November 30, 2020

How the STEMM initiative could bring race cars to Webster

During my years as a Webster University student, I’ve always felt as though I was a member of the small minority of students that didn’t fantasize about one day owning a hybrid. Why? I’m a car guy. I love cars. Real cars with raw power, tight handling and the incomprehensible ability to connect driver and machine. True car lovers — I know you’re out there — let’s rejoice for a moment, as Webster is taking a small step in our direction. This step comes in the form of the STEMM initiative, which President Elizabeth Stroble and Provost Julian Schuster announced at Convocation in August. STEMM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine. A working group made up of faculty and staff has been charged to discuss ways to intensify Webster’s presence in this environment. Members of the STEMM working group, this is for you. Engineering is the most important abbreviation of the five. Webster would be a bigger and better school with a bona fide engineering program.

According to a March 2012 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, engineering is the second-most in-demand college degree. The U.S. Department of Labor expects the job market for engineers to grow 11 percent by 2018. Offering a degree in engineering would attract more students, and it’s no secret the university is aiming to raise enrollment. Now, if you’re still with me, let me fantasize even further. With the inclusion of an engineering program, Webster would have what it takes to enter the Formula SAE competition. Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) is a design competition for students. Teams from colleges all around the world design, build and eventually race their own cars. It’s essentially a miniature Formula One. As a car lover, this is something plenty of other students and I would gladly participate in. From a university standpoint, this would be a great way to bring students together from a number of backgrounds and departments.

First and foremost, the theoretical engineers. Engineers would be the key members to the team. Their priorities would be to design the engine, suspension and aerodynamic components, build the vehicle and tune it up to ensure everything runs right. Engineering students would be getting real-world experience, well beyond what they could learn from computer simulations. Now, no car is going to race without a slick, aerodynamic, and heavily graphic body design. That’s where the art department comes into play. Let art students design different ideas for the body shape, color scheme, as well as the graphics to represent Webster and various sponsors. The engineers can test the design for aerodynamics, and the art students can then put “race car designer” on their portfolio.

Video, film and audio students, how exciting would it be to produce a documentary following the development of a race car? Imagine the reach your film would have if Webster were to actually win the competition. “RELENTLESS,” a flick that shows a year in the life of the reigning two-time champions, Oregon State, has more than 26,000 views on YouTube. Business students would definitely be of use to the team, since someone has to keep track of all finances. You never know when a public relations student may need to help out with a press release. The list goes on. How many activities at Webster — aside from Humans vs. Zombies — bring together a mix of students like this? The decision on whether Webster should have an engineering department may be years away. But when that decision is made, just remember that these opportunities exist. My message to future Webster race car drivers: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

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