Though most students are away for the summer, many of those left on campus eagerly await the Daily’s coverage of the University’s summer sports teams. Students at the University, as representatives of its focus on excellence, always pride themselves on the school’s athletic achievement. But on North Campus, groups of ambitious engineers are in intense competitions this summer, competeting with a number of novel and exciting machines and structures made entirely from scratch in their own spare time. While these teams of engineers may not produce big name superstars like the University’s sports programs do, student engineering teams should be given the attention and resources they deserve.
It was easy to miss, but in April the University of Michigan Steel Bridge Team placed second in a regional competition and secured a place in the national competition to be held at the University of Las Vegas this upcoming weekend. The competition has hardly been mentioned outside the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. Likewise, when the Board of Regents approved an expansion of the Engineering Programs Building for student teams in April, the news was a footnote compared to the attention given the millions allotted to renovating Couzens Hall, which would add wireless Internet and air conditioning among other updates. This coverage reflects what the Daily feels students care more about reading, but students’ lack of care for student engineers spending so much time and effort competing for their University is unacceptable.
There is more to these teams’ support than simply personnel and resources. Getting motivation from the University as a whole is also important, and often a struggle. Students here are always encouraged to support our sports teams with a fervor that can rival any other school, but this energy and excitement should also be directed towards students competing based on their academic and creative talents.
I was a participant in this year’s steel bridge team, helping to fabricate components of the bridge. In my time working on it, I’ve seen dozens of students sacrifice nearly all their free time in pursuit of making their creations just a little better than the day before. While the University of Michigan Solar Car Team, with its large resource pool and exceptional track record, is arguably the most well-known student engineering project, student teams have designed submarines, race cars and even autonomous boats. In the coming weeks, these teams will compete all over the United States.
There are tangible benefits to supporting student engineering project teams. The support leads to the development of new technologies and more opportunities for student engineers.
New technologies developed in the design process can lead to new technologies that have a real-world market demand, especially with large, well-financed teams such as solar car. Through this kind of innovative design, engineering students are given a shot at being creative on their own and being forced to understand — from design to construction — what goes into making a new idea tangible and practical.
When designing something from scratch, there is also a need for many different kinds of engineers to come together for a single project. The more complicated the project, the more important it is to have engineers versed in electronics, mechanics and materials science, for example. The camaraderie among these team members can lead to networking and collaboration on other projects. This helps University students find the careers they want and open up their education to other ideas and disciplines, part of the appeal of this large institution of learning.
When the University’s engineering teams compete nationally, they represent our school as much as any other competitive team. These students and their creations show the commitment our school has to education, and the more support the teams receive, the better the University appears to others as an institution that encourages education in addition to sports. These engineering teams are important to our University’s reputation and influential in the lives of these student engineers and therefore deserve to be supported.
Ben Caleca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.