UCLA Spotlight


Student Engineers

  • By Chris Sutton, Alex Nazarchuk
  • Published May 1, 2003 8:00 AM

Concrete canoes. Off-road vehicles. Steel bridges.

Several dozen students from UCLA’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science are crisscrossing the country this spring, putting their designs to the test in a variety of engineering competitions.

Students in these annual contests, which are sponsored by professional societies and companies from the engineering industry, are challenged to go beyond textbook theory to design, build and test real vehicles and structures.

Taking on such tasks requires a major commitment of time and energy. Students on the concrete canoe team, members of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), not only designed and built their canoe, but they physically trained together to prepare for a competition that involved not only design but an actual canoe race. For 10 months they exercised at a gym and, every weekend, met at a seaside dock to practice paddling.

The canoe team competed with students from schools in four western states April 3-5 at the Pacific Southwest Regional Conference at Arizona State University.

“The time commitment was worth it,” says Alex Nazarchuk, civil engineering student and project leader. “The team placed third in regional competition, and I gained firsthand engineering experience.”

For young engineers eager to make an impression on corporate sponsors and recruiters, the competition is intense and the rewards tangible.

“I’ve gained research opportunities and internships every summer since I became involved,” says Greg Glenn, a senior mechanical engineering student and president of UCLA’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Last summer, Glenn interned at Race Technologies and this summer he plans to work at General Motors.

In May, Glenn and fellow SAE members will travel to Brigham Young University, where teams from more than 100 colleges will meet for the Mini-Baja regional competition. Each team wrestled with the same challenge: Using a 10-horsepower Briggs & Stratton Intek Model 20 engine, spend one year designing an off-road vehicle that can tame Utah’s rugged terrain.

Contestants are judged on car design, safety features, promotional plan and budget. The vehicles will face all-important road trials in maneuverability, acceleration, hill climbing and endurance.

A team led by Ali Monshizadeh, a senior civil engineering student and chair of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), also took part in the April competition in Arizona. Their task: Design a steel bridge to replace a century-old bridge spanning an environmentally sensitive river for a rural community whose economy depends on that bridge.

“Our bridge had to be 23-25 feet long,” says Monshizadeh. “The challenge was to build it in 3.5-foot-long pieces — and we couldn’t step into the river as we built it.”

Students often find that by working on a design project, they gain valuable skills that top recruiters are seeking — creativity, teamwork and communication skills, among others.

“In a nutshell,” says Monshizadeh, “it prepares you for future projects. You learn things you just can’t in class. You implement plans, raise money and do what it takes to push a project forward.”