What better way to introduce young people to engineering than by giving them a hands-on experience? There is nothing quite like the thrill and excitement of watching a car that you designed, built and tested race towards the finish line. This is the experience that the Greenpower Electric Car Challenge brings to middle, high school and college students around the globe, and now, for the first time ever, the event is coming to the Rio Grande Valley.
Students from across South Texas will gather this weekend to compete in the first ever HESTEC GreenpowerUSA South Texas Electric Car Competition taking place Friday and Saturday at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. Hosted by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and its award-winning program, Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week (HESTEC), this event uses the excitement of motorsport to inspire students from primary school through university to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) studies.
“What an opportunity for our students. They are designing these cars using Solid Edge 3D CAD, and will then test what they have learned at the competition,” said Velinda Reyes, UTRGV assistant vice president for Community Programs and Operations in a press release. “Participating in this competition will help prepare our students for the STEM workforce of tomorrow. We invite the public to come out and see first-hand what our students are learning.”
The event kicks off Friday with a public showcase during which attendees can meet the teams and see the electric cars they’ve designed. The real fun starts on race day, though, with opening ceremonies beginning Saturday at 11:30 a.m. CT followed by a parade of teams. Races will start shortly after with the ten middle school teams being the first to compete, followed by eleven high school teams, and later college. Thirty two teams in total will participate. It’s free to attend, so if you’re in the area and want to check it out, we encourage you to stop by! It’s a great chance to see the amazing work students are doing in the field of engineering.
The Santa Rosa High School and San Benito High School got to take their cars for a test spin during the race in Huntsville, Alabama last month.“We're looking forward to the competition in Brownsville. Our students have been working very hard to have their electric cars ready,” said Alberto Treviño, Santa Rosa High School Afterschool Project director. “Getting our students involved in this program gives them confidence and permission to explore other opportunities and career paths that may not traditionally be open to them or that they didn't know they had a passion for. You really see them at their best."
After school programs such as these also have the added benefit of giving students hands-on experience and training that gives them a leg up when it comes time to apply to colleges and, eventually, enter the workforce. "Being familiar with the software, having experience using Solid Edge and other programs, and with engineering, it's priceless," Alberto adds.
In preparation for the Brownsville event, San Benito High School and Santa Rosa High School sent students to the Toyota-Jaguar Classic Electric Car Competition in Huntsville, Alabama, on March 1 where the team placed third. That event marked their first competition, though they regularly hold what they refer to as "Murphy Races" to work out any kinks beforehand. The race in Alabama helped prepare students for any kind of weather conditions, coach Alberto said, because it was raining and cold.
It’s not just the students who have been preparing, however. In September 2017, more than 30 teachers from across South Texas took part in training sessions where they learned how to build and design the single-seat electric cars.
“We learned how to put these cars together to help our students build the cars,” said Paul Tenison, STEM practicum coordinator at Harlingen High School. “I have an active engineering club with 24 students and I know they all want to be on our Greenpower team.”