Growing up, Nicholas Tracy had a passion for outer space. Now in his junior year at WSU, his sights are set on competing in the Spaceport America Cup with fellow students in the student club, Cougs in Space.
Beyond the walls of WSU’s classrooms, more than 40 Voiland College-affiliated clubs invite students to explore their potential as engineers, designers and scientists. With the return to in-person instruction, a resurgence of club involvement has shown the value they provide in building community, making something from scratch, and developing students’ confidence and career readiness.
Many students seek extra or co-curricular activities to exercise a skill or make new friends. Relationships built through club involvement provide students with a sense of belonging and connection over shared interests.
“My favorite part is the comradery,” said Tracy, who is president of Cougs in Space. “We’re a bunch of rocket engineers and scientists, and anyone who walks through those doors is automatically welcome.”
Cougs in Space, WSU’s largest engineering organization, is an undergraduate-led cube satellite club. The club members aim to perform two experiments on an eight-pound payload that they designed and built. They hope to launch the cube satellite this summer and participate in the Spaceport competition, an annual international collegiate rocketry competition. Through multidisciplinary collaboration, the club connects those who have an affinity for space flight, aerospace and technology.
Voiland College Student Success Coordinator Eleanor Dizon says clubs offer critical opportunities that contribute to and foster student success.
“Student involvement in clubs helps each individual develop their unique skills and identity throughout their college experience,” she said.
The networks that students build in clubs prove valuable even outside of WSU, adds Sara Minogue, president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a senior in mechanical engineering. SWE, a national organization, connects women studying engineering and computer science with industry professionals through local and national conferences to foster professional development.
“The club’s value is its ‘never ending community,’” she said. “It’s designed to have support and resources no matter where you are in engineering, and it’s a way for students to find a community of professionals who have wisdom and passion to share.”
Cultivating that sense of community will be a key feature of the future Schweitzer Engineering Hall, which, when complete, will support student activities like clubs, capstone projects, tutoring, and advising.
Clubs like Cougs in Space and Wazzu Racing also allow students to get their hands dirty while using advanced mechanical and design skills learned in the classroom.
Through Wazzu Racing, students design and build a Formula 1-style race car and then compete in an annual competition held each May. Students from a variety of engineering disciplines work together as independent teams on the car’s engine, suspension, frame and aerodynamics, providing the chance for them to collaborate outside their field of study.
Aidan Smit, who was president of Wazzu Racing before graduating in December with his degree in electrical engineering, credits the club with helping him get an internship with a North Carolina aerospace and defense company.
A member since his freshman year, Smit says the club gave him hands-on experience at solving real-world engineering problems.
“A lot of classes are theoretical, so the clubs are really the first time that people use skills they learned in their class to build something real,” he said.
While each organization has a faculty advisor, clubs are largely run by student executive boards – most of which are made up of undergraduates. Taking on club leadership roles in the areas of project management, safety, design, and fundraising, allows students to gain the leadership skills that will be valuable in the workplace.
Kofi Frimpong, a junior electrical engineering student, had a knack for leadership throughout high school and was eager to take on new roles in college. After beginning in-person instruction his sophomore year, he joined a classmate in leading the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).
Now president, Frimpong leads the WSU NSBE chapter where students come together for professional development through workshops and collaborative events. The group provides support for workplace readiness, providing workshops in areas such as resume writing and networking skills.
“We hope to benefit and promote minority students, since it can be difficult to understand the ins and outs of working in industry and what it looks like,” he said. “We’re translating the school environment to the work environment.”
Students interested in joining a club this year are invited to attend Voiland College’s VCEA Inside Scoop on August 24, where more than 40 clubs and organizations will be on hand to discuss their activities and answer questions.