(Oct. 10th, 2011) --To cultivate an interest in engineering among San Antonio high school students and to provide UTSA students an opportunity to mentor high school students, The Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (Texas SERI) invested $15,000 to launch the James Madison High School Solar PV Racing Team. The team built its first solar car in 2011 and plans to build two new solar vehicles by early 2012 to compete at the Eco Shell Marathon and Winston Solar Challenge.
"James Madison High School does an excellent job of encouraging students to pursue careers rooted in science, technology, engineering and mathematics through hands-on opportunities," said Les Shephard, director of Texas SERI and UTSA's Robert F. McDermott Distinguished Chair in Engineering. "Dr. Joe Dungan, a longtime chemistry teacher at Madison, has taken students to the Green Energy Roundup in Fredericksburg, Texas, to the International Fuel Conference and to Southwest Research Institute®, among other locations, to help them understand the opportunities available to them in engineering. When the Madison High Solar Car Team came to us looking for support to get a program started, it was a very easy decision. We knew the solar car initiative would provide a great learning experience."
Last year, Dr. Dungan, Madison teachers Paul Edgar and Don Henson, mentor and consultant Robert Franz and UTSA students James Benson and Javier Guerrero took a group of Madison sophomores, juniors, seniors and recent grads through the process of building a solar vehicle. They taught the students about research, design, construction and testing. With little budget, the MadSCI team purchased parts, borrowed parts and even salvaged parts from junkyards to build the car. While their classmates took summer vacations to exciting destinations, the teens endured record-breaking temperatures topping 115 degrees in an un-air conditioned building to build the school's first-ever solar vehicle. The result, dubbed Solar Ray I, was a sleek, low-riding machine powered by five photovoltaic panels. On half power, it is capable of reaching 30 miles per hour.
Junior Valerie Gamao recalled her initial reaction at the car's completion.
"I was amazed that we were able to pull it off," she recalled. "Lots of other students joined us at the beginning, but they were doubtful that we could pull it off because we were in high school and they left. Now, there's increased confidence in the team. We did this with our hands. Now they want to be a part of it."
"In striving to prepare students for success in the global community that our world has become, and to fuel their artistic and academic ambitions, motivate them in science, engineering and technology, it has become increasingly necessary to expand the curriculum beyond the standard classroom," said Dungan. "Students need to be exposed to and involved in activities that involve authenticity, collaboration, critical thinking skills, global implications, in-depth investigations, cross-curricular applications and a very high student motivation and engagement factor. This solar car initiative was the perfect beyond the classroom project because in striving to meet this challenge, students were exposed to and involved in precisely those types of activities."
He added, "I am incredibly proud of everyone that was involved in this project. The students, teachers, and mentors literally gave up their whole summer to work on the car. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment evident in the students after finishing this solar car is the greatest reward for which the teachers and mentors could ask."
But the engineering extracurricular wasn't all fun and games.
Madison High School senior Matthew Sheridan vividly recalls a critical lesson.
"Last year, we didn't obtain our funds until later in the year, and in the following rush to finish the car, we made our frame before we knew how all the components would attach to it," Sheridan said. "This year, we will have all our final components researched and measured so that we can design the entire car in a computer-aided design program such as SolidWorks before making a single weld. This will allow our car to be stronger and lighter because all of our frame members will be in place so our components can easily attach to them, versus our pain in the first car, where we had to weld on a new, heavy bracket every time something was added to our car."
With UTSA and other sponsors, the MadSci Solar Racing Team hopes to build two additional solar cars for competition. They have their eyes on the 2012 Eco Shell Marathon, scheduled on March 29-April 1, 2012 in Houston, Texas, and the Winston Solar Challenge, which will take place in summer 2012.
And Junior Devin Keilberg welcomes the challenge.
"I didn't have a summer," he recalls. "I was there all summer. But I've done something that makes me stand out from everyone else. It makes me feel proud. I know it will pay off."
UTSA's Shephard agrees.
"We have already reaped the benefits of these interactions as two of these students are now enrolled at UTSA," said Shephard."I have no doubt the Madison students will be successful with the next generation solar vehicle. All the pieces are in place. They've learned some important lessons from their first project that they plan to integrate into the next car. And they have excellent advisors. We are thrilled to support them in their endeavors."
The MadSci Solar Car Team is also sponsored by Toyota Motor Corp, Rivercity Industries, the Motorcycle Shop and AAA Solar Texas.
MadSCI Team, Solar Ray I:
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