Solar cars take off in GEAR UP summer engineering camp
Posted: 06/12/2003
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Despite the 102 degree temperature, the bright sun was appreciated by 34 students from the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program (GEAR UP) during the solar car competition held June 11 on The University of Texas-Pan American campus.

The competition was one of the activities held as part of the GEAR UP summer Engineering Camps held this week and last. GEAR UP camps in biotech, theater arts, computer science and music were also held.

Camper Marco Sierra, of Santa Rosa, said he enjoyed learning how to make a solar car. "Since I was a fifth grader I have told my mom I want to be an engineer or architect but she said that would cost a lot of money. I found out here that there are a lot of scholarships available," Sierra said.

Felipe Salinas, director of special programs at UTPA, said this is the second year for the summer GEAR UP camps and the category of camps has expanded from three to the five held this year. The students, all high school sophomores attending UTPA and Region One GEAR UP project schools, spend Monday through Thursday on campus.

Elda Alvarado, a student at Valley View in Pharr, said this is the third camp she has attended. "I am interested in pursuing a career in engineering or the medical field, so I went to the Bio-Tech camp last week. The camps really help you decide what you want to do," Alvarado said. Alvarado said her favorite activities were building the solar car and examining her DNA in the Bio-Tech Camp.

High school students participating in the summer GEAR UP engineering camp June 11 at The University of Texas-Pan American prepare their cars they designed and built to race in the solar car competition. From left to right are Kathi Cortez, Sharyland High School; Elda Alvarado, Valley View High School; GEAR UP program assistant and senior mechanical engineering major Leonel Salinas; and Sergio Gonzalez, La Joya High School. GEAR UP - Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Program - encourages students to pursue a post-secondary education and exposes them to career opportunities.
Dr. Stephen Crown, associate professor in mechanical engineering, supervised the solar car project. The camp also included the construction and generation of a windmill, supervised by Dr. Doug Timmer, assistant professor in the school of Engineering; a presentation on different career areas in science and engineering presented by Dr. Karen Lozano, assistant professor in mechanical engineering; and tours of the engineering labs and facilities. The instructors are assisted by GEAR UP program assistants, most current or recently graduated engineering students at UTPA.

Crown said the students were provided with solar car model kits and the project covers engineering design and important design factors such as aerodynamics, friction, gear ratio, traction on the wheels and the angle of the solar panel. The competition includes judging of the design's aesthetics as well as how the car performs in a race. Winning two-person teams are awarded additional solar car kits and solar panels for their cars as prizes.

"The students seem very interested and motivated. This is one of the more enjoyable things students get to do - to build something and test it," Crown said. "During a tour of our building, the students get to see the array of solar panels on the roof and learn that there are a lot of other uses for solar energy. It gets them thinking about renewable energy - an area in engineering that is going to be even more important in the future," Crown said.

According to Sylvia Migoni, public relations director for the UTPA GEAR UP program, the camps provide a positive impact on students in pursuing a college education and have become very popular, with waiting lists especially for the science-related camps. "We are hoping to add a business camp for next year," Migoni said.

For more information on GEAR UP contact Migoni at 956/381-3607.