November 30, 2007

From Under the Hood

James Parsekian ’08 shares his experiences on Lafayette’s Formula SAE team

James Parsekian ’08 (Basking Ridge, NJ) is a mechanical engineering major and captain of Leopard Racing, the College’s Formula SAE team. The team is comprised of senior mechanical engineering majors working on their capstone design project – a small, four-wheeled open-roadster. The following is Parsekian’s experiences on the team.

Leopard Racing, Lafayette’s Formula SAE team, currently includes mechanical engineers from the sophomore, junior, and senior classes. The team operates primarily as a senior design project, though members from all classes make significant contributions. The team was established to compete in the Formula SAE competitions held by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

The objective of the Formula SAE competition is to develop a formula-style race car, appropriate for weekend use by a non-professional racer, according to a set of design requirements set forth by SAE. At competition, the team and car are judged in static and dynamic events, including cost analysis, design, and sales presentations, in addition to acceleration and endurance racing.

Lafayette’s first entry in the competition was at Formula SAE West, held at California Speedway, Fontana, Calif., in the spring of 2006. The team performed phenomenally for a first-year team, placing 25th out of 48 entries. Leopard Racing will compete with its second entry at Formula SAE VIR, held at Virginia International Raceway, Alton, Va., in April of 2008.

With a new car in development since fall of 2006, the team has great aspirations for improvement over the past performance. Comparative goals include significant weight reduction, improved driver ergonomics, better handling, and more progressive steering. To achieve these goals, team members are learning 3-D modeling techniques, CNC milling machine operation, precision welding, part procurement, and electronic systems implementation.

After graduation I plan to enter the workforce. I am currently investigating a variety of positions, but the majority of them include opportunities for project management. Leading the Formula SAE team has offered me a management role I would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

As the culmination of four years of an engineering education, the project exposes the skills that each team member has gained from countless hours of dedicated work and study. Managing such energetic talent is a challenge unlike any I’ve faced before. The flow of ideas and collaboration is virtually endless and keeping pace with every team member is a daunting task.

While I have been interested in all things mechanical for as long as I can remember, my interest in the engineering behind machines came with my interest in cars early in high school. I first read about Formula SAE shortly before I began my college search in one of the automotive magazines I subscribed to. When I visited Lafayette as a prospective student and saw the first car in progress I was eager to someday work with the team.

Luckily, the founding team members were very welcoming and I began participating early in my first year. Since then I have seen many successes and failures, which I hope will allow me to guide our team through a rewarding development phase to an impressive performance at competition.

Parsekian served two internships during the summers of 2006 and 2007 at Army Research, Development and Engineering Center in New Jersey and an externship at Vermont Electrical Power Company in the winter of 2006. He is head supervisor of the indoor climbing wall in Kirby Fitness Center, a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, American Society of Mechanical Engineer, Society of Automotive Engineers, and an Eagle Scout.

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