Valley students rev up engines at HESTEC Solar Car Competition
Posted: 10/15/2002
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Even though the sun was hidden by a cloudy day at The University of Texas-Pan American, 40 school districts from across the Rio Grande Valley converged onto The University of Texas-Pan American campus to compete in the Solar Car Competition during Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology Week (HESTEC).

Above, GEAR UP students cheer on the solar-powered cars as they race down the track. More than 40 school districts participated in the Solar Car Competition, sponsored by TRW and the U.S. Department of Energy.
More than 2,000 ninth grade GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program) students participated in Math and Science Student Exploration Day - which allowed students to hear from the country's leaders in business, technology and government; and rev up their solar powered engines for the competition.

"This event that we planned here is part of our efforts to bring all those smart and achieving people here to campus and share their expertise, experience and enthusiasm with students from the Rio Grande Valley," Dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science Dr. Edwin LeMaster said. "We want to send the message that engineering and science are a lot of fun and it's the real stuff."

The competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and TRW - an aerospace company that builds satellite - gave students the opportunity to get hands on experience in building and testing their models, and competing against others.

"They had a lot of fun and we had a lot of fun doing the competition," LeMaster said. "Engineering is all about solving real problems and making things work, and so it gives them a chance to experience the same thing we experience when we design complicated electronic circuits, a computer drive, steering gear on automobile or something for an airplane."

Each participating school district was provided with a $300 solar car kit - which allowed students to build up to 25 solar car models - and 10 days to design the model. Out of the many models built for the competition, students were permitted one car per entry in the contest. The cars and race were judged by the U.S. Department of Energy and TRW.

The team from Progreso High School was crowned champions after defeating Harlingen High School in the race. The Progreso team is made up of freshmen Joseph Oviedo, Denise Cabrera and Rene Garza were awarded laptop computers for their first place finish. Second place took home scientific calculators.

"We were in shock when we won because it was like the Cinderella story, nobody expected us to win," Oviedo said. "All three of us come from a small school and we proved we could do it."

Weslaco High School freshman Ying Yang, whose solar car "Jay" made it to the finals, said even though her team did not win, the competition and Math and Science Exploration Day has furthered her interest into entering the field of engineering.

"I wanted to be an engineer in the beginning, and today I'm more interested in becoming one," Yang said. "I really want to be an engineer because I love engineering and I hope people realize the importance of it."