Introducing our 2020-2021 Leadership!

We’re so excited to finally announce the amazing members of our team who will be leading the 2021 season. Read on to hear a little bit more about their experience on Baja and what they’re hoping to achieve this year.


Captain: Jack O’Donnell

Jack is currently a junior in mechanical engineering. He spent 2 years on the suspension sub-team, where he designed the a-arm jig for Roamer and the STA for Pollock, before becoming chassis lead this year. Outside of Baja, he interned at John Crane after freshman year, TechnipFMC after sophomore year, and will be interning in manufacturing at HP this summer. As captain, he’s most excited to lead the team in the transition from 2 wheel to 4 wheel drive. He thinks it’ll be fun to tackle all the new challenges that come with the change and can’t imagine a better team to take it on with.


Chief Engineer: Adam Stephens

Adam joined the team as a sophomore on drivetrain working on CVT cooling and quickly rose to drivetrain lead this year. As a mechanical engineering major, he interned and co-oped at Caterpillar through the school year. The high responsibility of being a sub-team lead means he spends “literally all [his] time” on Baja, but when he does get free time he likes to watch youtube videos. Like Jack, he can’t wait for the blank slate that 4 wheel drive brings next year and is excited to take on the challenge with great leadership partners.


President: Katie Peters

Katie also joined the team as a sophomore on drivetrain and acted as treasurer this year. She has mainly worked on brakes and is excited to continue that by designing custom calipers next year. She also co-ops at Caterpillar and has been for two years, although she will be switching gears and interning at Boeing this coming summer. Outside of Baja, she was the chair of recruitment for SWE for 2 years, plays intramural  soccer, and enjoys CRU, an on-campus ministry. She is also excited for 4 wheel drive and drive day, where she will get to show off Jill and meet up with old alumni.

Treasurer: Caleb Trotter

Caleb is a junior in mechanical engineering who has spent the past 3 years on suspension. He headed up the part validation project for Pollock last year and designed the anti-roll bar for Jill this year. Outside of Baja, he works as a tutor for the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, is a TAM course assistant for the MechSE department, and an undergrad research assistant at the Materials Research Lab. In his free time, he weight lifts, bakes, cooks, hikes, longboards, and is hoping to get into snowboarding. He’s excited to be treasurer because it’ll give him an even closer look at how the Baja team really works. He loves the technical knowledge he’s learned on the team and thinks it’ll be really cool to see more of the business side of things.

Safety Officer: Jen Leong

Jen is a sophomore mechanical engineer who has been on suspension and manufacturing for 2 years. She worked on finding the center of gravity and points validation of Roamer, and designed Jill’s lower a-arm. She is trained on the mill and lathe and is known as the profiling lead. Outside of Baja, she likes to fence and knit (she has knitted Pollock’s chassis and is working on adding drivetrain and suspension). As safety officer, she is excited to have more say in the safety tooling we buy, more specifically she wants to buy face masks to make profiling safer.

Outreach Director: Maddie Yang

Maddie is a freshman in mechanical engineering with a minor in computer science. She spent this year on the chassis sub-team and worked with composites, helping do the wet layups of the body panels. On campus, she works for the MechSE communications department to write articles for the MechSE website (and actually wrote a brief one on Winter Baja!) and also participates in the Asian American Association (AAA). She’s excited to welcome new members to the team as outreach director and show everyone how cool Baja is!


Sub-team Leads

Chassis Lead: Sam Dillon

Sam is a sophomore in chemical engineering. He currently acts as outreach director and is also on the drivetrain and business sub-teams, where he’s worked on the CVT case and tuning. As a chemE, he does research in a lab focused on new methods of producing biofuels. He’s excited to be chassis lead and translate all that he’s learned on drivetrain packaging wise, especially with the switch to 4WD.

Drivetrain Lead: Esmée Vernooij

Esmée is a sophomore in mechanical engineering with a minor in the Hoeft Technology and Management program. She has been on suspension the past 2 years, performing a shock-force isolation project and designing the 2020 front uprights. She is currently co-oping at Volvo Trucks but during the school year is involved in SWE and does research with Prof. Liebenberg on engineering education. She’s excited to head up a new sub-team and can’t wait to learn all about the drivetrain components.

Suspension Lead: Saabir Mallick

Saab has been on suspension for 2 years where he designed jigs for the STA as well as steering. He also experimented with strain gauges on the electronics sub-team. Outside of Baja, he is part of the Muslim Students Association and also enjoys boxing when he gets time. He’s excited to get to learn how all the suspension components work together and gain a deeper understanding of parts he is less familiar with. And, most of all, get to design and build a completely new car.

