Trent Lindbloom can never guarantee how the Pittsburg State University Baja team will place in the Kansas SAE Baja, even when PSU hosts it, as it has four times since 2011.

But there is one thing of which he is certain:

“Our industry people will tell us they’ll hire Baja students over others,” Lindbloom said. “They don’t even realize what they’re learning – not just hands-on mechanical skills and engineering, but soft skills like conflict resolution, solving problems on the fly with what they have on the trailer, teamwork, leadership — all of it.”

And, now that PSU has been doing it for a quarter of a century, there are many former Baja team members in industry who return to campus to recruit.

“They know what it takes to do Baja,” Lindbloom said.

That’s why he still is passionate about it today: “I know what it did for me as a student way back when, and I know what it does for the students who participate in it today.”

Now an associate professor in automotive technology and the organizer of the Kansas SAE Baja event each time it comes to campus, Trent Lindbloom was president of the student chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineering at PSU when he and fellow students expressed to the administration their desire to compete.

The collegiate design competition is based on the Baja 1000. It consists of three regional competitions held each year in North America that simulate real-world engineering design projects and related challenges. Engineering students are tasked to design and build an off-road vehicle that will survive the severe punishment of rough terrain.

“The dean told us he’d give us the money as long as we beat all the other Kansas schools,” Lindbloom recalled.

They built that first PSU car with salvage parts on a shoestring budget with $1,000 from a subsidiary of GM and $1,000 from then-Dean Victor Sullivan. The rulebook was 36 pages, typeset by hand. They came in 37th out of more than 70 cars that competed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — not bad for the first time, he said.

In 2000, Lindbloom joined the PSU faculty, and in 2009, once again found himself going to the administration with another Baja proposal: this time, to host the event. Once again, they said “yes.”

The first was held in 2011, followed by events in 2014, 2017, and 2018.

The Baja competition draws teams from Brazil, India, Mexico, and across the U.S. It provides automotive students with hands-on experiences that make them highly sought-after by industry recruiters and has a positive economic impact on the Four State Area.

The event gives PSU broadcasting students, who livestream the competition from an enclosed trailer via a wireless bridge, an unparalleled opportunity, as well.

Past Baja competitors have repeatedly said they love it when PSU hosts the event, because in Pittsburg, everyone embraces it, from the 200 community volunteers to the event downtown called Baja on Broadway.

Full circle

This year’s Baja was especially noteworthy, as it brought the PSU program full circle. Two of the team’s lead students, brothers Austin and Camden Mylott, are second generation. Their dad, Matthew Mylott (BST ‘93), was on the first team with Lindbloom in 1991-92.

“It’s pretty neat that Pittsburg State has been competing in this long enough now, we’re on the second generation,” Lindbloom said.

In fact, it was PSU’s participation in SAE Baja, coupled with its Automotive Technology program, that sold the Mylott brothers on attending Pittsburg State.

“We definitely got the story as far as how awesome Pitt State’s automotive program is, and then Dad pulled up videos on the computer to show us the Baja, and that was it,” Austin said. ‘It was a no-brainer.”

This year, Austin led the PSU Baja team as the president of the PSU chapter of SAE.

“To be able to continue the legacy is pretty special to both me and Camden,” Austin said. “Baja trains people, gives leadership opportunities, trains students so they’re better prepared for the workforce. We each get to take on one aspect of the car and make it our own.”

“You meet so many people from so many places, and it grows your network,” he said. “You make industry contacts – Polaris, Volvo, all the big-name companies in the program – and it’s just phenomenal to have that experience while in college. It’s a huge advantage.”

Changes

While the basics of the competition have remained the same since Lindbloom’s college days, much has changed.

Today, the rulebook is 160 pages and much stricter, and cars have evolved as have budgets: the Mylott brothers’ team spent $16,000 to $18,000. Registration is completed via internet, attracting teams from around the world and filling up in less than 5 minutes each year.

Cars now serve as senior capstone projects for many students in conjunction with engineering programs at competing universities. And, the academic program involvement has expanded: Construction students design and build the track. Students in Graphics & Imaging Technologies design brochures and promotional materials. Broadcasting students livestream the event from a trailer outfitted with equipment that can access wi-fi to let thousands see it around the world.

The event now engages the entire community: more than 200 people volunteer to pull it off, the All Aboard Foundation stages a downtown festival called Baja on Broadway, and retailers and hotels put out their welcome signs in anticipation of an economic boon.

Lindbloom still pinches himself when he considers the journey.

“When I think back about how far we’ve come…it’s just been really rewarding for me, for our students, for PSU,” he said.