Comments from alumni on their Student Group Experiences

I miss my days at UCLA! I enjoyed my classes, but the student projects gave me invaluable hands-on experience. They really helped me apply technical theory and develop my design intuition. When it came time to look for a job, companies were happy to see that I could take something from concept to prototype, through testing, and build something tangible that really worked.

Bryan Posner, ’02 ME, President and BattleBot Project Lead, ASME
Product Designer, Apple

My participation in Bruin Racing Baja SAE [UCLA Racing, at the time] was a critical piece of my learning at UCLA. Taking a leadership role in delivering a large, complex race car on time and under budget for the SAE Baja Race Series taught me key hard and soft skills that I couldn’t have picked up in the classroom. The systems engineering, failure analysis, and manufacturing engineering elements were especially important in my interviews for my current position as a Product Engineer at SunPower – so yes, Baja SAE definitely got me a job!

Sam Neff, ’14 ME, Head Machinist, SAE Baja Project
Product Engineer, SunPower Corporation

My time with Bruin Racing provided invaluable practical experiences that complemented my course work. The organization allowed me to hone my teamwork, leadership, and technical abilities and land my current job as a manufacturing engineer at SpaceX. More importantly, I met my closest friends through the organization – friends with similar passion and goals.

Anonymous, ’15 ME, MS ’17 ME, SAE Baja Project

While learning engineering fundamentals in class is important, the application of what you learned is part of mastery. Teaching new students something you’ve learned previously further develops ones understanding making sure that it will stay with you throughout your career and life.

I wouldn’t say that SAE SuperMileage Vehicle helped with my course work directly but anytime I approached a problem in SAE SMV that hadn’t been taught in class, I would see if there was a course on the topic or go study it myself. Knowing senior students that had taken a course already that I was struggling with also proved helpful when I had questions about a topic that I didn’t understand.

Graduating into the financial crisis made it so that having a degree was not enough to standout among many qualified job applicants. Discussing SAE in my job interviews helped demonstrate skills beyond the classroom which helped me get my first job with Raytheon as a mechanical design engineer.

I have used many of the SAE activities and experiences in my career. The best example I can think of is how SAE SMV prioritize improvements. Being students and part of the project team made it so that we had little time and were forced to prioritize. We could consider a resource heavy project with little benefit against a resource light project with modest improvements. All projects were summarized with an estimated workload and budget vs projected fuel economy improvements. As a team, we reviewed each and then picked what would be best to work on. I have repeated this process many times in my career and it has helped me get promoted more than once.

These projects are a fantastic way to make friends that you’ll stay in contact with through your life. I had many people in my classes that I don’t remember and wouldn’t be able to reach out to for advice, but the project teams bond through overcoming obstacles and stay in contact. They remain great resources and friends to this day.

Brett Rosenthal, ’09 ME, Project Manager, SAE SuperMileage Project
Chief Technology Officer, Precision Surfacing Solutions

My involvement with AIAA certainly helped me land my first job after graduating! I brought to my interview a screenshot printout of the CAD work for the Design Build Fly project that I worked on and I believe that set me apart from other candidates in the interviewers’ minds. They had a concrete piece of evidence of my engineering and design skills which were directly transferable to the job I applied for.

Cathy Leong Fong, ’05 AE, President and UAV Project Manager, AIAA
Mechanical Design Engineer, Space Systems/Loral

Being a member of a student group gave me an opportunity to apply the engineering fundamentals learned in the classroom. The projects helped me better understand the uses for each of the classes we were going through. The organizations also help us work in groups, something that we didn’t get much in the classroom. All of these things definitely helped me get a job, where we work in teams and apply our engineering skills every day.

Matthew Kurihara, ’14 ME, Recruitment Chair, ASME
Senior Mechanical Design Engineer, Tesla

I can say without reservation that my time with the Society of Automotive Engineers was the most impactful part of my education at UCLA. That’s not to say that my coursework wasn’t valuable (well, maybe I’m saying that a little bit) but the Baja project with SAE was the only engineering work that I did that had actual consequences, required cross-disciplinary coordination and collaboration, and put me in a setting that truly prepared me for real-world business situations.

