CU Solar Boat: gathering the skills and the experience needed to bring alternative energy into the mainstream and fuel a more sustainable future.

While the link between engineering and positive world change can often get lost in a flurry of detailed formulations and carefully crafted diagrams, nowhere is this connection clearer than in the landscape of project teams housed under Cornell’s College of Engineering. My experience with CU Solar Boat, for example, has been Project Team CU Solar Boatinstrumental in helping to strengthen this tie between our curriculum and our role in revolutionizing the future. We are an undergraduate project team working to design and construct a single-occupant, solar-powered vessel that will carry the Cornell spirit to the intercollegiate Solar Splash Competition. While our objective is speed, what we learn along the way is vastly more important — we are gathering the skills and the experience needed to bring alternative energy into the mainstream and fuel a more sustainable future. As the youngest and smallest project team on campus, CUSB is unique in that every member can remain incredibly involved in each aspect of the production process. Our team is composed of five engineering sub-teams — drivetrain and steering, hull, solar, system controls, and business — that each specialize in actualizing one facet of our boat’s design. More seasoned teammates serve as guides for younger members as they acquire technical expertise that surpasses what is learned in a lecture hall. From working with CAD software to soldering solar cells or machining anti-ventilation plates, the emphasis on hands-on discovery is an essential component of the project team advantage.

When I came on board the business sub-team this past fall, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. As both a student from outside of the College of Engineering and a student in a non-STEM field, I was uncertain about how my skillset would integrate with the larger team. However, I quickly came to realize that a Cornell project team is a space for students from a vast expanse of interests and backgrounds, ranging from computer science to industrial and labor relations and beyond.

Project Team CU Solar BoatAs I began to work on a series of smaller projects with my fellow business sub-team members, it became clear to me that I would have the opportunity to build my capabilities in a diverse group of key skills, including promotion, networking, and finance. One of my first projects as a new team member was to put together a campaign video for our crowdfunding launch back in November, which allowed me to both harness my own creativity and learn the inner workings of video production software. I have also gained crucial experience in establishing and maintaining meaningful relationships with our supporters, a goal that has been central to all of our fundraising efforts this past year. Further, I have been able to apply what I learned in courses like financial accounting and business management when helping to build our team’s budget and develop plans to manage our cash flows.

One highlight of my time with CUSB thus far was our success on Giving Day earlier this March. Over the span of a single day, our team was able to raise over $1,200 to help purchase materials for the boat’s construction and fund our trip to competition. It was wonderful to see such a positive response to the work we were doing within the business sub-team as well as a fondness within the larger Cornell community for the sustainability efforts of our whole team. This communal spirit is something I’ve tremendously enjoyed within our project team, specifically in the virtual context under which much of our work has taken place. Whether it’s doing our best at random trivia or playing lively games of Among Us after our general body meetings, this team is one that truly cares about its members as well as its mission.

Looking forward, I am eager to continue sharpening the skills I’ve acquired as a CUSB member and taking an even closer look at the marketing and financial operations of our team. I could not be more grateful for my CUSB experience thus far!

~Megan, Cornell University student

Note from Admissions: With over 1200 students participating in our 31 student led project teams, there is representation not only from within the College of Engineering but from across the university, from each of the colleges and schools.