Engineering at Nebraska, Spring 2009
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Baja is Back

You'd expect driving the Baja SAE vehicle to have its ups and downs, but coordinating the UNL chapter also has its twists and turns.

Brian Dick, a senior who majors in mechanical engineering, led this year's effort. He knew a bit about the Baja before he came to UNL, when his brother Matt (who earned his M.S. in mechanical engineering here in 2005) was a Baja leader in 2003.

Nebraska's tradition of students building an off-road Baja vehicle for competition began in the 1990s but, like any product in development, the work has had some stops and starts. Each leader tries to build not only a winning machine, but also a team structure that will carry on. Investing 20 hours a week to build a vehicle from scratch requires and inspires dedication, yet sometimes the commitment to this 600-pound baby can still run out of gas.

Baja TeamDick has maintained a well-oiled Baja operation with 20 team members, including mechanical, civil and electrical engineering front & center Army research leaders visi t Nebraska Engineering 's Trauma Mechanics Project students. A traveling team of five students participated in competitions in Oregon and Wisconsin in 2009, with funding from the college and local sponsors for the estimated $3,500 costs to build and transport the Baja. It helps that Nebraska Baja's adviser, mechanical engineering professor John Reid, had eight years of experience at General Motors (including four years at GM's Engineering and Management Institute).

Dick will soon pass Nebraska Baja leadership to Josh Keithley and has noticed some promising young prospects in the group, including a freshman who rebuilt the vehicle's throttle in one day. The team has shown the Nebraska Baja vehicle at car shows in rural Nebraska, and Dick said several students have been recruited into the college with the opportunity to work on the Baja as an incentive.

"It's a challenge to balance school with working on the Baja," Dick said. "At the same time, it's also important to teach the younger people on the team." Much like driving the harsh Baja endurance course, he found that leadership must stay in the moment while keeping an eye on the horizon.