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Engineers step up to advise, inspire college students

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Professional members of the Lehigh Valley Section of Society of Automotive Engineers International have made it their mission to support engineering programs at colleges and universities in their region, which stretches north to Wilkes-Barre, south to northern Philadelphia, east to the state line and west to include Central Pennsylvania.

Lafayette College, Lehigh University and Penn State Berks have active SAE student clubs. SAE International is a technical society for the advancement of transportation industries, including aerospace, aeronautical, automotive, trucking, agricultural and off-road vehicles.

When the Penn State Berks chapter was created in 2003, professional members of the Lehigh Valley Section attended student meetings to offer support and advice on project planning to the newly formed Baja team. The Baja competition is one of several student-design competitions hosted by SAE International and involves the design and building of a four-wheel Baja car.

The Penn State Berks Student Club has significant bragging rights when it comes to the Baja competition, having placed as high as 12th out of 142 international teams.

Students are planning the next generation of the Baja car, and now that Penn State Berks has a new building that houses the electrical and mechanical engineering labs, there will be room to expand and be creative.

The Gaige Technology and Business Innovation Building design had input from SAE students. They requested – and received – an adequate dock for maneuvering the Baja car to and from the test track on campus, welding booths to support welding on the premises, parts storage and space for machining parts. (The international architectural firm RMJM Hillier designed the facility, while construction was managed by Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown.)

Penn State Berks has announced it will offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering beginning this fall.

Financially, the Lehigh Valley Section contributes to all SAE Student Sections that participate in annual fall and spring student night meetings. The meeting location rotates among the colleges, with the next one scheduled for April 11 at Lehigh University.

Speakers often are chosen from the SAE International Speakers Bureau, which provides transportation and speaker fees for one “free” speaker per year to any SAE Student Club. A recent example was Peter Bryant, design engineer on the Shelby Series Concept Car. Local Shelby car enthusiasts attended to hear his presentation and display their cars on campus.

SAE offers educational programs and continuous learning opportunities for members of all ages and sponsors an in-school program called “A World in Motion” to foster interest in math and science for young students.

Barbara E. Mizdail is governing board member of SAE Lehigh Valley and a mechanical engineering professor at Penn State Berks.

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