Off-Road Vehicle Club Drives Mechanical Engineering Major Toward His Dream Career
Aspiring mechanical engineering major Treyton Wood was walking on campus during Choose Chico when he spotted something that would not only clinch his decision on what college to attend but shape the next six years of his life.
It was the SAE Baja racecar, an off-road vehicle designed and built by a student club that can survive the severe punishment of tough terrain and be marketable to recreational vehicle enthusiasts during global competition. With knobby tires, a sparkly red powder-coated steel frame, and shocks to handle the roughest roads, he dreamed of the chance to work on and race the car himself.
As club president for the last three years—and member for the entirety of his undergraduate experience—the graduating senior said nothing has prepared him more for his dream career than the SAE Baja Team.
“Coming in as a young freshman, without a lot of knowledge in the engineering space, I learned a ton in Baja before I even entered the classroom,” Wood said. “It gave me an understanding of real-world application before the theoretical. Everyone takes the same courses at the end of the day, but if you have a chance to do something extra like this, it will put you in the upper echelon.”
It all started his first semester, where Wood spent countless hours working on that year’s racing entry as an inaugural member. By his sophomore year, his dedication and skills had earned him a promotion to club vice president. This year, as he prepares to leave Chico State and the team, he’s been teaching another member how to take over as president and continue its legacy of success.
With the exception of his classes, Wood’s days revolve around SAE Baja. He wakes up, checks his email, and makes a few calls before heading to the team shop in the courtyard of Plumas Hall. He’ll spend an estimated 5–10 hours a day planning, in meetings, checking in with team members, calling vendors, and setting up business and class presentations. He and his teammates also engage in community service, spending about 70 hours in elementary school classrooms each year, where they bring boxes of supplies and work hands-on with first-, second-, and third-graders to create projects and introduce them to the STEM programs.
“From the outside, it looks like we build a car and go drive it,” he said. “But we have to build a mock company, design the manufacturing process, make sales projections and presentations, and so much more. Baja develops your knowledge and experience in so many ways that you just won’t find elsewhere.”
With more than 40 student members, club membership is not limited to engineering majors, so it’s been great to make friends and learn more from other students who are majoring in business, English, agriculture, and computer science, he said.
“I’ve met some of my best friends in the club,” Wood said, noting he’s also made incredible connections within industry.
He completed three internships with Hass Automation, with one more lined up for this summer, and helped get five of his peers jobs with the company. It’s also where he will work after graduation, after receiving an offer for a full-time job. The community within his major, and especially SAE Baja, and industry support were immensely helpful to him to get this far, he said.
“We have alumni from all around who ensure we have a high job placement and internship rate,” Wood said. “And a lot of our donors are companies within our industry, so we send them resumes and get jobs out of the connection.”
A car frame can be used in three competitions, and then must be rebuilt, so the student team members essentially build an entire new car each year. It’s not uncommon, he said, to be halfway through construction and get a vision of how to design something even better. Competition, too, is a showcase for how to improve their designs for better performance.
Once they know what improvements to make, the team works to source the parts and reaches out to companies to solicit their support. The materials, tools, and components cost thousands of dollars, and testing and travel add on further expenses. The car is covered in sponsorship stickers acknowledging every company that makes it all possible.
“Donor support is invaluable,” Wood said. “These cars are not cheap, and donations of funds and materials help keep the team alive while supporting our ideas and innovation.”
He’s been proud to take the car to national competitions in California, New York, and Tennessee. There are few better moments, he said, than watching it rip around the dirt, sand, and rocks, navigating bumpy and steep terrain.
While Wood is disappointed to miss this year’s Washington competition at the end of May—he’s a groomsman in a wedding—he’s confident the vehicle and his team will make an impression. Meanwhile, he’s focused on his next big dream as he prepares to graduate and work for Haas as a manufacturing engineer. He hopes to work in that role for five or seven years and then eventually start to design his own components and secure independent contracts for manufacturing.
“I have one year left here at Chico State, but I know Chico as a whole and especially the Baja Club and professors prepared me immensely for my future in the industry,” he said. “I also believe I have met some of the most intelligent, hard-working people—and those connections don’t go away. We all stay in touch whether it is helping the team, each other, or even work questions, and we always know we can reach out to our previous or current teammates for advice or an outside eye on a situation.”