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Engineers Overcome Tough Odds

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Engineers Overcome Tough Odds

Cedarville University recently competed in two Formula SAE competitions. This is Cedarville’s fifth year competing. In car: Nathanael Barham. Back row, left to right: Jacob Baranski, Isaac Stern, Nathan McLeese, Timothy Kolody, Steve Tormey, James Elgersma, Catherine Shanks, Matthew Green, Jay Kinsinger. (Not pictured: Tim Hoyt, David Van Schepen, Scott Crawford, Samuel Fraser.) Photo credit: Sarah Brown/Cedarville University

by Public Relations Office—Cedarville, Ohio

July 7, 2009

Cedarville, Ohio—When a wrench gets thrown in the works and things get complicated, some people have an overwhelming urge to give up. A team of engineering students at Cedarville University faced this dilemma while preparing for the 2009 Formula SAE (FSAE) competition. But instead of quitting, they showed just how much hard work can accomplish.

Cedarville recently competed in two FSAE competitions — one in Virginia and one in Michigan. Considered the major leagues of collegiate design engineering competitions, FSAE draws student engineers from all across the globe to design prototype race cars that are then evaluated for production potential. Not only do the teams make a new car each year, but they also develop business plans and marketing scenarios that are judged by business professionals. The designs are then judged before the cars are tested for acceleration, turning capability, handling, endurance and fuel economy in four dynamic events.

New rules made the already rigorous competition even harder, but that didn’t stop Cedarville’s team. This year, the FSAE rules committee introduced a new format for doing the cost accounting which came with a very steep learning curve. They also set a minimum car width that required the team to completely redesign the car’s suspension, the most complicated aspect of the design.

“We also had to accommodate new templates for the driver cockpit, which required that we build a bigger, and therefore heavier, car,” says Catherine Shanks, a 2009 mechanical engineering major.

But by using carbon fiber instead of steel and plastic to construct the car’s chassis, the team managed to build a car 50 pounds lighter than last year’s. This reduction in weight contributed to a faster, more maneuverable vehicle.

They finished the car in time for the event in Virginia but couldn’t participate in the dynamic events because the air intake manifold exploded. As a result, the team finished 19th out of 39. But they fixed the problem in time for the event in Michigan. Placing 45th overall, Cedarville was only one of 33 teams to finish all the events, an accomplishment that earned them a certificate of completion.

“It’s an extremely big deal to receive the certificate of completion,” says Jay Kinsinger, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and team advisor. “Less than 30 percent of the registered teams do that. I’m very proud of our team for achieving that goal.”

Cedarville’s team competed against 119 other teams from some of the world’s best engineering schools, including Purdue University, Cornell University, the Ohio State University, Universidad Simon Bolivar (Venezuela), Graz University of Technology (Austria) and the National University of Singapore.

“I consider having built a car in a mere eight months to be a huge success in itself,” says Shanks. And it was, considering the required changes and the team members’ full course loads. They finished the job, though, and ended up with a car that cost $12,734 and could reach 60 miles per hour in four seconds.

For more information about the FSAE competition, visit

Located in Cedarville, Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist university of arts, sciences, professional and graduate programs. Featuring a worldwide Christian ministries program, the University offers 100 areas of study to 3,000 students. Visit the University website at