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Racecar built by Texas A&M at Qatar students teaches more than just engineering

Published Jun 17, 2020

Senior engineering students at Texas A&M University at Qatar who spent the better part of two semesters designing, building and testing a car were disappointed they didn’t get to race in this year’s Shell Eco-Marathon in Malaysia but have accepted this disappointment with the grace and maturity that characterizes graduates of the university.

The Shell Eco-Marathon Asia is an annual competition for teams in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions. More than 100 teams from all over Asia and the Middle East test their self-built, energy-efficient cars in the Shell Eco-marathon Mileage Challenge to see which team can travel the farthest using the least amount of energy.

The students — Syeda Manahil Akhter, Mubarak Al-Sowaidi, Ayan Zia, Anurag Srivastava, Faisal Al-Hababi, Mohammad Qureshi, Hassan Haider, Youssef Mortada, Sami Auji, Abdullah Yousuf and Omad Khodr — are all mechanical engineering majors who graduated in May and were working on the car as part of their senior capstone design project. They had to abandon finishing building their car in early March when Texas A&M at Qatar (and much of the world) closed its physical doors due to the COVID-19 virus. But instead of giving up in frustration, the students continued to collaborate virtually to finish their project and turn in their final report.

The project gave the students a chance to work on a project together much like they would expect to find in the workplace, team manager Akhter said. “We started with the computer design during the fall semester,” Akhter said. “We had meetings to discuss ideas and solutions, and then we started ordering and fabricating parts to build the car. We’re still trying to find ways to perfect the design. It’s disappointing, especially not being able to compete in the race, but we’ll pass the torch to next year’s team.” 

A major challenge was simply logistics: the scope of the project was so huge and so many parts needed to be ordered or fabricated since the team had trouble sourcing what they needed from local vendors. This meant the students needed to have their design — on paper — completed early enough to get the parts together.

Zia said working together on the project was not a problem since most of the team members knew each other so well from study abroad and projects they’d worked together during their time together at Texas A&M at Qatar. “The whole team just came together,” Zia said. “We broke up into smaller subsystems and sub teams, and each did their jobs. Every engineer needs to have hands-on experience because it makes you think in a different way.”

Auji said that breaking into sub teams to focus on smaller, individual parts of the work was a good idea considering there was such a big team. “This project was such a different experience from other projects we’ve done that were mostly theoretical,” Auji said. “It gave us experience working in a big group and on subsystems. It was very beneficial and will help us when we go into industry.”

With their eye on graduating and joining the workforce, the students said they made the most of their time on the project by developing and polishing the skills they’ll need to succeed in the workplace. Among the skills students learned in the course of their capstone project were teamwork and communication — both with each other and with experts and working professionals — along with time management, project management, leadership and how to handle stress.

For Srivastava, the chance to design and build his own race car was something he’d waited three years for, since before he started his university education. “I’ve wanted to be on this team since I entered university because I thought it was a really cool opportunity to design a vehicle for the future. If you think you’re a good student with good grades, then I challenge you to take on this project. It tested our patience. We had to integrate everything we’ve learned in university. You will find out how good you really are.”

For Al-Sowaidi, the project was the finishing touch on his academic career, which he resumed after working in industry for a time. “This group works in harmony in a way I hadn’t seen in the workforce. There are obstacles in every project but the way we tackled issues makes me proud to be part of this team. When we graduate, I know my team members will not just do good, they will do great.”

 Al-Sowaidi continued, “The transformation of Qatar is continuous, particularly under these circumstances. I quote the His Highness the Father Emir’s speech when he said that today’s people are people of resolve and fortitude, the ones that comprehend spirit of time. Qatar deserves only the best.”