Penn College prepares to host international competition

Published 04.19.2024

Baja SAE
Baja SAE Competition
Diesel Truck, Heavy Equipment & Power Generation
Pennsylvania College of Technology students and faculty place timber mats to serve as a bridge over a crossing for the Baja SAE Williamsport endurance course. The rugged 1.1-mile course will test the limits of the single-seat, all-terrain cars that teams have spent months building for the competition.

A collective effort incorporating the talents of Pennsylvania College of Technology students, staff and faculty, as well as expertise and services from regional companies, is preparing the school to host Baja SAE Williamsport, May 16-19.

The renowned international competition will feature 108 collegiate teams and approximately 1,000 participants, representing 34 states, Brazil and Canada. The students have spent months designing, manufacturing and building a single-seat, all-terrain car. Following two days of technical inspections and presentations, Baja SAE requires teams to test all aspects of their handiwork in a series of events: acceleration, hill climb, maneuverability, suspension and traction, and a four-hour endurance race.

Those events – open to the public – will be conducted May 18-19 at the college’s Heavy Construction Equipment Operations Site in Brady Township, about 20 minutes south of the school’s main campus. A 125-acre training “lab” for Penn College heavy construction equipment technology students, the location has been modified in recent weeks for the competition.

In March, Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. spearheaded the effort to excavate 14,000 tons of shale and disperse the rocks on top of three dirt fields, covering 7.42 acres, that will serve as parking areas for teams and spectators. The company donated labor and equipment as part of its sponsorship of Baja SAE Williamsport. Blaise Alexander Family Dealerships and the Wayne Township Landfill each donated a haul truck and provided operators throughout the weeklong initiative.

Metzler Forest Products, another corporate partner offering in-kind support, has spent several days at the site, clearing trees and brush for the competition’s rugged 1.1-mile endurance course. The company has ground logs into mountains of mulch for scattering throughout the complex. It has also supplied timber mats that will serve as bridges for the endurance race.

About 97 tons of double-ground wood mulch, donated by Lycoming County Resource Management Services, has been used by KW Enterprises LLC to fill about 3,600 feet of silt socks placed throughout the site to guard against soil erosion and protect wetlands. The company has donated its labor.

“Corporate support for Baja SAE Williamsport has been crucial,” explained Loni N. Kline, senior vice president for college relations. “We are very grateful. The event is a massive undertaking, and our corporate partners have really stepped up in a variety of ways to help us prepare for this competition. We could not do this without them.”

That sentiment also applies to a group of dedicated Penn College students. Three independent study students, under the direction of Andrew P. Keister, laboratory assistant for diesel equipment technology, and a dozen members of the Service Technicians & Operators’ Association, led by Seth J. Welshans, diesel equipment technology faculty, have been daily fixtures at the site.

Their work has encompassed flattening shale in the parking areas, forming the hill climb course, constructing jumps, bridges and banked turns for the endurance track, and applying stone to a portion of the complex’s main road. They’ve also installed pipes to aid drainage.

Seth J. Welshans, diesel equipment technology faculty at Pennsylvania College of Technology, works on constructing one of two banked turns for the Baja SAE Williamsport endurance course at the college’s Heavy Construction Equipment Operations Site in Brady Township. The May 16-19 competition will feature over 100 schools and about 1,000 participants.

“Every aspect of the project has been a great learning experience for the students,” Welshans said. “Any time in the seat is helping the students hone their operation skills and their ability to see grade.”

Their experience extends beyond operating a range of heavy equipment. The students have dealt with real-world situations involving deadlines, permits, weather and blueprints.

“Being able to take the customer’s vision and make it a reality is a skill that they are learning,” Welshans said.

The vision they’re implementing belongs to John G. Upcraft, instructor of manufacturing and machining and adviser to Penn College’s Baja SAE club. Upcraft, with assistance from SAE International consultants, designed the course for the endurance race, considered the competition’s main event.

“The students have done a tremendous job making this course come to life,” Upcraft said. “They’ve been working under tight deadlines, and the weather hasn’t always cooperated. Despite this, they have persevered. Because of the students’ efforts, we’re going to have a challenging course – incorporating jumps, obstacles, changing elevations and tight turns – that will appeal to all competitors.”

Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies, echoed Upcraft’s praise. “I couldn’t be prouder of the students and faculty who have volunteered considerable time and effort in   transforming our training site into an outstanding location for Baja SAE,” said Webb, who teamed with Upcraft to spearhead the college’s effort to host the event.

Members of the Service Technicians & Operators’ Association assisting at the site are heavy construction equipment technology: technician emphasis students Barry D. Decker, Spring Mills; Arik W. Shildt, Altoona; Jake M. Spinosa, Wood-Ridge, New Jersey; Andrew J. Venema, Montoursville; and Johnny T. Wilhide, Slippery Rock. Heavy construction equipment technology: operator emphasis students are Ryan J. Dierssen, Thornwood, New York; Trevor M. Moser, Hawley; Matt R. Perna, Frenchtown, New Jersey; and Brayden P. Rothenberger, Pennsburg. Diesel technology students are TJ Buck, Warminster; and Makayla L. Selvek, Canandaigua, New York. Caleb J. Arsenich, Spring City, majoring in heavy construction equipment technology: Caterpillar equipment emphasis, has also helped.

Students contributing as part of their independent study are Grant A. Calhoun, Bethel Park; Cory D. Johnson, North Huntingdon; and Kelten B. Sweigart, Ashland, all majoring in heavy construction equipment technology: technician emphasis.

“I am extremely proud how members of the Penn College community, and our supporting partners, have embraced the complex opportunity to host Baja SAE,” said Michael J. Reed, president of Penn College. “The logistical and financial challenges are being met, thanks to the dedicated effort of many individuals and corporate partners. We are ready to deliver a world-class event. I’m heartened that 200 people have volunteered to work throughout the event, with over half being our Penn College employees. Our preparation is rewarding the faith that SAE International showed in choosing us to host this prestigious competition.”

SAE International is a global association of engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries. Baja SAE is one of four Collegiate Design Series programs supported by SAE’s charitable arm, the SAE Foundation.

“Baja SAE is a workforce development event that promotes career readiness for all who participate. Baja SAE Williamsport is the largest Baja event in 2024,” said Damon Andring, education specialist for SAE International. “Penn College has done an excellent job organizing this event. The college’s commitment to the student teams is evident in its preparation.”

The competition’s four dynamic car tests – acceleration, hill climb, maneuverability, and suspension and traction – will be held throughout the day on May 18. The endurance race will begin the following morning at 9:30. Since 2011, the Penn College team has posted 14 top-10 finishes in the endurance race, including wins in 2022 at Baja SAE Tennessee Tech and Baja SAE Rochester.

In addition to the companies previously mentioned, Penn College has secured the following event sponsors for Baja SAE Williamsport: Beavertown Block Co. Inc., Canteen, Centre Concrete, Country Store Brand Meats, Farrington Place, Feeser’s Food Distributors, H&K Nursery and Feed Store, Montour Beverage, National Fuel Gas Midstream Co. LLC, Pace-O-Matic Inc., Ralph S. Alberts Co. Inc., Seneca Resources Co. LLC and TC Energy Corp.

More information about Baja SAE Williamsport is available on the site. Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.