From Racecars, to writing, to writing about racecars
An engineering dropout combines technical and artistic skills
By Anthony S. Casson
Now that I’m an Oregon State University graduate, people often ask me to recap my experience. When they hear my tales in the engineering world, they look intrigued, but confused.
That’s because most know me as a liberal arts student with a writing background, not as a former technical student with experience playing with racecars.
But I was, for a quick two years, a student of the mechanical craft who came to OSU for its growing technical prowess and its Formula Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) racing team.
I like to reminisce about my previous career path—a young guy hell-bent on succeeding in the motorsports industry—and compare it to my present route—a young guy in love with writing and public relations, interested in too many industries. It’s not so much what I did or didn’t do as an engineer that I remember but the environment in which I worked.
When I changed majors in fall 2009, I was stressed and frustrated by my shortcomings as a mechanical engineering student. I was confused because I had planned my life in high school, and yet I wasn’t able to execute it properly. Writing seemed like my best skill and my way out.
The fall and winter after changing majors, I expected to begin drifting away from the Formula SAE team. Opportunities as a sports writer appeared, and I was making friends outside the technical world.
I remember trying to explain to a few of my close teammates that I needed time away from the cars; some of them knew how much I had been struggling academically and understood my departure.
Trying to peel myself from the group that brought me to OSU and had consumed 99-percent of my days for two years was harder than I anticipated.
I knew engineers; I respected engineers; I felt like an engineer. And still I tried to convince myself that I was done with that part of my life.
My mind was tortured by thoughts like, what use do I have for the Formula SAE team? I’m a communications guy—an engineering quitter. I don’t design or manufacture things.
The team had won its first competition the previous summer, but I was still able to pry myself away. That is, I kept away from the shop and everything associated with it. Letting go emotionally was something else.
The 2010 car was the team’s most successful, winning three of its six competitions—Michigan, Austria and Italy. I covered the events for OSU’s student newspaper, The Daily Barometer; my editor knew my technical background and let me take the summer beat. Formula SAE was obviously still on my mind, and I cared about it.
There was no escaping the team’s grasp when I saw how happy members were when they appeared (regularly) in the paper. The local media caught the news, too, which boosted excitement. I was finally doing something that affected the team in a noticeable way.
Without hesitation, I pitched an idea for a new position on the Formula SAE team—media lead. For the next year I covered two of the most popular sports programs for various media outlets, and I embraced the public relations role for the racing team.
I’ve since taken an advisor role for the team, helping the marketing and communications group improve. Most of the team are engineers, which will always be the case. And I smile for that.
The young men and women I worked with on the team have influenced me more than anyone in writing. The grungy, technical and socially awkward environment will be my favorite part of my OSU experience.
Engineers and their tools are difficult to work with. I’m difficult to work with, too. But our differences are exactly why I chose to volunteer my time in the College of Engineering. We leave here having been exposed to contrasting personalities and career paths, and that’s never a bad thing.