Extreme Engineering Challenge draws SHPE undergrads
�XEC is by far one of the best experiences I�ve had as a college student,� says
2008 winner Patrick Candelaria
By Dan Margherita
Undergrads are already looking forward to the 2009 SHPE (www.shpe.org) national conference scheduled for October in Washington, DC.
The Extreme Engineering Challenge (XEC) is causing a lot of the excitement. XEC is a competition that challenges undergrad engineering teams to design and build a complex technical system within a twenty-four hour period. The team must also create business and marketing plans.
XEC is the creation of SHPE members Sam Attaguile and Cesar Gonzalez. �We noticed that the SHPE conferences hadn�t changed much since we were students,� says Attaguile. �We wanted to give students a new reason for coming.�
The two have known each other since 1989 when they were high school buddies in El Paso, TX. After going their separate ways, they found themselves six years later both working and residing in Austin, TX. Attaguile is currently a ChE and lab manager for the Austin development site of 3M (St Paul, MN) and Gonzalez, a software engineer by training, is VP of development at CreditCards.com.
vie for team members
XEC was introduced in October 2005 at the SHPE regional conference in San Antonio, TX. �It got good reviews,� Attaguile states proudly. The event was taken to the national level at the January 2007 conference in Denver, CO and the November 2008 conference in Phoenix, AZ.
Only forty students registered for the first competition. Three years later 160 students signed up. �We have a six-foot poster of a goofy looking kid next to the registration area,� Attaguile says with a smile. �That gets their attention when they walk in the door.�
Corporate sponsors support and coach the competing teams. Most are members of the Industrial PartnerSHPE Council (IPC). IPC members fund a variety of projects strategically aimed at increasing the capability and number of Hispanics in the fields of engineering and science.
The 2008 corporate sponsors were BAE Systems (Rockville, MD), Chevron (San Ramon, CA), Dow Chemical (Midland, MI), Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, MI, sponsoring two teams), Intel (Santa Clara, CA), Raytheon (Waltham, MA) and the U.S. Navy (Washington, DC).
Of the 160 students that registered for the event only eighty were chosen to participate. Choices are made by the corporate sponsors. Sponsor representatives spend five minutes or less with each candidate to get a quick thumbnail of the candidate. �They ask quirky questions like how many manhole covers there are in Manhattan,� Attaguile says. �Whether the reply is three or a million, the interviewer learns something about the candidate.�
Teams are formed by an athletic-style draft. The ratio of students to sponsors assures that no sponsor gets all its number one choices.
Only after they�ve been placed on a team do students meet each other and learn about the project. The teams are composed of engineers from various disciplines. The challenge involves both business and engineering components. �The team has to develop its prototype, then sell its idea and develop a plan to market the solution,� Attaguile says.
At the 2008 conference students were charged with creating a water pump system for use in an underdeveloped Latin American country. Each team was given a basic materials kit and a twenty-dollar budget for supplemental supplies.
Each of the eight teams had ten members. Mechanical engineers represented the highest proportion of students who made the cut, followed by computer science and civil engineering students.
Participants assume roles based on skills
University of Arizona student Patrick Candelaria won a top engineer award at the 2008 XEC in Phoenix. His team�s sponsor was Raytheon.
Candelaria says the first challenge was to identify the strengths of each team member. �You enter the room not knowing anything about them or the project,� he says. �You have to find out how everyone can contribute.�
He notes that seeing the team gel was a unique experience. He was amazed that there were no arguments. �Everyone was a team player,� he says. �The Raytheon advisors were completely impressed.�
Candelaria�s main reason for attending the SHPE conference was to participate in XEC. He had missed the prior year�s conference and wasn�t about to miss this one.
Candelaria is an aerospace engineering senior who will graduate in May 2008. His XEC experience has led to many networking opportunities. �By far, it�s one of the best experiences I�ve had as a college student,� he says, �being drafted by an industry leader, being assessed, learning what you did well and what you could have done better.�
XEC opens doors
Corporate recruiters and coaches get a lot out of the event as well since it�s not a typical interview setting. Attaguile points out that they get to see how an elite group of students functions after a twenty-four hour work marathon. �They also get to observe how they work with, learn from and teach other students,� he says.
Some of the candidates have landed jobs as a direct result of their XEC participation. One student was hired at the Denver conference and two job offers have come out of the Phoenix event.
Awards are given to five top engineers and a top team. An �Extreme Engineer of the Year� is also named. The 2008 top team was sponsored by Intel. They designed a pumping station based on children�s playground equipment, using the children�s energy to power their mechanisms.
The �Extreme Engineer of the Year� award went to Richard Linares from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was part of the Intel team.
The nuts and bolts
Attaguile and Gonzalez have a budget for items such as materials, food/snacks, travel and scholarships. They do a dry run of the competition with local students before heading to the national conference. �This gives us a good understanding of the complexity of tasks we are having the students address,� Attaguile says.
Gonzalez and Attaguile are gearing up for the 2009 SHPE conference. They�re actively seeking corporate sponsors. �They�re an essential element of a successful competition,� Attaguile says.
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