Students rally to work on STEM projects despite COVID-19.

Engineering students are struggling to preserve out-of-classroom programs that many count on to find jobs. 

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs like Formula SAE, SAE Baja and the NFPA Fluid Vehicle Challenge Team, which provide engineering students with valuable experience, are continuing to work on their projects remotely with what they have available.

“COVID-19 hit us hard as it caused us to be forced off campus,” said NFPA Fluid Vehicle Challenge Team lead Sean Slouber. “Not only did we lose our access to machines and welders but also a resource larger than that. STEM program teams work very well together as far as design help, keeping each other sane and motivated.”

“With all of that said, we were able to complete the vehicle in a small 11-by-7-foot enclosed trailer off campus,” he said.

PNW is doing its best to provide these student organizations with the resources needed to continue their work from home.

“Working closely with Information Services, we established remote access to the lab computers so that the student organizations still had access to software resources only available on campus,” said technology administrator David McLees. 

The experience gained through these programs is indispensable in engineering students’  professional lives. Not being able to finish their work could have been detrimental to their future prospects.

“Being involved in Formula SAE for the past four years has definitely been the most valuable experience I have gained while attending Purdue Northwest,” said Formula SAE Vice President Dino Rinaldi. “It has allowed [me] to make industry connections from previous students that have graduated after being on the team. Employers specifically hire graduates who have participated in the Formula SAE competition.”

Recent graduates are only allowed to participate in these programs one year after their graduation. For some, this was a last chance to gain some experience. 

The shutdown has not impacted the ability for these student organizations to finish their projects. Since COVID-19 has forced hundreds of universities to suspend in-person classes, national STEM competitions are transitioning to an online format. Most organizations have already finished the major components. 

“Currently our team members are doing what we can off campus and at our homes,” said Rinaldi. “Our competition has moved to a virtual basis this year, which will focus exclusively on the static events of the competition. In order to perform our best in the virtual format of the competition, we are focusing our efforts on our design and business presentations.”