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Moving beyond ‘chalk and talk’

St. John’s College students in process of building solar-powered car to compete in 2017 Solar Car Challenge
  • From the left: St. John’s College physics teacher, Father Shazz Turnquest; Winston Marshall, Association of Commercial Energy Assessors (ACEA) member; and St. John’s College Principal Dr. Nevillene Evans, right; with student team members, Deneil Rolle, Marcinko Arthur, Dwayna Archer and Kevaughn Pratt, who are building the solar-powered car to compete in the July 2017 Solar Car Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway in Dallas. PHOTOS: TORRELL GLINTON

Guardian Lifestyles Editor

Published: Nov 09, 2016

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There is so much more to learning than just the “chalk and talk” which is why St. John’s College (SJC) physics teacher Father Shazz Turnquest is excited that a group of his students are in the process of building a full-sized solar powered car that is expected to incorporate the latest technology and design specifications to race against students from schools across the United States at the July 2017 Solar Car Challenge to be held at the Texas Motor Speedway.

The students are responsible for designing and building the car from the ground up. They can take direction and guidance from their teachers and industry leaders, as they are required to market their vehicle to show proficiency in their design methodologies; and are required to raise funds to facilitate the building, testing, shipping and racing of their car.

The STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) based initiative will have numerous benefits for the students participating in the building of the solar powered car, according to Father Shazz Turnquest, the project lead and physics teacher.

“In education today, especially in The Bahamas, everything is book-driven. We’re trying to embrace a lot of technology in the classrooms — a lot of whiteboards and computers, but there are so many talented children who are falling through the cracks who are excellent with their hands — they can build things, they can draw things, they create things — and the curriculum has to be modified to allow for them to also engage … for them to shine, and for them to feel good about their learning,” said Turnquest.

Through the building of their solar powered car Turnquest is hoping the process will teach the students logistics, how to plan a project, how to execute a project, how to work as a team, how to think, and how to problem solve — things he said that are best learnt by project-based initiatives such as their solar powered car project.

“The program is really beneficial for them because what it does is exposes them to students from all over the United States. It helps them to develop their resumes and opens doors to scholarships for them. College and university scholarship boards are looking for diversity and innovation in the academic career of children — it’s not just academics. They have to be well-rounded.”

The students who are currently working on the solar car are some of the top seniors in the school and include 12th grade students, Justin Sweeting, the school’s head boy who is also the team leader, who came up with the design for the car’s drag train; as well as Marcinko Arthur, Munir Gharbaran, Richard Hamma and Ralph Sealy.

Eleventh grade team members include two females Deniel Rolle who designed the logo for the team’s memorabilia and Dwayna Archer, who Turnquest described as “brilliant students”.

“They [girls] are interested in engineering and design as a career, so they just naturally gravitated to the project, and their input is very valuable. Girls are different from boys in that girls look at a lot of holistic aspects of the design process — things that we guys might miss, girls pick up on,” said Turnquest.

Rounding out the team are Darren Butler, Kevaughn Pratt, Giovannie Embleton, Cephas Pinder, Khyree Rolle, Delton Rolle and Aaron Springer.

“The team is made up of 11th and 12th grade students … physics and mathematics students who want to be able to have a hands-on experience of physics and not just a bunch of equations and a bunch of math. They want to be able to actually do something,” he said.

Turnquest said they hope to have the solar powered car completed by Christmas. But that it would all “boil down” to funding. He has estimated the project will run them approximately $50,000.

They are in the process of trying to raise the funds to source the components to complete the car, test it, ship it to Dallas, satisfy racing fees, the cost of a U-Haul to take the 12-foot, 500 pound car around and cover the cost of the 10-man team plus chaperones that will travel to Dallas for the challenge.

“If I have the funding I can finish this car tomorrow. I’m grateful to the companies that have donated so far.”

The solar powered car’s frame is 95 percent completed. The team is in the process of trying to augment the frame by developing the car’s drive train.

The idea of the students building the car with a view to racing in the Challenge, started with school principal Dr. Nevillene Evans who Turnquest said shared a vision for St. John’s to embrace renewable energy and wanting to find ways for student to work on solar car models.

Turnquest, a former mechanical engineer, also researched avenues online and came across a workshop in Dallas. He wrote to them, advising them of what they were trying to do at SJC. The workshop principles invited him to Dallas to view what they were doing. The physics teacher said he was impressed and that they were impressed with what SJC was trying to do and invited the school to put a team together to be a part of the program. The physics teacher accepted the invite.

“I didn’t know where the first dollar was coming from, but decided why not,” he said.

In 1993, the Winston Solar Car Team launched an education program to provide curriculum materials, on-site visits and workshop opportunities for high schools across the United States. The program, originally a part of The Winston School (Dallas, TX), was designed to motivate students in the sciences, engineering and technology. The end product of each two-year education cycle is the Solar Car Challenge: a closed-track event at the Texas Motor Speedway, or a cross country race designed to give students an opportunity to display their work. The Winston Solar Education Program has been shared with more than 900 schools in 20 countries.

The first Challenge in 1995 attracted 90 schools leading to nine schools actually building cars for the 1995 race. Three cars qualified to run. The 1997 Challenge grew to over 350 schools in five countries. Eight cars qualified to run the 1997 race, a 600-mile cross-country event from Dallas to San Antonio. The 1999 race, a 1,600-mile event from Dallas to Los Angeles saw eight teams enjoy the fun of high school solar car racing. The 2001 race started in Round Rock, TX at Dell Computers and traveled 1,400-miles to Columbus, Indiana. In 2003, 10 challengers endeavored to race from Round Rock, TX to the Florida Solar Energy Center, Cocoa, FL. The challenge has grown to host 18 solar car teams in 2014 with more teams starting to build cars each year.

Turnquest was invited to take in and judge last year’s cross-country run, which he said was a “fabulous experience” and opened his eyes as to the level the competition operates at. Immediately afterwards he started putting the team together.

While there are 14 students currently working on the project, Turnquest said the budget is estimated for 10 students to travel.

“The engagement level of the kids is so high … they’re really interested and so excited that I don’t want to turn them away, but I know [the team] will have to be whittled down and some will probably not travel. If I could carry every child I would, but there are limitations to the project,” he said.

Students working on the solar car project meet Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

The solar car that the SJC team will put into the competition is only allowed to have 250 pounds worth of batteries, which Turnquest said would require a delicate balancing act between the electric motor drawing down from the battery and the solar panel trickle charging the battery.

“If I can have it running for four hours continuously that would be awesome,” he said.

The output the car gets he said would depend on how the student drives the car. The minimum speed they have to run is 20 to 25 miles per hour, and if the sun is shining on that day has to be factored in, along with the electronics they will use to balance everything.

“If I can get that thing to run for a couple of hours and get around that track a couple of times, I’m just going to pour champagne all over myself,” said Turnquest.


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