Mechanical Engineering, Class of 2013
Hometown: El Toro, Calif., and Anchorage, Alaska
Fun Fact: This is his second year designing and building a car for intercollegiate competition.
Tim Kirk is just a few months away from his victory lap. In May 2013, he’ll complete his mechanical engineering degree and while the ink is drying on his very last finals, he’ll be hopping a ferry bound for Bellingham, Wash., with the rest of his teammates for the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja Car Competition. While they don’t expect to win the competition, they’re looking forward to some personal bests when they put their hard work to the test alongside teams from around the world.
The team is getting a jump on things and this year’s car is taking shape on paper in November. “This is the slow, boring phase where you don’t see a lot happening, but we’re designing and laying the groundwork for building a really good car,” he says.
Team captain Tim expects they’ll break out the tools and start bringing it to life in three dimensions in December over winter break. The competition is in May, the week after finals, so Tim’s plan is to get the team working steadily throughout the spring semester and keep the April/May all-nighters to a minimum. Their ultimate goal? To build a car that can stand up to rigorous course competition in maneuverability, hill climbing, rock crawling, acceleration and endurance as well as scrutiny by the judges in design and marketability reviews.
Tim’s belief in the project is evident. In addition to spending hundreds of man-hours on the car (it’s also an important part of his mechanical engineering senior design class), he’s become a leadership-level donor and College of Fellows member in support of this year’s team. He laughs when he says, “So, I guess you could say I have a personal investment in the project.”
The School of Engineering (SOE) has become a sort of home away from home for Tim, who works as a lab technician while also completing his degree. He’s in charge of fixing what’s broken, building new components and maintaining safety in SOE’s many labs. In the last year, he’s enjoyed working beside Professor Matt Cullen, who has also become a backcountry skiing buddy, as they get the new corrosion lab up and running. “I feel like working for the School of Engineering has been an important part of my education outside of classes,” he says. In fact, he’s become such a fan of SOE, he’d like to stick around and work there after graduating in May.
“I really think UAA is going in a good direction. I see a lot of potential for the School of Engineering,” Tim says. “I like what I do now—it’s something different all the time.” For example, he was an important part of getting all the lab facilities in shape for the recent ABET accreditation visit. And he’s looking forward to the new engineering building and remodeling plans, pointing out that the school has been steadily growing. “Getting that new building ready to go for everybody will be a fun challenge,” he says.
So how did Tim choose UAA’s SOE? After spending six years in the U.S. Navy post-high school, he began working in the printing industry, from graphic design to print production, and a move in 1998 found him working in Alaska’s print industry. Alaska was what fit first. He loved the easy access to nature. He says, “Life up here is pretty well-suited for me. I can drive 20 minutes and be out in the mountains.” In the back of his mind, he thought about pursuing what interested him most, though.
“I decided I really had a passion for engineering and needed to get my degree. I’m glad I did, before I got too old,” Tim says with a smile. “There’s a really good student to faculty ratio [at UAA], so it was really easy to get to know professors and connect with them.”
When Tim accepts his diploma in just a few months, he’ll be in line to continue a proud family tradition. His dad is also an engineer.
So, expect to see more of Tim around the School of Engineering even after his degree is in hand. He’s made himself indispensible and although he won’t be eligible to compete with the SAE Baja Car team after he graduates, he’ll be available to offer some been-there, done-that advice to future teams.