mechanical engineering student and co-team captain. “This project really made us understand why it usually takes automotive manufacturers 72 months to take a car from concept to showroom floor; building a car is not easy.”
The competition was divided into two facets — static and dynamic events. The static events consisted of a cost report, a sales report, and a design evaluation. The dynamic events consisted of acceleration, hill climb, rock crawl, maneuverability, and a four-hour endurance test.
Joshua Dougherty '19, a Fairfield team member and mechanical engineering major with a minor in mathematics and physics, said the sportsmanship and camaraderie during the race was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.
“We were overwhelmed by anticipation and excitement. Every team, organizer, advisor, and facilitator greeted us with a smile,” Dougherty said. “No matter who you were — a first-timer or a 25-time reigning champion — if you stopped by a team's tent to talk or ask for help you had the team's full attention and ability at your disposal.”
Professor Bob Wojna, a semi-retired electromechanical engineer and the Baja Buggy team advisor, explained that engaging with the Baja Buggy project allows for the simulation of real-world engineering design projects and indeed helps students to build important connections with peers and engineering companies.
“Our students had interactions with students from colleges and universities from all over the world — many of them Ivy League and highly rated,” Wojna said. “Also, companies like Caterpillar, Honda, and Polaris, among others, attended the race to scout and recruit potential employees.”
When it was time to compete, although not a prizewinner, Fairfield’s Baja Buggy held its own against others in the race.
“Our design performed to our expectations and did well against other first-year teams,” Yale said. “We learned a lot about design optimization while talking to the other teams at the competition and we have a lot of new ideas for this upcoming year.”
When asked what made the experience unique, Dougherty said that the hands-on work and personalized attention are what will make the Baja Buggy competition stick with him.
“The professors and staff are so willing to help student-run projects, they want to expand the horizons of every student on a very personal level,” Dougherty said.
Would you like to see Fairfield’s Baja Vehicle?
Attend the Fairfield University Car Show on Saturday, August 5 from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. In the parking lot in front of the Quick Center (rain date of August 6). $5 entrance fee. Visit ctseaportcarclub.com for more information.
Or the Sikorsky Aircraft Car Show on Sunday, October 1, 2017 in Stratford, Conn.
Learn more about Fairfield University’s Engineering programs at Fairfield.edu/soe