I am walking through a series of connected rooms at Coppell High School, just outside of Dallas, TX. The first room is a large lounge area – kids huddled in groups on couches and in corners, scribbling in notebooks and on whiteboards, talking – some of it looks like school work, some of it not. I move through the room into a large workshop – tool boxes, disassembled prototypes, solar panels, batteries, drill presses, milling machines – kids making stuff. Off to my left is a computer lab, filled with maybe 20-30 students, all furiously mousing and typing. I’m pleasantly surprised to see many of the students are working on 3D CAD models, something I used to do several careers ago. Through the door to the outside in front of me, I see sparks flying, and peek my head out to see several students welding the steel frame of what looks like a vehicle out of a Mad Max movie set. I think I need safety goggles to go any further.
All of this comprises the Coppell High School engineering lab, which is the home to Coppell Solar, a high school solar race car team, furiously preparing for this year’s Solar Car Challenge – a grueling race, which runs from the Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, TX, to Palmdale, CA. An eight day marathon covering over 1300 miles – all powered by the sun. And, all in vehicles built and driven by high school students.
I have worked in the solar industry for over 10 years, and had never even heard of this event. I had no idea a high school team could even do something like this. But Treverity’s founder and president, Michael Chappell, has a son that is a student at Coppell and on the solar car team. Michael wanted me to see this – he knew I would geek out. And, he was right.
Nearly 30 teams from across the country will be competing in the Solar Car Challenge this year. The event was established in 1993, and gets a national viewership of over 10 million people. Treverity has been involved with the Coppell Solar team for several years. And this year, Treverity decided to step up our game and formally sponsor the team. We are not just providing them with money (which they need – they are building a solar-electric car for goodness sake!). We are jumping in and helping these students with coaching and guidance. We are helping them think about organization and team structure, introducing them to project management tools (they are now using JIRA and Slack – just like us), helping with marketing and promotion, and even a little technical help from me (I love a good mechanical engineering challenge).
Why are we doing this? Besides the fact that it’s unbelievably cool? Because one of our biggest challenges at Treverity is recruiting good engineering and leadership talent. And this is where those skills are hatched. High school STEM has come a long, long way from my era of high school “shop class.” By helping Coppell Solar, we get the chance to work with smart young people who will be future engineering leaders. By sponsoring them, we help them to be successful, and to encourage their younger classmates to participate in the future. And we know from experience that this will pay off – one of our top developers, Rishi Samani, was a former member of the Coppell Solar team – nearly 10 years ago.
If you are interested in helping out this team, I highly encourage it. I promise you will get back more than you put in. Contact me for more info @ firstname.lastname@example.org or you can donate to the team directly @ http://www.coppellsolar.org/donate.html.
Meanwhile, we will keep you updated on their progress…