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Retiring BYU professor mentors students to first-place win

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 11:37 a.m. MDT

BYU Engineering students and their adviser Dr. Robert Todd test the "Hybrid Blue" racer in the parking lot of LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU professor Robert Todd is going out on top.

Todd supervised the construction of a lightweight, hybrid race car that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds. Todd's team of BYU mechanical engineering students raced the car they call Hybrid Blue to victory this spring in the 2012 SAE Formula Hybrid competition, an international event at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Todd's hard work, ingenuity and expert mentoring were key components to the win, which followed a second-place finish the year before.

"Many times I feel like I learn much more from (the students) than they do from me," Todd said. "I consider it a great opportunity and privilege to work with them. Getting up at 5 a.m. so I can be with them at 7 each morning has been a privilege for me, and I am certainly going to miss this opportunity when I retire on September 1."

Todd advised more than 600 capstone projects — major projects meant to be the final piece of an undergraduate degree — over the past 21 years. The list includes oversight of the hybrid car project for the past seven years.

Todd is retiring from teaching to serve in the Provo temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He said he has helped the students make the car by utilizing the concepts from a BYU talk by President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, about the attributes of great learners: 1. Welcome correction; 2. Make and keep commitments; 3. Work hard; 4. Help others; and 5. Expect opposition and work to overcome it.

"Our efforts as a faculty are to try and help our students become great learners through dealing with a real project that has real needs, with real hardware and with real responsibility to make it work," Todd said.

The design and execution of building Hybrid Blue was a challenge.

"Engineering is more than science," Todd said. "In science, we are trying to identify, model and understand what already exists. In engineering, we are trying to take things as they exist and make something better than existed previously."

Those challenges manifested themselves when the student team had trouble with the communication from the computers to the car, and when the car also had a tough time braking. But through painstaking work and attention to detail, student team members discovered the problem the night before the race. The team stayed up until all hours of the night to solve the problem in time for the race.

"I was humbled by their diligence … I could cite many more examples of where they never gave up and gave their best effort with faith, to keep giving their best trusting that all would work out for the good," Todd said.

Todd added that he has loved being able to serve and learn with the students and hopes he will be able to do even more of that after his retirement.

"I have found great fulfillment in being able to have these opportunities of service in my life," Todd said. "I only hope I will have more down the road and that I can always be in a situation where I can be of service. I have come to learn that service is where real fulfillment comes in life, and this project among many that I have been involved in with students, and others, are just examples of that."

sgambles@desnews.com

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