Michael Wenye Li/Sun File Photo

Gates Hall is considered a second home to many engineering students and project teams.

November 2, 2021

From Sustainable Rockets to Electric Racecars, Project Teams Launch into Competition Season

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From sustainable rockets and electric race cars to environmentalism and philanthropy, some of Cornell’s 31 project teams said they’re looking for one primary feature in their applicants: the desire to learn.

Benjamin Pierce ’23, the business team leader of Cornell Racing, has always liked cars. Touring project teams as a high school senior, the opportunity to take his education beyond the classroom through project teams played a large role in his decision to come to the University. Cornell Racing is a nine-time World Champion Formula FSAE team. Holding the record number of U.S. world championships, Cornell’s team is categorized as the most successful American team of collegiate formula car racing engineers.

As the team now onboards new members after receiving 50 to 60 applicants a year, Pierce said, “above everything, we’re looking for a desire to learn and passion.” 

But not everyone needs to share his particular interest in cars. “It’s passion for the project,” he explained. “It’s passion for whatever you want to do on the team.”

It’s this mindset that brings FSAE alumni back to Cornell every fall to review new car designs and mentor current students. By mid-February, the team conducts test runs, and by June, the cars are shipped across the country. Last year, it flew to Las Vegas, and this year, it will find its way to Michigan.

Pierce also noted the real-world applications of the project team’s work. 

“We got an email yesterday from Red Bull racing about recruiting for aerodynamic engineers,” Pierce said in October. “Project teams are the best application of engineering curriculum. It’s why they’re heavily recruited from.” 

Cornell Rocketry is another project team that competes annually in the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering competition, which contains several requirements — some of which are that rockets must launch above 10,000 feet, be launched, recovered, relaunched and deploy a parafoil during descent.

Aidan McNay ’24 explained that the rocketry team primarily recruits first-year students. 

“We’re looking for interest and being enthusiastic about learning,” he said. As a sophomore, he’s already responsible for two of the team’s six subteams (electrical and software).

McNay explained how he became responsible for a third of the rocketry team so quickly: “It goes back to that general mentality. It’s less about how much you know than how you go about it.”

He advises first-years who are interested in applying to “find something that you want to commit to, be a part of it and really engage in that community,” even if it’s not a project team.

Beyond competitive engineering, project teams are searching for ethical solutions to community problems.

Eleni Gianulis ’23 is a former member of Engineers for a Sustainable World, a team dedicated to finding solutions to global sustainability issues. Though she eventually left the team as her career goals changed, she described the environment as “empathetic.” The sub-team, Solar-Powered Solutions, worked on an emergency solar-powered backpack. 

“Everyone was willing to offer help outside of project teams,” she said.

Currently, Cornell’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders has four ongoing projects relating to ethical, global solutions, according to Emily Stone ’23, vice president of the organization. 

A domestic sub-team is currently building a sustainable tiny home for an Indigenous community in Pineridge South Dakota that is experiencing a housing crisis, while another sub-team is working on a water irrigation system in Tanzania. The software development team is completing an app for carbon off-setting locally, helping make Tompkins County more sustainable.

“Working with the community is a huge, huge, thing,” Stone said. 

Members of project teams receive anywhere from one to four credits for their commitment, and sometimes they’re graded by peers. Though advisers oversee these organizations, team leaders play a considerable role in the group.  

If you put in the work, Stone said, “it’s going to be one of your better grades.”