Electric Car Challenge Sparks Students’ STEM Interest

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Electric Car Challenge Sparks Students’ STEM Interest

By | 2017-07-25T18:52:28+00:00 January 9th, 2015|Energy, Energy Storage, News, News & Events, Partnership, Transportation Energy|Comments Off on Electric Car Challenge Sparks Students’ STEM Interest

Aspiring automotive engineers from 27 NM middle schools competed in the New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Saturday, November 22nd at  Highland High School in Albuquerque. Forty-six teams participated in a race, a design competition, and an optional oral presentation.

Two McKinley Middle School students meet after school to design and build the model car they raced in this year’s New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Nov. 22 at Albuquerque’s Highland High School. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Two McKinley Middle School students meet after school to design and build the model car they raced in this year’s New Mexico Electric Car Challenge on Nov. 22 at Albuquerque’s Highland High School. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

The New Mexico Electric Car Challenge, formerly the New Mexico Hydrogen Fuels Challenge, is presented by Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), Albuquerque Public Schools, Intel, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The goals of the challenge are to

  • present science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts to students in a fun and exciting way;
  • encourage team building;
  • stimulate creative thinking; and
  • develop students’ writing and presentation skills.

“This event introduces students to engineering careers. Students discover that, in engineering, there isn’t just one right answer, and things don’t always go as expected,” said Amy Tapia, Sandia’s Community Involvement manager.

At registration, teams received a lithium-ion battery and a direct-current motor that must be used to power the vehicle. The students also received a kit containing a chassis, wheels, and gears that they are not required to use. The challenge encourages students to experiment with different body styles and materials to improve their cars’ performance on a 10-meter racetrack.

Volunteer judges evaluate the designs for innovation, craftsmanship, and appearance and rate the students’ oral presentations.

Katrina Groth (in Sandia’s Risk & Reliability Analysis Dept.), a Sandia reliability engineer, has judged the challenge for two years and returned for a third year. “The students start with the project toolkit, but I look for evidence that they have gone beyond that to make something bigger and better. I want to see that they’ve thought creatively and logically about how to improve what they started with,” she said.

Krystal Irby, a science teacher at McKinley Middle School in Albuquerque, is coaching two teams in this year’s challenge—a team of five sixth- and seventh-graders and a team of six eighth-graders. Irby’s teams work on their electric cars twice a week after school, and she makes the challenge a priority because of the benefits to her students.

“I help them approach a challenge and discover things about themselves like new interests, undeveloped talents, and the capacity to solve a problem. After the competition, I see a rise in their self-confidence as they not only completed the project but raced it and presented its design. This is such an important opportunity for students at this age,” she said.

Read the Sandia news release.