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"Haulin' Aggies" learn teamwork, problem solving at Mini Baja competition

New Mexico State University's "Haulin' Aggies" finished pretty much in the middle of the pack at the Midwest Mini Baja regional competition in Milwaukee last month, but the experience they gained was invaluable.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) holds three regional Mini Baja competitions annually for engineering students from around the world to learn about teamwork, design, promotion and accounting, said project adviser Chris Wise, an engineer with the NMSU Engineering Technology Department.

"Being involved in this type of collaborative competition gives each team member insight as to how it would be to work for an actual engineering firm," Wise said. "These sponsored events present an important first opportunity for students to acquire concrete engineering skills while using creativity, imagination, and problem-solving techniques to exercise and expand on their theoretical backgrounds."

The "Haulin' Aggies" team was made up of undergraduate mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology students who worked on the project throughout the 2005-06 academic year.

Teams compete against each other to have their designs chosen for manufacture by a fictitious company. Team members voluntarily devote time to designing, building, testing, promoting and later racing their vehicles. Students are also responsible for fund-raising and maintaining a budget.

To keep the competition equal, each team is given a 10-horsepower Intek Model 20 engine donated by Briggs & Stratton Motorsports. However, the team has complete control over the rest of the design, Wise said.

There were 134 participants in the Midwest regional competition. The NMSU team placed 57th for Mud Bog, 66th for Acceleration, 17th for Chain Pull, 60th for Maneuverability, and 40th in the Endurance race. The team placed 57th overall.

Team members come from different areas of engineering, but having members from other majors can broaden the team's level of expertise. Stephen Kestell is a geography major who joined the team this year.

"They need more than engineers because the Baja is not all engineering," Kestell said. "A lot of it is business, and common sense. Because I have not been trained in the discipline I can ask what one might think are 'dumb questions' but really they are just outside of the box."

Kestell described the experience as exciting and said he plans to become more involved next year. "The competition was a blast," he said.

In addition to Kestell, the team consisted of James "Ryan" Cole, Chris Davis, Andrew Demchock, Casey Door, John Humphrey, Greg Pennington, Gwynne Skaggs-Ryan, James S. Sullivan, and Scott Burrington.

Wise and Tom Burton, head of the NMSU Mechanical Engineering Department, accompanied the team to Milwaukee for the competition.

For more information contact Wise at (505) 646-3908.