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Ian Eickholdt

Racing to engineering leadership

Baja race team president is CMU's first winner of statewide SAE honor

Contact: Gary H. Piatek


Mechanical engineering senior Ian Eickholdt has been chosen as the 2017 Rumbaugh Outstanding Student Leader by the Society of Automotive Engineers — the first Central Michigan University student to receive the award.

Eickholdt, from Rochester Hills, Michigan, is president of CMU's Baja racing team and has been an SAE member since his sophomore year.

"This is really a prestigious thing, to have a professional engineering society say that an engineer who came out of your program is this year's example of what a university and a department are doing right," said Ben Ritter, a faculty member of the School of Engineering and Technology.

Rough road

It's not an easy road for a student to balance classes, be an SAE leader and build off-road racing vehicles.

"It's a huge time commitment," Eickholdt said, adding that he would sometimes put in 30 hours a week working on the vehicles. "But I wanted to do something that was more hands-on in addition to coursework."

"We're meeting very high-level people, making those connections and networking." — CMU senior Ian Eickholdt

The students don't just do all the engineering, design and welding on the vehicles, they also perform cost analyses and put together a sales presentation where they propose a startup company that could build at least 4,000 of these vehicles a year.

"It's a lot more in-depth than just engineering," Eickholdt said. "It's like we're essentially starting a business."

The CMU Baja team has been growing in its success, more consistently placing in the top 10 against such schools as the University of Michigan and the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology — and beating them in some aspects of the competition, he said.

Beyond the race

But it's not just about the race, it's the grades — and where the combination can take a student.

SAE requires student members to have at least a 2.5 grade point average, soon to be increased to 2.75, Ritter said, adding that most students maintain at least a 3.0.

"If you want to work at a company like Ford, GM, Continental or BorgWarner, you have to have a 3.0 or they won't look at your résumé," Eickholdt said. "That's how competitive it is."

Eickholdt said his GPA is 3.46, and he has secured a job with Ford Motor Co.'s Powertrain Manufacturing Engineering Group.

While automakers want good students, they also want them to be well-rounded good thinkers, Ritter said.

GM and Ford executives are not just in their offices reviewing résumés, they are out recruiting at events like the formula car competitions at Michigan International Speedway or hosting engine plant meet and greets, Ritter and Eickholdt said.

"We're meeting very high-level people, making those connections and networking that the average student wouldn't have the opportunity to do," Eickholdt said.

Automakers' view

Daniel Nicholson, GM vice president of global propulsion systems, recognizes the value of being involved in SAE.

"Individuals who are engaged in SAE and who are interested in moving the industry forward through developing standards, teamwork, and collaboration are valuable to General Motors and the industry," Nicholson said.

Ford's Gary Johnson, vice president of manufacturing, North America, also supports SAE and Eickholdt in particular. Johnson had met Eickholdt during previous visits to CMU.

"The fact that Ian represented the entire team at CMU, and now has won the Rumbaugh award, makes it incredibly special that he will represent both CMU and Ford in the future. Our manufacturing team at Ford is proud of him."


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