At UBC, we have a lot of design teams to choose from. I think people often hear about the big competition teams – Formula, Rocket, AeroDesign, etc, but not as much about the teams that don’t go to competitions. My design team, Sustaingineering, is one of the non-competition teams. So, what’s it like being on a team that doesn’t build things for competitions? What do we do instead? Let me tell you!
On Sustaingineering, there are many different sub-teams that all have their own project. These projects involve real-world problems centered around sustainability. On my team, the Wind Turbine team, we are tasked with designing a small-scale and low-cost wind turbine for a community in Nicaragua. We have a stakeholder, who is our main point of contact between us at UBC and the community in Nicaragua.
These projects are fun, because they have their own unique challenges. When looking at designing a sustainable turbine, we aren’t just looking to make a super-efficient turbine made of new cutting-edge materials. A big aspect of sustainability involves working with the community, and making a product that is mindful of their practices and knowledge. Sure, we could use super sustainable materials that we ship to Nicaragua from Canada. But what if it breaks? Just ship more? That’s not very sustainable. Instead, we want to look at materials we can source from the area, ones that locals are familiar with and can repair themselves. In the community we’re working with, they often use bamboo to build different structures, including houses. Bamboo itself is an environmentally sustainable material, so incorporating it into our turbine is a good option.
What are some of the benefits of a non-competition team?
On a non-competition team, we get to make our own deadlines, and therefore avoid the stress and pressure associated with competition dates. We can plan for less work occurring during exam season, so members don’t get overly stressed. This lack of hard deadlines also allows the team to be a bit more flexible, and explore other options. Say we start working on one design, but a member comes up with a different design that might work better. If we had a hard deadline, switching designs after starting with one might not be possible.
What are some of the drawbacks?
In this case, the benefits can also be drawbacks. With no set dates to finish a project, some non-competition teams face slow progress, and “analysis paralysis.” This is when you get stuck analyzing one or multiple designs, trying to optimize them as much as possible. My sub-team faced this during a semester, and solved it by getting in the workshop and starting to prototype whatever design we had. On non-competition teams, it’s really up to leaders within the team to motivate and drive them forward to produce results.
Overall, I am very happy with my experience on the design team. As someone who is interested in sustainability, it was great to gain experience solving real-world problems. Beyond that, I made many friends and connections, as we all bonded over our common passion for sustainability.