CLARK: Developing engineering clubs

Yale University — one of the world’s premier institutions of higher education. Many a respected economist, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur and powerful politician got their professional start in New Haven. It’s almost assumed that a large portion of incoming students will study economics, political science, language or even medicine. And there’s nothing wrong with that. All those majors have a well-deserved place in Yale’s curriculum and in society.

But what about the engineering students? Yale is a high-profile institution that produces high-profile individuals. Why are almost none of them engineers? Shouldn’t all majors be equally successful from a place like Yale? Why are the most successful engineers borne of schools like Stanford, CalTech, MIT and Purdue? Yale is on par or better than any of those schools in most other disciplines. This just doesn’t seem right.

Fortunately, Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science began asking those questions about a decade ago. With the help of the Yale administration, money was pumped in to beef up the engineering program and increase interest in STEM fields. Yale SEAS now has fantastic new facilities like the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design and the Malone Center, plus more funding for projects and new equipment than ever before.

However, new buildings and funding won’t enhance Yale’s engineering pedigree alone. Even with the best facilities in the world, engineers will still want cool projects to work on once they get to school. They will want a community of like-minded tinkerers and builders with whom to collaborate and learn. Yale has provided world-class facilities and funding for students to start their own projects, so it’s up to the students to elevate Yale Engineering to the level of Stanford and MIT.

A few big student-engineering groups like Engineers without Borders, Bulldogs Racing and Aerospace can draw about 20 committed members each, but considering that Yale graduates approximately 60 engineers each year, there is significant room for improvement. More engineers should get involved in engineering groups.

This year, I — along with a few of my friends — founded the Yale Undergraduate Rover Association (YURA) to compete in the University Rover Challenge in Hanksville, Utah. After reading an article about the competition, I decided I wanted to build a Mars Rover and reached out to some people I knew on campus. Over the past 10 months we’ve founded an organization, made a plan, contracted a few sponsors and now we’re assembling a rover to take with us to Utah. It’s been incredibly fun and, in my mind, provided another 20 Yale students the opportunity to explore a cutting-edge field. Additionally, with Bulldog Days approaching, we are hoping to recruit new members for next year, and more importantly, new students for Yale. Nothing sells to an engineer like a big, shiny robot and a place to work on it.

I’m not suggesting that every Yale Engineer go out and start his own club — that would be more than slightly irresponsible. I am, however, stressing the importance of participating in engineering extracurricular programs. Go to the CEID, register and become a member — and check out some projects. If you see something you like, ask how you can get involved. If nothing catches your eye, then either grab a pair of glasses or round up some friends and start something yourself.

Yale SEAS made a bold decision when they decided to elevate their engineering program to the next level. But it’s not an easy task to infiltrate the old boys club of MIT, Caltech and the like. So, please do your part as an engineering student and help Yale help you. After all, if people believe in Yale Engineering, they’ll think the same about Yale Engineers too.

Brian Clark is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at brian.clark@yale.edu .

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