Roosevelt Middle School sweeps NM Electric Car Challenge
“My secret, if you can believe it, is ice cream,” explained Steve McGuinness, the Roosevelt Middle School teacher who helped lead his three teams to the top three spots at the NM Electric Car Challenge.
“I take enthusiastic middle schoolers, and we have ice cream, snacks and fun,” McGuinness said. “These are very challenging events, so we challenge ourselves. But as we work hard, we also play hard — you have to remember to let them be 12.”
It’s clearly the recipe for success for this rural New Mexico school located in the east mountains.
The teams from Roosevelt Middle School dominated this year’s competition. Roosevelt Team 3 had the fastest car, zooming across the 10-meter track in just 3.4 seconds, followed closely by Roosevelt Team 1 at 3.71 seconds and Roosevelt Team 2 at 3.83 seconds. The three teams were also the overall winners.
Referred to as the “mountain kids” by their competitors, the Roosevelt middle schoolers said they are accustomed to using ingenuity in their daily lives and love channeling it into this challenge. Just earning a spot on the Roosevelt teams is a big deal.
“We all like engineering class with Mr. McGuinness,” said Emma Findell, a sixth-grader from Roosevelt Team 2, nicknamed the Willy Nilly’s. “When we heard about this challenge, we were like, ‘Can we get in? Can we do it?’”
“So many kids wanted to do it, I had to turn away about 30 kids. That’s the hard part,” said McGuinness, who considered not coaching this year. “They begged me to do it. They inspire me.”
Inspiration is the mission of the NM Electric Car Challenge. Inspiring students to use their imaginations. Inspiring them to delve into the world of STEM. And, hopefully, inspiring the next generation of Sandia scientists and engineers.
“I like the electronics and how you can really learn how to use them,” said Leif Fincher, a sixth-grade competitor from Intermediate Preparatory Academy at the New Mexico Military Institute. This was his first time competing at the event organized by Sandia.
In all, 43 teams from 21 schools across the state took part in the competition Nov. 4 at Kennedy Middle School. Some traveled more than three hours just to participate.
“We had some good naps,” joked Fincher’s teammate Miriam Yehl. “We had to wake up at four in the morning to get here but it was fun.”
The event is the culmination of weeks of diligent work by the students.
The students’ primary objective is to construct an electric car that can travel the 10-meter track the fastest while carrying a 737-gram cylindrical container of table salt as a payload. Students must also deliver an oral presentation on their design and complete a research project.
This year’s topic challenged the students to explore “the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions throughout a vehicle’s lifetime.”
Roosevelt Team 3, named “The Felonious Rabbits,” proposed the use of more sodium ion batteries for electric vehicles. Team member Jack Henley said, “They are not a rare earth metal. They are not hard to find, so we don’t spend fossil fuels mining them. Also, they can’t explode like lithium can.”
The annual NM Electric Car Challenge wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of volunteers from Sandia. This year that group included electrical engineer Dan Riley and Fleet Manager Justin Teo, who served in the roles of racetrack timers.
“I really liked seeing when the teams are at the track, and they are having a rough day. They make some small changes to their car and then all of a sudden, everything clicks for them, and their car goes down the track,” Riley said.
“I think it’s a great competition for kids,” Teo added. “It’s great to see them get so creative and to see their energy. They get so excited over getting across the finish line.”
Although every team hoped to secure the title of the fastest car and take home the giant trophy, it was clear that winning wasn’t everything.
As one moved through the crowds of kids in the classrooms, the cafeteria, library, halls, and gym, it was apparent that young minds were buzzing with inspiration. Their faces would light up when they came up with a new way to make their cars go faster. Their worry was apparent when things didn’t go as planned, and there were smiles when they did.
There was also laughter, a lot of laughter — the exuberant sound of kids being kids.
“We named our car ‘Ol’ Bill’s Tractor,’” giggled Marcus Smith, as he explained how his team from NMMI came up with their car design and name. “We saw a guy on a tractor one day and started laughing. We called him Ol’ Bill. When we started working on our car, we painted it green said together: ‘Let’s call it Ol’ Bill’s tractor,’” prompting his team to break out in even more giggles.
In the end, “Ol’ Bill” didn’t perform as well as they had hoped, but the sixth graders still walked away with smiles and a sense of pride.
“This is our first year doing this, so we did pretty good,” Smith said. “We will be back next year. We will definitely be back.”