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Race Team fuels student’s interest in combustion

May 16, 2017
Grant Dube York College
Grant Dube ('15)

For much of his life, Grant Dube '15 wasn’t really a car guy. Today, things are different.

“I just rebuilt the engine on my Subaru,” Grant said recently, “and that’s something I never thought I would have done just two to three years ago.”

A graduate student studying mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, Grant even hopes to tinker with even bigger combustion systems – like the ones found in gas turbines – when he enters the workforce.

It’s a little surprising, considering Grant previously preferred sending his car to the mechanic for tune-ups, but it makes more sense after he teamed up with other engineering students to build an actual race car during his undergraduate days at York College of Pennsylvania.

Excelling in unfamiliar territory

Grant didn’t plan, or even necessarily want, to build a car when he started at York College.

But he was sent that direction when selecting a capstone design project – a two-semester course that requires Engineering students to build real-world products.

“This is something that we built our Mechanical Engineering program on from the beginning,” said Dr. Tristan Ericson, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at York College. “It started because local engineering companies want to hire people locally, and they wanted hands-on experience.”

Grant was hoping for project building an automated bike rental system. Instead, he landed on the York College Race Team. That meant he’d be building an open-wheel race car that would need to withstand technical scrutiny and run at the annual Formula SAE intercollegiate competition in Michigan.

 Grant was named the head of the frame team, tasked with building the skeleton of the car. He sometimes spent 40 hours a week working in the shop, plus shouldered more responsibility when the frame team lost a member.

Grant met all his milestones anyway, said Dr. Ericson, a primary adviser of the race team.

“Grant did a phenomenal job coordinating his sub-team and coordinating with other team members,” Dr. Ericson said. “He was always extremely professional. As an adviser, I knew if I asked him to do something, he would do it.”

Taking on a side project

During the build semester, Grant also took a class on advanced thermodynamics. The lab portion of that class required deconstructing a lawn mower engine, taking measurements, and computing its theoretical power output. The advanced thermodynamics elective at York College ignited Grant’s interest in combustion.

Grant would soon put what he learned to use. Since the frame team finished its build phase first – after all, the rest of the car attaches to it – Grant had time to expand his experience.

Problems with the primary engine left the backup unattended. Grant decided to rebuild it.

“He picked it up and ran with it,” Dr. Ericson said.

It was a good thing he did. The primary engine broke down, and York College had to use Grant’s backup at the competition. It was payoff for all the hard work.

“Throwing a car together with pretty minimal time and seeing it run relatively consistently was cool,” Grant said.

No nudging needed

While the advanced thermodynamics class was the jump starter, the Race Team side-project fueled Grant’s interest in combustion systems even more.

When it came time to apply for graduate school, Grant knew he wanted to focus on combustion, and Maryland had a good engineering program that fit. That’s where he went after graduating from York College in 2015.

As it turns out, Maryland also has a race team. After navigating a demanding semester, Grant dove into the build phase. He’s been making parts on the lathe and mill, skills he picked up at York College, and helping with engine tuning and diagnostics.

This time, he didn’t need any persuasion to sign up.

“I joined the Maryland racing team – voluntarily,” Grant said.

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