UNM’s race car building team won’t have to skid to a stop after all.

The Formula Society of Automotive Engineers is an annual international collegiate engineering competition that allows students to design and build their own
race cars.

Arup Maji, interim dean of the School of Engineering, put the UNM 18-month FSAE program in jeopardy in October when he did not commit the $30,000 needed for the 2011 team’s summer session. At the time, Maji cited budget problems as the reason for the cut. However, students in the mechanical engineering department changed Maji’s mind and secured the funds last month.

Professor John Russell said that without the contribution, the mechanical engineering department could not continue the program unless it changed the curriculum.
The $30,000 is paid to Russell as his summer salary. He said the continuity of the program was his highest priority throughout the controversy.

“It’s not about my summer salary,” Russell said. “It’s about funding a program that runs continuously and is bigger than just the course.”

The program receives average to below average funding compared to similar programs at other schools, Russell said.

On Nov. 11, about 40 to 50 engineering students spoke with Maji to voice their disappointment about not committing the $30,000.

Student Joseph Conroy, project manager of the FSAE team, organized the meeting.
Conroy said that in the meeting, students from past, present and future teams said they support the program and Russell.

Maji changed his decision about the funding cut immediately after the meeting.
“It was very good to see their enthusiasm and ownership of the program,” he said. “If students don’t have ownership, if they didn’t care, that’s less incentive for us to think twice about something.”

Maji said his decision was also influenced by gaining a better grasp of the School of Engineering’s budget.

Russell said the students’ initiative could apply to other situations outside the classroom.

“I was very happy with the students’ ability to defend a project, as if they were in the real world,” Russell said.

While everything was up in the air, Russell said he worried that sponsors would withhold their funding.

Susan Unser, co-founder of the Unser Children’s Discovery Center and Racing Museum, said that when she and other sponsors heard that the UNM program was in trouble, they sent a letter to each member of the Board of Regents and President David Schmidly.

“We wanted to encourage everyone and the president of the University and the Board of Regents to support Dr. Russell in his dedication of the FSAE program,” she said.

Unser said she and her husband gave about $4,000 to the program and will fund FSAE as long as it is at UNM.

Now, with the 2011 team guaranteed enough money to continue the program, Maji said the mechanical engineering department should be more active in approaching additional stakeholders to get more funding.

Russell said a stable flow of money is just as important as large sums of money being donated at a time, and he said the department is looking for new sources of funding.
“It is very difficult to raise money in Albuquerque for lack of corporate headquarters who make the decisions,” Russell said.

Still, Russell said the FSAE students are likely to keep up the momentum of their success.

“The students seem more enthusiastic than ever,” he said.

FSAE member Joseph Taglialegami said he and his fellow future FSAE participants are glad to finally have a chance to build their own race car.

“I’ve been planning on doing this for three years, and it was definitely a relief when we got it back,” he said.