Courses, Competitions, and Creating an Impression

by Public Relations Office—Cedarville, Ohio

Cedarville, Ohio—Cedarville University students have a thing about competitions. And not just entering them. They like to win. If they don’t win, they at least want to do better than anyone thought they would.

But leaving an impression is more than just doing well in a contest. At the 2008 Shell Eco-Marathon Americas competition, Cedarville engineering students, under the leadership of mechanical engineering professor Dr. Larry Zavodney, competed with other young engineers from around the world to design and build the world’s most fuel-efficient vehicle. Although they gained experience working on a team and applying their knowledge to hands-on projects, they also learned that leaving an impression can be as simple as doing your homework.

The students had been scheduled to take a test the week of the competition in California. Because of late nights, it kept getting postponed until, finally, it was the last night before leaving for home. Following the awards banquet — while other teams were packing — Zavodney gathered the group in the media center under the grandstand at the California Speedway in Fontana to review and then give the exam. It was 11 p.m. by the time they finished the test, but they were packed and leaving for the airport by 2:45.

“I don’t cut any slack on academics,” Zavodney says. “So when a woman with Shell came in to ask a question and saw the students clustered there and me lecturing earlier that evening, well, it made a phenomenal impression on her.”

In an e-mail she sent to Zavodney, Dena Mauro, whom participants fondly called the Shell Eco Super Mom, wrote: “We will never forget the vision of you teaching in front of your team. It was dark outside, and there was all the hubbub of packing and kids celebrating the end of the event, and then there is this lit room with this peaceful scene of you in front of your team. They are all exhausted, but everyone could see the respect they have for you because they are all focused and paying attention. It was one of those frozen moments in time. Like I teach my own boys, you never know when you are making an impact, so always be sure to make good decisions and be a positive influence to everyone around you.”

It’s in small ways like this that Zavodney and his students present a witness for Christ. “We conduct ourselves as believers, as salt and light,” he says. “Our students don’t swear, and they’re respectful. We have opportunities to share Christ with other teams and sponsors, and we have a good reputation in engineering competitions.”

That reputation carries to peer institutions and fellow competitors. For instance, Zavodney has received e-mails from students in France, asking for help because their professors didn’t have time to invest in such projects. Many schools, in fact, emphasize the importance of their faculty conducting research. While Cedarville professors would agree that research is important, giving students a quality education is their main reason to be at the University.

“Not many people have heard of Cedarville before,” says Wes Muntz ’09, a mechanical engineering major. “When you bring two extremely beautiful and competitive cars to a race where lots of schools are struggling to even get one on the track, you gain a lot of attention. This allows us to tell others about our school and why we chose it: because it offers a Christ-centered and challenging academic environment.” Muntz served as co-captain and driver at this year’s competition.

Mechanical engineering major Jesse Winchester ’09 appreciates the environmentally friendly aspect of the Eco-Marathon. “It’s good for people to see Christians actively taking part in an effort to preserve the earth and its resources,” he says. “It often seems they view Christians as people who take the creation mandate and use it to beat the earth into submission and rob it of its beauty. To be able to show we really do care about the environment and the resources God has given us opens up discussions on other areas of Christianity as well.”

Whether it’s studying for a test, promoting eco-friendly transportation, or placing 6th and 7th in an international competition, Cedarville students continue to leave all kinds of impressions!