Thirty-three incoming freshmen in Morgan State University's engineering program spent part of their summer getting an intensive introduction to their chosen field.
The effort paid off yesterday at Morgan's athletic field when the students, divided into four teams, raced solar-powered cars each team had built.
The summer project is part of the engineering enrichment program at Morgan, a historically black institution. The goal of the enrichment program is to help increase the number of women and minorities in the engineering profession, where they are grossly underrepresented nationally.
Dr. Adeboyejo Oni, an administrator at Morgan, said the program seeks to change the way engineering is taught so students will remain interested in it as a career.
"At most colleges, engineering majors do not actually deal with engineering itself until the fourth year," he said. "Unfortunately, that is usually too late. The dynamics and aesthetics of engineering must be infused at the very beginning."
Oni said that the summer before a student's freshman year is the ideal time to begin the learning process. And to further stimulate students, he initiated the solar car project this summer.
"The students are learning engineering practices from physically constructing the cars," Oni said. "And they are building the cars in a competitive spirit, just like the engineering industry is in the real world."
The solar car project appeared to achieve its goal.
"I was partially confident that my group could finish our car in five weeks," said Joseph Richardson, the winning team's group leader. "I knew that if we were provided with the necessary materials and information, and if we communicated and worked together, we would be successful in building it and even win the race."
The team, called Jam J. Sped, said the car's aerodynamic design and braking system were the keys to victory. "It also helped to lean toward the power generator when I went around the curves," said Antonio Payne, the driver.
Each team built their car's platform (wheels and steering system), installed the battery-powered engine and prepared the solar cell that allows solar energy to recharge the battery.
In addition to building cars, the students attended classes in calculus, English, physics, chemistry and computer science.
"This program is suppose to motivate us, and I feel that it has," said Tonya Perry, of Oxon Hill in Prince George's County. "Personally, the heavy workload helped me identify my weaknesses. This head start will definitely cut down on mistakes I may have made in the fall."
Morgan is a member of the Engineering Coalition of Schools for Excellence in Education and Leadership, a national program to improve the effectiveness of undergraduate engineering education.
The other members are the University of Maryland at College Park, Howard University, Pennsylvania State University, City College of New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Washington.
ECSEL seeks to attract more minorities and women to engineering in order to create a larger pool of professionals for the 21st century.