Solar race car

High school students from across the state raced solar-powered go-karts around the UA Tech Park on April 30, showcasing vehicles they designed and built through a program sponsored by Tucson Electric Power.

Racing the Sun was developed by the University of Arizona’s Tech Parks Arizona to provide students with hands-on experience in the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields.

The program began in 2011 with students from three Tucson schools and was expanded statewide in 2013. This year, about 200 students from 14 schools participated, said Molly Gilbert, Director of University and Community Engagement for Tech Parks Arizona. Students took most of the school year to design and build their solar-powered cars.

“We held workshops that taught them about wiring, aerodynamics, developing presentations and talking in front of an audience,” Gilbert said.

TEP has been involved as a program sponsor since the competition began, said Carmine Tilghman, TEP’s Senior Director of Energy Supply.

“It’s about engaging students in innovative technological challenges,” Tilghman said. “The idea is to get them interested in technology and the energy industry. This leads to broader ideas and a better education.”

By emphasizing creativity and resourcefulness, Racing the Sun adds a real-world dimension to the students’ classroom education and introduces them to careers in STEM fields. By sponsoring the program, TEP helps excite tomorrow’s scientists, Tilghman said.

“The future of energy relies on technology. Today’s kids will create and develop these next-generation innovations,” Tilghman said. “Today, the utility industry is planning for 2050. That will be the pinnacle of these kids’ careers. They’re going to be the future, and this opens their minds to the possibility of what new technology can do.”

Participating students earned recognition in several different categories. Teams entered different types of cars, either standard chassis kit cars or ones they built from the ground up. Their entries were judged on speed and endurance.

“A lot of what we require throughout the competition aligns with the state standards in engineering and math,” Gilbert said. “We know of at least one teacher who reported back to us that the students are so engaged that they’re looking at colleges based on solar programs that are offered.”