Booker T. Washington Senior High School sophomore Victor Fleary could not take his eyes off the sleek Formula One racecar built by students in the College of Engineering and Computing at FIU.
When he got a chance to slide into the cockpit and fiddle with the controls, he was even more impressed.
“I want to build stuff,’’ said Fleary, a student in the school’s engineering magnet program. “I love cars and I love computers. If I can find a way to combine the two I’ll be happy.’’
That was precisely the message Alejandro Diaz, a mechanical engineering student at FIU and president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) chapter, said he hoped students would take away from the display, a part of FIU’s launch of the Engineers on Wheels initiative.
“Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty,’’ Diaz told the students gathered around the car that cost $12,000 and took a team of students a year to build. “Follow your passion, whether that’s robotics or aerospace or racecars. Take what you learn in the classroom and apply it to real life. Make mistakes. It’s all about learning and having fun and finding your passion.”
Funded by a gift from the Chrysler Foundation and launched in conjunction with The Education Effect, FIU’s university community school partnership at Booker T., Engineers on Wheels will visit South Florida schools to provide students with hands-on activities and engineering experiments, as well as expose them to career opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
The project will be led by students from the College of Engineering and overseen by FIU faculty. It builds upon the success of the college’s annual Engineering Expo, which brings more than 1,400 K-12 students from Miami-Dade and Broward county schools to FIU to learn firsthand about career opportunities in STEM.
“Engineers on Wheels gives us the opportunity to take our lab experiments and instruments to the schools and impact a larger audience,’’ said Dean Amir Mirmiran of the College of Engineering and Computing.
“It is also a learning opportunity for our undergraduate engineering students on how to communicate their passion to (students) in the pipeline.’’
Donnie Hale, director of The Education Effect at Booker T., told students they are the “next generation of great minds in engineering.’’
“You are the future leaders who will change the world,” he said. “What do you want to create? Because whatever it is, I’m here to tell you, ‘Yes, you can.’”
Beyond taking engineering dual enrollment courses at Booker T. and gaining hands-on experience through Engineers on Wheels, students can also benefit from FIU’s close relationship with the Chrysler Group, said Georgette Borrego Dulworth, director of talent acquisition and diversity at the company.
“We make cars and we need lots and lots of engineers to do that,’’ she said. “We have a great relationship with FIU. It’s one of the top schools we recruit from.’’
FIU alumna Maria Quintero was recruited by Chrysler her senior year. She is now employed by Chrysler’s Institute of Engineering program while pursuing her master’s in engineering at the University of Michigan.
“I’m truly living my dream at Chrysler,’’ said Quintero. “That could be you. I’m so proud of my alma mater for bringing this project to Booker T.’’
Irma Becerra-Fernandez, vice president for engagement at FIU, said together with The Education Effect, Engineers on Wheels will “show students the path” to a possible career in engineering.
“Engineers are the problem solvers of our world,’’ she said. “If you want to be a problem solver – an innovator, designer or builder – then engineering may be the choice for you. At FIU, we are here to encourage you and support you on this path.’’
By Amy Ellis