Electronics and Testing Lead: Aleks Konstantinovic

Aleks is a junior mechanical engineering major who has spent the past 3 years on suspension, including acting as lead this year. He has interned at Tishma Technologies and Caterpillar, and will be working at Ford this coming summer. Outside of Baja he is also in Sigma Nu fraternity. He has worked on many different projects with suspension but two of his favorites are working with data acquisition, and redesigning Jill’s bent upper a-arms. The new a-arms required using the tube bender, performing proof of concept runs, modifying the current jig, and new FEA. He enjoyed how quickly the team came together to fix the problem and took advantage of all the resources available to them. He’s excited to be electronics lead and can’t wait to use the new data acquisition equipment we have available.

Business Lead: Josh Bowen

Josh is a junior in mechanical engineering who has previously been on suspension, doing a lot of profiling and steering slop analysis. He interned at Eaton in Michigan this past summer, and will be with the company again this summer in the electrical car division in Oregon. Outside of Baja he loves playing ultimate frisbee. He’s excited to take on the challenge of business lead and is hoping to organize a sponsor drive day.



Welding Lead: Cassie Kim

Cassie has also been on suspension for the past two years and was safety officer last year. She worked on Roamer and Jill’s steering slop, and designed Jill’s rear uprights. She interned at Atlas engineering group this past summer and will be interning at Ebco in summer 2020. Outside of Baja she is on the Illinois women’s rugby team. She’s excited to be welding lead and help others become better welders. Learning to TIG weld can be daunting and sometimes even frustrating due to the coordination needed to steadily control both hands and one foot, which are all doing different things. However, it’s an extremely rewarding and humbling art at the same time and she is eager to guide new welders through the ups and inevitable downs. She loves the sense of accomplishment she gets from welding for the team and wants to pass that on.

Water-jet Lead: Cesar Lopez

Cesar is a junior in mechanical engineering who was on the suspension sub-team this year. He investigated steering slop in Pollock and tire pressure testing. Outside of Baja, he will be interning at Aux Sable this coming summer. He’s excited to gain more experience using the water-jet, learning time management, and delegating responsibilities to fellow members.

Machining Lead: Danielle Helms

Danielle is a junior who has spent 2 years on drivetrain. She designed Pollock’s brake rotors and Jill’s pedal-box, as well as machined most of the components for it. Outside of Baja, she is a parallel co-op at Caterpillar and is a tech in the Innovation Studio. She is trained on the lathe and mill and is currently one of a few select people learning how to use the Haas CNC. She’s excited to be machining lead so that she can help teach underclassmen how to make cool parts.

Oh Captain my (3) Captain(s)

Despite Baja’s past leadership consisting of one administrative president and one team captain, the team has operated under a dynamic trio in the 2019-2020 season. With Baja being one of the fastest-growing engineering RSO on campus, leading the team has come with triumphs and many bumps in the road! Meet the Captains:

Switching things up from years past, Josh, Keira and Veronica decided to integrate a leadership structure of three team captains because they each felt equally qualified for the position, having sat in leadership positions before on various projects. They are each capable of providing the time necessary and the communication that their positions demand. All three can attest to the fluidity of their teamwork and the key to their relationship being the ability to listen to each other.

Each captain brings something special to the table, Keira has the administrative experience, Veronica specializes in rules compliance and chassis, while Josh supervises technical design projects and testing.

Being involved in Baja for their four years of undergrad, Josh Initially joined to gain relevant experience for a job in the engineering field. Keira was in search of a community to get involved with freshman year and thought “the car looked cool” and soon learned the professional value that the club provided. Veronica had played sports through high school and wanted to continue a side passion along her academic career. Since then, they have invested countless hours into building and fixing the car and described developing a “personal attachment” to it, driving their desire to stay involved.

As with every engineering group, the trio have experienced their fair share of challenges along the way. One unanimous issue was the effect of unforeseeable time delays in project completion. Making use of limited resources, they faced setbacks with waterjet machining time and had to deal with problems that they could not do anything about beside improvise. In regards to dealing with each other, they admit they have cooperated well and have had minimal hiccups.

Josh, Keira, and Veronica share a favorite memory in Tennessee when a gear broke and the team reluctantly faced the idea of going home. The three worked together and used their acquired problem-solving skills to get a new gear. Their efforts helped the team place 3rd overall in the maneuverability competition, giving everyone high hopes and confidence going into the California competition of 2019.

Having all 3 this season has created an amazing environment for collaboration on the team and all have left a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.

Written by: Sean Hopp

Alumni Spotlight: Steven Michelotti!

Steven graduated from U of I in 2019 and now works for F.H. Paschen as a project engineer in Chicago. Steven credits Baja with teaching him not only problem solving skills but also “resourcefulness.” He says “[The team] prepared me for the numerous open-ended challenges I’ve seen in the work place”.

