UM Chapter of Society of Automotive Engineers Off to a Great Start

Group has leadership team, goals in place to compete on national level

UM chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers members display their flag on campus. (Submitted photo)

Members of the UM chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers display their flag on campus. Submitted photo

Chartered in the fall of 2015, the Society of Automotive Engineers is a new student organization within the University of Mississippi School of Engineering that is looking to provide students with opportunities to gain skills and further their interests in the automotive industry.

The organization boasts more than 127,000 members and has student chapters across the country, according to its website. The society’s design competitions have hosted more than 4,500 students from 500 universities. Scholarships are also offered through the SAE Foundation to assist students pursuing degrees in engineering.

The Ole Miss chapter of SAE was the idea of J.D. Heffington, senior research and development engineer at the university’s National Center for Physical Acoustics. Heffington also serves as the organization’s faculty adviser and organized the initial meeting that garnered enough student interest to launch the group. The chapter quickly formed and elected officers in the spring 2016 semester.

The organization was created to continue enhancing the professional development of engineering students interested in the automotive world and to give them experience that is difficult to get solely in the classroom, said SAE President Kevin Ozbirn, an unclassified mechanical engineering major from Reinzi.

“We wanted to give students at Ole Miss an avenue to get hands-on experience with production processes and design techniques,” he said. “The student design competition is a production proposal, much like students would see on the job.”

Students who join can learn budgeting and logistics, gain confidence in their use of engineering concepts and learn what it’s like being part of a team, he said.

The SAE Baja collegiate design competition is a primary focus for students involved in SAE, said Turner Wharton, a senior mechanical engineering major from Clifton, Virginia, who serves as vice president.

A young visitor to campus tests a SAE project on display. (Submitted photo)

A young visitor to campus tests a SAE project on display. Submitted photo

“In this competition, teams of engineering students from all over the world are tasked with designing and building an off-road race buggy from the ground up, all while maintaining strict parameters set by SAE International,” he said. “The final product is evaluated for design merits and ultimately tested against other teams in a four-hour endurance race.”

Brandon Boyd, another senior mechanical engineering major from McComb who serves as the chapter secretary, said the group is working diligently toward the goal of participating the SAE Baja challenge.

“Because we were just formed as an organization last year, we were not able to compete in the year-end student design competition,” he said. “We are continuing to recruit new members, and our end goal is to compete in the Baja car competition in Pittsburg, Kansas, in May.”

As secretary, Boyd works to support the organization in areas including team registration, material invoices and promotion for the organization.

The student leaders of SAE are confident that the organization will provide invaluable experience that cannot be obtained from engineering coursework alone.

Both Wharton and Ozbirn hope to see the organization grow and gain the support and experience to compete in the SAE Formula competition, an event where student groups compete in a high-level race series with scaled-down Formula One cars powered by 600cc motorcycle engines. They hope to garner support from industry partners and other groups to help reach their goals.