Solar Car Challenge Motivates STEM Students

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Solar Car Challenge motivates STEM students
Photo courtesy Solar Car Challenge

More than 20 teams of high school students from across the United States are preparing to set off on a 1,400-mile trek from Fort Worth, Texas, to Palmdale, California, driving cars they designed, engineered and built powered by solar energy. Teams will depart Fort Worth in the 30th anniversary Solar Car Challenge on July 16, arriving in Palmdale on July 23.

The Solar Car Challenge, established in 1993 by former teacher Dr. Lehman Marks, is designed to help motivate students in the fields of science, technology and alternative energy. Preparations for this year’s race began with educational workshops last September, though it can take teams two to three years to see their ideas come to fruition. Students built the cars using their own ideas and starting from scratch. Before they set off on their journey, their cars will face “scrutineering” – evaluation by a panel of judges – at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth from July 13-15.

During the race, car breakdowns, weather conditions, road construction and team experience will limit the number of miles a team can drive each day. The team driving the most miles accumulated over the journey will be declared the winner.

Solar Car Challenge Pit Stops

Along the way, the teams will stop in Snyder, Texas; Carlsbad, New Mexico; El Paso, Texas; Florence, Arizona; Wickenburg, Arizona and Twentynine Palms, California. Students will have opportunities to showcase their cars before the public in El Paso, Phoenix and Florence.

“Students who take part in the Solar Car Challenge have a 23% greater chance of going into a STEM career than students participating in other STEM programs. This is the top project-based STEM program in the country,” Marks said. “We teach the kids how to build a plan, come up with a budget, fundraise, how to engineer the car and manage the project, all while they’re learning about how to harness energy from the sun to make a car go down the road.”

This year’s Solar Car Challenge will feature teams from Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. There are teams in various stages of development in 39 states, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Spain and Singapore. The cross-country version of the race occurs biannually, with alternating years showcasing cars on the track at Texas Motor Speedway.

“The cross-country race requires teams to develop really strong logistics and contingency plans,” explained Marks. “Each team will not only have their solar car driving this route, but a lead car and two chase vehicles.”

Solar Car Challenge Organizer

Marks hopes the more than 200,000 people who will see and visit the cars during their eight-day trek are inspired by the accomplishments of these students.

“My favorite moments in each race are when we interact with children in the towns we visit,” Marks said. “Watching them see themselves in these roles and seeing the spark of innovation in their eyes is why we come back year after year.”

The Solar Car Challenge & Education Program is designed to help motivate students in Science, Engineering, and Alternative Energy. We teach high school students how to plan, design, engineer, build, race, and evaluate roadworthy solar cars. Students demonstrate that green technology can create a better world. The Solar Car Challenge has 261 ongoing high school solar car projects located in 39 states, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Spain and Singapore. These teams are in the process of designing, engineering and building roadworthy solar cars in anticipation of an upcoming solar racing event. The Challenge’s Education Program provides support for schools seeking to be a part of this top project-based STEM Initiative. The Solar Car Challenge’s Education Program has served the educational community for 26 national events. More than 65,000 students have directly benefited from this program.

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Jo Ann Holt is an award-winning journalist with 40+ years of experience as a writer and editor. She loves live performances, from country music concerts to Broadway musicals to community theatre productions. Holt also enjoys art and cultural festivals, and good food and wine. She’s toured Amsterdam, London, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and various cities in Mexico but looks forward to visiting even more countries. She has traveled by boat, plane, and train, but especially likes taking long road trips across the U.S. with her husband, retired history professor Durhl Caussey. They enjoy meeting friendly people, learning about different cultures, and visiting historic sites wherever they go.