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From the Classroom to the Clouds

The Accomplishments and Benefits of Competition Teams

Walking through the lobby of the engineering building or in the doors of the mechanical engineering office, there are several shiny trophies and plaques to catch the eye. These represent the hard work of the many competition teams of the ME department. But these trophies also represent more rewards for the competing students than they ever anticipated—rewards that are still benefiting these students long after the competition is over.

The mechanical engineering competition teams and organizations create invaluable resume builders and networking opportunities, build lifelong relationships, and develop critical skills to put you ahead in the competition of the workforce.

Although he had his sights set on the stars when he was a wide-eyed freshman entering the mechanical engineering major, senior Derrick Walker could hardly have predicted that he would be sending actual rockets into space during his undergraduate career—and the work and first place award that came with it at the Spaceport America Cup near Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The rocketry team of seven students designed and tested their rocket for over a year to prepare. The BYU rocket, named Solitude in honor of the Utah-based ski resort, traveled over 608 mph, came within feet of the 10,000-foot altitude target, and successfully released its payload, landing them ahead of all 158 teams in the competition.

The student-led BYU Rocketry team painstakingly designed their rocket for over a year to prepare for the event, the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering competition. The win marks the first time BYU has won the event in their 15 years of competing.

BYU news did a complete article on the event which can be found on the University Communications Website.

“This last year, we really tried to go from being hobbyists who do things because it was how we were taught to engineers who know the physics behind our decisions,” Walker said. "One of the awards that we got was for simulation and modeling. We really focused on how we can prove what we're doing is the right thing to do using some of our knowledge from our classes to expand on that. That's probably what I'm most proud of. There's winning the whole competition, but even just winning that modeling and simulation award was something that I was really proud of because it was something that we focused on, and it was something that elevated us to feel like real engineers who are progressing the field.”

Derrick’s experience on the Rocketry team gave him a foot in the door to intern with Bell Helicopter. His work in the competition team is part of what put him in the place he needed to be in to reach the stars.

BYU Rocketry team

The rocketry team is one of many mechanical engineering competition teams that have come back to Provo with awards and achievements during the past couple months. The list also includes the Supermileage team, the wind energy team, the agricultural robotics team, and more.

These teams have brought home not only awards for Brigham Young University, but life changing experiences and long-lasting skills. For the Supermileage team, they learned about thinking quickly and learning to work with the people around them. The full details of their competition were covered by FOX13 News.

BYU's Supermileage vehicle
Photo by Photo by Brooklynn Jarvis/BYU Photo

At the end of the day, the efforts of the team paid off and led to their first place overall win at the Shell Eco-Marathon competition in Indianapolis, achieving a distance of 1,915.83 miles with one gallon of gas in their vehicle. But without all the events leading up to this competition on the Indy 500 track, they might have had a very different experience.

But without the things they learned through their participation in the club, the competition may have had a very different outcome.

Wind Energy also experienced some of this problem solving when they went to competition.

According to their competition report, everything was in great shape when they started, but during the competition, one of the linkages on the pitch system got bent backward. When the turbine tried to pitch again, the bad link caused the system to get stuck and the linear actuator pushed so hard that the shaft was decoupled from the generator.

Despite these initial setbacks, the BYU team still placed 8th overall, 3rd in turbine design, 7th in turbine testing, 12th in project development, and 10th in connection creation at the 2023 competition.

Reaching these goals would be impossible without teamwork. Many of these teams are up against international competitors, and often the teams themselves are incredibly diverse. A sense of belonging, which both BYU and the world highly value, is a natural result of the collaboration that happens on these teams.

“If you really want to get along with somebody who's a different sex or a different culture or a different country, work on a problem together. Have a common interest,” said the mechanical engineering department chair, Dr. Dale Tree. “Maybe we're absolutely different in our beliefs, but we both want the car to go up the hill as fast as it can. So we work together on a common goal, and then we spend time together, and we learn respect for each other. We can disagree on certain things, but realize we both have value because of that. It increases a sense of belonging and our ability to work together.”

Dr. Tree, who has participated in the mechanical engineering competition teams for over 20 years in different capacities and who worked as an advisor for the supermileage team this year, noted the importance of this behind the scenes competition participation.

“Competition teams motivate students to work on things that they enjoy and because they're motivated, they'll put extra time and effort into it. It makes learning fun for them,” Dr. Tree said. “It's a way to give students this experiential learning. When they get to try different activities, they then latch onto what they're interested in. The competition provides the motivation and the deadline, and then it connects them with people that are of similar interest and want to hire them.”

There are competition teams that can provide these learning experiences for many interests. The Agricultural Robotics team of eight BYU students developed a unique vacuum powered system for harvesting cotton, winning 5th Place in the ASABE Agricultural Robotics Competition on their first attempt. The team is planning to make the top three next year where the task will be strawberry harvesting.

Agricultural Robotics team at competition.

“It gives you a goal to reach for and makes the exercise that you have to do to get good. Doable because you have a goal in mind and you're focused on it,” Dr. Tree noted.

Each of these students also now has a valuable resume builder and networking point. These competition teams provide valuable experiences for discovering what you do and don’t like, and the start to finish processes of many things that happen in the real world of mechanical engineering.

“When they get to the competition, there are engineers judging things and running the show,” Dr. Tree noted. “And the people working at these companies, they know after they've talked to the students which ones have participated, which ones have put in effort, which ones are just showing up, because they're able to converse with them and explain to them what they did.”

When he was working on his own undergraduate degree, Dr. Tree preferred the lecture side of the degree, so he himself didn’t participate in clubs or teams, but he is an ardent advocate of how valuable an opportunity they are to get outside the research and get experience in the field.

“I was on the other side as a student. I liked going to class, doing my homework and learning. I felt like when I got to the lab, I’d have to spend two hours to learn a principle that this teacher could have told me in ten minutes. I'd rather just be taught the principle,” Dr. Tree shared.”But there is an importance to applying it and making it stick. Competing creates opportunities to learn in a different way.”

The Mechanical Engineering Department has over 17 clubs and organizations. Visit this page for a comprehensive list of each club's name and website to learn more.