Developing tomorrow’s engineers

  • 15-Jul-2008 09:55 EDT
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It is -12°C (+10°F) and the snow, propelled by 20-km/h (12-mph) north winds, stings your eyes. Yet, despite these adverse conditions, hundreds of spectators line up along the course to watch the students participate in the SAE Clean Snowmobile competition being held at Michigan Technical University in Houghton, MI. Two weeks later, and hundreds of miles south, a gentle breeze makes for more comfortable viewing of the SAE Aero Design competition in Houston, TX. Still weeks later, torrents of rain make for a very interesting Baja SAE competition at the Caterpillar Proving Grounds in Peoria, IL.

Intermixed with attending these events, I had the great privilege of meeting with several CEOs and senior executives in the aerospace, automobile, and commercial vehicle industries. At first glance, the SAE Collegiate Design Series (CDS) and CEO meetings may not appear to be connected. The reality, though, is that they are intimately connected.

The executives with whom I met emphasized the ever-present need for engineering talent. They noted that in these competitive, rapidly evolving times, the need for workforce development has never been greater. They further highlighted that without it, their competitive edge is lost, as is the luster and vitality of the great companies they represent and lead.

The SAE’s CDS events endeavor to do just that—develop tomorrow’s engineering talent today. In total, SAE organizes 11 CDS events in the U.S. and partners with other organizations to coordinate 10 additional events around the world. In each of these events, teams of engineering students strive to meet the often-conflicting demands of design, cost, and time. Whether it is an airplane, a fuel-efficient Supermileage car, Formula racecar, or an off-highway vehicle that can climb rocks and traverse a body of water, each event has a set of design requirements that reflect the demanding needs of the “customer.” Teamwork, project management, technical skills, and dedication are all requirements for success. (Although not required, I frequently saw one team lending a part or a corrective design idea to another team to ensure they could remain in the event.)

I am not alone in recognizing the connection between CDS and workforce development. The CDS events are well attended and supported by the mobility industry. Executives, recruiters, and sponsors combine with dedicated faculty advisors and hundreds of volunteers to create an environment where the hard work of students—tomorrow’s engineers—comes to fruition. Presentations, marketing plans, technical inspections, performance against design specifications, and head-to-head competition are all elements of the CDS…just like in the “real world” of the mobility industry.

I want to use this column to congratulate all the student teams. I also want to thank the sponsors, volunteers, and faculty advisers for making CDS possible. Without you, these events could not be held and our future would be certainly less exciting and promising. Thanks to you, we do have tomorrow’s workforce—one that is full of engineering talent and innovative spirit. These are the exact ingredients that we need to tackle the challenges the mobility industry is facing and will continue to face in the future.

As always, I welcome your feedback and constructive input to this article and any other issues on your mind. Please feel free to e-mail me at

David L. Schutt, SAE Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

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