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High-Octane Ingenuity

SAE International engineering students working on the car.

SAE International engineering students working on the car.

It’s 2 a.m. While most San José State students are cramming for tests in their PJs, a team of engineering students works late into the night building race cars—and their own futures.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International student club is not just about turning wrenches and welding sheet metal. Starting from scratch, with only the 108-page SAE-International rule book to guide them, students design, test and build Formula-style race cars and compete with other top student teams from around the world.

Working almost a round the clock to get the cars ready, the students don’t have time for much else. “I don’t really have a life outside of this. I haven’t gone home to see my family in a while,” says Ruben Delgadillo, ’10 Mechanical Engineering, and the team manager over the past two years. But the experience is worth every bit of effort. “It’s not only a resume builder, it’s a job-getter,” he says.

From the engine and suspension to the frame and wheels, students design and test every inch of each car. They weld or build every part. And they put the cars together bolt-by-bolt, using whatever hardware is at their disposal—often World War II-era machining tools and donated parts and equipment. Every aspect of the club, including fundraising, is student-driven.

Since the club moved into high gear in 2008, team members have supplemented their course work with revved-up, real-world experiences that sometimes leave textbook learning in the dust, says John Wolf, a mechanical engineering junior who joined the team in 2009.” This has given more focus to my life than any course I’ve ever taken. Years from now, everyone here will be proud to tell you that they were part of this.”