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Cornell's 2014 Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Team car

Cornell's 2014 Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Team car, ARG14, in action during competition earlier this year in Michigan.

Engineering project teams exemplify alumni support

In 2014-15, more than 1,100 students of all levels joined 23 competitive teams offered by the College of Engineering, including the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team, the Cornell Mars Rover team, Engineering World Health and the Concrete Canoe team.

While large gifts from a few alumni boost the project teams' programs, a new source of support took effect in 2014: online crowdfunding campaigns.

"Crowdfunding definitely made a big difference this year," says professor Al George, longtime adviser to Cornell Racing, the project team that designs, builds and races a formula-style race car in international competitions. The $27,750 raised by 98 donors – alumni, parents, friends and racing fans – gives a boost to the teams' much-needed research and development efforts, George says.

Financial support in amounts large and small poured in to benefit four project teams in the 2014-15 school year through crowdfunding initiatives run on a platform similar to Kickstarter or Indiegogo. In addition to the successful Cornell Racing campaign, the Cornell Mars Rover project team, which designs a vehicle to compete in the University Rover Challenge, raised $12,806 for travel costs and innovation. Cornell iGen, which engineers solutions using synthetic biology, or "living machines," raised $6,400.

CUAir, a team that designs an unmanned aircraft system, raised $13,700 toward research and development costs. Cornell Engineering World Health, a biomedical-engineering oriented project team with the goal of designing novel technical solutions for improving health care in developing countries, raised $7,607 through its crowdfunding campaign.

"I'm excited for our team members to get hands-on experience and inspiration for future projects that will be targeted to very specific problems," says Brecken Blackburn '16, vice president of Engineering World Health of Cornell.

Project team alumni say the real-life design teamwork and hands-on experience they gained are instrumental in their professional work.

Rebecca Macdonald, the Swanson Director of Student Project Teams at Cornell, says the 1,100 student project team members in 2014-15 ranged from undergraduates to master's degree students and Ph.D. candidates, representing every college at Cornell. More than 200 were from colleges other than engineering.

– Kate Klein

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