Sun Devil Motorsports team cruises past competition

July 30, 2013

The Sun Devil Motorsports Team was covered with mud and exhausted after 14-hour days of pure automotive engineering and competition at this year’s Baja Society of Automotive Engineers competition in Billingham, Wash. Instead of celebrating their high-ranking finish, team members were planning next year’s Baja design only hours after the competition had ended. Club mentor and College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) senior lecturer James Contes says this is not unusual behavior for these motivated students and they are as excited as ever to reach the top.

The Sun Devil Motorsports team, a student club organization at CTI on the Polytechnic campus, competed against 86 other teams in the national competition to determine the Baja car with the best design and build. Every year, collegiate automotive clubs enter to compete in any of the three national competitions that test the design, speed, maneuverability and endurance of a student-manufactured Baja car – a frame-only vehicle used for off-roading and high adventure activity. Download Full Image

Run by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the competition is designed to simulate real-world engineering practices and the challenges that come with everyday automotive problems. Student teams have to complete a project from start to finish, beginning with the initial design and ending with a fully tested Baja car ready for racing.

Contes says the competition mirrors what CTI teaches students everyday: to learn through making and real-world innovation.

“The competition is set up to take students through industry-standard practices,” Contes said. “Having opportunities like this for students makes the transition to industry that much easier. When they graduate, they are prepared to take on challenges that every engineer faces when seeing a project through from beginning to end.”

The team’s efforts are made possible by the state-of-the-art equipment available for student use in the engineering program at CTI.

“We have one of the best engineering labs in the state, if not the best one,” Contes said. “CTI has been fitted with the equipment to do all of the hands-on work that is so critical to engineering. These guys go from laying out a design on their laptops to cutting the materials and bending, welding, painting, testing and presenting them. It’s a total education made possible by the facilities in our program.”

The Sun Devil Motorsports team placed first out of all Arizona colleges. Overall, the team placed 17th out of 87 teams, compared to last year’s ranking of 37th place.

The competition is broken up into five events to test the overall design of each Baja. These events consist of a four-hour endurance race, an acceleration race, a hill climb, a maneuverability test and a rock crawl. Students also give an engineering and sales presentation to a panel of judges, just as they would if they manufactured a vehicle in the industry.

Among the requirements for enrollment in the competition is the use of a 10-horsepower engine, given to all teams by Briggs & Stratton Corporation. This levels the playing field for all teams and creates a unique engineering design test. Cars must also pass a strict specification test regarding the design and manufacturing.

Funding for manufacturing the team's Baja comes from community donations, sponsorships and assistance from ASU. Because high rankings in the competition relate to more industry sponsorships, Contes hopes for the team to reach first place next year, in order to be fully funded through sponsorships.

Contes and other faculty are beginning the preliminary planning of creating a test track south of the Polytechnic campus. Although this plan has yet to be finalized, Contes sees it as a critical component of the team’s success.

“The key to manufacturing a great vehicle is testing it and seeing where the weaknesses are. Once we have a test track, we will have an advantage that not many other universities have, and it will provide all students with a place to test their designs,” Contes said.

Because the Baja design and competition requires so much interdisciplinary interaction, Contes invites students of all majors on the Polytechnic campus to join Polytechnic’s Society of Automotive Engineers club and add to the team’s overall success.

“Not only are we always accepting mechanical engineering students, but we need electrical engineers, manufacturing engineers, entrepreneurship majors – any major can be of assistance,” he said. “The competition really does lend itself to cross-major interaction and we want other students, male and female, to get involved.”

Written by Sydney B. Donaldson

Navajo student finds success through involvement at ASU

July 31, 2013

Transitioning from living in a small reservation town to a university environment can be difficult for some American Indian students.

Diedra Vasquez (Navajo and Tohono O’odham) grew up in the town of Chinle (population: 4,518) on the Navajo Reservation. She remembers feeling homesick frequently during her first year at ASU, after moving away from family and friends. Diedra Vasquez Download Full Image

“A lot of students struggle with coming from the reservation and small towns,” she said. 

Driving home almost every weekend during her first year helped allay her feelings of homesickness, but she now advises students to become involved in activities instead.

“My advice is just to get out there and get involved, in classes and in university activities like student organizations. That’s the thing that really helped me deal with homesickness, friends here and organizations that I joined,” Vasquez said. “Find out about American Indian Student Support Services and start getting involved. When I came here, I was so quiet. I got to know more people and broke out of my shell.”

Joining Nations (Native Americans Taking Initiative on Success) provided Vasquez an opportunity to be part of an organization that offered academic workshops, motivational speakers and social events where she met many people.

“We were there for each other, kind of like a little family,” she said. After serving on the organization’s executive board, she moved up to vice president, and eventually president of the organization.

Working a part-time job with the American Indian Initiatives office at ASU as a student liaison has provided her with many opportunities, such as being able to participate in the Tribal Nations Tour, where ASU students and employees travel to the far reaches of the state to encourage American Indian students to go to college.

“I tell young people my story and give them advice,” she said. “We’ve gone to all of the tribes in Arizona except for two.”

That includes hiking eight miles down to the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon as part of the tour to talk to young people there about college.

“We also go to college fairs and talk to families. It’s not just recruiters who are going out, but actual students who share their stories and tell the students, ‘if I can do it, you can do it,’” Vasquez said.

Some families then come to the university to tour campus and learn more about ASU. Vasquez recently spent two hours with an American Indian family, telling them about the university and showing them around.  

Vasquez is planning to return to her community after she graduates from ASU in December with a degree in American Indian Studies from ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She hopes to start a program that encourages younger children to seek higher education.

“I took one American Indian Studies course and thought, ‘I could do something with this back home,’” she said. “My main goal is to go back to my community and work in education by setting up programs to prepare students for college. We didn’t know what college was until probably our junior or senior year when everyone started to talk about it.”

Changes that she would like to see in her community are making college classes more accessible to students on the reservation and enhancing curriculum to reflect more of a college preparatory experience.

An American Indian Studies professional seminar class that she took provided hands-on experience in addressing educational issues in Indian Country. Vasquez’s group focused on designing a college preparatory school, complete with a sketch of the school, policies and discussion of issues, such as working with the community to approve the school.

“We have to think about the issues in real-life situations,” Vasquez said. “I was really excited for the school in the future. That’s the ultimate dream for our group – to set up a preparatory school on our reservation.”