April 4, 2012

Student Organization Reinstated After Forced Hiatus

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After a mandatory two-month recess, Cornell’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers team — which builds race cars for an annual International Speedway Competition in Michigan — was reinstated mid-semester. The hiatus came after several FSAE freshmen told administrators that the organization was causing a great deal of stress and a decline in their academic performance.

According to team leader Matt Byrne ’12, the team was approached in early December by College of Engineering administrators including Prof Mark Campbell, director of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Dean of Engineering Lance Collins, who ordered that the group take a break to improve team morale and reduce stress among its members.“It felt like they were getting a little off-course,” Campbell said. “If your goal is to win the competition every year, it’s really easy to let that drive everything. We needed the team to be a bit introspective of what their makeup was, what their outcomes were, such that all of the good things that they’ve done will continue to the future.”Campbell and members of FSAE declined to elaborate on specific complaints reported to the administration by freshmen members.According to Byrne and Campbell, the hiatus did not nitially have an end date. They said that the team would be permitted to continue its work only after a proposal for self-improvement was submitted to and approved by the administration.“There was a tendency to put a good amount of pressure on our members,” Byrne said. “The administration picked up on that and gave us the opportunity to rework our structure and … revise how we manage things.”According to Ryan Kennett ’13, a subteam leader for FSAE, the team was not allowed to engage in any organized activity during the two-month break — including work on its race car.The team typically works through January to build the car and complete it by Feb. 1, according to Kennett. The remaining time prior to the competition in May is dedicated to testing the car and making any necessary adjustments, he said.However, Kennett, who stayed in Ithaca over spring break to work on the car, said that the team is currently still in its building phase. To compensate for lost time, he said that the team had to scale back on some of the car’s features.“We’re still trying to do what we were going to do [originally]. We’ve just kind of altered the way we were doing it before to make it happen quicker,” Kennett said. “We’re behind schedule, but we’ll still be able to make it to the competition.”Despite the setback, “we’re not losing out on all too much,” Costello said. “We’re just happy to be back.”FSAE’s proposal for internal improvement — which led the administration to reinstate the group’s privilege to build its car — included a formal mentorship program for new members, fairer distribution of work among team members, improved relations with the administration and increased community outreach.Prof. John Callister, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and the interim faculty advisor for FSAE, said he felt that having the group draft the proposal would help the students learn responsibility.“It was important for them to figure out what they’re going to do in the future to avoid something like this happening [again],” Callister said. “They sort of figured out how to fix their own problems … which is something they needed to learn to do for themselves.”Prof. Mark Campbell, director of mechanical and aerospace engineering, added that he was impressed with the team’s willingness to acknowledge its problems and better itself.“I can’t say enough about what this team has done. They had the rug pulled out from them. This is a team that is very committed and like a family …. and we shut them down,” Campbell said. “It’s much more difficult if you’re 21 or 22 and you have one of the most important things in your life pulled out from under you and I give them all the credit for [dealing with that].”Since the team’s reinstatement, the changes they have made have proven successful, according Amanda Costello ’12, human resources allocation manager for FSAE.The new mentorship program is “integrating well [and] people are being cooperative and seeing the value in it,” she said. “It’s become a part of the team culture instead of just a tacked-on proposal.”Costello added that she does not believe the administrators who mandated the hiatus “want to see [FSAE] fall apart.”“They really wanted to make sure they didn’t just punish us but also ensured that we understood what their concerns were and addressed them within the team,” she said.

Original Author: Kaitlyn Kwan

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