Uncommonly equipped: Engineering Co-op students build confidence, cars, and skills overseas

Never underestimate our reach. Students find their place on high-performance race team in Germany.

Matthew Menzies - 22 October 2019

You're thousands of kilometres from home on an Engineering Co-op job placement in Germany, where you're helping to develop a high-performance race car. Naturally, everyone speaks German during team meetings. Except you.

It's tough-and you'll be here for eight months. Thankfully, engineering is a global language that you're becoming fluent in, and things get better, bit by bit.

You're invited to provide engineering support for the team during a week of racing in Italy. From early morning to late afternoon you're working on the fly, solving technical challenges until the car passes pre-race inspections.

This is the challenging scenario two Engineering at Alberta students took on earlier this year.

"It was one of the most stressful, exciting and rewarding weeks of my life," student Katherine Lee said of the week-long racing event.

Lee and Dhruvi Dave are mechanical engineering co-op students who took Engineering Co-op job placements with Bremergy, the University of Bremen's electric Formula Student racing team.

Dave's experience with U of A EcoCar, an Engineering at Alberta student group that designs, builds, and races hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, was a driving force behind her qualifications.

"I think my being in EcoCar helped a lot, because Formula Student is basically just a way more intense version of EcoCar," she said.

Lee and Dave's main focus was the design and construction of a new monocoque chassis for next year's competition car. Their work was complex, involving the layering of carbon fibre and aluminum honeycomb to create a single construction composed of both chassis and body, a design first realized in Formula 1.

Their work on the chassis brought Dave and Lee 100 kilometres away from Bremen to the high-tech Airbus facility in Stade, the home of the Eurofighter.

Outside of the labs and factories, during their week of racing in Italy, Lee and Dave put everything they've learned about engineering at Alberta into preparing the car for competition.

"A typical day at competition began as soon as the track opened," Lee said.

"The amount of dedication of every team member, the amount of hours they put in, and how dedicated they were to make sure that we finished, really stands out to me," said Dave.

The students saw an opportunity to gain experience as automotive engineers. Despite the challenges of building an electric race car from scratch with a new team and overcoming language barriers, Lee and Dave were relentless in their drive to succeed.

"Though exhausting," said Lee, "I would do it over, time and time again."