Solar Car team drives towards new goals

The Engineering team has been working extremely hard on this solar car each week in hopes of winning contests they have entered. Photo by Ivy Hess.

The Engineering team has been working extremely hard on this solar car each week in hopes of winning contests they have entered. Photo by Ivy Hess.

By Kristen Shepard
Staff Writer

A dedicated group of students uses welding tools, wires and wheels work in a place where the sky is the limit. The Coppell Solar Car team is unlike any high school organization and is planning success in their future by driving full speed ahead.

Under the guidance of Mike Yakubovsky, the 43-member Solar Car team is one of the best in the nation. This group of high school students aspires to compete with the top engineering colleges and corporations in the world, and their hard work and dedication is putting them on track to do so. The solar car team has a past of success and high-performance. Each year, the team enters the Solar Car challenge, a race previously held at Texas Motor Speedway.

This year, however, the Solar Car challenge has a bigger test in store. Instead of racing in an enclosed track, the race will be cross-country from Dallas to Pasadena, Calif. This style of race is unlike anything the Solar Car team has done before. The total mileage of this journey will be anywhere from 800 to 1,000 miles, and the team has some serious gearing up to do in order to prepare.

“If this race pulls through, [the Solar Car team] is going to face some serious challenges; for starters, we will be racing on the open the open road,” junior business manager Spencer Coberly said. “We would have to engineer a new car and make sure we meet the regulations for a higher level of competition.”

Seeing an enrollment increase of 30 people, the formerly 10-member has developed greatly from their small numbers last year. Even though the team has won numerous awards and placed sixth in last year’s high school race at Texas Motor Speedway, the team plans to grow bigger and get better than ever before.

“With more people on the teams comes good things and challenges, we can definitely get more done, but sometimes having newer members can lead to problems,” senior captain Kaelan Cowan said.

Cowan, a third year member on the solar car team, has watched the project grow and is eager for it to take off.

The Engineering team has been working extremely hard on this solar car each week in hopes of winning contests they have entered. Photo by Ivy Hess.

“I don’t consider myself an expert, but I want to help the members grow and improve their skills so that we can perform to the best of our ability,” Cowan said.

Much of the enrollment increase can be accredited to the Coppell Academy program. One of the branches of the Academy, known as STEM, caters specifically to the learning styles and preferences of engineering students. By integrating engineering information and skills into the core classes and electives that STEM students take, the academies are providing an unparalleled educational experience for new freshmen.

By starting the engineering curriculum early, Yakubovsky hopes to gear up for the World Solar competition, to be held in Australia.

“This kind of race is the opportunity of a lifetime, the students would be competing with some of the universities and corporations in the world,” Yakuvbovsky said. “The only way we could consider something like this would be with a highly-experienced team and that’s exactly what we hope the academies will create.”

World Solar is only once each year, and the race consists of driving from the North tip of the continent to the South tip, a distance totaling 3,000 kilometers. From Darwin to Adelaide, the cars must be completely self-sufficient and are only allowed a certain number of running hours per day.

With such challenging plans on the road ahead, the Solar Car team must make sure they are mechanically ready for these upcoming races. One of the first steps is to make sure they have a vehicle that is up to par.

“The car we have right now gets the job done, but we are looking to repair and make improvements at such great levels that it is actually less expensive and demanding to make a new car, altogether,” Yakubovsky said. “Not only is making an entirely new vehicle a large project, raising the money will be just as difficult.”

Because different Solar Car competitions require different vehicle specifications, the new solar car will be built using different solar cell types and other examples of recent technology. Cars of these specifications usually total about $100,000 in tools and equipment.

 

While it may seem like the first step in the Solar Car team’s journey is building a new car, the real first step is to raise the money to create a new car, which is far from a simple task.

That is where Coberly comes in. A junior and second year member on the Solar Car team, Coberly manages the business branch of the team, which plays an important role in the team’s inner workings.

“One of the first things the business branch does is contact corporate sponsors. Without them, the thought of us raising hundreds of thousands isn’t even realistic,” Coberly said. “We go to their offices and prepare presentations and newsletters and tell them the reasons why they should support us. We are learning real life skills outside of the classroom, and you can’t do that with every activity.”

Sponsors have played a vital role in the Solar Car’s success, with big names like Nissan offering money to the team. Not only does the financial assistance have lasting importance, the publicity and awareness helps get the news out to the public.

“One of the newsletters we sent to a partner at Nissan sent the letter out to all the company’s employees,” Coberly said. “Thousands of more people were able to find out about us, and that is helping us get on our way”.

Coberly encourages new members to keep working hard, as he himself started with little prior knowledge.

“When I joined the team, I didn’t really know much about mechanical engineering, but I was constantly trying to figure out how things around the house worked,” Coberly said. “Now, I am much more confident in my engineering skills and I have a competitive edge compared to other kids who want to be engineers and haven’t had these opportunities.”

With the knowledge, support and tools to guide them, this year’s solar car team is eager to change the world of high school engineering, one solar panel at a time.