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When Adrienne Burger enrolled at Michigan State University, she didn't want to study engineering. She had no desire to learn how to build cars.
"I was 100% sure I didn't want to go into engineering," said Burger, a 20-year-old junior from Okemos. "But I ended up taking a few science classes, and I really enjoyed it and I found out that I was good at it."
Now, she's showing off the MSU race car that she helped to build at the North American International Auto Show, which runs through Sunday at Cobo Center in Detroit.
Burger joined the MSU Formula Society of Automotive Engineers racing team in August. The student-run organization designs, builds and races a small open-wheel race car every year.
"When I joined this team, my knowledge of cars was next to none," she said.
But six months can change quite a bit. Last week, there she was, standing next to the race car, answering questions like an old pro.
"What kind of engine are you running?" somebody asked.
"It's a 600 cc from a Honda motorcycle bike," Burger said.
"How fast does it go?"
"Zero to 60 in about 3 1/2 seconds," she replied.
In all, 140 schools from 13 countries participate in Formula SAE competitions around the world.
The competitions are more than races as the teams also are evaluated on car design, cost analysis and business presentation skills.
This year, Wayne State University's 10-student program is competing with its car April 22-25 at the Virginia International Raceway, May 13-16 at the Michigan International Speedway, and June 17-20 at the Auto Club Speedway in southern California.
"It's engineering super-charged," said Rolando Moya Ferrer, the assistant captain of the WSU team. "You learn engineering, management skills, accounting and you have to find sponsors."
The 30-student MSU team plans to compete at the Michigan International Speedway and in California.
Burger said she's learned more from the team than from her classes. "It's one thing to take information out of a book and memorize it and understand it," she said. "It's an entirely different thing to go in a shop and design something and fabricate it. You learn a lot more."
In the last 10 years, about 75% of the students who completed the MSU racing program went on to get jobs in the auto industry, Zemke said.
"I have an optimistic confidence that it will bounce back," program manager Adam Zemke said of the auto industry. The MSU team goes to the auto show to raise awareness of its program, he said, and also to make industry contacts and highlight its sponsors, which include General Motors Corp.
"We haven't lost any sponsors this year," Zemke said, "and we are supported by companies who are hurting for cash."
While building the race car is a competition, Ferrer said the WSU and MSU teams are not rivals.
"It's more about the learning experience," he said. "It's more of a community."