USF student engineering societies are back in workshops and racing to compete

By Annabella Keim

USFSP Student Reporter

TAMPA – After a year and a half shut down, societies of student engineers at the University of South Florida are finally back and working on several new and innovative automotive and aerospace projects.

Reece Ulmer, a senior at USF Tampa, is the Society of Automotive Engineers’ lead designer for the base frame, otherwise known as the chassis. Their 2021-2022 car body has already been manufactured and will have a four-cylinder engine compared to their previous
build’s single cylinder.

Students are now preparing the suspension, and Ulmer estimated the entire vehicle will be complete within a couple of month’s time, ready for participation in
Formula SAE competitions across North America.

“If you refine your designs and you talk to a lot of people on the team, you can bounce ideas off of each other,” Ulmer said. “It’s pretty much all student taught, it’s just the application of knowledge.”

The Society of Automotive Engineers does quite a bit of in-house production at its workshop on campus. In order to efficiently create a vehicle from scratch, the team created different subsystems within the group that focus on a specific aspect of the car: chassis, suspension, breaks, powertrain, drivetrain, ergonomics, composites and aerodynamics. Each subsystem has its own team of students dedicated to designing, testing and manufacturing the creation.

“Once that geometry is set, everything is pretty much ready to get bolted on and attached. And then, it’s just about refining the work that we’ve already done and finding ways to improve it the best we can after that,” Ulmer said.

The small, formula-style racing cars are taken to the Formula SAE annual competition where the project will compete against 120, and indirectly against more than 500 other student-created vehicles. This year’s competition is in Michigan.

Due to the pandemic, all manufacturing stopped because students were not able to be in the shop. All of the activities had to move over to the group’s Discord server, which only allowed for designing and deliberations. Trying to stay motivated, Ulmer said, was the most challenging part of meeting virtually.

The student-led Society of Automotive Engineers, in collaboration with the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry, hosted a racing and rocketry showcase at the USF Tampa campus on Sept. 2.

This event gave students the opportunity to see and catch up on the progress of each society’s innovative engineering projects. In the past, the Society of Automotive Engineers has placed sixth place overall at the Formula SAE Lincoln and placed favorably in other categories like endurance and fuel efficiency. The Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry has also participated in several different NASA student competitions.

Alumni from each society are often sought out by engineering giants such as SpaceX and General Motors. Companies like Optimum G, Continental, Stewart-Haas Racing and Raytheon Space all have hired USF SAE alumni in the past. SpaceX even filters their applicants based on their involvement with SAE.

No matter your major, all students are welcome at the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry. Interested students are also welcome to come to the Society of Automotive Engineers workshop located at the USF Tampa campus engineering research building to see some welding and learn more about cars.

To learn more about aerospace engineering, come to the Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry’s payload meetings for the NASA Student Launch every Tuesday and Wednesday at 5 PM in the ENR building at USF Tampa. For more information join the SOAR Slack page at

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