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Student Competitions The Benefits And Challenges

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Improving ME education: Broad Topics

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1155.1 - 11.1155.11



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Paper Authors


Peter Schuster California Polytechnic State University

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Peter Schuster is interested in automotive safety, impact, biomechanics, finite element analysis, and design. He earned a Physics BA from Cornell University, MSME in design from Stanford University, and Ph.D. in biomechanics from Michigan Technological University. After ten years in body design and automotive safety at Ford Motor Company he joined the Mechanical Engineering department at Cal Poly. He teaches mechanics, design, stress analysis, and finite element analysis courses and serves as co-advisor to the student SAE chapter.

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Andrew Davol California Polytechnic State University

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Andrew Davol graduated with a BSME from the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly), in 1987. He worked for Boeing Commercial Aircraft Company as a designer and stress analyst before completing a Ph.D. in structural engineering at the University of California, San Diego, in 1998. Andrew is currently an associate professor in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly specializing in mechanics. He has advised the ASME sponsored Human Powered Vehicle Club for 5 years.

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Joseph Mello California Polytechnic State University

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Joseph Mello received bachelor and master degrees from California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. He earned a Ph.D. at University of California at Davis in 1996. Dr. Mello has compiled over ten years of industrial experience in the areas of machine design, structural mechanics, and reinforced materials. Dr. Mello is now a Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He teaches primarily mechanical design and has done development and applied research in the areas of design, finite element analysis, and composite materials over the past eight years. He has been advisor and co-advisor of the Cal Poly SAE chapter since 2000.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Student Competitions - The Benefits and Challenges


Intercollegiate design competitions are a popular means to engage students in design activities that extend beyond the curriculum. When students gather around a project in their spare time and use their classroom skills to design, build, and test a product for an intercollegiate competition, something amazing happens: They develop a passion for engineering. This paper discusses the key benefits to engineering undergraduate students that flow from involvement in a team design competition. Advisor involvement plays a key role in both project success and student learning throughout the process. Different approaches to advising student competition teams are compared. Specific examples are taken from the authors' experience with Formula SAE, SAE Mini Baja, and ASME's Human Powered Vehicle competitions.

Responsibility for making the most effective educational use of a design competition is shared between the students, the faculty advisor, and the competition organizers. Design competitions build student enthusiasm; however, there are some things they learn that we may not want to be teaching. Some of the educational shortcomings of these activities are highlighted, with suggestions on how to manage them. In particular, this article focuses on the risks of (a) distraction from classes, (b) a build-and-test approach, (c) advisor co-opted designs, and (d) design changes for their own sake. The influence of the advisor and the competition rules on each of these concerns will be discussed. Finally, the competitions themselves will be investigated to see how the form of the events may be improved to further enhance the learning opportunities for the students.


Engineers seem to thrive on competition. At least, that is the perception you would gain if you looked at the student clubs on our campus. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) club will develop and race vehicles in the Formula SAE, Mini Baja, and Supermileage competitions this year. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) Human Powered Vehicle (HPV) team has developed winning vehicles in that competition for three years running. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) worked on the Solar Decathalon project. Students in our department also have a Robotics club and a hybrid vehicle club.

As faculty at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), we are interested in identifying and supporting those student activities that contribute most directly to student learning. However, as with most PUI’s, our school has high teaching loads and an increasing focus on research for professional development. The time we have available to devote to student clubs is limited, so we want to ensure we make the most of it.

In this paper, we discuss the benefits and issues of various intercollegiate design competitions, focusing on those directly within our experience – ASME HPV, Formula SAE, SAE Mini Baja, and SAE Supermileage. The authors all teach design and mechanics classes and are advisors of these four vehicle teams. Based on the authors’ different advising approaches—and observations

Schuster, P., & Davol, A., & Mello, J. (2006, June), Student Competitions The Benefits And Challenges Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1055

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