Roman Vasquez III has so many roles within Cal State L.A.'s Solar Eagle project, the fact that he doesn't get mixed up every day is testimony to his extraordinary ability to focus on one task at a time.
And what a list of tasks fall under his responsibility! Apart from serving as the student team leader of the Solar Eagle III project, Roman is also the car's chief driver and the project's primary student spokesperson. Add to this the recently-relieved responsibility of visiting elementary and high schools with the Solar Eagle II to educate younger students about solar-powered electric vehicles and you begin to see the scribbled mess that has been Roman Vasquez' calendar for the past two years. "It's going to be great to get my Saturdays back," says the senior Civil Engineering student.
The only Solar Eagle III team member to also work on Cal State L.A.'s second solar car, the Solar Eagle II, Roman is a seasoned veteran of sorts with a lot to say about student projects in Cal State L.A.'s School of Engineering and Technology. Recently, Roman took a moment to collect his thoughts and reflect on...
The Fierce Competition...
When I went to Sunrayce 93 with the Solar Eagle II, I got a glimpse into the world of solar racing, and it was an eye-opening experience. I really took it for granted that other schools were doing work on their cars that was of the same caliber as what we were doing, and that wasn't the case. Many of our competitors' cars were nowhere near the quality of the Solar Eagle II. It made me proud to be a student at Cal State L.A.
The Thrill of Victory...
The team staked two years on the Solar Eagle III, and that's a lot of time to risk on anything, but we went into to Sunrayce 97 very confident. Personally, I knew from previous experience at Sunrayce 93 and from the Solar Eagle III's performance at the Western Regional Qualifier that we had an excellent car and we were going to do well at Sunrayce. I have to admit that I would've been disappointed to get third or even second. But all along, we knew that if another team beat us, they would've beat us because they were better, not because we failed. We did all our homework on the car the two years leading up to the race, and you can't fake that once you get to Sunrayce. We knew that the best made car was going to win, and we think it did. I think that, for the team, winning was gratification for the two years we spent perfecting the car. For me, winning was fulfillment. It proved to me once and for all that it was worth the time and effort to prove to our critics that Cal State L.A. has a great engineering and technology program. I knew we could do this, that we were capable of winning, all along.
I've known since 1993 that the Solar Eagle project is beneficial, but it was great to share that with students and the general public in my former outreach position. I could always tell when kids were motivated by the project, and I think it gave them a new outlook on science and engineering, and even something to pursue in their future. A lot of kids realize the impact of cars on the environment, and they know about electric vehicles. They do seem to care about the state of the environment, and a small percentage of the kids I met even seemed to realize that the Solar Eagle project is progress. They're probably the ones that will end up being engineers, too.
Cruisin' at the Speed of Light...
The Solar Eagle III is a fun car to drive, but it takes all of your concentration. I had to get over the fact that it took a lot of people, time, and money to put it together and that it belongs to the people who created it. Once I did and got on with the business of driving it, it became a lot of fun. But the Solar Eagle III is very difficult to drive efficiently. The steering is very sensitive, and most of the controls like the accelerator and electric brakes are right on the steering wheel. To drive the car, you have to be very adept at using your fingers and holding on at the same time. While you're driving it, you know you're not polluting the air, and that gives you a good, green feeling. But working on a solar car makes you aware of how much time it takes to recharge the batteries so you can use it again. It's not as easy as pulling up to a gas station. The Solar Eagle III's probably not the car that's going to save the planet, but it's progress in the right direction.
The Curtain Calls...
The whole Solar Eagle project has been one of the most positive experiences of my life--I can't compare it to anything. It's taught me a lot about myself. It's taken me around the country and the world, and it's taught me a lot about what humans can accomplish. Now that it's winding down, I plan to finish school and put what I've learned to work. The Solar Eagle project has opened up so many avenues for the application of my engineering education. It really feels now like the sky's the limit for me.
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