On the subject of consequences, it seems kind of crazy that a bunch of college kids were responsible for designing a roll cage that would act as the primary safety system for a vehicle capable of traveling at reasonably high speed off road. But the program’s emphasis on safety meant that we were keenly aware of the risks and that guided our engineering decisions such that we always erred on the side of safety when we were looking at ways to optimize our design.

In terms of collaboration, the Baja project was one of the first opportunities that I can recall where strong leadership could mean an actual improvement in outcomes. What I mean is that when you have a group of students who are all just volunteers, it becomes critically important to demonstrate commitment and competency as a leader so that the project can actually succeed. This was an early opportunity to figure out how to motivate others to do the work that needed to be done even when the incentives to do it weren’t entirely clear.

Finally, as a kind of prototype business, my time with SAE helped me see the many facets of running a successful organization. From the actual technical work, to the operational aspects of coordinating purchasing, material, and labor, and everything in between, no other work at UCLA helped me understand the complexity of building actual things and the value of clear, concise communication. I recall a specific example where we had just transitioned from a “soft money” approach to funding the projects to requiring every project to have budgets and of course we were over budget. We had to ask for more money from the department and I wrote a letter explaining how we intended to spend the additional funds and why that funding was required to make the project successful. Needless to say, there’s no engineering coursework that prepares you to write something like that and yet that’s the kind of email that gets written all the time in a business context.

Alex Serriere, ’07 EE, President, SAE
Principal, Executive Vice President, TEECOM

I was president of the rocket team in 2010-2011 (and member the two prior years as well), and I would say the project was hugely beneficial to, and directly responsible for me in getting a job in the launch vehicle industry. The work we did on that project allowed us to apply the fundamentals we learned in the class room to something practical that we were super passionate about. This in turn allowed us to explore new problems and challenges and that learning experience was a big part of what was able to set me apart from other otherwise similar job applicants. The club also helped me keep my interest and participation in my course work high as well as I was able to quickly jump out of more fundamental and theoretical knowledge and apply it to something practical and physical, which I think is something many, if not most, engineering personalities need to thrive.

Separately, as a hiring manager today, I personally will very rarely will look at a new graduate candidate who does not have some sort of project or practical experience on their resume (whether a university related club or outside internship). And then during the interview phase, those who were leaders or who dove deeply and can speak to not only their accomplishments but more importantly their failures and short comings and what was learned and applied, over someone who simply participated.

Kurt Zimmerman, ’11 AE, Rocket Project Lead, AIAA
Test Engineering Manager, SpaceX

My time in Baja SAE was an integral part of my undergraduate education at UCLA. While my coursework helped me to develop a strong theoretical understanding of mechanical engineering subject materials, it was lacking in hands-on design work (at least during my time there). Being a part of the Baja SAE student project team gave me an avenue to apply what I had learned in my courses and develop a real intuitive understanding of what it meant to engineer something. After the first time designing something in CAD that’s impossible to machine or making a part that catastrophically failed the first time it was used because it was severely under designed, you quickly gain an appreciation for the rigor of the coursework. But being an engineer isn’t just knowing how to make something, it’s knowing how and why something can’t be made a certain way, and that only comes from hands-on experience. My project team experience directly led to multiple job offers coming out of undergrad. I believe that’s because I had an advantage over engineers from other schools; UCLA’s curriculum was theoretically rigorous, and with my project team experience, I had both the theory and hands-on expertise that most engineers didn’t. Being a part of a student project team didn’t necessarily help me with my coursework (if anything it took time away from it), but it was a crucial part of becoming a well-rounded engineer. I undoubtedly wouldn’t be where I am today without my involvement in Baja SAE.

Lucas Meza, ’11 ME, Drivetrain Lead, SAE Baja Project
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Cambridge

My time with Society of Automotive Engineers was very formative in my time at UCLA. Firstly, it gave me hands on experience to what I was learning in the classroom. Secondly, it deepened my relationships with classmates and expanded my professional network. Thirdly, it led to two paid summer internships which then set me apart for full time job offers after graduation. I highly recommend getting involved in an organization like SAE.

Yuri Nosenko, ’06 ME, President, SAE
Software Consultant