If you’re starting college in the fall, you might be looking for opportunities to meet new people and develop yourself during your first year. If you’re currently an undergraduate, you might still be trying to find something new to invest yourself in outside of your classes. Either way, you can get lost in the sea of student organizations and activities available to you on campus.
Though, if you’re interested in engineering, or if you want to meet new people while working on incredible team projects, I have the place for you: design teams.
What are design teams?
To put it simply, a design team consists of people collaborating on a large project to accomplish some kind of design goal.
That design goal could, quite literally, be anything.
At the University of Michigan, I’ve seen and heard about design teams working on all kinds of technology – drones, off-road vehicles, solar-powered boats, you name it. Not only that, but new teams start forming more often than you think, which leaves me wondering what’s in store for my university down the line.
For any design team you find, there is a wide variety of roles that deal with anything from design to managing finances to developing software. As such, while many people think they’re only meant for engineers, design teams are open to people of all majors.
Going along with that, there’s no need to worry about whether you have enough prior experience – these teams are filled with people who want to help you learn. Believe me, I experienced this first-hand when working on MRover, my first design team. Every time I was confused about something, they were ready to teach me using their vast knowledge and experience.
Though, the best part about design teams has to be the competitions they participate in every year (this is the case for most teams, at least). After months of developing designs, manufacturing parts, and putting it all together, it is incredibly satisfying to get recognition for your hard work. Not only that, but it’s great to meet people from other universities and show off what you’ve built. Plus, winning a competition means huge opportunities for both you and your team.
Why should I join a design team?
If you’re still unsure about joining, I’ve boiled it all down into ten main reasons. These are all important to consider, as they highlight the benefits and opportunities out there for you to experience.
1. Learn new skills
The work you do in design teams will teach many things about manufacturing, project organization, designing products and systems, and more.
You’ll be learning these skills across several different places depending on your team, but you’ll undoubtedly spend a lot of your time in a machine shop. There, you get to learn how to use different machines used for manufacturing parts, like mill and lathe machines.
If you want to see demonstrations of some of these machines, check out these videos:
2. Connect with people and make friends
Design teams are not exclusive to any kind of student – you’re bound to meet people of all different backgrounds, majors, and walks of life. If you want to make new friends and surround yourself in an entirely new environment, these teams are a great place to make that happen.
Though, you might be rolling your eyes at this – a lot of student groups make that promise, so what makes design teams so special? To answer that, the key word to know is teamwork.
The collaboration and hard work you put in with your fellow members really helps you connect with them, since you all have the same goal in mind. If you’re ready to put in the time and make something special happen with your team, you’ll definitely get a lot out of it.
Even if you’re not going out of your way to make friends, I would at least get to know your team’s executive board (e-board), as they are perfect opportunities for expanding your network.
3. Work with experts
Many of the members you’ll meet in your design team – especially those that are chairs or part of the e-board – will have an incredible amount of experience and the industry they’re in. Not only can they help mentor and teach you about the work you’re doing, but they can also provide a lot of insight about the industry and the companies that are interested in the team’s work.
As a student starting out or still learning, information like this is worth it’s weight in gold.
4. Anyone can join
When you go to a team’s general meeting or see them work at a machine shop, it might be pretty intimidating to jump in at first. After all, you might not have any idea about what people are doing or what’s going on.
However, don’t be scared by the work that’s happening – a lot of those people you see working were in the exact same position you’re in now when they started out. Though, no matter where they came from or what they knew back then, they’ve worked hard to get where they are now.
If they can do it, then you can too.
5. Gain substantial experience
I can’t emphasize enough how important this reason is. Like I said earlier, there is an incredible amount of experience to draw from when you join a design team. If you actively contribute and are determined to learn, you will get so much out of the work you do. Not only will you learn things that aren’t covered by your classes, but you’ll make connections that’ll help you grow as a professional.
6. Use what you’ve learned in class
While they can teach you many things not covered in your classes, design teams are also the perfect place for applying what you’ve learned. Whether it’s related to design, research, or even finance, you’ll be able to put the concepts you know to good use.
Not only that, but there’s a chance that some of your professors are also doing project work outside of teaching. If that’s the case, you should talk to them and look into the work they do – they might be managing a project or team for a subject you’re interested in. Even if they aren’t, they’re always a valuable learning tool.
7. Teamwork and leadership
One of the most crucial components about working on a design team is learning about teamwork and collaborating with others. This is especially true as these skills will almost certainly be needed for your future career – the professional world is built on collaboration.
Besides that, there are also many chances for you to gain strong leadership skills, depending on what kind of role you want to serve. If this is something that interests you, I recommend looking into becoming a chair or e-board member for your design team. Be ready, though – these positions are vital for the functioning of the team and require a lot of dedication.
8. Discover the world
If you’re looking for a student group to join that travels, then look no further! Many competitions for design teams will have you traveling to different cities where you go head to head with other universities. In some cases, there’ll be teams from all over the world that you’ll be competing against.
Additionally, most of your expenses will be covered if you plan on going. So, if you’ve always wanted to visit new places, design teams are an amazing opportunity for you.
All in all, design teams have so much to offer students who are looking for something new and exciting. While they seem daunting at first, the people you meet, skills you learn, and experiences you have make it an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up. At the same time, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re studying, or how little experience you have – design teams are a place where you can learn and be supported by amazing, talented people. Explore the opportunities that are out there waiting for you, and I guarantee you’ll have an amazing time in college.
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