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Building Chester's Chariot

Undergraduate research inspires personal discoveries

Hometown: New York City
Major: Mechanical Engineering

Assistant professor of mechanical engineering

Marjorie Chee was undecided about her major until she put her first board through the band saw in the Union College machine shop. With the high-pitched scream of the blade, she knew: A mechanical engineering degree was calling.

“I like working with all the tools, but especially the saws,” she says. “The great thing about mechanical engineering is that you get to build things. It’s extremely hands on.”

Marjorie also got to think on her feet, and use her legs, as part of a student team researching human-powered vehicles for an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) challenge. More than mere bicycles, these vehicles are highly engineered, fast, sustainable and practical transportation alternatives.

Each year, ASME’s human-powered vehicle challenge draws students from around the world who compete in a variety of categories. Marjorie captained the prize-winning Union team under the guidance of Professor Ashok Ramasubramanian.


We had an impressive run. We came in second in the endurance category and ninth overall.

Professor Ramasubramanian:

This is the third team I’ve advised and our best showing yet.


We had helpful feedback from the previous teams. “Chester’s Chariot,” our vehicle, is a tadpole tricycle with one large wheel in back and two smaller wheels in front. It has a chromoly steel frame, which is inexpensive, but strong. The seat is mesh (and quite comfy), and it has a clear shell that protects the rider, yet ensures that she can see all around. The shell also enhances dynamics; we got up to 20 miles per hour. Our biggest plus, however, was a tight turning radius, which helped in the endurance race.

Professor Ramasubramanian:

The endurance race is essentially an obstacle course. It’s meant to mimic an urban environment. The team’s performance in this event is really notable. We competed against international teams. It’s not one of those things where everyone is a winner. It’s very intense. There are high expectations, with the reputation of your college at stake. Marjorie did an incredible job as captain.


Thank you! It’s a testament to how much I’ve grown in my four years at Union. Serving as captain qualified for my senior mechanical engineering project, so I did a lot of research before the team got started. For example, I worked out calculations on how to optimize the gears so we could have a range of speeds. But the real work was managing the budget and everyone’s schedules. We had a small team – only five people – so I had to make sure the work got done on time. 

Professor Ramasubramanian:

Then there was the challenge of shipping.


That’s right. I had to figure out how to ship the vehicle, which is 52 pounds, to Orlando for the competition. And I had to find us airfare and rooms, all within budget. The total costs were $8,000. We earned a Presidential Green Grant, a Union award that supports environmentally sustainable projects, and we got money from the Mechanical Engineering Department. Professor Ramasubramanian was a strong supporter throughout, and we were a close team overall.

Professor Ramasubramanian:

It was gratifying to see them succeed. And on the same day, our hockey team won the NCAA championship. We brought home two trophies for Union that weekend.

What are you driven to discover?:

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