What is a student design team? Why would I join one?

Zahra Written by Zahra (she/her), student

Wait, what kind of team?

A design team is a group of people that work together to achieve a common design goal.

A design goal can be comprised of many things. It could be designing a solar race car, a bridge, a robot, or even a rocket. These are all real examples of the various student design teams at Waterloo.

There are many different roles, including design, writing up financial reports for funding, building the design, applying to conferences where competitions could occur, or developing the software to provide functionality for the design.

This means that there are not only Engineering students on design teams, but all Waterloo students can contribute to the team. You may not be the best at sketching, but that’s okay – just ask someone from Fine Arts to join your team!

Students building a vehicle in the student design centre.

The Clean Snowmobile Challenge is a design competition organized by the Society of Automotive Engineers focusing on reducing the environmental impact of snowmobiles, in particular the issues of noise and tailpipe emissions. 

Once you’ve completed your designs, you almost always compete with other universities inside or outside of Canada who have similar design teams, creating similar products. So, if you’re a competitive person and want to receive recognition for your hard work, this could be a great opportunity for you.

Through design teams, I’ve learned concepts I wouldn’t have been exposed to until years later.

Winners can sometimes even receive money from sponsors funding the competition. This is also great to share with future employers (let’s say during a job interview). It shows that you’re a team player and committed to seeing a project through to completion.

Through design teams, I’ve learned concepts I wouldn’t have been exposed to until years later. This is possible because teams have students from all years, so upper-year students can apply more complicated concepts to our designs and teach it to the first- or second-year students at the same time.

Peer-to-peer learning can be one of the most beneficial forms of learning since you’re having someone not much older than you teach you something they learned not that long ago.

This means they probably remembered what concepts they struggled with and why, so they can explain them in a better way, using techniques that helped them understand.

So, if you’re not already convinced, I’ve broken it down into 11 reasons you should join a design team.

Meet new people

When you’re new on campus or you just want to branch out to meet people outside your program/faculty, a design team can go a long way. This is a great way to meet other like-minded individuals that are interested in the same things you are.

Expand your skills

Learn to design, weld, construct, drive, test, and so much more! Through design teams, I was able to get into the machine shop, which is basically the first floor or design floor of the Engineering 5 building, and learn how to use machines like saws and drills.


Discover other ways to get involved while at university


Explore new places

While competing on design teams, I’ve gone to different cities in Ontario and met engineering students from different universities. I’m still in contact with some of them and it’s nice to compare how different schools run similar programs.

At a conference for the Steel Bridge team, my friends were able to travel to a couple of cities in the United States and meet with engineering students at different universities and colleges. You usually get to go for a few days and most of your expenses are covered or greatly subsidized, which is fantastic for students, since we’re usually on a budget.

Apply classroom theories to the real world

If you’ve ever heard your professor (prof) talk about something interesting in a lecture, odds are that they could be supervising research or a design team that is working on that topic. If they’re not, you should have a conversation with them to initiate something you could both work on. There’s plenty of funding for profs at Waterloo and you can use that to help obtain a more comprehensive and enriched student experience.

You’ll get paid in experiences, new friendships, and – most importantly – free snacks.

Earn work experience that pays off

You won’t get paid for being on a design team, at least, not in the conventional way. You’ll get paid in experiences, new friendships, and – most importantly – free snacks every time there are leftovers from an event occurring in E5.

Not in a co-op program? Perfect!

A lot of students in co-op programs are unsure of where they’ll be next term, which can be challenging when you need to work on a design team. So, if you’re not in a co-op program, that can be really helpful for the rest of your team. You’ll be a reliable source that can help lead those who will be coming and going each term.

Join a sports team without the sports…

Having solid teamwork and collaboration skills isn’t just important because they seem like admirable attributes. They’re also important because there’s a 99.99% chance that you’ll work as part of a team at some point before or after you graduate. As a result, joining a design team will improve your effectiveness academically and professionally.


If you’re into business, marketing, or graphic design, they need people who can manage the finances and create marketing materials.

They're not just for engineering students

Don't be intimidated by the students making wild cars and gadgets. Sure, there are super smart people making life-changing products, but like I said before, teams also need to make money to fund everything they do.

So, if you’re into business, marketing, graphic design, they need people who can manage the finances and create marketing materials for sponsors.

Learn from experts

Design teams often gather attention from large corporations and/or other businesses. You could find yourself working with people who are in the industry and who will provide you with feedback on your designs. This is priceless when you’re a student and still learning.  


One of the best feelings is the rush you get after finishing something you and your team worked on.

Have the most fun

The combination of potentially late nights, good friends, food, and adrenaline/enthusiasm from quickly approaching deadlines can be exciting. One of the best feelings is the rush you get after finishing something you and your team worked on and finding out you made it to the competition. Try it yourself and you’ll know what I mean.

If you’re not convinced by now, I give up…

Just kidding, but seriously, join one.


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