It’s a hot Saturday morning in Florida and high school students are suiting up to jump into their electric vehicles (EV). It’s race day.
Under the guidance of their teachers, nine teams spent months preparing for this moment, designing and building their own go-cart-type vehicles powered by an electric motor and batteries. They traveled from all over Florida to race in the closed loop outside Florida Solar Energy Center’s parking lot in Cocoa Beach.
“Building the car is a fun process. It’s very hands-on between the wiring, fuses, motor and putting parts together,” said 14-year-old racer Nathaniel Adams. He traveled more than three hours with his school team from Kirkland Ranch Academy of Innovation in Wesley Chapel, Florida. “I just started this year, but it’s something I think a lot of kids would love.”
The experience is part of Electrathon America, a competition combining the excitement of motorsports with the practical application of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.
Students’ skills and ingenuity are put to the test as they perfect their own electric racecar, then compete against each other to see who can go the longest around the track in an hour. The race isn’t about speed, it’s about endurance. The driver with the most laps wins.
“Unfortunately, my car died halfway through the race,” Adams said. However, he embraces the setback as an opportunity to go back to the drawing board. The race may end, but the quest for excellence continues, as the team strives to perfect their electric cars before the next race.
It’s a challenge that’s boosted kids’ interest in education. Organizers have seen an increase in sign-ups and teams are showing up in larger numbers on race day.
FAU High School was one of those new teams.
“We received this car back when FPL sponsored the Formula E race in Miami,” said Allan Phipps, the STEM coordinator at A.D. Henderson University School & FAU High School in Boca Raton.
At the time, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) provided the school with its own build-your-own EV car kit to race in the event’s halftime show. Today, the school is repurposing the car to race in future Electrathon competitions around the state.
“One car kit can be reused and repurposed plenty of times, unlocking years’ worth of lesson plans and hands-on learning,” FPL Project Manager Isabella Burckhardt said. Starting this fall, Burckhardt is spearheading the company’s new STEM initiative supporting Electrathon America competitions.
“The cost of materials and tools can be roadblocks, preventing students from exploring a career path in these fields,” Burckhardt said. “Our support ensures those barriers are broken by providing interested high school teams with a build-your-own electric vehicle kit, training, as well as resources for car maintenance and race participation.”
This initiative is being spearheaded by FPL through the company’s EV charging solutions program. FPL EVolution® makes charging an electric vehicle simple through convenient EV charging options at home and on the road. FPL is also raising awareness about EVs through demos, ride-and-drive experiences and educational programs like Electrathon.
Some schools in Northwest Florida have a long history of participating in Electrathon events hosted at Pensacola’s Five Flags Speedway. FPL wants to energize that Electrathon momentum in the region by inviting more schools to participate.
“Support of Electrathon extends our mission of shaping a more sustainable future for all,” Burckhardt said. “We’re cultivating the skills necessary for future careers in these rapidly evolving fields and raising EV awareness for the next generation who is passionate about sustainable energy solutions.”
Electrathon of Florida’s executive director Charles Harrison agrees. He oversees the Tampa Bay chapter, which was created in Hillsborough County as a grassroots mentoring program to boost students’ interest in STEM careers. Today, the program has expanded beyond Hillsborough and into more than eight counties.
And it aims to expand further, in hopes of reaching every part of the state with the help of FPL.
“Growing this program to different areas of the state will give opportunities to people that wouldn’t normally be exposed to STEM like this,” Harrison said. “This will give future generations a chance to excel in STEM fields, opening their minds to a future in physics, math, science, tech or manufacturing.”
For those interested in learning more about FPL’s Electrathon program, visit Fpl.com/community/electrathon.html.