While most students head to the beach during spring break, a group of students at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove were building a solar car from scratch.
The all-girl robotics, engineering, computer, science (STEM) team, known as CarrollSUN, swept the Florida Gulf Coast University statewide Sunchase Challenge earlier this month. The annual event is a competition, where school teams from across the state retrofit go-karts with solar panels and batteries and race them by harnessing sunlight.
“We researched on our own solar panels, lightweight material to integrate in our car to make sure it is a light design and it is aerodynamics in terms of shape,” said team member junior Carolina Gomez Rivas-Vazquez.
The team has competed since 2017. This year, they came in first place for overall champion, presentation, sprint time and fastest total sprint time.
The team of 17 earned a trophy, but for Carolina, it’s more than just gold. A total of 17 teams competed in this year’s competition.
“It’s interesting to see each other grow through this process,” she said. “All the older girls are helping the younger girls. We gained an experience. Our motto is ‘racing for a reason.’
“We want to make sure all girls feel comfortable in the STEM field. We want them to encourage and to pursue their careers. It also encourages to learn about solar and renewable energy since this is the future.”
Tim Cassell, the school’s director of teaching and learning, mentored the team. Thanks to a partnership with the HomesteadMiami Speedway, the team tested the car on a professional racetrack.
The car can hit up to 40 miles per hour, and one person can drive the car at a time.
The students started to work on the car in January and put in about 2,000 hours of work, said Cassell. At times, they would work until midnight on the weekends and over school recess.
Carolina’s mother, Ana Gloria Rivas-Vazquez, said participating in the program allowed her daughter to learn more than just engineering.
“They are exploring solar and renewable energy. They have a mentoring component. Younger girls are encouraged by the older girls,” she said. “They are developing key skills like project management, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, working in groups. The world is changing so fast we don’t know the careers they will choose, but the skills they are developing are things they will use no matter what.”
Aside from the engineering aspect, the girls also ventured into graphic design, video editing, photography, website design, writing and marketing to spread the word on their creation.
Although they came out on top this year, the team is not taking a break. They have their eyes set on a higher prize. They plan to compete in the collegiate level next year in Texas for the Solar Car Challenge.
“This is for all girls and women to race for a reason. It was dedicated to them,” said team member Sabine Merus, a junior.
The school’s director of communications, Isabel Junco Singletary, said the girls are an inspiration.
“They are so gutsy; I do take my hat off,” she said.