CSE groups struggle with work space concerns

Justine Chu, Abby Hempy, and Alex Melin work on the Formula SAE car built by CSE group Gopher Motorsports in Minneapolis on Monday. The group members, who compete in the global Formula SAE series against other universities each year, often work on the car inside of a team member's garage and are unhappy with the resources they have gotten from the University while building their vehicle.

Juliet Farmer

Justine Chu, Abby Hempy, and Alex Melin work on the Formula SAE car built by CSE group Gopher Motorsports in Minneapolis on Monday. The group members, who compete in the global Formula SAE series against other universities each year, often work on the car inside of a team member’s garage and are unhappy with the resources they have gotten from the University while building their vehicle.

Brian Edwards

Sidestepping tires and boxes full of racing gear, bandana-clad University of Minnesota engineering students mixed chemicals in red Solo cups in a garage near Como Avenue Southeast.
 
The chemicals expanded to create a custom-fitted racing seat for the Gopher Motorsports Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Team race car, which is cooped up in the group’s president’s cramped two-car garage for the summer while the group awaits a permanent workspace. 
 
Since 2012, bad timing and ongoing renovations in College of Science and Engineering buildings have forced Gopher Motorsports to shuffle between four different locations, said Alex Melin, the formula car’s driver and a mechanical engineering graduate student.
 
The group shifted from room to room within the Mechanical Engineering building for a couple of years before moving to the Tate Laboratory of Physics, he said, but construction on the building began, and the group was left without a home again.
 
Every year, the group builds a new formula car and competes with different teams from around the world, said Abby Hempy, a mechanical engineering sophomore in the group.
 
This year, the team placed 13th after competing against about 100 other schools at a competition in Michigan.
 
The University of Minnesota Clean Snowmobile Team, which has also faced space issues, had to share room with the Formula SAE team this past year.
Lucas Peterson, president of the snowmobile team and a mechanical 
 
engineering senior, said the space was only enough to store the snowmobile, and it was difficult to use the space when both groups were present.
 
The group had to move their snowmobile to a storage facility when construction began because, unlike Formula SAE, none of the members could provide their own space to store the snowmobile, Peterson said.
 
He said the space they are using costs $150 a month.
 
“We have had to buy all of our tools and store the snowmobile on our dime,” Peterson said.
 
He said the team understands it is difficult for the University to find space and funding for everyone, but he said he feels that more support from the school would help the group succeed.
 
But finding enough space for every student group, especially in CSE, is almost impossible, said Ben Koch, CSE Student Engagement Coordinator.
 
Space in buildings is on a first come, first served basis, he said. Faculty and graduate students get first consideration, and the remaining space is divided between student groups, he said.
 
“It’s like working a big puzzle with who is available and how we can support everything,” Koch said.
 
He said one of the biggest obstacles in coordinating areas for student groups to work is the lack of physical space available. Having two buildings under construction, Tate Lab and Mechanical Engineering, further complicates the problem.
 
In October, the Minnesota Student Association passed a resolution advocating for designated student group space.
 
Groups that serve or include more students tend to receive priority when allocating space, but the University has worked to meet Formula SAE’s needs, Koch said.
 
Erik Dussault, assistant director of Student Unions and Activities said most groups on campus usually just reserve a classroom or meeting space and don’t require a permanent space.
 
He said groups that require an area specific to their needs tend to have the most difficult time finding space.
 
“What we try to do is make multi-use space available for groups,” Dussault said. “So when they have a highly-specialized need, it can be hard for the University to meet those needs.”
 
Gopher Motorsports has been promised a permanent space in the Mechanical Engineering building in the fall, Melin said, but similar groups like Clean Snowmobile have yet to find a space.