Steven’s time on the team could hardly be described better. Never one to shy away from a “Baja fix”, he was responsible for countless patch-ups and last minute design changes on both Pollock and Roamer and spent many late nights at the shop. 

These late nights are some of his favorite memories of Baja: “I’ll never forget bringing Pollock to life the night before EOH and everyone gathered in the shop”.  A member of the chassis subteam, he also became the team’s designated welder, welding the frame as well as suspension components and tabs. 

As far as advice for younger members, Steven says make friends with your teammates, because Baja “has the best people!” Keep up the good work Steven, thanks for all you did for the team!

Another Successful Winter Baja for the Books!

This past weekend the team attended Winter Baja at Michigan Technological University in upper peninsula Michigan. A staple event for us, we were able to take over 20 members who got to experience driving the car during a competition as well as the workout that is working carnage crew.

The team stayed in an airbnb outside of Houghton and had a blast exploring the lake, snowshoeing through the forest, and (most importantly) throwing branches at icicles.

Winter baja always provides a great opportunity for newer members to bond with the older members as well as learn more about quick fixes on the cars. This year we took two cars, Pollock and Roamer. Nik was elected captain of Roamer while Cassie was chosen captain of Pollock. Because we brought both cars, the two drafted their teams to compete and race against each other.

Dynamic at winter baja is very different to other competitions, consisting of one driver taking the car through a course of cones, getting out of the car, a second person eating a pickled egg, then a third strapping into the car once the egg has been eaten, and driving back over the snow. Only Pollock got to compete in dynamic, where Bella smashed it, eating the egg almost as fast as Jack last year. Mentions also go out to Danielle and Aleks who drove the event. Roamer did not make it before endurance began but Nik’s team still had a blast watching.

In an (almost) first for the Off-Road Illini, both cars finished the competition unscathed with no broken parts! Two tows were worrying for the team manning the pits but turned out to be nothing more than the cars needing an engine restart. Both cars were able to race the entire competition. A blizzard 3 hours into endurance cut the race short but luckily almost every general member got a chance to hop in the cars and drive. Some even got to plank on them. And everyone got pizza (and some new hair styles) at the banquet and awards ceremony.

The racing wasn’t done after endurance finished, however, as Aleks, Milos, and those who didn’t get a chance to drive at comp hopped in Pollock and drove around the airbnb driveway, executing some sick drifts. The team had fun exploring the house, hanging out in the hot tub, and (not saying any names) accidentally running into a snow bank and cracking a bumper.

Seniors were slightly emotional leaving the UP Sunday morning, reflecting on all the great memories of winter and were sad to leave for the last time. But the team was all excited and proud to have had another amazing weekend in Houghton.


New member spotlight: Josh Bowen!

Hear from one of our new baja members on why he joined and what he’s most excited to learn this year on the team.

Josh is a junior in mechanical engineering who just transferred to U of I this year.  He interned at Eaton over the summer and got to work with differentials and engine systems as well as other automotive parts. This sparked his interest in joining a car team and he chose Baja and the suspension sub-team because he loved the personality of our suspension lead, Aleks.

Josh hard at work during a shop day

Josh has quickly become very involved in the club, attending shop day every Saturday and even joining us at Midnight Mayhem to watch the cars compete.

“I joined Baja because I so inspired by the passion of the members I talked to at quad day. Everybody loved being on the team and it made me want to be a part of it.”

What he’s most excited for this year?  “I can’t wait to see the full car come together and see all the parts we’ve been designing come to life”

We’re so excited to have you as part of the team this year Josh and can’t wait to see what you do!

Alumni Spotlight

We checked in with one of our recent alumni to see what he’s up to since graduation

Adam Schmitt , 2018-2019 Captain

Where do you currently work/what do you currently do?

I work at Northrop Grumman, currently doing a 3 year rotational program. My first rotation is in RF (radio frequency) Systems Engineering

What did you do on Baja?

I collected a ton of t-shirts (and a bucket hat which I proudly wear every chance I get), picked out the derpy knives, occasionally broke things, and DJ’d during shop days. And somewhere in there I was captain for a year.

How has Baja helped you in your career?

Baja helped me learn how to handle when things go wrong. It’s important to maintain a level head and not forget your problem solving skills in ambiguous or stressful situations. A whole lot of the real world is not necessarily knowing the right answers, but knowing which questions to ask to get there – and baja definitely left me scratching my head trying to get to the root of the cause of a problem more than once. 

What are you excited to see this year?

I’m excited to see the 4WD designs this year! I’m also looking forward to the hype competition recap videos that the team always puts together, you guys do an awesome job with those!