Although Hunter Horan graduated from UNC Asheville in May, he had one more project to complete — leading a team of fellow students as the project finance manager at the Formula SAE Electric division collegiate competition.
The team, which was primarily composed of 10 graduating seniors, traveled to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., June 14-17 to compete with 67 other teams from the U.S., Canada, Brazil and Singapore. It was UNCA’s first time competiting.
The team placed 48, but Horan says the experience was enriching. “The most rewarding part of the whole project has been watching the personal, professional and educational growth the whole team underwent throughout the year,” he tells Xpress. “We have all watched each other take on and overcome one of the largest and most challenging projects of our lives.”
Next year, Horan will begin his master’s degree in electrical engineering at NCSU, with a focus on robotics and controls.
This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
Xpress: How did you get interested in engineering?
Horan: When I graduated from Asheville High School in 2013, I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue — so I joined the workforce. [I worked] at BorgWarner for two years and got the chance to help set up a new, state-of-the-art automated assembly line. This opened my eyes to the value of automation and advanced manufacturing technology. A few years later I ended up building compact high-voltage power supplies for two electrical engineers at Duke Pro Inc. They both sparked my interest in truly understanding what was going on with the circuits I was building. The mechatronics program [in college] ended up being a perfect fit to satisfy my interest in automation, manufacturing and electronics.
What were you most excited about at the competition? What were you most nervous about?
The competition was full of unknowns since no one on the team had attended before — this was both exciting and nerve-wracking. When we arrived at the competition, it was nonstop action — talking with other teams, networking with employers and making last-minute changes to the car. Although we didn’t pass the electrical-technical inspection, we made a great appearance and impressed a lot of the judges. Many people applauded us for getting our car running in a single year. Several of the teams in attendance who had been working for two or three years had not accomplished that.
We were hoping to do better, [but] it was not a completely unexpected result. We knew from the beginning that we were fighting way above our weight class. Most of the teams had been building their Formula SAE program for years, if not decades. Not to mention, a lot of the teams were working with teams 10 times the size of ours and with 10 times the budget. So, I am very proud of our team and all the effort we put in.
Tell us about some challenges you encountered while building the car.
The largest challenge our team faced coming into this project was simply how much we didn’t know about what we were getting ourselves into. The majority of our team had little to no experience working on cars, let alone designing and building one from the ground up. Not only did we have to design and build a functioning car, we had to do so in a way that complied with every single rule in the 139-page Formula SAE rulebook. This inevitably led to several major redesigns and a very rigorous attention to detail during production.
Another one of the challenges we faced was the tight timeline we had to complete the project. Most Formula SAE teams are what are known as”legacy teams.” This means that their school has had an established team that passes down knowledge, money, documentation and a working car for testing. Many of the legacy teams operate on a two-year build-and-compete cycle. Our team came into the project with none of the advantages of a legacy team — and still made it to competition in a single year.
What would you say has been most rewarding?
Along the way, we each faced countless problems and hardships. Watching the whole team bond together to support each member and come up with solutions to those problems has been a truly unforgettable experience. Watching everyone’s face light up with excitement when the car finally drove for the first time was well worth the stress.