As he was walking to a math class during his freshman year at Ohio State University, R. J. Kromer spotted a poster for a student-run team designing a fuel-cell-powered car. He had never built anything more complex than Lego-based robot kits, but he sent an e-mail to the group asking to join anyway. To his surprise, the team members responded immediately. “I thought there would be all kinds of requirements,” Kromer recalls, “but they said, ‘No, just show up.’”
So Kromer headed over to the team's work space at the school's Center for Automotive Research (CAR). He quickly learned that the unique tribe of mostly baby-faced engineers behind the Buckeye Bullet vehicles, a series of world-record-breaking alternative-fuel cars, planned to test his dedication first. Kromer started out in the engineering equivalent of the mail room. For the first few months he was mostly sweeping the shop or arranging and organizing various tools and spare parts. Between custodial tasks, though, senior team members started teaching him about wiring, control systems, and more. Soon he was learning more in the shop than he was in class. The next year two seniors graduated, and Kromer was in charge of electrical engineering. “It turns out if you're willing to not sleep, you can pick up on things pretty fast,” he says.