High School Students Enter Self-Made, Solar-Powered Vehicles Into Tournament

FGCU Hosts Eleventh Annual SunChase Go-Kart Competition

Jusolyn Flower, Staff Writer

11 teams of high school students across south Florida were able to demonstrate their STEM-centered skills by entering self-made, solar-powered vehicles into the 11th annual SunChase Solar Go-Kart race.

The SunChase competition, held on April 1, provided an opportunity for students to gain fundamental skills and build upon that foundation while optimizing their sunlight-charged vehicles throughout the year. 

Dr. Joe Simmons, who was the first Backe Chair for Renewable Energy at FGCU, envisioned SunChase in 2013. He wanted to develop an outlet for high school students in South Florida to express their interest in engineering and renewable energy technologies.  

Sophomore Sophia Barrera said that even though she is not a naturally STEM-inclined person, the adrenaline of racing is what drew her to SunChase and to join her school’s team last year.

“This year, since a lot of our seniors graduated, and our team is smaller now, I’ve gotten to play a larger role in the electrical and mechanical side of building our car. It’s so different from what I have done in the past,” Barrera said. “I am learning so much about engineering that makes me a more handy person, both in my household and at school.”

Before the race began, each team was judged on presentation, which included overall evidence of technical knowledge, modifications, quality and teamwork. Then during the competition, teams were required to drive three timed, two-lap sprints, and one final distance race, enduring over half an hour. 

Production by Jusolyn Flower

“I’ve learned a lot about how to make a plan and then carry that out, by dealing with certain issues you come across and not giving up. There were a lot of times when making this car when we thought ‘Wow. This is a really big issue. Are we going to be able to solve this problem?’ or ‘Is it really worth it to keep going?’ But you just have to persist,” Barrera said.

Although this was the last year senior Paulina Suarez could participate in SunChase, she explained how rewarding it was to lead a group of girls as captain of her team.

“I worked really hard last year. Then this year I was selected to be captain, which was really amazing. It was a really great feeling to know that these girls wanted me to lead them into the competition,” Suarez said. “We completely took apart last year’s car. We learned from our mistakes and started over. Since I had the experience from last year, I got to teach other people too.”

Every year, spectators are invited to watch the teams compete and encourage the future generation of STEM leaders.